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Fear And Losing at Fenway

B.S. on Sports

By Bill Scheft

Why can't you just get it through your head--It's over, it's over now... --Boz Skaggs

Look around you. The leaves aren't green anymore. People like Otto Velez aren't leading their leagues in home runs anymore. Pennant fever is vacant on both sides of Chicago now. The baseball season is winding down, and soon Natural Selection will name a champion.

These are serious times for the Boston Red Sox. As of last night they were 4 1/2 games out of first place with 12 games left to play, two of them against the league-leading Yankees last night and tonight. Xs I hunt and peck this piece Thurmon Munson has just put one into the left field screen at Fenway Park to give the New Yorkers an early lead. It's like waving a Milky Way in front of a fat child.

It's just no fun anymore. We can't sit around and laugh about George Scott's weight problem, Luis Tiant's ambiguous age, or Rick Wise's Chem-20-like glasses. We can't say "I told you so" about early-season Yankee dissension. All we seem to do is regret all those nights we were glued to Channel 38 instead of a reference book. What does Jim Rice care anyway that we're in Group III?

The Red Sox have no right to win their division this year.

What's this? Blasphemy, you say? No way. I'm as loyal to the Sox as the Jews for Jesus guy that walks up and down Jersey Street with a bull horn and a flag of Israel before all the home games. We just can't go on kidding ourselves like this. It's time for some honest criticism.

There are the obvious problems; a pitching staff whose leading winner is a reliever with 12 victories, a center fielder who blames every 0-for-4 day on his sore ankles, a catcher who wouldn't block the plate in a whiffle ball game, and a manager who thinks a sacrifice is something done with animals rather than baserunners.

The complaints about the pitching staff have of course been a season-long beef, but are not altogether justified. Manager Don Zimmer and pitching coach Al Jackson have been a svcond guesser'b dream with a lot of their moves and Tiant has never resembled the consistent craftsman who won 20 or more games three of the last four years. But amidst all this, the staff's earned run average is still a respectable 4.19, considering Fenway Park, the designated hitter and recent expansion.

The fault, believe it or not, lies with the hitters. Yes, "The Over The Wall Gang." Uh-huh, "The Bay State Rollers." For all their RBIs, home runs and palm slapping, the Red Sox line-up has dismally failed countless numbers of times to get the clutch hits, the come-from-behind runs, and the late-inning rallies that are instrumental for division-winners and were the trademarks of the previous pennant-winning squads of 1967 and 1975. Sure, it's disappointing to see Rick Wise give up eight runs in the first two innings, but when George Scott lets two letter-high fastballs blow by him with a man on third and a tie ballgame, well guys, that's downright excruciating.

I mean what can you say about a team whose two best clutch hitters bat eighth and ninth in the order and one of them is batting a smoldering .240?

In a word, you don't win a division by trading off equally long winning and losing streaks over six months. Ironically, the traditionally fickle Boston fans have been the most consistent aspect of this baseball season.

And as we all agonized over time squandered watching the Sox treat the rest of the American League like dice on a crap table, we realize that in the end the house will win, that the better-coached and more consistent ballclub will frolic in October. I may be wrong, but leave the champagne in the basement.

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