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Saturday, May 31, 2014

After thrills, chills, and Schill, Manny's role was no biggie

Wednesday was about everyone -- not Manny.

The way the vitriol has been exploding on sports talk radio the past few days, you would think Manny Ramirez threw a basket of kittens into the Charles River rather than the ceremonial first pitch before Wednesday night's Red Sox-Braves game. Talk about the fellowship of the miserable.

As someone who was standing close to the field during Wednesday's 2004 team reunion at Fenway, I can tell you that Ramirez's role during the ceremony was really no big deal. 

Yes, Manny was introduced last. Yes, he threw out the first pitch. But by the time Ramirez emerged from inside the Green Monster (a funny touch in my opinion, not over the top) and sprinted across the field, the crowd was already so pumped up that his "honor" didn't even register much with the masses.
Manny in the Monster -- cute, but not epic.

Once the intros were over and the '04 team huddled around the pitcher's mound back-slapping and hugging each other, it was hard to tell exactly who was throwing out the first pitch anyway. With his ridiculous Mohawk haircut, it's a good bet some people didn't recognize that it was Manny tossing the ball.

Besides, there was no way Ramirez was going to top the powerful events that preceded his entry. Huge ovations had gone up several times already during the festivities: 

  • When the 2004 World Series championship banner dropped down over the Green Monster, evoking memories of Opening Day in '05; 
  • When the Varitek-A-Rod fight was shown on the Jumbotron (immediately after which Tek emerged from underneath the banner); and 
  • When other top-tier heroes like Pedro Martinez, Johnny Damon, and Tim Wakefield made their walks in from left field.
THIS was epic.

The loudest cheers by far, however, were when Curt Schilling was introduced and strolled slowly across the grass with the help of his son, Gehrig. Schilling has been mute for months as he has battled a serious bout of cancer, and his appearance Wednesday was up in the air until the last moment. Seeing him there, getting a long hug from David Ortiz as his eyes welled up, was the emotional highlight of the night -- hands down.


I also know from a very reputable source that it was Schilling who was initially asked to throw out the first pitch, but he didn't feel strong enough to do so. Granted, I would have picked Pedro or Keith Foulke as a second choice over Manny, but Dr. Charles Steinberg and the event planning committee can't bat 1.000 every time. They were likely so excited that Ramirez, one half of the greatest one-two power punch since Ruth-Gehrig, was finally coming back to Fenway, they wanted fans to share in that excitement.

In the scrum, the first pitch was confusing.

Plus the way Damon jumped out and "cut off" Ramirez's throw before it could reach home plate, it wasn't really much of a pitch anyway. Damon's move was apparently done to rib Manny about the '04 game when Ramirez cut off a Damon throw that looked capable of nabbing a baserunner at home plate, but I didn't get the joke -- and I'm guessing most other fans had no idea what we going on either.

Manny was definitely not a model citizen or teammate during his time playing in Boston. I'm not going to start listing his mistakes here -- we all remember them. Whether or not the apologies he offered up in press conferences this week were sincere is open to speculation; I guess we'll have to wait and see how he conducts himself moving forward. Maybe he'll finally get over to the Jimmy Fund and visit some kids.

But Wednesday night was not about Manny -- it was about a team. A team that pulled off a Miracle at Fenway and ended 86 years of pain. It was about Jimmy Anderson, Pokey Reese, and every other guy who put on a Boston uniform in 2004. All the talk about whether Ramirez deserved to get the focus he did just takes away from the magic of the night.    

Nothing should do that.






Monday, May 26, 2014

One great Red Sox team (2013) recalls another (2004)

Only Papi remained -- but plenty remembered.

