1975: The Sixth Game

Note: Excerpted from "Fall Classics: The Best Writing About the World Series' First 100 Years," (Crown Publishers) by Bill Littlefield and Richard Johnson (editors). The book features baseball's best writers -- including Ring Lardner, Red Smith, Thomas Boswell, Tony Kornheiser and Roger Angell -- writing about baseball's most famous games. Click here to order the book.

Boston, October 22, 1975 -- Then all of a sudden the ball was suspended out there in the black of the morning like the Mystic River Bridge. Carlton Fisk broke forward for a step, then stopped and watched. He later remembered none of the clumsy hula dance that NBC made famous, only that "it seemed like the wait for Christmas morning" as he watched to see on which side of the fine line it would land: home run/victory or foul ball/strike one.

When it finally crashed fair off the mesh attached to the left-field foul pole, Fisk raised his fists above his head in applause in the midst of his convulsive leap, and as if conducted by Charles Munch, the reaction unfurled. Fenway Park organist John Kiley boomed the opening notes of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus," Fisk gamboled his way around the bases, teammates passionately staggered to home plate, and from the bleachers to Presque Isle people looked at one another as the first shock warmed into reality. In Raymond, New Hampshire, an Episcopal minister named James Smith burst out of his house, ran across to St. Bartholomew's Church, grabbed the rope, and began ringing the church bell about the same time that, in Yardley, Pennsylvania, the wife of another Episcopal minister, Gretchen Gammons, ran across the street to St. Andrew's and did the same.

It had been back in the tenth inning that Pete Rose had turned from his place in the batter's box and said to Fisk, "This is some kind of game, isn't it?" At 12:34 a.m., in the bottom of the twelfth inning, Fisk's histrionic, 304-foot home run brought Red Sox shortstop Rick Burleson running to home plate saying to teammate Rick Miller, "We just might have won the greatest game ever played."

So it seemed at the moment, frozen in time. Judged soberly, rationally, there are undoubtedly dozens and hundreds and thousands of baseball games staged from Old Orchard Beach to Los Angeles that one would have to say had more technical brilliance. But this one had captured all that baseball could be. Fisk's home run had virtually altered the autumnal equinox. By the time the ball had caromed off the screen and thirty-five thousand people had stood to sing "Give Me Some Men Who Are Stout-Hearted Men" as Fisk galavanted across the field to an interview room, the entire emotional scale had been played.

After three days of rain, the Red Sox had begun this fight for survival with a three-run, first-inning homer by wonderchild Fred Lynn. Then they watched in resigned silence as, slowly but surely, the heavily favored Reds chipped away at the mortality of a hero named Luis Tiant. When Cincinnati center fielder Cesar Geronimo homered in the top of the eighth inning, El Tiante left, trailing 6-3, to heartfelt but polite applause that accepted the finality of the situation.

If some clock had been allowed to run out at that point, the sixth game of the 1975 World Series would have been no more, no less than a game from the, say, 1961 World Series or 1969 National League Championship Series. But, turn after hairpin turn, it became the Sixth Game. First, in the bottom of the eighth, Bernardo Carbo hit a stunning two-out, three-run homer that tied it. In the ninth, when Boston had the bases loaded and none out, Cincinnati left fielder George Foster caught Lynn's fly ball and threw Denny Doyle out at the plate to kill what was apparently a certain game-winning rally. In the eleventh, Dwight Evans made a catch that Reds manager Sparky Anderson insisted was "given its significance, one of the two greatest catches ever made" to rob Joe Morgan of a game-winning double, triple, or homer and turn it into a double play. Then, in the twelfth inning, against Pat Darcy, the record twelfth pitcher in the 241-minute game, came Fisk's shot, the cherry on the top of this all-time banana split of a game.

