Fred Lynn (left) and Carlton Fisk were among those feted at Fenway Park earlier this month as part of the 40th anniversary celebration of the 1975 Red Sox. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

On 40th anniversary, 1975 Red Sox recall 'most awesome' season

May 18, 2015 - 10:07 am

Anyone lucky enough to be a Red Sox fan in 1975 likely remembers exactly where they were, what they were doing, and who they were with when Carlton Fisk hit what has become one of the most famous home runs in baseball history. To this day, that season remains one of the Red Sox' most memorable. From starting out the season as a long shot to make the playoffs, to sweeping the three-time defending World Series champion Athletics in the ALCS, to the unforgettable World Series against the Reds, everybody involved with the team undoubtedly remembers it as one of the greatest years of baseball in their careers. On May 5, that legendary team celebrated its 40-year anniversary at Fenway Park. "[The 1975 season] was the most awesome time of my life," former Red Sox outfielder Bernie Carbo told by phone in March. Fisk's home run in Game 6, which he famously willed fair while hopping down the first-base line, has become the lasting image of the 1975 series. But just as important was Carbo's pinch-hit, game-tying, three-run shot in the bottom of the eighth. "Before I hit my home run, you could hear a pin drop," Carbo said. "And that roar after I hit that home run woke up Boston." After coming off the bench with two outs, Carbo worked the count to 2-2 and launched the next pitch into the center field bleachers. "When I hit my home run, I'm rounding third base and I'm yelling at Pete Rose, 'Don't you wish you were this strong?' " Carbo recalled. "And [Rose] says, 'This is the greatest game ever played. Isn't this fun?' " THE SEASON The Red Sox were met with mixed expectations entering the '75 season. The memories of the monumental collapse of the previous year were still fresh. In late August of 1974, the Sox held a seven-game lead in the AL East, but they dropped to third and out of the playoffs by the end of the season. Additionally, despite having a good core group of players that included Bill Lee and Luis Tiant on the mound and future Hall of Famers Carlton Fisk and Carl Yastrzemski in the field, there remained a few question marks in the lineup. Specifically, two young outfielders who were expected to do big things on offense had yet to prove themselves against major league pitching. "Jim Rice and Fred Lynn," Carbo remembered. "Who would've thought that two rookies would have such tremendous seasons?" Rice finished the year with a .309 average, 22 home runs and 102 RBIs. He was second in the voting for Rookie of the Year and third for MVP. Lynn won both of those awards with an astounding .331 average, 21 home runs and 105 RBIs. "That was the greatest performance by two rookies I've ever seen," Lee said by phone. "Incredible." The season started with some bad news, as Fisk broke his thumb and missed almost three months before making his debut in late June. The Red Sox got off to a slow start without their All-Star catcher and found themselves tied for last place in the AL East with a 7-9 record at the end of April. Finally, something clicked and May began with a six-game winning streak. By the end of the month, Boston had moved to the top spot of the division. "In May, the team started rolling," Lynn recalled after the reunion ceremony. "Roger Moret got in the starting rotation ... and he just went 13-2 or some crazy thing [actually 14-3]. The Yankees couldn't beat him. And that was a turning point -- that was a big turning point. That pitching staff solidified, bullpen was good, and of course we hit pretty well. We had team speed. We didn't have a weakness, really." One of the most memorable games of the season for Lynn came on June 18 in Detroit. The Red Sox were on a four-game winning streak and had just started to build a small lead in the AL East, as their 34-24 record put them 1.5 games up on the Yankees. That night, hitting in the cleanup spot, Lynn hit a two-run home run in the first inning, a three-run home run in the second and another three-run shot in the ninth. For the game, the 23-year-old went 5-for-6 with three home runs, 10 RBIs and four runs scored. "The interesting thing for me was that [two nights] before I had a 20-game hitting streak snapped by Mickey Lolich," Lynn recalled. "And I went to the ballpark early that day and Dwight Evans threw BP to me, which he didn't do very often, but we went out early and I got some hitting in. And I had one of those nights that you can't even dream about. I didn't hit three home runs but once in my life in Little League, so to do that ... was