Editor's Note: Red Sox historian Bill Nowlin approached each 2013 Red Sox for their '04 reflections, Portions of some of the best are below, with Bill's questions and comments in italics; for the full roster's reflections, check out the "Blog" section of Bill's great new website, Boston Baseball, at http://bostonball.com/

By Bill Nowlin

As the 10th anniversary of the 2004 season was approaching, I asked members of the 2013 Red Sox for whatever memories they might have of the 2004 postseason. Only one Red Sox player was on the 2013 team who had also been on the 2004 World Champions – David Ortiz. His thoughts are recorded elsewhere, and at some length. See, for instance, the book DON’T LET US WON TONIGHT.

The ages the 2013 players had in 2004 ranged from 14 (Jose Iglesias) to 29 (Koji Uehara) – and neither of them saw that year’s playoffs since they were in Cuba and Japan respectively. Only a very few of the players in 2013 were in the majors in 2004 – Ryan Dempster, David Ross, Jonny Gomes, and John Lackey. The latter – Lackey – would likely have started Game Four for the Angels against the Red Sox had Boston not swept the Division Series in three games. The only one who appeared in the postseason that year was David Ross, who was with the Dodgers and got into two games during the Division Series against the Cardinals. Dempster had been with the Cubs and Gomes had appeared in five May games for Tampa Bay.

Perhaps befitting their roles as professional ballplayers and perhaps reflecting their sense that their career might take them from organization to organization, few of the players held a strong rooting interest for any team in the playoffs, though they did tend to pull for individual players.  

Andrew Bailey was a 20-year-old student at Wagner College on Staten Island.
Man, I remember – all of my teammates were Yankee fans and I like rooting against my friends in some competitiveness so obviously I was rooting for the Sox that series. Coming back from 3-0 was incredible. One of the greatest stories in baseball history. I was obviously not in the professional level at that point in time but for a really true fan of the game, that’s something you’ll never forget. Now being part of that organization is such an awesome feeling.

I sort of wondered if most of the students there would have been Yankees fans.

Oh, yeah! It’s like, my buddies are sitting there rooting for the Yankees and my team wasn’t in it – the Phillies weren’t in it. I grew up as a Phillies fan. My team wasn’t in it so I wanted to root against my buddies, you know?

Xander Bogaerts, with an October 1 birthday, had just turned 12 in Aruba a few days before the playoffs began.
There’s a lot of Yankees fans and Boston fans in Aruba, but most of them were Braves fans because of Andruw Jones.  He was a big thing back then.

Did you watch any of that on television?

Oh yeah, definitely. That’s the one with Dave Roberts and the steal.  Pretty much everyone was saying that the Red Sox were done and then seeing them come back. Millar was always positive – Kevin Millar, he said things are going to change. If they win that night, he was positive that they would win the next one. The Yankees were obviously stunned that they came back.

Clay Buchholz, 20, was a student at Angelina Junior College.
We watched all the games. They were down 3-0. Sitting and watching those games unfold after [Boston] being down that much in the series and coming back and winning is obviously the thing that stands out in my mind. I grew up in Texas so I was always for the Rangers and Astros, and my favorite player to this day was always Derek Jeter. I played shortstop growing up.  A lot of the guys who are right-handed pitchers came up playing shortstop in Little League and high school.  So I watched him play.

If the Red Sox were playing the Yankees, then, were you rooting for…?

No, I  just liked Jeter. I liked watching him play. The thing that stands out in my head in that series is just David – Ortiz – and what he did. I definitely watched it.  I just watched all the games. It was neat watching it unfold as they came back knowing no team had ever done that.

Would you say you began rooting for the  Red Sox?

I definitely wanted them to win the World Series that year after they finished that series in New York. It was neat to watch. It had been a long time.

Pedro Ciriaco was 19. He’d played in the Dominican Summer League earlier that year, signed to an Arizona Diamondbacks contract.
I was, you know, a Red Sox fan at that time. I never did like Yankees. You know, Pedro [Martinez] was here at that time. Manny. Papi.  So I was a really huge fan.

You were in the D-Backs system, in the Dominican Summer League, but they weren’t in the playoffs.

Yeah, I was already with the Diamondbacks, but I remember that series. I enjoyed every game. The series with the Yankees, that was unbelievable. I remember every time Pedro Martinez was going to pitch, everybody in the country – the whole country was watching.