The Sixth Game was an abridgment of the entire splendid series in which Boston led in all seven games and lost the lead in five of them, in which five games were decided by one run, two were decided in extra innings, and two others in the ninth inning. But there was much more to this game, and this series, than statistics, however dazzling they might be. Baseball was coming out of an era of five consecutive vanilla-bland World Series won by teams from Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Oakland, hardly centers of media excitement. Immediately preceding those five World Series were the years when no one could score runs, which came just a few years after an era in which a team from New York or Los Angeles had been in the World Series for twenty consecutive Octobers. Nineteen seventy-five was the year television coverage of baseball came of age, with the split image of Fisk's rhumba and the ball suspended against the morn, a fitting symbol of TV's ascendancy.

There, too, like a Christmas carol service, at the end of a decade that decried all customs and history, were all the traditions of a sport whose lineage is steeped in history. Cincinnati and Boston, in fact, were the first two professional baseball cities. Fenway Park, with its nooks and crannies and its promise that no two games will ever be alike, is the romanticists' ideal. The matchup of the two teams presented emotional extremes: the IBM image of the Big Red Machine, the best team in baseball, with its short hair and the kind of puissance that earns the Pete Rozelle Trophy, against the Olde Towne Teame, the last great white team, which had come out of nowhere that year with the only rookie ever to be Most Valuable Player (Lynn), an institution (Carl Yastrzemski), a Brahmin New Englander (Fisk), and some characters named Tiant and Carbo and Bill "Space Man" Lee. Riverfront Stadium, which could have been ordered from a Sears catalogue, as contrasted with the idiosyncratic Fenway Park.

The Reds' characters were submerged in and by a team perfection, and in the end, they won the series because they simply played the game more perfectly than Boston, for whom Doyle was the sixth runner in six games tagged out at the plate. It was the Red Sox who did the spectacular in the series, the Red Sox who did so much to bring individualism and personality back into the sport. "When tonight is over," Lee was credited with saying before he pitched the seventh game, "Don Gullett is going to the Hall of Fame, and I'm going to the Eliot Lounge."

What few remember about the Sixth Game was that despite its days of dramatic rainout buildup, it was seven outs from having all the drama of the Astros playing the Giants in August, from a routine conclusion of the Reds defeating the Red Sox in six games. It had begun with Lynn's three-run homer off Cincinnati starter Gary Nolan-who, like all the Reds starters that year, would be gone within three years-in the first inning. That was the final, dramatic blow of what was one of the greatest rookie seasons in baseball history. There was a Joe Hardy air about Lynn, a private, loping kid a year and a half out of the University of Southern California. One week into the season, which the Red Sox had started after a horrible September 1974 collapse, the inability to deal (in the wake of the Yankees getting Bobby Bonds, the Orioles Lee May, and the Tigers Nate Colbert), and a 10-21 spring training, Yankee manager Bill Virdon said, "Don't bother talking about Bonds. Fred Lynn may be the next DiMaggio." Virdon completed his statement with an "I told you so" when Lynn's spectacular diving, bouncing, ninth-inning catch in Shea Stadium in August saved a 1-0 Boston victory that marked the Yankees absent the remainder of the season. Lynn batted .331. He drove in 105 runs, scored 103, rapped 47 doubles and 21 homers, and made one tumblers' catch after another en route to being named both Rookie of the Year and his league's Most Valuable Player. In the fifth inning of the Sixth Game he banged into the center-field fence leaping for Ken Griffey's triple, slid to the ground in a heap, and lay there. The stands fell silent as if witness to a presidential assassination, and Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey turned to scouting director Haywood Sullivan and said, "Those walls must be padded before next season."

For more than a month, it had been Tiant-likened by the Boston Globe's Leigh Montville to the old man in The Old Man and the Sea -- who had pulled the Red Sox together. El Tiante was listed at thirty-four and rumored to be closer to forty, but he was the central nervous system of the team. He had been sidelined for weeks with a bad back, and when September came (Baltimore manager Earl Weaver kept promising his team's annual comeback and one Baltimore columnist labeled the Red Sox the Boston Chokers), it was Tiant who stepped forth. On September 11, he returned from a three-week absence, took a no-hitter into the eighth, and beat Detroit 3-1. Four days later, with what Red Sox officials later admitted was a crowd in excess of forty-five thousand (prior to standing-room fire laws), he rode the home runs of Fisk and Rico Petrocelli to a 2-0 win over the Orioles' Cy Young Award winner, Jim Palmer, on the night that the chant "LOO-eee, LOO-eee" came into being. He shut out Cleveland on the final Friday night of the season to all but clinch the pennant. When the A's began the playoffs as the experienced favorites, he shut them out in the first game and began a three-game sweep. When the Reds began the World Series as heavy favorites, he shut them out, and comically out of place at bat but somehow effective, he started the winning six-run, seventh-inning rally. When, in Cincinnati, the Red Sox were down 2-1 in games, he pitched the game by which he always said he'd like to be remembered: 163 pitches, a 5-4 lead in the fourth, two runners on in each of the last five innings, and a 5-4 victory that was as gutsy as John Garfield in Body and Soul.

