Reliving The 1975 World Series—Thirty Years Ago
Rain, lineup changes, and high pitch counts represented just two of the themes in Game Four of the memorable 1975 World Series. As part of a continuing retrospective series, let’s take a look back at the pivotal matchup between the Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds.
Only two hours before the scheduled start of Game Four, rain started to fall at Riverfront Stadium, resulting in the laying out of the infield tarpaulin. Fortunately, the rain stopped about an hour before gametime, giving the Riverfront Stadium grounds ample time to suction off water from the outfield turf and dry off the dirt areas surrounding each of the bases.
Facing a two-games-to-one deficit in the Series, Darrell Johnson made several lineup changes, most notably benching first baseman Cecil Cooper, who had notched only one hit through the first three games. Johnson inserted young outfielder Juan Beniquez as his starting left fielder, while moving Carl Yastrzemski from his usual post in the outfield to Cooper’s spot at first base. More importantly, Johnson turned to staff ace Luis Tiant as his starting pitcher in Game Four.
Pitching on three days’ rest, Tiant looked uncertain in the first inning. He allowed an immediate single to Pete Rose, followed by a run-scoring double off the bat of Ken Griffey. Fortunately for Tiant, Griffey foolishly tried to stretch two bases into three and found himself making the first out of the inning on a sharp relay from Fred Lynn to Rick Burleson to Rico Petrocelli. "That’s a situation where third base can’t help you. You can’t get thrown out at third with none out," Sparky Anderson told Bob Hertzel of the Cincinnati Enquirer before suddenly reversing himself, ala Casey Stengel. "But it took a perfect throw and, if he’s safe, we get another run." Yes, Sparky was sounding more and more like "Ol’ Case," to whom he had so often been compared.
Although given a second breath due to Griffey’s faulty baserunning, Tiant continued to buckle. He walked Joe Morgan and then surrendered a long opposite-field drive by Johnny Bench. Right fielder Dwight Evans, usually a brilliant defensive player, failed to dive for Bench’s blast, which missed his glove by inches. Running aggressively, Morgan scored all the way from first to give the Reds a 2-0 lead.
Tiant’s counterpart, diminutive left-hander Fred Norman, pitched more effectively in the early innings. Norman permitted a single in each of the first three innings, but allowed no Red Sox runners to score. Given Norman’s recent run of success, which included 10 wins in 11 decisions dating back to late June, the Red Sox had to be wondering about their chances of coming back.
Until the fourth inning, that is. Carlton Fisk led off with a single to left field and Fred Lynn followed with a safety to right field. With no one out, the Red Sox had one of their most experienced—and hottest—hitters at the plate. Rico Petrocelli, a participant in the 1967 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, had already collected seven hits against Cincinnati pitching.
Sensing that the end of his career was coming soon, Petrocelli wanted nothing better than to make his final World Series a fruitful one. "Yes, absolutely," says Petrocelli, one of the most well-spoken players of his generation. "I got hit in the head for the third time in ’74, right behind the ear, and it damaged my inner ear. In ’75, most of the year, I was in and out; I really had problems and I was on medication. For me, the ’75 Series was my last hurrah. In ’76, I played probably half the year, I think it was. Butch Hobson came in and played regular. And then I went to spring training in ’77 and got released at that time."
Petrocelli hoped to continue the robust hitting that he had enjoyed over the first three games against the Reds, but popped out against Norman for the inning’s first out. Still, Petrocelli and the Sox gained a reprieve when Norman unfurled a wild pitch, allowing both runners to move up. Dwight Evans took full advantage of the opportunity by lacing a two-run triple over the head of Cesar Geronimo in center field. Evans then came home on Rick Burleson’s looping double to left-center field. The Red Sox suddenly owned a 3-2 lead.
Sparky Anderson had seen enough. He pulled Norman from the game, replacing him with veteran reliever Pedro Borbon. Borbon’s first assignment seemed easy enough—the pitcher’s spot—but Luis Tiant continued to confound the Reds by lining a single to center field. Tiant’s second hit of the Series put runners on first and third, with still only one man out.
With the infield playing back for a double play possibility, newly installed leadoff man Juan Beniquez pounded a ground ball to the right side of the infield. Hurrying in an effort to start the double play, Tony Perez bobbled the ball, allowing Tiant to move to second, Beniquez to reach first, and Burleson to score from third. After retiring Denny Doyle, Borbon then allowed a clean single to Carl Yastrzemski, which gave the Red Sox a 5-2 lead.