Felix Doubront turned 17 the day of Game One of the 2004 World Series. He was living in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela at the time.
I had signed with the Red Sox in July 2004. They were my team.

Were you able to watch some of the games on TV?

At that moment, we were in the Parallela. [The Parallela Liga is a minor league in Venezuelan baseball.] I was a rookie for Boston in Valencia. All the excitement – the guys, the manager, the hitting coach – they came here to watch the World Series. Josman Robles. Miguel Garcia. A lot of those guys. They came up to watch the World Series.

So I don’t have to ask you who you were rooting for? 

No (laughs). It’s weird. My favorite team at that moment, before I signed, was the Yankees and the Mets. Those were the two teams that I followed the most right before when I signed with Boston. My agent told me that Boston didn’t have enough lefty pitchers in the minor league system, so I…

You thought you might have a better chance to move up.

To move up. Quicker. At that moment, it was very exciting to sign.

Jonny Gomes played outfield for Durham and appeared in five games for Tampa Bay in 2004, at age 23.
I don’t pick a team [to root for in a situation like that] but I’ve been to eight World Series. Seven as a fan, one as a player.  I’m a big fan of the game. What really stands out is Kevin Millar’s walk, which led to Dave Roberts’ stolen base and, you know, Bill Mueller. But what I would say stood out to me the most was each series clincher and then, of course, the World Series clincher and the celebration between 25 guys and the staff. Some people might look at it like, “Oh, they were going crazy” but you just really saw the passion of how tight-knit they were. The hugs and the champagne, it was just like…

There was a little criticism that they over-celebrated in clinching a playoff spot in the first place.

Well, it turned out those people were wrong – again. You know, again!  But that’s what stood out – it was like a wedding almost. Just like a family. Everyone having a good time.

Jon Lester pitched for the Florida State League Sarasota Red Sox in 2004. He was 20 years old.
I came to Game 3 up here against the Yankees. The bad one. I was just kind of thinking they were pretty outmatched. Obviously, being part of the organization you watch them. I followed them a little bit, but I was probably like 99 percent of the country, saying, “The Yankees are going to another World Series.” But once they came back, I figured it would be over. They were on that momentum. That’s a big part of the playoffs, momentum. You forget about yourself some. I figured once they got to the World Series, it was going to be pretty easy for them.

John McDonald had just finished his sixth season with the Indians in 2004.
I like baseball so I like watching the playoffs. I was actually in Boston for a little bit of that – not at the games but seeing the madness, and the excitement of the team not wanting to give up. It was really enjoyable and after they won [over the Yankees], I don’t think anybody could reasonable think they were going to lose after that. They just played great baseball. 

The pitching they had – I think that’s what I remember the most about it. How well Derek Lowe pitched. How well Pedro pitched. And I’d played with Dave Roberts in the past – we were teammates in the minor leagues for Cleveland. Watching him go to first base, everyone knew he was going to steal in that situation. I don’t remember how many times Rivera threw over; he still went first pitch. Which was not surprising to me. He was going as soon as he [Rivera] picked up his front leg. That’s what he does. That was his gig. It was fun to watch.

You grew up in Connecticut. Red Sox fans? Yankees fans?

We grew up Yankee fans. Going to the Stadium. We went to both, though. We rooted for the Yankees more. That’s when I was a kid.  You don’t watch as many baseball games after you start playing a lot more in high school and college. As soon as I was an Indian, I was an Indian. I didn’t have any other allegiances besides the team I was on.

By 2004, when you were watching those games, with the Red Sox down three games to none, did your Yankees background kick in for you or did you start rooting for the underdog?

No, I was just watching. My wife is from Boston so I think it was pretty easy to identify with that team the Sox had. They were fun. Plus I knew some of the guys on the team, too. I was a little more familiar with them. You want to see them get over the hump. You want to see that excitement. After they won that first game, you wanted to see them win the second. They win the second, you want to see them win the third, and after they win the third, you want to see them finish it.