But this night, El Tiante's marionette abracadabra could carry them no more. A walk to designated bunter Ed Armbrister began a three-run fifth inning that not only broke Tiant's skein of forty consecutive scoreless innings in Fenway but tied the game. Foster made it 5-3 with a line drive off the center-field fence in the seventh, and when Cesar Geronimo angled his homer inside the right-field foul pole leading off the eighth, Tiant left as Sport magazine editor Dick Schaap began collecting the MVP ballots in the press box. No one much noticed when the Red Sox got two on leading off the eighth; Cincinnati's prized rookie reliever Rawlins Eastwick III came in and struck out Evans, got Burleson to fly out, and had only to get the pinch hitter, Carbo, to bring the Reds to within an inning of their first championship in thirty-five years.

Bernardo Carbo. He was a cartoon character of sorts, a frizzy-haired kid who traveled with a stuffed gorilla dressed in a Cardinals uniform and named Mighty Joe Young. After running into the bullpen wall to save a home run in the crucial June series with the Yankees, Carbo delayed the game for ten minutes while he scoured the warning track for the chaw of tobacco that had popped out of his mouth; when he found it, he put it back in his mouth and the game continued. Carbo was a streak hitter who, in both of the two years since being obtained from the Cardinals, had hit spectacularly for the Red Sox until mid-May, then ended up relegated to the bench. He never accepted that, once charging up to general manager Dick O'Connell's office immediately before a game to protest Evans's presence in the lineup. Bernardo always had trouble accepting authority, which is why Sparky Anderson and the Reds had traded him to St. Louis in the first place. He had hardly played at all in the second half of the season, but in game three had pinch-hit a homer, and with two outs in the bottom of the eighth of game six, he got his second chance.

With two strikes, Eastwick threw him a fastball that befuddled Bernardo as if it were the Pythagorean theorem. He pulled his bat up in self-defense, deflecting the third strike off to the left. "That might have been the worst swing in the history of baseball," Fisk would tease Carbo later, but it wasted the pitch. Eastwick came in with another fastball and Carbo drove it into the center-field bleachers. "The crowd willed it up into the seats," claims Rose.

6-6. "Bernie," said Lee, "is the only man I know who turned fall into summer with one wave of his magic wand."

The Red Sox had a chance to win it in the ninth, with the bases loaded and none out. When Lynn lofted a fly ball down the left-field line halfway between third base and The Wall and George Foster settled under it 170 feet from home plate, third-base coach Don Zimmer yelled to base runner Denny Doyle, "No, no."

Doyle, however, thought Zimmer was saying "Go, go." He took off, Foster's throw to Johnny Bench cut him down easily, and the threat passed. Then with Griffey on first, one out in the eleventh, Red Sox reliever Dick Drago pitched to Joe Morgan.

When the series was over, Anderson was to say that the Boston player who had impressed him most was Evans. Dwight was only twenty-three at the time, but his three-year major-league career had been a struggle to approach others' expectations. He arrived in September 1972 with the promise of superstardom, but youth, two serious beanings, and personal problems and insecurities had complicated his baseball life. Once the Gold Dust Twins, Fred Lynn and Jim Rice, arrived in 1975, it was Evans who the media constantly suggested should be traded for a pitcher or a power-hitting third baseman. That only added to his problems. But, whether he hit .223 as he did as a rookie or .274 as he did in '75, Evans never wavered in the field. He was at that point in his career a defensive offensive player and an offensive defensive player, the premier defensive right fielder in the American League, playing the most difficult right field in baseball. In this series it was his dramatic ninth-inning, two-run homer off Eastwick that took the third game into extra innings and to the Armbrister interference controversy.

