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THE BIG RED MACHINE – Part 3 – El Tiante, Yaz, Little Joe & The Ed Armbrister Game

(Photo: dougwilsonbaseball)

The 1975 World Series was one of the greatest such championship series ever played. That season went a long way toward restoring a shine to the sport. On Ken Burns’ 1993 series, Baseball, writer Daniel Okrent described this series thusly, “The 1975 season gave baseball a galvanic moment that, I believe, changed much of the nation’s attitude toward baseball.”

“It seemed like we all stayed up all night long to see the conclusion of that. And it’s from that moment that I date the resurgence of interest in baseball. It came to establish all sorts of records in attendance and viewership and every other measure that one could have.” This series went back and forth between two teams that had not won a title in decades. And it gave us dramatic games, some of which have been described as the best ever played.

Saturday afternoon, October 11 at Fenway Park, started in a fashion that resembled two heavyweights feeling each other out at the beginning of a title fight.

The first game of the 1975 World Series began like a masterpiece. The Cincinnati Reds went down in order at the hands of Luis Tiant to begin the game. Don Gullett faced five Boston Red Sox hitters in the first inning, but he got away with a zero at the end of it. Fred Lynn was the fifth batter for the home side and even though he singled with Dwight Evans standing on second base, Evans was thrown out at home to end a potentially damaging inning for the Reds.

In the second inning, Tiant was scheduled to face Tony Perez, George Foster, and Davey Concepcion. Despite a couple of hard-hit balls, he retired the Reds 1-2-3 again. And again, Gullett faced five Boston batters and pitched around a walk and a single to wriggle out of the inning by allowing no runs. In fact, with runners on the corners with nobody out, he struck out Cecil Cooper and El Tiante and he got Dwight Evans to hit a foul ball to right that was caught by Ken Griffey.

In the third inning, both Tiant and Gullett got the other team’s batters out in order. The fourth was interesting. Pete Rose was the first man up for Cincinnati. He grounded out to Denny Doyle at second. Then Joe Morgan got the Reds’ first base hit of the game. Johnny Bench followed him to the plate. With a speedy and assertive runner on first, Tiant threw over to the bag four times. Each time, Morgan was able to make it back successfully. Nick Colosi, a National League umpire, was stationed at first.

On Tiant’s fifth throw to first, Colosi shouted “BALK!” This, of course, caused Sox’ manager Darrell Johnson and numerous Boston players to rush the field and the area around Colosi. It clearly emanated from all the talk in the days prior to the series from Sparky Anderson and some of the Reds that Tiant was committing a balk on every pitch. Indeed, Morgan was one of those who was telling the Boston pitcher on the field about his alleged transgressions. “More than once, I hollered at Tiant that he was balking. Not with animosity but just to let him know.”

Everyone was fully aware of the controversy that was created before the series, and this seemed to be a continuation of that. Don Zimmer was a coach with the Red Sox, and he proceeded to give Colosi everything he could possibly get away with after the call was made and even after play had resumed. Colosi, at one point, called ‘time’ in order to approach Zimmer and waved a finger at him to get him to quiet down. Colosi was quoted after the game as saying, “He had too big a mouth. I told him to keep it shut.”

In the seventh inning, Tiant, who hadn’t batted in a couple of seasons, singled. During one of the breaks in the action, the Red Sox’ pitcher put his arm around Colosi’s shoulder and the two men talked. Reds’ first baseman Tony Perez was standing close by. “I explained it to him,” Colosi said, “and then I had Perez explain it in Spanish. Everything was fine and Tiant was grateful for the talk. I saw a balk and I called it. What’s the big deal about it?”

For his part, Tiant was fairly straightforward. “I knew he (Colosi) was going to be watching, but I didn’t change my style. I’ve been doing the same things all my life. Sure, I got mad. But I realized that he has to do his job and you can’t crucify a guy for that.” Johnson wouldn’t touch it with reporters after the game. “I have never discussed an umpire’s decision with the news media in my life and won’t start doing it now.”

