Both teams challenged each other until exhaustion. No one caved in, quit or wilted under the pressure and when it was over the spectators probably cared less about who won than how well they played.
The game starts with Luis Tiant, a man who came from Cuba to the United States before Castro but who could not return. He waited fourteen years, until the first game of the series in which he pitched a shutout, to see his parents (they came to Boston on a special visa).
He pitches from a corkscrew wind up and challenges the “Big Red Machine.” He gets them out without allowing a run for four innings even though the Reds do not have an easy out. Pete Rose, to be known later as the all time leader in base hits, pecks away at Tiant’s pitches. He faces Ken Griffey (Senior), Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, all of them stars and all of them headed for the Hall of Fame except for Griffey.
While the Reds were having trouble with Tiant, the Red Sox gain the upper hand in the bottom of the first when Fred Lynn, the Rookie of the Year and the Most Valuable Player, drives a Gary Nolan pitch down over the wall in right field with two on.
Red Sox 3, Reds 0.
The Reds get untracked in the fifth inning. With two Reds on base, Griffey drives the ball to dead center. Lynn goes back and makes a leap…but just barely misses it. The ball bounces back toward the field and the runners round the bases.
But forget about the score for a minute. Lynn does not get up. He would say later that he could not feel his legs and could not move.
Lynn would get injured a number of times attempting (and frequently making) spectacular catches. It probably curtailed his career. But no one who refuses to take risks can stake claim to be the best.
Lynn gets on his feet and is ready to play again.
Griffey winds up on third with a triple. He comes home when Bench gets a hit.
Reds 3, Red Sox 3.
Then the “lower” part of the Machine put the Reds ahead. In the seventh, George Foster drives home two runs with a double and Geronimo tags Tiant for a home run in the eighth.
Bye bye, Tiant.
The home town crowd roars, to pay tribute for Tiant’s World Series performance. The Red Sox go to bat in the bottom of the eighth six outs away from elimination.
Lynn smashes a hit off the Reds’ pitcher, Pedro Borbon. Rico Petrocelli gets a walk.
But then new Red pitcher Rawly Eastwick comes in to get two outs.
Up comes Bernie Carbo. The great thing about the World Series is that not-so-well-known players have the chance to become part of folklore. This was Carbo’s chance.
Eastwick looked like he had him down for the count. Carbo barely made contact with the ball.
Then he swung the bat well. “Deep center field…way back…way back…we’re tied up,” yells announcer Joe Gariagiola.
This is Carbo’s claim to fame. His fifteen minutes.
But the game is not over yet.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Red Sox load the bases with no one out. Lynn hits the ball down the foul line in left. Left fielder Foster makes the catch.
Nine times out of ten, the outfielder fails to make a good throw, or the catcher drops it.
Nine times out of ten, the base runner hears the third base coach telling him “Don’t go!”
The throw arrives to Bench on a hop. Doyle tries to maneuver around the tag. But Bench catches the ball and tags Doyle.
The Red Sox can’t score in the ninth. The game goes to extra innings.
In the top of the eleventh inning, with Griffey on first, Joe Morgan slams a ball that looks sure to go over the short wall in right field.
But Dwight Evans gets his fifteen minutes by leaping high to catch the ball. And then throwing to first to double up Griffey.
Evans claims to this day that he has no idea how he caught the ball.
Baseball games rarely end in ties and World Series Games really can’t. The series had been delayed three days due to rain and November was getting close.
The only question left was who would be the hero.
In the bottom of the twelth, lead off hitter Carlton Fisk took one pitch. Then he hit a ball directly down the left field line.
All the questions of life can be stated so succinctly: yes or no, in or out, fair or foul. Fisk pleads with the ball to stay fair. The Reds are saying otherwise.
The ball smashes into the pole.
Thirty-eight years later and it never has gotten any better than this.