As Red Sox reliever Dick Drago went into his stretch, Evans tried preparing himself for all possibilities. "In all important situations, Doyle would give me a signal if Drago were throwing a breaking ball to a left-handed hitter so I could be leaning for him to pull," Evans said. "One of the great things about playing the outfield with Fisk catching was that he moved so much you could tell the location of the pitch. Knowing the pitching and seeing Fisk set up, I was thinking that the worst thing that could happen would be that Morgan could pull a line drive directly over my head, so I was mentally leaning in that direction." Morgan indeed smashed the worst, a line drive directly over Evans's head. But, breaking as the ball was hit, Evans scrambled backward, stabbed the ball at full stride as he crossed the warning track, ricocheted off the wall, whirled, and fired back to the infield; Yastrzemski, the first baseman, grabbed the throw halfway between the coach's box and the dugout and tossed to Burleson-who'd raced across from shortstop-to complete the double play. "It probably wouldn't have been in the seats," said Evans, "but it would have been the game." As it turned out, it was a catch that shares a place in World Series history with such other historic defensive plays as Willie Mays's in 1954, Al Gionfriddo's in 1947, and Harry Hooper's in 1912.

Pat Darcy, the seventh pitcher, began the bottom of the twelfth by running a sinker down and in to Fisk's wheelhouse. "He's a lowball pitcher, I'm a lowball, dead-pull hitter, so I was looking for that one pitch in that one area," said Fisk. "I got it, then drove it." He chopped his woodcutter's swing and sent his line drive searing toward the foul pole. The problem was keeping the ball in fair territory, as with that short, chopping swing Fisk had spent much of his career setting unofficial records for foul homers. But this was Fisk's season of retribution-after a knee injury that nearly ended his career in 1974, he had broken his arm in the first exhibition game of 1975 and came back in June to bat .331 the remainder of the season. So he found retribution for game three. That night he impaled his mask onto the screen as Morgan's game-winning line drive soared over Lynn's head and Geronimo danced across the plate in front of him; it had been Geronimo whom Armbrister was trying to advance with his bunt attempt, but after the controversial collision as Fisk tried to pounce on the ball, his off-balance throw to start what could have been a double play sailed into center field to launch what would be a long winter's argument with and torment for home-plate umpire Larry Barnett.

But this twelfth-inning drive crashed against the mesh attached to the foul pole, and as Fisk was madly running and skipping and clapping around the bases, George Frederick Handel echoed across the Back Bay and church bells pealed out for both the New England town team and baseball itself.

No seventh game was really necessary, at least from the romanticist's viewpoint, and that encompassed much of the audience, since so much of baseball and its tradition from Abner Doubleday to Babe Ruth to Fernando Valenzuela is romance. "Instead of playing a seventh game, they should spread tables and checkered tablecloths across the outfields and just have a picnic, a feast to a glorious World Series, and toast one another until dawn," suggested television journalist Clark Booth. There was a seventh game, of course, which served to put it on the record that the Cincinnati Reds won-albeit by one run in the ninth inning-and that the Boston Red Sox still had not been world champions since 1918, when Ruth was their best pitcher and Yawkey was a fifteen-year-old student at the Irving School in Tarrytown, New York.

The deciding game was dotted with essences of both teams. Once again, the Red Sox had a 3-0 lead, forged from Gullett's sudden wildness in the fourth inning. Once again, the Red Sox could not put Cincinnati away, either with their bats (Burleson had struck out with the bases loaded to end the fourth) or with their pitching or with their defense. Once again, it was the Hun, Rose, who lead their charge, as he'd led it from the first at-bat of the first game when he snarled, "Tiant is nothing," a declaration he continued to make for two weeks.