Morgan moved up to second base after the balk call and the game eventually resumed. Tiant induced Bench to pop up behind the plate. Fisk caught that one without a problem. Tony Perez came up next and swung at strike three to end whatever excitement may have ensued. Both pitchers traded zeroes as the teams went back and forth getting runners on base but being unable to score. That is….until the seventh inning.

According to Sparky Anderson, this game hinged on two plays, and both happened in the seventh. The first happened as the Reds were batting and the second while they were in the field.

In the top of the seventh inning, George Foster led things off with a single off Tiant. That was just the fourth base hit off the Boston ace. Dave Concepcion followed Foster to the plate, and he hit a sinking liner to left-centre field. Carl Yastrzemski hustled over to the ball and made a great catch on the play. Foster was subsequently caught stealing second right after that. Ken Griffey then clubbed a two-out double. Cesar Geronimo was intentionally walked to bring Gullett up. The Reds’ hurler lined out to Denny Doyle at second. That was the inning.

In the bottom of the seventh, it was Boston’s pitcher, Tiant, who stepped up to bat first. He hit a ball that found grass for a lead-off single. Next man up was the first-place hitter, Dwight Evans. He laid a bunt down. Tiant, who is not the speediest runner took off for second. Gullett picked up the ball and turned to throw to second to get the force on the pitcher. Gullett slipped though and that lost fraction of a second was enough to allow Tiant to get there safely.

That tiny misplay opened the door for a huge Boston inning. After Evans’ bunt, Doyle singled to load the bases. Then Yastrzemski singled to score El Tiante. Gullett’s day was over. Clay Carroll came out of the bullpen to stop the bleeding. He walked the catcher, Carlton Fisk. Another run scored and the bases were still loaded. Anderson came out and replaced Carroll with Will McEnaney.

The first man McEnaney faced was Fred Lynn. He managed to get Lynn to swing and miss on strike three. But then Rico Petrocelli and Rick Burleson both singled and when Cecil Cooper came up after Burleson, it was 5-0 and there were runners on second and third. After Cooper flied out to Griffey in right, Petrocelli scored the sixth run of the inning. McEnaney got the tenth batter of the inning, Tiant, to pop up to Perez in foul territory. That 6-0 mark was the final score of the game.

Sparky Anderson: “If Yaz misses that one (the sinking liner off the bat of Concepcion in the seventh), we are going to score. If Gullett doesn’t slip, he gets Tiant easy. Hell, Yaz wins it for them, and we give it to them. We never got a chance to play our game. This was one of those days. But, I’ve also seen us play well and the biggest mistake anyone can make is to criticize this team off one game. If (Bill) Lee pitches like Tiant tomorrow, well, I haven’t figured out how to win with all the zeroes on the scoreboard.”

Somebody asked Pete Rose about the importance of the loss in the first game of the series. “We won ten of our last eleven in the regular season and three straight in the playoffs. We hit the ball hard, but it was always at somebody.” He was then asked about whether or not Tiant’s idiosyncratic pitching delivery was a key to this loss. “His head could fall off and roll in to the plate and I wouldn’t know it. I’m looking at the ball.”

Johnny Bench told reporters that the reason Tiant won was because he made no mistakes. “He’s going to give you pitches to hit, but they’re not going to be good ones. With him, you have to concentrate on the ball. He didn’t make many bad pitches, and they played great defense behind him. Give them credit.” When asked about Gullett’s miscue in the seventh, Bench spoke up for his pitcher. On the play, Bench had shouted for Gullett to throw the ball to second. “Not many people can make that play, but Gullett can. Except I didn’t count on him slipping.”

There was at least one moment of mirth after the first game. Boston’s Rico Petrocelli played in the 1967 World Series as well. When he was asked to compare this series with that one, he laughed. “Well, I got two hits in the entire 1967 series, and I had two this afternoon.”

After the game, rain began to hit the Greater Boston Area. The grounds crew got the tarps out quickly enough after the game to keep the infield dry and playable. The weather forecasts predicted that the rain would stop in time for the game to proceed as it was scheduled on Sunday, October 12. But we know how accurate weather forecasts can be.

