For 75 years, Fenway Park has stood as baseball’s foremost fun house. With its left-field Green Monster, its short right-field porch and its quirky dimensions, the tempestuous old ballyard has been the site of just about every oddity and fluke imaginable.
Then came Thursday night.
The Boston Red Sox’s 8-7 victory in 12 innings over the Angels may well have set new standards of the bizarre, stretching reality to the brink of science fiction. Believe it, though, because it is all true--from the three-run lead the Angels blew in the bottom of the 12th, to the line drive Bobby Grich dropped, to the apparent game-ending infield pop-up that Rick Burleson dropped, to the five 1-and-2 pitches Rich Gedman fouled off before singling in the tying run, to Todd Fischer’s balk that brought home Dwight Evans with the winning run.
The Angels had trouble believing that last one. Fischer, the rookie reliever who had been the fifth and final man summoned from the Angel bullpen, never got a chance to throw a pitch. With Evans on third and Gedman on first, Fischer readied himself to face shortstop Rey Quinones. Fischer brought glove and pitching hand together, jiggled his hands in what barely amounted to a flinch and then stepped off the pitching rubber.
Plate umpire Joe Brinkman immediately called a balk, although few of the remaining fans from the original crowd of 31,305 were aware of it. Their first sight was of Angel catcher Bob Boone springing angrily from his crouch and ripping the mask from his face, hopping mad and screaming at Brinkman.
Evans, too, wasn’t sure what was going on. Finally, Brinkman backed away from Boone and looked over his shoulder to Evans. Then came the wave of Brinkman’s arm.
Four hours 27 minutes of baseball ended without so much as one pitch to the final batter.
Brinkman was firm, and terse, in his ruling.
"(Fischer) starts to move his right hand, then he stops and then he steps off the rubber,” Brinkman said. “And that’s a balk.”
Boone protested furiously. Television replays detected Fischer making an ever-so-slight separation of his hands, hardly more than a nervous tic.
Angel Manager Gene Mauch, however, was in reluctant agreement with Brinkman, although Mauch had argued after the call.
“He balked,” the manager said softly, slouched in a chair. “But if he did, and nobody else in the ballpark knew it, (Brinkman) had no business calling it.”
That was the gist of the Angel dispute: A 12-inning game that had 24 hits, 11 pitchers and a week’s worth of turning points should not have been decided on such a non-play as a balk.
“I can’t believe he called a game on something like that,” Grich said of the man in blue, Brinkman. “Not on a balk. Make him get a hit or give us another chance. You don’t lose a game because a guy moves his hands one inch apart.”
But for the Angels, there were sins of commission to go with Fischer’s moment of indecision. Had the Angels’ league-leading defense not vaporized in the 12th inning, Fischer would never have made it out of the bullpen to lose a game before throwing a pitch.
The Angels had taken a 7-4 lead by scoring three runs in the top of the 12th. Wally Joyner started the outburst with his third hit of the evening, a two-out triple off the crease of the Green Monster in left-center. He scored on a wild pitch; Brian Downing and George Hendrick walked, and both later crossed the plate--Downing on Burleson’s single to center, Hendrick on Grich’s ground-rule double that skipped over the small right-field fence.
With a three-run lead and reliever Donnie Moore having just completed 1 innings after pitching the same amount Wednesday, Mauch figured it was safe enough to go to the rookies. Mike Cook began the bottom of the 12th for the Angels.
Welcome to Fenway, Mike.
Leadoff batter Marty Barrett hit a liner to the left of second base that Grich momentarily appeared to catch. Running to his right, Grich grabbed the ball, but as his momentum carried him toward second base, he lowered his glove, and the ball trickled onto the ground. Infield single.
Cook then made the pitch of his two-week major league career, striking out Wade Boggs on the inside corner. He got Out No. 2 on a line drive to left by Bill Buckner.
He never, however, got Out No. 3.
Jim Rice stepped up and cleared the left-field screen with his ninth home run of the season, bringing Boston within a run at 7-6. Cook took a big breath and pitched to designated hitter Don Baylor. Baylor popped the ball up.
There it was. Cook stepped off the mound, ready to receive backslaps for his first big league save, just as soon as his third baseman clutched the ball.
Instead, the curse of Fenway clutched the Angels. Burleson, having entered the game earlier to play third, not his usual position, fumbled the easy pop-up for an error that put Baylor on first base and extended the inning. Cook, a bit rattled, then walked Evans.
That brought up Gedman, who fell behind Cook, 1 and 2, then fouled off five straight pitches before finding one to his liking.
That one, Gedman lined to right field, scoring Baylor with the tying run and sending Evans to third. Gedman took second when Joyner threw away the relay to Boone at home.
Mauch decided that was enough for Cook and called on his final reliever, Fischer, to pitch to Quinones.
That was the intent, at least. But Fischer never got around to making a pitch.
He made that slight movement of his hands while still on the rubber. That was all Brinkman needed to see. That was all the Angels needed to have their four-game winning streak ended--although some of them are still holding out for another theory.
“You have to have someone earn a victory,” Grich said. “They didn’t earn one. They earned a tie.”
Mike Witt and Kirk McCaskill were doing stretching exercises in the outfield when Angel Manager Gene Mauch approached them with the news. One of them would be going to the All-Star game as an active participant. “I told the kids, ‘They both very well could have picked either of you--one year, you’re both going to go,’ ” Mauch said. But this year, Witt will go alone. Witt, 9-6 with a 3.06 earned-run average and 117 strikeouts, said he wasn’t surprised to hear the word--"just sort of relieved. I’m doing pretty well in all the pitching categories, but I thought my won-lost record might hurt me. Obviously, they looked past that.” . . . Terry Forster had his right ankle placed in a cast by Red Sox team physician Dr. Arthur Pappas. The Angels are calling it a precautionary measure, intended to isolate a sprain Angel trainer Rick Smith called “as good as I’ve seen in a few years.” Yet, Tuesday in Milwaukee, Forster was incensed over the decision to place him on the disabled list. “I’m a fast healer,” he kept saying. “I could be able to pitch again in Boston.” . . . Brian Downing became the Angels’ all-time RBI leader when he singled home Wally Joyner from second in the eighth inning. Downing has 547 RBIs in his Angel career, one more than Jim Fregosi.