just crazy. "It put the team on the map nationally. We were doing OK, but then they said, 'Who's this Lynn kid? Who's this Rice guy?' And all of a sudden, we started to get some national exposure." From that point on, the Red Sox started to string together some wins, and a 10-game win streak from July 7-19 put them 6.5 games up in the AL East. A four-game series against the second-place Yankees in New York from July 25-27, which included a doubleheader on the 27th, gave Boston a chance to put some major distance between its rival. The Red Sox dropped the first game of the series, 8-6, but stormed back with 4-2, 1-0 and 6-0 wins. The Sunday doubleheader featured two complete-game shutouts from Red Sox starters, Lee in Game 1 and Moret in Game 2. "That was the Yankees' last gasp, you know, they had to sweep us," Lynn said. "Game 1, Bill Lee's pitching against Catfish [Hunter]. I get a base hit late in the game, stole second, [right fielder Rick] Miller drove me in, 1-0. And I think it's the eighth or ninth, and [Yankees infielder] Graig Nettles hits a drive into left-center, and I play him in right center. It seemed like it took maybe five minutes to get over there but I made it, made the catch. " Added Lynn: "That was it [for the Yankees], they were done, stick a fork in them, it's all over. And that was a good feeling for us." From that point on, nobody got closer than 3.5 games behind the Red Sox, and Boston finished the regular season 4.5 games up on the second-place Orioles. Five position players finished with averages above .300 -- Lynn, Rice, Fisk, designated hitter Cecil Cooper and infielder Denny Doyle, who came over from the Angels in June. Starting pitchers Tiant, Lee, Moret, Rick Wise and Reggie Cleveland each won at least 13 games. Wise, Lee and Moret had ERAs under 4.00. THE PLAYOFFS Unfortunately for the Red Sox, Rice broke his hand after being hit by a pitch toward the end of the regular season and was unavailable for the playoffs. "We wouldn't be having this conversation about losing if Rice was able to play," Lee said. "There's no way they could have shut down Rice with that [expletive] pitching they had. If he's in there, we're having a conversation about winning." "In my book, I write that losing Jimmy Rice was like the Reds losing [first baseman] Tony Perez," Carbo agreed. "And when [Rice] read the book, he said, 'No, no, no, it was like losing [future Hall of Fame catcher] Johnny Bench, not Perez." But Rice was not in the lineup, and the 1975 Red Sox had to make due with a small, rotating group of left fielders that included Carbo, Juan Beniquez and the aging but still very effective Yastrzemski, who had moved from the shadow of the Green Monster to first base for much of the previous two seasons. Even with one of their best bats out of the lineup, the Sox were able to sweep the A's -- owners of the AL's best regular-season record -- in three games, with Tiant, Moret and Wise holding the high-powered Oakland offense to just seven runs. Boston's offense, meanwhile, exploded for 18 runs in the three games. Yastrzemski, Fisk, Cooper and shortstop Rick Burleson each hit at least .400, and eight batters were credited with RBIs in the series. The Red Sox were in the World Series for the first time since the 1967 Impossible Dream team, this time seeing the Reds. Game 1 against the Big Red Machine went as well as anyone in New England could have hoped. Tiant threw a complete-game shutout, and the offense batted through the order in the bottom of the seventh inning for six runs, leading to a 6-0 final. Game 2 looked promising as well. Through eight innings the Red Sox were up 3-2 and Lee had only allowed four hits. But a long rain delay before the final frame may have cost Boston a 2-0 series lead. Lee came out after the delay and gave up a home run to Bench, the first batter he faced. "I should not have come out and pitched the ninth inning after a 90-minute rain delay," Lee said. "How many starting pitchers come in and finish a ballgame after a 90-minute rain delay? The more I think about it, it just doesn't make sense." Closer Dick Drago was unable to stop the bleeding, and the Reds tied the series before heading to Cincinnati for the next three games. The Reds won Game 3 in extra innings after a controversial call in the 10th inning went against the Red Sox. With a Cincinnati runner on first and Jim Willoughby on the mound, Reds pinch hitter Ed Armbrister laid down a bunt to advance the runner. As Fisk sprang up to field the ball, he became entangled with Armbrister. Fisk, manager Darrell Johnson and all of Boston thought it should have been called interference after Fisk's throw sailed into center field, setting the stage for the Reds' walkoff win. "That was big, that