Momentum appeared to shift completely to the side of the Red Sox when Tiant put down the first two Reds he faced in the bottom of the fourth. Yet, Tiant could not register the third out quite so easily. George Foster singled, Dave Concepcion doubled, and Cesar Geronimo tripled to put two runs on the board. With the tying run now at third, Sparky Anderson called on backup outfielder Terry Crowley to pinch-hit for Borbon. Crowley, a veteran of several playoff teams with the Baltimore Orioles, struck out against a recovering Tiant, ending the rally. The Red Sox still led, but by an uncomfortable margin of 5-4.
Relying on his fastball more than his wide repertoire of breaking pitches, which had been his staple in Game One, Tiant kept the Reds’ bats quiet over the next four innings. With the game moving to the bottom of the ninth and Tiant’s pitch-count soaring, Darrell Johnson considered a pitching change, but only briefly. "I talked to Tiant and Fisk," Johnson told The Sporting News, "and we liked the way he was pitching. He’s done it all year for us and I saw no reason to why we shouldn’t let him finish what he had started." During the regular season, Tiant had averaged about 130 pitches per start. He had already exceeded that total by the time the ninth inning began.
Leading off the ninth, Cesar Geronimo banged out his third hit of the night. Repeating the strategy that had bred controversy in Game Three, Sparky Anderson called on Ed Armbrister as his pinch-hitter—and designated bunter. As he did in the previous game, Armbrister laid down a bunt, and once again, he hesitated before running out of the batter’s box. Only this time, Armbrister bunted the ball in the direction of first base and well away from catcher Carlton Fisk. Carl Yastrzemski fielded the ball without interference and retired Armbrister, while Geronimo advanced to second base.
It was back to the top of the order for Tiant, who would have to continue to work hard to prevent the Reds from tying the game. Pitching carefully to Pete Rose, Tiant walked the dangerous leadoff man. He now faced the slightly less imposing Ken Griffey, the Reds’ hero in Game Two. Griffey lofted a drive to straightaway center field, forcing Fred Lynn to retreat from his position. As Fisk watched from behind home plate, he thought Griffey’s shot would hit the wall and score both the game-tying and game-winning runs.
Yet, Fisk didn’t realize that Lynn was stationed deeper than usual because of the rain that had fallen earlier in the day. "It was a wet field and the ball carries well in this park, so I was playing about 15 feet deeper," Lynn told The Sporting News. As Lynn so astutely observed, Griffey’s blistering ball lacked topspin, unlike other similarly hard-hit drives. "That ball didn’t sink. It just kept going."
The ball did carry well, forcing Lynn all the way to the warning track. As his feet landed on the dirt path of the track, Lynn extended both of his hands into the air, rather than employing a usual one-armed approach, which would have allowed greater extension. "I didn’t know I caught it with two hands," Lynn told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "It seemed like I had a tough time getting my arms up. I guess that was why." Nonetheless, Lynn had snared the ball before it could carom off the wall. The second out of the inning, a play that bordered on the spectacular, forced Geronimo and Rose to return to their respective bases.
Tiant now prepared to face Joe Morgan, who offered a dangerous mix of patience and power at the plate. As Tiant unleashed his 163rd pitch of the night, Geronimo inexplicably broke for third. Geronimo said that he tried to signal to Morgan that he would be attempting a stolen base, but the batter did not see it. Distracted by Geronimo’s unexpected break, Morgan swung and lofted the ball weakly into the infield air. "I have a poor habit of swinging at the ball when I see someone going," Morgan informed Sports Illustrated after the game. Carl Yastrzemski, continuing to man first base for the Red Sox, called for the infield pop-up. Thanks to the clutch pitching of Tiant, the graceful excellence of Lynn in center field, and some illogical baserunning by Cincinnati, the Red Sox had escaped with a 5-4 victory and evened the Series at two games apiece. And for only the 18th time in 1975, the Reds had found a way to lose a game at Riverfront Stadium.
After the game, Sparky Anderson refused to explain whether Geronimo was following a steal sign, or simply running on his own. "That’s for you to find out," Anderson told Bob Hertzel of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "I’m not giving away our secrets to Darrell Johnson." Whatever the source of the decision, it was an ill-timed maneuver that would have provided little benefit for the Reds.