It obviously made for a good story but I’ve got a lot of friends and family up in this area so it was fun to watch and listen to their reactions and their excitement going through it.



Will Middlebrooks was 16, at Liberty Eylau High School in Texarkana, Texas.
I was a freshman in high school. I remember watching. I always enjoyed watching playoff baseball with my buddies.  I remember it being really fun baseball to watch – high intensity baseball. A lot of intense situations. It was a lot of fun to watch. 

The Red Sox swept in the first round against the Angels when one of your current teammates homered in the 10th inning.

Yeah, David. I remember that. And I remember the Damon grand slam.  I wanted the Red Sox to win. I just wasn’t a Yankees fan. I wasn’t a Yankees hater, by any means, but when I grew up I liked the Rangers and the Red Sox. That was the team I was able to go watch because I was from there, so I liked them and I liked the Red Sox because of their history.

So you were pulling for the Red Sox against the Cardinals, too.

Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

Dustin Pedroia was in the Red Sox system. He had played with Augusta and Sarasota in the summer of 2004. He was 21.
I was in the Fall League, in Arizona [during the playoffs].

Watching the games on TV with some of your friends?

Yeah.  Everyone saw the games. It was awesome.  I just thought it was great, the comeback, you know? All the stuff they did was awesome.  

And then you were up here for the next one [2007].

Yeah, we gotta get another one of those, you know.

Maybe this year...

There you go.

(Editor's Note: Mission accomplished -- at least in 2013) 

Brandon Snyder turned 18 the month after the 2004 playoffs were over.
I was a junior in high school. My dad was a Yankees fan. My younger brothers – they’re twins – one’s a Yankees fan and one’s a Red Sox fan. At the time, I just kind of sat back and watched them battle it out. It was just one of those all-time greatest moments in baseball where you see a series turn around so quickly. The way they did it, it was just amazing. If you’re going to do it, you might as well make it interesting, right?

After that, it was just a different mentality. We stopped talking about curses and all this other stuff and we started talking about building good organizations to win baseball games.



Alex Wilson was 17, still in high school at Hurricane, West Virginia.
I actually was a Red Sox fan, a huge Nomar Garciaparra fan. That kind of led me to like the Red Sox. I definitely remember watching the games. I think the biggest thing was them coming back from the 3-0 and everything. That was definitely something to remember.

I was a shortstop. I wore #5. I pitched some but I was definitely more of a position player.
I was really happy. I was razzing my buddies that were Yankees fans in the Championship Series and in the World Series everything fell into place.




--END


 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

TBT: The Steamer was a hero -- just ask the Jimmy Fund

For most people of a certain age, the guy who will be in the visitor's bullpen tonight as a Blue Jays coach will forever be remembered as the relief pitcher who did not close out the 1986 World Series for the Red Sox. Those of us who know of Bob Stanley's good work for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute know this Maine native deserves a far different legacy.

Back in the late 1980s, as his 13-year career with the Sox was winding down, "the Steamer" became a regular visitor to Dana-Farber's Jimmy Fund Clinic -- located just down the street from Fenway Park. He would meet with children battling cancer and their families, bringing some light and fun to their lives at a time when so much was uncertain and scary. 

One 10-year-old kid in particular took a real shining to Stanley. This boy, who was dealing with a rare cancer, had always kept mostly to himself, but something about Stanley clicked with him. He was happier and more outgoing from that point forward, and treasured his visits with Stanley and the authentic Red Sox jersey the Steamer gave him. When he passed away, he was buried wearing it.


A few years later, fate dealt Stanley and his wife, Joan, a cruel blow when their own young son, Kyle, was diagnosed with the same type of cancer as the boy to whom the Steamer had given his friendship and shirt. Kyle, however, recovered, and was on the field at Fenway with his mom and dad when they were given the "Jimmy Award" -- the Jimmy Fund's highest honor -- for their efforts on behalf of the charity.