Roger O’Gara of the Berkshire Eagle referred to the Sunday of the second game as “rain-besmirched”.  He also said that the game was “tension-packed”. He was correct on both counts. The game lasted two hours and thirty-eight minutes. And the outcome was in doubt right up until the final out was recorded. The starting pitchers were Bill Lee for Boston and Jack Billingham for the Reds. Lee came into this game not having recorded a victory since August. But he was great on this Sunday.

In the Cincinnati Enquirer on the morning of October 12, there was a piece by Dave Anderson of the New York Times on Bill Lee. Anderson tried to get to baseball questions, but Lee really wasn’t having any of that. He discussed things that affected people. He talked about the busing situation in Boston, his political stances, whether or not he voted in 1972 (he was playing ball in Venezuela at the time, and didn’t vote), and how he got an academic scholarship to the University of Southern California.

At one point, Anderson asked Lee, “Did you go to the manager and tell him you were ready to pitch now?” Lee responded with, “No. The manager came to me and said I was ready to pitch.” One conservative baseball person exclaimed about Lee, “He’s not serious enough.” Another one said, “He’s lefthanded all the way.” But Lee retorted to all that talk by saying, “I keep opening my mouth. I see things that are wrong. I try to right ‘em.”

Over to the baseball game……

In the top-half of the first inning, Lee was looking at Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, and Johnny Bench. He got them out on eleven pitches getting Rose to strike out on just three straight. That brought Billingham out to face first baseman, Cecil Cooper. Cooper hammered the first Billingham offering into left field for a double. Second sacker Denny Doyle then got aboard on an infield single. Cooper moved over to third on the hit.

Carl Yastrzemski then hit a comebacker to Billingham. He looked Cooper back to third and threw to Concepcion at second for the force out on Doyle. Cooper then took off for home. Concepcion gunned the ball homeward to Bench. Cooper, realizing that he was dead at home, turned and tried to get back to third. He was eventually tagged out by the Reds’ catcher. That left Yaz at second base.

The cleanup hitter, Carlton Fisk, was up next. Fisk singled to right and scored Yastrzemski for the first run of the game. Fred Lynn grounded out to end the inning. But the Red Sox were on the board and were still the only team to score a run in this series so far. Then Lee struck out Tony Perez and George Foster and got Dave Concepcion, who worked the count full, to ground out to shortstop. Lee retired the side on fifteen pitches.

Billingham pitched around a hit batsman and a single to get the Red Sox out in the second without scoring a run. Then The Spaceman got the bottom of the Cincinnati order out in the top of the third on nine tosses. In the home half of the third, Billingham got Cooper and Doyle to ground out, walked Yastrzemski and got Fisk to strike out swinging.

After getting Rose to ground out on his first pitch of the fourth inning, Lee then walked Morgan. Bench then singled, moving Morgan over to third. There were now runners on the corners for Tony Perez. The Red Sox were at double play depth to try to get out of the inning with the slower Perez at the plate. Lee got the ground ball to Burleson at shortstop. They managed to force Bench at second, but they couldn’t get Perez at first. Morgan scored and the game was now tied. The inning ended with the score at 1-1.

By this time, Billingham had found everything he needed. He and Lee traded zeroes on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fourth, the fifth and the top of the sixth. In the bottom of the sixth, Billingham would be looking at the 2-3-4 hitters for Boston – Denny Doyle, Carl Yastrzemski and Carlton Fisk. Doyle would ground out to Morgan for the first out.

But Yastrzemski managed a single to right and the lead run was on. Fisk then hit a ground ball to Concepcion, which he misplayed for an error and there were runners on first and second with just one out for Fred Lynn. Lynn hit a fly ball to Griffey in right for the second out. Rico Petrocelli was up next. He singled up the middle and scored Yaz. After Billingham walked Evans to load the bases, Anderson emerged from the dugout to bring in Pedro Borbon.

Borbon got his man Burleson to end the inning and stop the bleeding. For Boston fans, their team had a 2-1 lead with just three innings to play and Bill Lee dealing. For Cincinnati fans, they came out of the sixth trailing by just one run when it looked like it might have been a lot worse. When Lee walked Perez to lead off the seventh, emotions curdled on both sides. But when he then retired Foster, Concepcion and got Griffey swinging to end the threat, fingernails on both sides must have been getting gnarled, at least a bit. At least Red Sox fans could breathe though.