interference at the plate," Carbo said. "Instant replay would have been good back then. I believe if they called that interference, we'd win that game, and we're the World Series champion after Game 6." The Red Sox went on to win Game 4, 5-4, but dropped Game 5 and returned to Boston needing to win both remaining games. Before Game 6 could be played, there were three days of rain that washed out Fenway Park. "Everybody forgot about baseball," Carbo remembered. "We had three days of rainouts. I didn't even take batting practice for three days. And all of a sudden we're playing a ballgame when everybody forgot there was even a World Series would be played. And who would have thought as the game started and the progressed that it would be called the greatest game ever played?" When Carbo stepped into the batter's box in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Red Sox were down 6-3. His home run tied the game and gave hope to Boston. "When Carbo hit the home run, I knew we were coming back," said Lee, who was set to start the finale. "I was anxious, and I didn't get to see Fisk's home run because I was back on the training table. They wanted me to lay down and relax for Game 7." Fisk then hit his home run, which has gone down as one of the most memorable moments in World Series history. "That was just a tremendous game," Carbo said. "Fenway Park is the greatest place to play baseball, has the greatest fans. And to have that game there, it was unbelievable. The greatest game ever played." "Greatest World Series of all time," Lee added. Game 7 began with good news for Boston fans, as Lee was pitching well and the Red Sox jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the third inning. However, in the sixth inning, the Reds closed to within a run as Perez lifted an Eephus pitch from Lee over the left-field wall for a two-run home run. "I was throwing good, I had good stuff, everything was going fine, and then everything went extremely quiet," Lee said. "The fans started sitting on their hands and they got deathly quiet. And everyone in New England was thinking negative thoughts. Except me." Lee finished the sixth inning and started the seventh, but then was replaced by Moret. The Reds were able to tie the game in the seventh on an RBI single from Rose, and it remained 3-3 going into the ninth. In the top of the inning, Cincinnati second baseman Joe Morgan hit a bloop single into center field off Jim Burton, driving in the winning run. Despite the disappointment of losing when a World Series victory was so close, Lee does not look back on Game 7 with as much regret as the previous loss in Fenway Park. "It all boils on Game 2. I was more upset about that than Game 7," he said. "Someone should have called down to the manager. Who was running our ballclub? That's my question." LOOKING BACK After a season full of pleasant surprises and exciting games, the Red Sox came up short, something that fans had become used to over the years. "We lost. That's it," Lee said. "You're only as good as your last game. Would've, could've. Try not to dwell on it." Said Lynn: "Most of us to a man remember the losses, you know. We remember the things that didn't go our way. Because a lot of things went right for us, but the key thing didn't ... losing Game 7. But then we kind of micro-managed what happened and so, you know, 'We could have done this, we could have done that.' Just like a fan, just like a fan. Forty years later we're reliving these moments, and then we're saying, 'Geez, I wish we could have changed this or that.' But as a whole it's been a great experience." The pain of the 1975 loss stayed with both players and fans through next few decades, growing with another near miss in 1986. But finally, World Series victories in 2004, 2007 and 2013 changed all of that. "[Dave] Roberts stealing second base [in the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees] takes all the sting away," Lee said. "Since the change of the century, me being a San Francisco boy and a Boston boy, I've won six world championships this century." "How close we came so many times, and then for them to finally break through, it was big. More than big. You can't even explain how big it was," Lynn agreed. "Especially for guys like us, you know, that were knocking on the door a lot but we couldn't get through. ... I was very happy for the club and ... all of New England." Even after 40 years and three World Series titles, the 1975 season remains one of the most exciting and memorable in Boston sports history. "I was drafted No. 1 50 years ago in 1965 by Cincinnati," Carbo said. "I played for the Cincinnati Reds, the Big Red Machine. And I still think the best team I ever played on was the Boston Red Sox in 1975."