Friday, October 22, 2010

October 22, 1975: Living the dream

BOSTON - The way the series had gone, with all the close games that had thrilled baseball fans throughout the week, it was really no surprise that it had come down to this. The series between the Reds and the Red Sox was tied 3 games to 3, and game 7 was tied 3-3 entering the ninth inning. It couldn't possibly get any closer.

The previous six games had been highlighted by multiple players coming through in the clutch, most notably the dramatic home runs in game 6 by Bernie Carbo and Carlton Fisk that saved the Red Sox from elimination and made this game 7 possible. Now, with the ninth inning about to start, the Red Sox likely couldn't help but rue the missed chances they had suffered in the first eight innings.

It looked to be Boston's game to lose in the third inning of game 7 as the Red Sox batted around, scoring three runs. But it was an empty three runs, as two of the scores came via bases-loaded walks and the Red Sox left the bases loaded in the inning. Boston left the bases loaded again in the fifth, as pitcher Bill Lee flew out to deep center to end the threat.

When Lee flew out, the Red Sox had built a 3-0 lead with five hits and seven walks. The large number of walks had been a gift from the Cincinnati pitchers, but the Red Sox had been unable to get the big hit that would bust the game open. Unknown to Boston, Lee's fly out would be Boston's last serious threat, as they would get only one base runner the rest of the game.

The Reds, meanwhile, started plucking away at the lead. First came the top of the sixth, when Tony Perez hit a two-run home run to cut Boston's lead to 3-2. Then in the seventh, two Reds reached base via a walk, allowing Pete Rose to drive in the game-tying run with a single. Cincinnati copied Boston, though, in leaving the bases loaded that inning.

And that was it, dropping us off in the top of the ninth inning of game 7, tied 3-3. It had been 35 years since Cincinnati had won a World Series, 57 years since Boston celebrated. For someone, the greatest win in a generation was about to happen.

Ken Griffey Sr. started things for the Reds with a walk. Then the Big Red Machine, one of the best hitting teams of all time, reverted to small ball, moving Griffey to third one base at a time with a pair of ground outs. Pete Rose was up next, go-ahead run on third. He drew a walk, putting the series in the hands of Joe Morgan.

Decades later, Morgan said this particular at bat was the absolute highlight of his career. Regardless of how the at bat turned out, the fact that he was coming to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning of a tied game 7 was an absolute dream come true. It's the at bat that every young child dreams about when he takes his bat to the backyard, the ultimate test of someone's ability to come through in the clutch. No wonder Morgan remembered the at bat so fondly; it's not often that someone gets to live the dream of millions of others.

Of course, it probably helped his memory that the 1-2 pitch Morgan swung at turned into a line drive, a line drive that started to dive right as Boston center fielder Fred Lynn started to get a beat on it, a line drive that fell to the grass just out of Lynn's reach, allowing Griffey to come home with the series-winning run.

That wasn't the last play of the series, of course. Boston still had to get out of the top of the ninth without more damage, which they did, but not before loading the bases. Cincinnati also had to hold Boston scoreless in the bottom of the ninth, a prospect that didn't seem too promising to people that had been watching the series. But the baseball gods had had enough of the 1975 series; there would be no more fireworks. Boston went down in order on eight pitches, with hall-of-famer Carl Yastrzemski flying out to center to end the most thrilling World Series yet played.

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