Will McEnaney came on to pitch for the Reds in the bottom of the seventh. He retired Lee, Cooper and Doyle in order. Then Lee faced the number eight hitter Cesar Geronimo and got him to fly out to Lynn in centre. The pitcher’s spot was due up next. Anderson sent Merv Rettenmund in to pinch hit. He popped up to the first baseman Cooper in foul territory. Pete Rose came up and got into a one ball, two strike hole, but he singled to right. That brought Joe Morgan up. He grounded out to his counterpart, Doyle to end the Reds’ eighth.

For the Reds, Rawly Eastwick was now pitching to try to keep this game at a 2-1 score. He walked Carlton Fisk and allowed a single to Petrocelli, but he managed to pitch around those and hold the deficit to just that single run.

Bill Lee had been masterful through eight innings. He was the picture of efficiency and effectiveness. Through the first three innings, he used just 35 pitches. In that one inning in which the Reds scored their only run, he used 19 pitches. After that, he used eight pitches in the fifth, nine in the sixth, fourteen in the seventh and just seven to get the Reds out in the eighth. His junk had been absolutely ghastly!

He was now on his fourth trip through the Reds’ lineup and the first batter for Cincinnati in the top of the ninth inning was Johnny Bench. He was 1-for-3 with a single he had hit back in the fourth inning. In the ninth, he went the other way on Lee’s first pitch and sent it into right field for a double. Manager Darrell Johnson had seen enough, and he elected to bring in the Sox’ closer Dick Drago.

“I was looking for a pitch away,” Bench told the Associated Press. “I noticed their shift against me and wanted to hit it through the open spot and I was fortunate to get it that way.”

The first man in the box to face Drago was Tony Perez. He hit a ground ball to Burleson for the first out. Bench managed to advance to third on the play. Foster went to a ball and two strikes before hitting a soft fly ball to shallow left. Yastrzemski caught it. Bench didn’t test Yaz’ arm on the play. The Red Sox were now an out away from taking a two-game lead in the series.

Dave Concepcion was the next hitter. He dribbled a weak single that caromed off Drago, and Doyle corralled it behind second, but it was enough to score Bench and tie the game. On the first pitch to Ken Griffey, Concepcion broke for second. He was safe with a stolen base. Three pitches later, Griffey pounded Drago’s delivery to left-centre field and when the dust settled, Griffey was standing on second base and Concepcion had scored. Just like that, it was 3-2 for the visitors.

That was how the game would end. Instead of having a chokehold on the series, The Red Sox were going to Cincinnati with the prospect of possibly having their season end at Riverfront Stadium.

The Reds’ Sparky Anderson expressed relief at the situation. “We’re glad to get out of here alive.” Joe Morgan talked about why his team had some difficulties against their American League foes. “The weather hurt us here because the footing was bad in the infield.”

The Green Monster had been invitingly close for the visitors’ right-handed power hitters. Boston’s pitchers were very good at preventing the Reds’ stars from reaching for the left field structure.

“The Boston pitchers have been pitching outside and not letting us hit to the wall in left,” Morgan said. “So, as a result, our right-handed hitters had to make adjustments and go with the pitches instead of trying to pull them.” Bench’s ninth-inning double was a perfect example of that. “If Bench had tried to pull Lee, he would have been in trouble. But he did what he was supposed to do – hit it to right.”

There was a time in his life when losing a game like this would have caused Bill Lee to become incendiary. But he seemed quite calm after this contest. “I don’t think this was a tough loss. You gotta have positive vibes. We’re gonna go out there and get the breaks. Cincinnati thinks they’re gonna blow us away. But they’re not.” Lee was asked what his plans for the third game of the series in Cincy would be. “I’ll be there on the bench, cheering, going bananas, going crazy.”

There’s no word as to whether or not he was speaking facetiously.

There was a lot of talk about the next three games being played on the artificial turf of Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. The consensus seemed to be that, with nicer weather than was experienced in Boston, it would be a ‘fast track’ and that would favour the Reds with their speed. But it didn’t seem that the Red Sox’ players shared that opinion.