Bob Stanley went 115-97 with 132 saves during his long Red Sox career. He made two All-Star teams and at his best was one of the finest and most versatile pitchers in the American League. He went 15-2 with 10 saves in 1978, 16-12 with four shutouts in 1979, 12-7 with 14 saves in 1982, and had a then-team-record 33 saves in 1983. He could start, go five innings of middle relief, or close -- all in the same season. Think Tim Wakefield with a sinker instead of a knuckleball, and you get a sense of what he meant to the Sox.

The Steamer was always a hit with kids.

No, Stanley did not win a World Series ring. He helped the Red Sox to the 1986 and 1988 AL East titles and in the '86 World Series had a 0.00 ERA in five games. His sinker was at its best in the 10th inning of Game 6, and several times Mookie Wilson barely got a piece of it. In fact, the wild pitch/passed ball that helped set up L'Affaire du Buckner probably should have been caught (sorry Rich Gedman), and of course Wilson's "soft roller to first..." came off a good pitch too.

All told, Stanley pitched in a team-record 637 games for Boston, a mark that might never be broken. He blew some of them, like all relievers do, but far more often that not he put in a good day's work. A hefty contract late in his career, after which his effectiveness slipped a bit, and his deadpan expression didn't help ward off the boo birds.

Kyle (in cap) celebrates with his family.

Still, he took it all in stride. Stanley knew what was really important -- watching his son grow up and helping make life easier for other kids given a bad break. 

That beats a World Series ring any day.



Monday, May 19, 2014

Red Sox have high-tech plan to boost up anemic offense


Target Field at Fenway would suit Papi fine.

Desperate to boost their anemic offense and stop their first four-game losing streak in two years, the Red Sox are set to unveil a new high-tech approach Tuesday when the Blue Jays come to town.

Boston scored just four runs during a three-game sweep at the hands of the Tigers over the weekend. Hoping to turn those numbers around, Fenway Park's video crew will project holographic images of the American League ballpark (other than Fenway) where that hitter performs the best. 


When David Ortiz digs in, for instance, he will be looking out past the pitcher at what appears (to him) to be Minnesota's Target Field, where Ortiz has a lifetime .509 batting average with 9 home runs and 22 RBI in 14 games. Then, when Mike Napoli comes up next, he will get a view of Yankee Stadium (.351, 7 homers in 22 games), and so on down the line.


For Napoli, Yankee Stadium is the bomb.

"Even though most of our hitters perform best at home, that hasn't been the case this season," says Sox general manager Ben Cherington of his underachieving squad, which has gone 10-9 

on the road and just 10-14 at usually friendly Fenway in 2014. "We hope if they feel like they are on the road, it may calm them down and lead to better results."

Cherington says the team is considering other options if "Operation Nice Sights" does not succeed. "Operation October in June" would feature a simulation of postseason games, complete with red, white, and blue bunting and live appearances by the Dropkick Murphys. Operation Road Trip" would include a bus ride by the team 1 mile from Fenway to the Copley Plaza Hotel, where they would stay during homestands to simulate away games.

Perhaps the Dropkicks can deliver some wins.

"This worked great for Jim Lonborg in 1967," explains Red Sox senior VP and team historian Dick Bresciani. "He was 0-6 lifetime against the Twins heading into the last game of the season, and needed to win to have a chance for the pennant. Jim stayed at a nearby Sheraton, pitched a complete-game victory, and we went to the World Series." 

If the champs want to make a return trip to the Fall Classic this October, they are going to have to do something about that sub-.245 team batting average. Maybe a 119-game road trip will do the trick. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Now what? Three moves the Red Sox should make

Give Lester more green -- he's earned it.

It happened again. Just when it appeared the Red Sox were over the hump and about to go on a tear, they had another setback last night in Minnesota. Although they showed some life coming back from an early 5-1 deficit, they couldn't finish the job and are once again a perfectly mediocre .500.

