The Boston Red Sox continued to make Fenway Park Death Valley for any opposing team as they culminated the recent 11-2 homestand with a 4-1 triumph over the Baltimore Orioles yesterday afternoon.
The win wrapped up a three-game sweep of the Birds, who dropped into third place, 9 1/2 games in back of the Sox and a game behind the New York Yankees, who won 4-2 over the Tigers in Detroit.
As was the case for the entire Oriole series, it was the story of botched opportunity by the Birds (what else can you call it when Andres Mora is your hitting star?) and timely pitching and defensive play by Boston.
Mike Torrez went the route, yielding nine hits and getting out of numerous jams unscathed, and secured his eleventh win of the year, the most by any righthander in baseball to date. His Houdiniest mound maneuver of the day came in the fifth, when Baltimore had the bases loaded with none out only to have Torrez retire them without a run.
As lucky as Torrez was, Baltimore's Dennis Martinez was the picture of ill will as his record dropped to 6-5. It started as early as the bottom of the first, when as with two outs Jim Rice smashed his ninth triple of the season to right field, and Ken Singleton chased and kicked the ball just long enough for Rice to comehome with an unearned run.
The Sox made it 2-0 in the second when Martinez gave up his second and third hits of only seven on the day. Carlton Fisk, who would probably be the hottest hitter in the American League if it weren't for Rick Burleson, blooped a single to center field and came home on Fred Lynn's double to left center.
Martinez then settled down long enough to have heart failure as the Orioles proceeded to strand the majority of the afternoon's 12 LOBs, but then gave some of the blame to himself when Burleson launched his fourth homer of the season to center field in the fifth to make it 3-0.
Though Fenway superstar Mora made it 3-1 with his second four-bagger of the series in the sixth, by then things were pretty much decided and attentions turned towards the Yankee game, which seemed worlds closer at 3-2 in the eighth at Detroit.
Virtually all that was left now were a couple of sideshows. George Scott lashed a triple to right in the seventh and buffaloed around the bases as if his sliding pads were on fire. The Boomer came in to score the final run of the day on Swight Evans's single up the middle.
But Butch Hobson's catch of a foul ball for the first out in the ninth summed up the Red Sox' play during the homestand better than any rally or one-two-three inning. Hobson snagged the foul pop while simultaneously running down the steps of the Oriole dugout, and eventually wound up somewhere near the coldcut platter in the Baltimore clubhouse. When he finally came back on to the playing field the ovation was the last and loudest from the throng that seems amazed but not surprised at anything this club does nowadays.
Be it over so humble, everybody's being humbled at Fenway this season.
THE NOTEBOOK: Yesterday's crowd of over 31,000 put the Sox over the million mark for the earliest time in the club's history. There is talk that the Red Sox will draw 2.2 million this season, which is outrageous considering that Fenway Park couldn't hold a decent Billy Graham revival.
The Sox left last night for two games in Yankee Stadium and four games in Baltimore before returning to Fenway for another pair against the pinstripers next Monday and Tuesday. Dennis Eckersley (7-2) goes against ailing change-up artist Andy Messersmith (0-1) tonight on the Monday Night Game of the Week (8 p.m., Channel 5). Rookie Jim Wright (3-1 will face unbeatable-as-yet Ron Guidry (12-0) in the series finale.
While many Yankee fans are preparing to concede the division title to Boston before the leaves change color. Baltimore manager Earl Weaver looks at the Sox 50-21 record and probably thinks of 1974, when Boston had a 7 1/2-game lead on August 23, only to lose the title to the Birds in the last two weeks. Don't worry about a pennant race, boy and girls.
Rick Burleson raised his batting average to .253 after yesterday's game, not bad for a guy who was hitting .198 only four weeks ago.