Shortstop Rick Burleson was one of the more vocal Boston players on the subject. “We know we can beat this ball club. I’ll tell you, we’re capable. If we just play in Cincinnati the way we’ve played all year, we have a good chance to take it all.” Third baseman Rico Petrocelli added, “We just have to play hard, play our butts off!”

Bill Lee shared his thoughts about playing on the fake grass as well. “Maybe the Reds don’t realize it but we’re a great Astroturf team. We play darn good baseball on artificial turf.” Lee made mention of the Red Sox’ 4-2 record in games in Kansas City.

Players on the home side seemed to be thrilled to back in familiar territory. Joe Morgan seemed quite happy. “Everything’s different now. Playing at home is going to make all the difference in the world for us. The ballpark had a lot to do with our performance,” alluding to the fact that his team batted only .188 and scored just three runs in the two games at Fenway Park.

The starting pitchers for the third game of the series would be right-handers Rick Wise for Boston and Gary Nolan for the Reds. Wise spent most of his career in the National League with the Phillies and Cardinals. He and the Reds were no strangers to one another. In 1971, while with Philadelphia, he pitched a no-hitter against Cincinnati and hit a couple of homers against them as well.

“My lifetime record against the Reds is something like 8-10, but most of the losses were early in my career when Cincinnati played in old Crosley Field, before the new stadium was built. I know them and they know me. I’ve had a lot of luck with Bench, Perez and others in the past. But Joe Morgan has been a tough out for me.”

Darrell Johnson chose Wise because of the fast turf at Riverfront. “Rick is basically a high ball pitcher and that should be helpful. A sinkerball pitcher forces men to hit the ball on the ground. A high ball pitcher, like Wise, gets many men on pops.”

Nolan was once the ace of the Reds’ staff and 1972 was the best season to this point in his career. But he began to develop arm issues toward the end of 1972 and endured a couple of different surgeries and missed out on two years of playing time. In 1975, he posted 15 victories to tie for the team lead. While he was sitting out, and that time off the roster began to stretch, he dealt with the stress and anxiety.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was worried. I was wondering if it (a return to the lineup) would be in the cards. I couldn’t go around with a grudge. But it was pretty hard to joke around when the joke was on me.” When doctors couldn’t diagnose what was wrong with Nolan’s arm, people began to question his will. “Shoot, they had to be questioning me as a pitcher. Nobody could find what was wrong with me.”

But when he went to visit Frank Jobe, the pioneer of elbow ligament and rotator cuff surgery, the answer seemed to be found. Jobe discovered that a calcified bone spur in Nolan’s shoulder was the source of his pain. Once that was removed, and Nolan was able to throw without discomfort and pain, he was on his way back. “I don’t go to the altar 24 hours a day, but I appreciate where I’m at more than I did two or three years ago.”

Game Three was played on a Tuesday evening. October 14. As well pitched as the first two contests were, this one would be more of a hitter’s matchup. In fact, neither of the starters would make it out of the fifth inning. In an Associated Press account of the game, it was described as ‘a pulsating, tense affair that had everything’. Also, this one might forever be remembered as ‘The Ed Armbrister Game’.

Nolan started the game off crisply by retiring the Red Sox on just five pitches. Wise followed that by getting Cincinnati out with twelve throws. In the top of the second, Boston catcher Carlton Fisk led off by taking Nolan deep. Over the wall deep. The visitors led 1-0 after their half of the inning. The score stayed that way until the Reds’ half of the fourth.

As Cincinnati came up in that inning, Wise quickly got Griffey and Morgan to fly out to Fred Lynn in centre field. Morgan hammered his fly ball deep, but it was caught, nonetheless. That brought Tony Perez to the plate. Wise missed on a 3-1 pitch and Perez was aboard. On Wise’s first pitch to Johnny Bench, the Big Dog took off and stole second.

Apparently, Wise felt some frustration after Perez moved to second. His preoccupation with Perez led him to lose some of his concentration. He floated a fat pitch to Bench and the Reds’ catcher pounded it 400 feet to the left field wall and beyond giving his team a 2-1 lead. Wise regrouped after Bench’s long drive and he got George Foster to ground out to Petrocelli to end the inning.