The magic of 2013 has been missing all year, along with the mojo for winning that made last season so special. How can the Sox get it back? Here are three sure-fire ways:

Sign Jon Lester now
Remember the infusion of positive vibes that accompanied Dustin Pedroia's inking an eight-year contract extension last July? The Red Sox should do the same thing with their indisputable ace pitcher before it's too late.

Lester is the darling of the K Men these days.

In Jon Lester, the Red Sox have a horse, a 21st century version of Roger Clemens. He's not going to annually pitch 250 innings a year like Clemens -- nobody does that anymore -- but 200 has become the new 250 and Lester nails that mark each year. Throwing out 20-win seasons, which has been outed as a non-relevant stat, Lester is one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game and in the upper echelon of MLB pitchers period.

He is also in the last year of his contract, and is pitching better than ever at age 30. Given his body type and his track record of good arm health -- his early-career cancer bout should not be factored in here -- there is every reason to believe Big Jon can pitch effectively into his late 30s. Certainly nobody questions his toughness; in that regard, he is the anti-Clay Buchholz.

Much was made of Lester's comments about being willing to take a "hometown discount" and re-sign with Boston. Some may think he was blowing smoke, but this is not a guy who tends to speak off the cuff. I believe he's sincere, and if John Henry and Co. offer a reasonable long-term deal -- their first savoy was clearly not meant to be taken seriously -- Lester will sign. Why wouldn't he? He has proven to be a dominant postseason pitcher, and with the Red Sox he has a chance to reach the playoffs every year and add to his two World Series rings.

Keep this crew together.

Sign Lester now, and don't take a chance on his going elsewhere after the season as a point of pride. Boston's rotation has one fragile Ming vase in Buchholz (who's actually pitching more like a tomato can this year), one reclamation project in John Lackey, and a couple boxes of chocolates in Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront. You never know what you're going to get; Exhibit A being Peavy's dreadful second inning last night. 

There may be great pitching in the farm system, but nobody who is a proven big league ace. The Red Sox already have one of those, and they should do everything possible to keep him.


Bring up Betts
Boston is hitting a lackluster .246 as a team, 19th among 30 MLB clubs. What better way to give a jolt to their system then to give one of the hottest hitters in pro ball a shot at the big time?


Betts can hit -- and run -- with the best.

In addition to having a wonderful baseball name, Sox second base prospect Mookie Betts also has a wonderful average -- .399 at Double A Portland through last night. He has skyrocketed into a blue-chip prospect, and while there is no guarantee he is ready for the majors, the Red Sox would have nothing to lose calling him up for the upcoming homestand. 

The Boston bench has provided little pop. Only Brock Holt is hitting above .184, and he's had just 23 at-bats. Perhaps Betts could keep up his blazing bat as a pinch-hitter, and as a strong glove man who has also played short in the minors, he could serve as a late-inning defensive replacement as well. Slumping rookie shortstop Xander Bogearts could use some days off.

Betts even steals bases, an art in which the current Red Sox are severely lacking in (see below). Give the kid a chance -- if he falters initially, he's got time on his side. He's just 21. 


Bring back Johnny Damon -- as a base-stealing instructor
Much has been made of Boston's dismal base-stealing this year. While it was expected the Sox would see a major drop-off in thefts with the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury, the success rate of those left behind -- even normally efficient runners like Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia -- has been frighteningly bad.

Damon knows how to get to second

The solution is not to give up stealing, as manager John Farrell suggests. Boston doesn't have the power-laden lineup of 2003-04 to make that a useful tactic. They still get on base as well as any team, they just don't move the guys along and score. 

Why not bring back one of the best base-stealers of the last 25 years to help out?

Johnny Damon stole 408 bases in 511 attempts during his career, and had an excellent 79.84 percentage rate. Six times in seven seasons between 1999-2005, he had one of the best efficiency marks in baseball. There were faster guys in the game, but few had a better knack for getting into scoring position.

