During 43 years of covering major league baseball there are special moments that constantly come to mind. And Fenway Park is in my catalog. Back in 1978, my third year on the baseball beat, the Angels, the team I was covering, were in the process of wrapping up their season on a fall Sunday.
I was supposed to be heading to Philadelphia to help our Dodgers writer cover the NLCS with the Phillies and Dodgers.
But before the final out was even recorded at Anaheim Stadium, I had a phone call from my sports editor, telling me on my way to Philadelphia, I was supposed to go through Boston, cover a Game 163 between the Red Sox and Yankees. The Yankees, it should be known, were of major interest in Long Beach, Ca., where I worked because Long Beach native Bob Lemon, whose dad ran Pop Lemon's gas station, had taken over as the manager of the Yankees mid-season, and oversaw one of the most impressive in-season rebounds in MLB history.
It was late July. The Yankees were in third place in the AL East, behind not only the first-place Red Sox by 14 games, but also the second-place Milwaukee Brewers. With Lemon filling out the lineup card, they went 53-21 in the final 74 games, while the Red Sox were struggling, which set up the first AL tiebreaker since the Indians knocked of the Red Sox in 1958.
I wound up on a red-eye to Boston, showed up at Fenway, stored my suitcase in Lemon’s office and then observed one of the most dramatic moments in baseball history.
With the Yankees up 2-0 in the seventh, one out and two men on base, the Yankees didn’t have much choice other than to let Bucky Dent to hit. He was 0-for-2 with a strikeout against Yankee starter Mike Torrez, but the Red Sox only had one player left on the bench, and Fred Stanley was being held back to hit for the pitcher – if need be.
After taking ball one, the light-hitting Dent fouled a ball off his left foot. And then, with the Red Sox faithful primed to celebrate not just a win, but a win-or-go-home win against the hated Yankees, Dent lofted a ball over the Green Monster in left field, sending the Yankees on their way to a 5-4 victory that opened the door for them to beat the Dodgers for the world championship for the second year in a row.
Never has a sold-out stadium been more silent. This was a game with less than 24 hours’ notice that it was even going to be played so it wasn’t like Yankee fans had time to buy tickets and head north for the event.
The late Steve Palermo, a New England native, was a rookie umpire handling third base. He was the one who signaled the ball hit by Dent fair – which was a no-brainer decision.
Palermo’s father, a New England principle, and mother were at the game, and Palermo rode home with them.
“My dad didn’t say a word for at least 30 minutes,” Palermo would later recall. “Finally, he says, `You could have called it foul.’ I said, `Dad, it wasn’t even close. How could I call it foul?’ With a stare, he told me, `It was in Boston. You’re from New England. You could have called it fair.”
The next day, Boston Globe columnist Ray Fitzgerald, began his piece with the line, “Hit me. He me, again. I’m a Boston sports fan. I can take it.”
It was definitely a feeling of gloom in New England.