Gary Nolan’s neck had been tightening up on him through the game to the point where he could no longer continue. Pat Darcy would have to take over for Nolan. He gave up a single to Rick Burleson but nothing else and the Reds went to the bottom of the fifth holding their slim 2-1 lead.

In the bottom of the fifth, Wise would be facing the bottom third of the Reds batting order for the second time. He got a strike past Davey Concepcion. The Cincinnati shortstop got his bat on Wise’s next pitch, and he drummed it over the wall in left-centre field for a solo shot. Cesar Geronimo followed Concepcion and got ahead in the count at three balls and a strike. Wise’s next delivery ended up close to the ball Concepcion hit. It went over the wall and off the façade in left. 4-1, Reds.

Wise then got Darcy on strikes, but after he gave up a triple to Pete Rose, his evening was finished. Darrell Johnson elected to bring Jim Burton in to pitch. His first batter was Ken Griffey. He walked him. That did give Boston a potential double play opportunity, but Joe Morgan was not going to allow them any chance to get out of the inning while he was batting. He lofted a fly ball to centre field that Lynn was able to flag down. However, it also allowed Rose to score. The fifth ended with Cincy ahead 5-1.

In the top of the sixth, the Red Sox would be sending up their 2-3-4 hitters. Pat Darcy was still on the hill for Cincinnati. He got the first man, Denny Doyle, to pop up to third baseman Pete Rose in foul territory. Next up was Carl Yastrzemski. Yaz walked. Then Carlton Fisk walked. With the count one ball and two strikes on Fred Lynn, Darcy uncorked a wild pitch. Yastrzemski and Fisk moved up ninety feet.

Gary Nolan’s neck had been tightening up on him through the game to the point where he could no longer continue. Pat Darcy would have to take over for Nolan. He gave up a single to Rick Burleson but nothing else and the Reds went to the bottom of the fifth holding their slim 2-1 lead.

In the bottom of the fifth, Wise would be facing the bottom third of the Reds batting order for the second time. He got a strike past Davey Concepcion. The Cincinnati shortstop got his bat on Wise’s next pitch, and he drummed it over the wall in left-centre field for a solo shot. Cesar Geronimo followed Concepcion and got ahead in the count at three balls and a strike. Wise’s next delivery ended up close to the ball Concepcion hit. It went over the wall and off the façade in left. 4-1, Reds.

Wise then got Darcy on strikes, but after he gave up a triple to Pete Rose, his evening was finished. Darrell Johnson elected to bring Jim Burton in to pitch. His first batter was Ken Griffey. He walked him. That did give Boston a potential double play opportunity, but Joe Morgan was not going to allow them any chance to get out of the inning while he was batting. He lofted a fly ball to centre field that Lynn was able to flag down. However, it also allowed Rose to score. The fifth ended with Cincy ahead 5-1.

In the top of the sixth, the Red Sox would be sending up their 2-3-4 hitters. Pat Darcy was still on the hill for Cincinnati. He got the first man, Denny Doyle, to pop up to third baseman Pete Rose in foul territory. Next up was Carl Yastrzemski. Yaz walked. Then Carlton Fisk walked. With the count one ball and two strikes on Fred Lynn, Darcy uncorked a wild pitch. Yastrzemski and Fisk moved up ninety feet.

In 1975, Carbo played in 107 games with the Red Sox. He hit 15 homers and drove in 50 runs and batted .257. Nothing spectacular but he was a solid bench outfielder. With Reggie Cleveland due to come up, Darrell Johnson sent Carbo in to bat for him. On the first pitch he saw from Carroll, Carbo crushed the ball deep over the left field wall. The visitors were back to within two now, trailing 5-3.

The two teams traded zeroes over the next inning and a half. In the top of the ninth, after Fred Lynn had struck out, Rico Petrocelli singled to centre field. Will McEnaney had come in to pitch after Carroll gave up the homer to Carbo. After the Petrocelli base hit, Rawly Eastwick came in to take over for McEnaney. The first man Eastwick faced was Dwight Evans.