With his beloved moon staring down over his left shoulder, Bill Lee had cruised along into the sixth inning with the 3-0 lead. No one entertained America during the series more than The Space Man, as he happily discussed Vonnegut ("In nonsense is strength"), organic gardening, violence ("I'd have bitten Barnett's ear off -- I'd have Van Goghed him"), and Boston politics with any journalist who would listen -- and most of them did. That he was even on the October stage was surprising: after August 24, when he shut out the White Sox in the rain throwing Leephus bloopers and had a 17-6 record, he did not win another game, finishing the season lost in the bullpen until the Boston scouting reports suggested that his screwball and off-speed stuff would be more effective against Cincinnati's potent lineup than the conventional hard sinker-slider repertoire of late-season Reggie Cleveland. He'd pitched brilliantly in the rain-delayed second game, coming within an inning of a 2-1 victory that would have done in the Reds. But Johnny Bench, showing his experience, looked for the screwball, got one inches off the outside corner on the first pitch of the ninth, and drove it into the right-field corner. Then a David Concepcion infield hit and a Griffey double off Drago took the Reds home to Cincinnati 3-2 winners.

By the sixth inning of the final game, Rose was stomping around the dugout like a whiffling Che Guevera. He screamed, hollered, and slapped his teammates, then stomped up to the plate and led off the inning with a single, one of the extraordinary eleven times he reached base in his final fifteen plate appearances. An out later, Bench pulled a Lee sinker into the ground for what appeared to be an inning-ending double play to Burleson. "There are some things you just can't allow to happen," said Rose. "At that moment, a double play was one of them." He sent himself into a kamikaze orbit toward Doyle. "He saw me coming for ten feet in the air," Rose later chortled. "I made sure of it." He wanted his take-out slides to go to Cooperstown with his base-hit records.

Doyle had another problem besides Rose. The baseballs used then were made in Haiti, and once in a while the force of the bat would literally tear the cover off a ball. "The cover had almost entirely torn off when Bench hit it," Doyle revealed the next spring. "When I went to get rid of it to first, it just flew out of my hand." Utility infielder Bobby Heise retrieved the ball in the dugout, an unenviable trophy that Doyle would keep. The only postseason opportunity of Doyle's career was not one bathed in heroics, for he had lost another Bench double-play ball in the whiteness of Bench's uniform in game five.

So, instead of being out of the inning, Lee then had to face Tony Perez. For the first four games, Perez had been mired in a hitless slump. But in game five he walloped two tremendous home runs off Cleveland to provide Gullett the margin for the 6-2 victory. The scouting reports told Lee not to throw Perez, a deadly off-speed hitter, any junk. But The Space Man did what he wanted to do whenever he wanted to do it-which is how he became one of baseball's first and foremost counterculture idols-and he insisted on throwing Perez one of his Moon Curves or Leephus pitches. A blooper ball. He had thrown three earlier, two for strikes, one for a pop-up, and had even thrown one to Perez that was taken for a strike. "Lee was throwing that hard screwball so well, I never thought he'd throw another one of those bloopers," said Perez. "Sure, I was surprised, but I was geared up for the fastball, and that's so slow it's easy to adjust to." Rumor has it that the ball ended up in Kokomo, Indiana, having landed on a truck in the westbound lane of the Massachusetts Turnpike. Fact had the Red Sox lead cut to 3-2, and an inning later Lee developed a blister. "All of a sudden I found myself pitching to Griffey and I couldn't get the ball to go anywhere near where I wanted it," explained Lee, and when he walked Griffey, manager Darrell Johnson had to bring in left-hander Rogelio Moret. Griffey stole second, and after an out and a walk, Rose slapped another single that tied it. Right-hander Jim Willoughby, a tall, floppy sinker-baller who looked as if he were falling out of a tree when he pitched, came on to retire Bench with the bases loaded, pitched a one-two-three eighth, and looked forward to the ninth. He had pitched six and a third series innings without allowing an earned run.

After Evans led off the bottom of the eighth with a walk, Burleson failed to put down a bunt, grounding into a double play that would have brought Willoughby, the most effective reliever of the series, to the plate. Johnson sent up Cecil Cooper. Thus was another link in the chain of Boston's problematic baseball legacy forged.

