Baseball 101 – October 3, 1972

The Sox entered the second to last game of the year needing a win. The Tigers victory the night before put them a half game up with two to go. If the Sox lost this next game, that would be it, the Tigers would claim the division. With that in mind, the Sox sent Luis Tiant to the bump to face Woodie Fryman.

Going into this game Tiant was 15-5 with a stellar 1.88 ERA and Fryman was 13-13 with a 3.35 ERA. This was a bit misleading for Fryman. Fryman had been placed on waivers by the Phillies, who were pathetic in 1972 with a record of 34-61 when jettisoning Fryman. At the time of his release, Fryman was 4-10 with a 4.36 ERA. No great shakes.

I guess the Tigers and GM JIm Campbell saw something in Fryman, or were desperate for some pitching help, and decided to pick him up off waivers.* It was a fortuitous move. Fryman turned his season around with the Tigers. In fact, his first start for the Tigers was a complete game six hit shutout. After the Tigers picked him up he went 9-3 with a 2.21 ERA, before toeing the rubber against Tiant in this key game.

*Campbell also acquired catcher Duke Sims off waivers on August 5 and first baseman Frank Howard was purchased from the Rangers on August 31. Both helped the Tigers stretch run. 

What can I say about Luis Tiant. I loved the guy. Here’s a great picture of him.

800px-Luis_Tiant_1970s

What a contratst, eh? Tiant was just so cool. Still, to this day, when I play wiffle ball as an old man, my favorite wind up is an imitation of Tiant’s. There is just so much twirling joy in how he pitched.

In the month of August, leading up to his final regular season start against the Tigers, Tiant was 11-1. He had been amazing – eleven complete games with six shutouts. At one point, he’d thrown 40 scoreless innings.* He was on a roll and he gave the Sox a decent chance to extend the season one more game.

*Orel Hershisher holds the record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched by a starter at 59. In the history of the game there are 22 streaks of 40 innings or more of scoreless ball by starters. Tiant and Walter Johnson are the only names to appear twice. Tiant had a 40 and 41 inning stretch; Johnson’s two streaks were 40 and 55 2/3.

Before the game, Tiant was not nervous. “Me not nervous,” he said. “Ey, you win or lose. Nervous? No. Another game. Ey, what for be nervous.” What more could a Red Sox fan ask for.

The game started off well for the Red Sox. Tommy Harper led off with a single and stole second.  Aparicio grounded out to third and then Yaz walked to put men and first and second for Reggie Smith.  Smith hit grounder to short for what looked like an inning ending double play, but Dick McAuliffe dropped the throw from shortstop Eddie Brinkman. Harper scored on the error, Yaz was safe at second and Reggie Smith was safe at first. It looked like a big inning was in the making. Unfortunately, Petrocelli struck out looking and Fisk popped out to short right field. That would be the only run the Sox would score.

The Tigers tied the game in the sixth with a single run. Then, in the seventh, Dick McAuliffe doubled and Al Kaline drove him in with a single to left. The Tigers scored another run on an error and that was all they’d need. They won 3-1 and the season for Tiant, Yaz and the rest of the crew was over. Yaz, Pudge and Tiant all cried after the game. It was a bitter loss.

So, it was nice, over forty years later that the Sox asked Fisk and Tiant to throw out the first pitch of game six of the World Series last year. That story line ended much better with the Sox celebrating. It was sweet, as I can attest.

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