Eastwick missed with his first offering. On his second pitch, Evans turned on it and deposited it over the left field wall. The comfortable 5-1 Reds’ lead that they enjoyed a few short innings ago had now evaporated. The teams were now tied and, after Jim Willoughby had used just six pitches to get through the Reds in the ninth, this game would be headed for some free baseball.

Eastwick continued to pitch in the tenth and set to bat for Boston were Doyle, Yastrzemski and Fisk. Doyle worked the count full before collecting a single. Yastrzemski then hit an Eastwick delivery hard to centre field, but Geronimo found it for the first out. Then Fisk labored his way to a two ball, one strike count. But Eastwick countered by getting Fisk to hit a ground ball to Morgan who stepped on second and fired over to first for the inning-ending double play.

The Reds’ eighth-place hitter, Cesar Geronimo would bat first for the home side. He started things off with a single to right. Eastwick was due to come to the plate, but Anderson sent Ed Armbrister up to bat for the pitcher. Armbrister’s orders were to lay a bunt down and move Geronimo up to second. On a one ball, no strikes pitch from Willoughby, Armbrister got his bat on the ball.

The quality of the bunt was not great. The ball squibbed a few feet from the plate. The right-handed hitting Armbrister started to run toward first base. At the same time, Fisk tried to bolt out toward the ball. The two men collided. When Fisk got the ball, his intention was to get the force on Geronimo at second. But his throw went awry and ended up in centre field. Geronimo then took off for third and Armbrister kept running as well and ended up on second.

Fisk claimed interference. Well, he didn’t just claim it. He shouted it in the face of home plate umpire Larry Barnett. Fisk was followed by Boston manager, Darrell Johnson. When neither man could change the mind of Barnett, Johnson went to first base umpire Dick Stello. Stello backed up Barnett. Fisk, Johnson, many of the Red Sox players and without a doubt, each and every Boston fan watching the game were apoplectic.

Jim Willoughby’s night was over. Rogelio ‘Roger’ Moret came out to try to get out of this inning. The first man to come up against him was Pete Rose. Moret walked him intentionally to get the force at home if possible. Merv Rettenmund came in to bat for Ken Griffey. He went down swinging. Next up was Joe Morgan. Morgan’s single to centre scored Geronimo and ended the game.

In the Boston club house, all the talk was about the Armbrister bunt play. “It’s a damn joke to lose a game like that,” shouted Carlton Fisk to anyone who would listen. “He might as well have thrown a cross body-check on me and run to first. I don’t know the rule. All I know is he ran into me when I tried to get the ball. If that’s not interference, you can kiss my behind.”

Red Sox coach Don Zimmer echoed Fisk’s words. “It was interference, plain and simple. They showed it on TV for all the world to see.” Larry Barnett figured that what happened was just two players who ran into each other incidentally. “I ruled it was simply a collision. It’s interference only when the batter intentionally gets in the way of the fielder.”

Stello agreed with Barnett. “It was not interference to me. In such a situation, the batter has as much right to go to first base as the fielder has to go for the ball. To make it interference, the batter would have had to intentionally try to impede the fielder from going for the ball. He (Armbrister) did not do this.”

That interpretation didn’t sit well with Fisk. “I’m an infielder trying to field the ball. I gotta wait until it comes down and meanwhile the base runner runs into me. That’s interference. I probably even tagged him out. It’s a damn double play and they end up scoring the winning run. It’s a damn joke to lose a game like that.”

Johnson was still angry after the game, but he tried to compose himself as much as he possibly could. “The umpire’s interpretation of the interference rule was different than mine. In my opinion, the man (Fisk) was interfered with. The instant replay will bear this out.”

Reporters went to Sparky Anderson for his reaction. Really, what was he supposed to say? He pretty much absolved himself from any involvement in the back-and-forth. “That was the Red Sox play. I’m not involved in any way. It was strictly a judgement call, and we can’t argue with the umpire’s judgement.”