Three months later, a man sat in the Abbeyfeale Café in Inman Square in Cambridge, drinking fifty-cent shots with twenty-five-cent drafts, blankly staring at the television mounted up in the corner of the bar. He had been there for nearly four hours, watching, when he turned for the first time to a group of three men down the bar. "Why," he stammered, "did Johnson bat for Willoughby?"

"Where were you," replied one of the men, "when you heard Denny Galehouse was pitching against the Indians?"

"How," asked another, "could Slaughter have scored from first?"

At the time, Cooper was going through what Gil Hodges had experienced in 1952, and what Eddie Murray and Willie Wilson and Dave Winfield would later have to face. He had gone into a dreadful slump that at that point had reached one-for-eighteen, a dour ending to what had been an emerging (.311) season before he had been hit in the face by a pitch thrown by Milwaukee's Billy Travers September 7.

Manager Johnson, too, was experiencing a public flogging of sorts. Lee, ired at being passed over for the sixth-game start when rain allowed Tiant to come back, said, "Darrell's been falling out of trees and landing on his feet all season." Johnson was a quiet man, whose inability to articulate had made him the butt of press conference jokes by the national media. He'd been the minor-league manager who helped direct most of the extraordinary young talent to Boston, and he'd organized and expertly handled a pitching staff to get as much out of it as one ever could have asked. But Johnson also was nearly fired in June, when, as the team went on a 9-4, job-saving road trip, the front office talked to Detroit officials about luring away Tigers manager Ralph Houk. Second baseman Doug Griffin, replaced by Doyle in mid-June, stated, "We're going to win this thing in spite of the manager." Such fragments of disrespect clouded the season. Fisk and Lee walked out of a meeting in the manager's office in Baltimore, claiming Johnson was incoherent. When the Red Sox clinched the division championship the last Saturday, Johnson refused to grant Yastrzemski permission to fly home to Florida and miss the final day of the season and the next couple of workouts prior to the playoffs; Yastrzemski went anyway. When they won the playoffs in Oakland, Johnson never went in and joined in the clubhouse celebration, instead sitting in his tiny office a few feet away, sipping champagne with Oakland outfielder Joe Rudi, his off-season hunting companion.

Replacing Willoughby, Cooper went out, and rookie left-hander Jim Burton came in to pitch the top of the ninth, since Drago had pitched three innings the night before. Burton promptly walked the man he was brought in to face, the left-hand-hitting Griffey leading off. Two outs later, Griffey was on second. Burton wisely walked Rose and pitched to the National League's Most Valuable Player, Morgan. It doesn't matter how the ball got out there, that Burton threw a pitch Morgan described as "a breaking ball on the outside corner that two years earlier I couldn't have handled," or that Morgan's bloop barely carried the infield into shallow left-center. The Reds had scored what would be the winning run in the ninth inning of the seventh game, and when Will McEnaney finished off the bottom of the ninth and watched Yaz -- who in 1967 had made the last out of his only other World Series -- hit a gentle fly to Geronimo, they had completed a task that most everyone in America had figured they'd accomplish with considerably greater ease.

Rose, Morgan, and company had won the 1975 World Series. But when the Sixth Game had ended with that ball suspended out in the black of the morning like the Mystic River Bridge, Carlton Fisk, Bernardo Carbo, Luis Tiant, and the Red Sox were the 1975 series.
Baseball had seized the imagination of the entire country; the excitement and color of that World Series marked it immediately as one of the greatest ever. It seemed inevitable that the Red Sox would dominate their league for years, and that baseball was entering a golden era in which this most traditional of sports would enjoy unprecedented tranquility, prosperity, and popularity.

Instead, the new era was quietly ushered in a few short weeks later in the office of arbitrator Peter Seitz, who ruled that Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally were, as they had claimed, free agents not bound to their respective teams forever through the option clause in their contracts. Though no one suspected it on that glorious October night, the Sixth Game and the 1975 World Series marked the end of an old era, not the beginning of a new one.