Damon is still just 40, and was actually looking to resume his playing career this winter if a team would give him a chance. There were no takers, but he'd probably love to don a Boston uniform as a coach rather than hang around the house. He's in great shape, so maybe he'll even get a chance to pinch-run. 

How about on May 28, when the 2004 Red Sox reunite at Fenway Park? Talk about some serious mojo -- that would bring down the house.
   



Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Reds-Red Sox Redux: The real story behind Carlton Fisk's Iconic Home Run Image


Just like he dreamed in back in Charlestown, NH

In honor of the Red Sox-Reds matchup at Fenway Park, I thought it would be fun to revisit the most iconic moment in the history of this rivalry -- Carlton Fisk's home run to win Game Six of the 1975 Boston-Cincinnati World Series. 

How was an NBC cameraman situated inside Fenway's Green Monster Wall astute enough to capture Fisk's dramatic reaction as he watched his fly ball to left hit the foul pole in the 12th inning? Read this excerpt from my 2011 book, Fenway Park: The Centennial to find out:


The score was still 6-6 in the bottom of the 12th, the clock inching past 12:30 a.m., when Fisk led off for Boston. Standing beside Fred Lynn in the on-deck circle as Reds reliever Pat Darcy took his warm-up tosses, the self-assured catcher told his teammate, "I'll get on, and you drive me in."

Some fans were still settling into their seats after grabbing post-midnight snacks as Fisk took Darcy's first pitch high for a ball. He then hit the next one on a rising trajectory down the left-field line, toward the foul pole that rose above the Green Monster. "It was a question of it being fair or foul," Fisk told reporters after the game. "The wind must have carried it 15 feet toward the foul pole. I just stood there and watched. I didn't want to miss seeing it go out."

Here's the swing...

Actually, Fisk did more than just watch. In an effort to circumvent the wind, he stepped out of the batter's box and began leaping, waving his hands in an effort to wish the ball into play. And while he, Lynn, and everybody else at Fenway was tracking the flight of the ball, the 36 million fans viewing the Series on NBC were treated to the raw emotion of Fisk leaping and pleading. The footage, shot by veteran cameraman Lou Gerard, gave birth to what became known in TV sports as the "reaction shot," and it's one of the most replayed images in sports history.

All thanks to a rat.

The inside of the Green Monster was never the Taj Mahal, but by the mid-'70s it had become downright nasty -- a dark, dirty, graffiti-covered pit in which a few rats sought solace from Joe Mooney's groundscrew. It was here where Gerard had set up his camera for Game 6, and his instructions from director Harry Coyle were to follow the path of the ball if it was hit toward him -- or if not, then to stay zeroed in on Fisk. 

"C'mon, C'mon....stay fair!"

Gerard was set to carry out the assignment until he spotted one of the Wall's furry freeloaders perched atop his camera. Shocked, he momentarily froze rather than swivel his camera to track the ball, and his lens stayed hooked on Fisk. It was up to Dick Stockton, calling the game for NBC viewers, to describe for them where the ball was headed:

"There it goes! A long drive! If it says fair... Home run! We will have a seventh game in this 1975 World Series!"

In the end, Fisk's shot bounced off the foul pole and fell harmlessly back down to left fielder George Foster as Fisk rounded the bases. Perhaps due to the crowd's sheer enthusiasm, just a few overzealous fans outflanked a mild security presence to vault onto the field and slap Fisk high-fives as he rounded third and headed home to end what was then the longest game (four hours, one minute) in World Series history.

Call off the seventh game!

Throughout New England, car horns honked, church bells rang, and kids with transistor radios under their pillows jumped on their beds. Fenway Park organist John Kiley broke into a succession of festive numbers such as the "Beer Barrel Polka" -- this was long before rock music was piped into the park -- and fans sang along.

Banging away at his portable typewriter above home plate, Ray Fitzgerald of the Boston Globe suggested in print that a seventh game was not necessary. How could anything top this? How could either of these teams lose? But the combatants were back at Fenway later the same day to settle matters.

As church bells rang...