One unexpected result of the play was the demotion of one the great broadcasters of the era. As soon as the play unfolded, Gowdy -- a former Red Sox play-by-play man and, at that time, a star as the voice of NBC’s Game of the Week – made the call from the booth that Armbrister interfered with Fisk’s attempt to make the play. NBC had a former umpire in the booth who explained why it wasn’t interference, but Gowdy was adamant.

Chrysler was one of the major sponsors of baseball and the World Series on NBC and they also had former major leaguer and up and coming broadcaster Joe Garagiola signed as a spokesman. Chrysler wanted Garagiola on the broadcasts and Gowdy out. NBC complied and moved Dick Stockton to TV play-by-play and Garagiola was his colour commentator. Gowdy was moved to radio doing colour for play-by-play man Ned Martin.

Later in the series, it was reported that Barnett began receiving death threats because of his ruling on that Armbrister play. There are some who speculate that the threats were amplified by Gowdy’s insistence that Armbrister interfered with Fisk’s ability to make the play.

When it came to the game, Rawly Eastwick was surprisingly upbeat for a guy who had surrendered the lead in the game. “I felt good when I was warming up, but when I got out there, the ball wasn’t moving. It didn’t have good velocity. I told myself to concentrate more, but it just didn’t work. Tonight, physically and mentally, I just didn’t have it. But no human being can go out there time after time and be consistent. That’s just the way the game is.”



For the man who drove in the winning run, this night was just a continuation of a tremendous 1975 baseball year. Joe Morgan was one of the best players in the game and he would eventually be named the National League’s Most Valuable Player when the World Series was all over. In 1975, Morgan batted .327 with 17 home runs and 94 runs batted in. He led the NL in walks. He had the best on-base percentage, OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and OPS+ in the league.

More importantly, Morgan was developing a leadership role with the team. Former Reds’ pitcher Brooks Lawrence spoke with Muncie Star columnist Bab Barnet before the third game and talked about the evolution of the second baseman from the time he joined the Reds in a trade with the Houston Astros before the 1972 season to this point in the team’s existence. Barnet asked Lawrence, who worked in the team’s front office, “What changed it from a pretty good baseball club to a great one?”

“There was more to it than talent,” Lawrence said. “We’ve got a leader now, and we didn’t have one before. I don’t mean in the manager’s office. Sparky does a hell of a job as a manager. What we’ve got now is a leader on the field. Joe Morgan is the leader. He stepped into the job because he realized that we had to have a leader if we were going to win the big things like the National League championship and the Series.”

“Last year, we had superstars. This year, we’ve got superstars and a leader. That’s the reason this team is going to win the World Series. No matter what happens out there Tuesday night, this team is going to win the World Series, and win it big.”

How did Morgan become this ‘leader’? In what way did he become one of the guys who led in the club house and on the field? Lawrence did his best to answer those questions. “Joe and I talked about it a lot. Last year, after the season was over, he told me that he had come to realize that we had to have a team leader. I told him, ‘If you really feel that way, you are going to have to walk in there and take hold.”

“Because he knew that this team couldn’t really do what it was capable of doing without somebody to do the talking and the hollering, he stepped up and took over a job that has a lot of headaches. He was accepted, by the superstars and the others, because they knew he wanted to win and so did they, and they knew he was a man who was entitled to lead. He’s the best baseball player in the world today.”

“When he talks to a player or to the coaches or umpires, he is a man who knows what he is talking about. He’s chesty and quick and talks a lot and can back up anything he says. His confidence is contagious, and he had the best year of his life in 1975. He’s glad now because a position has been filled that had to be filled if we were going to win the World Series. I wish he had come forward last year.”

“You asked me about the difference. Joe Morgan is the difference.”


The Reds now led the series 2-1 after this game that could have gone either way. But as a lot of people have said in the past, “Baseball is a fickle game.” Or, as Henry Aaron once said, “Baseball is a game of failure. It’s about how you deal with that failure that defines you as a player.”

This game had seen a fair bit of drama. But just wait. The best is yet to come.


Howie’s new book MORE Crazy Days & Wild Nights, eleven new stories of outlandish and wild events that occurred in sports over the last fifty years, is available on Amazon. It’s the follow-up to his first book of 2023, Crazy Days & Wild Nights! If you love sports and sports history, you need these books!

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