Posted by: Mike Cornelius | October 22, 2015

An Iconic Home Run, And The Shot That Made It So

It has been four decades, yet for fans in New England old enough to remember, the event remains as vivid as if it were but moments ago. The fact that it decided a game but not a World Series is of no consequence to those who look back on it with a smile every time they see the old videotape. Most memories fade over time, but this one stays fresh thanks in no small part to a television camera operator who couldn’t do what his director originally wanted; and so forever changed sports on TV.

The game began on the evening of October 21, 1975. But by the time it ended in such dramatic fashion in the bottom of the 12th inning, the clock had struck midnight and a new day had begun. So it was forty years ago this Thursday that what many still call the greatest postseason contest in the history of the Great Game was finally decided.

The Boston Red Sox won the American League East that year by 4 ½ games, finally pulling away from the Baltimore Orioles in late September. It was the club’s first time atop the standings since both leagues had split into divisions six years earlier, and the Red Sox continued their fine play in their first appearance in the League Championship Series, eliminating the three-time defending World Series champion Oakland Athletics three games to none. Boston’s reward was a matchup against the mighty Cincinnati Reds. The Big Red Machine of Johnny Bench, Pete Rose and Joe Morgan had won 108 regular season contests, finishing 20 games clear of the second place Dodgers in the NL West.

But despite the odds makers heavily favoring Cincinnati, the two squads soon found themselves locked in a tense and tight battle. Boston’s Luis Tiant matched Cincinnati’s Don Gullett pitch for pitch in Game 1, until the Red Sox finally broke through for six runs against the Reds’ bullpen in the 7th inning. Cincinnati returned the favor in Game 2, scoring twice off Boston relievers in the top of the 9th to post a 3-2 comeback victory.

The action moved to Riverfront Stadium for the middle three games, and the home team won Game 3 by a score of 6-5 to take the Series lead. But in a contest that featured six home runs it took the Reds ten innings to prevail, after the Sox rallied from a 5-1 deficit by pushing across solo runs in the 6th and 7th before Dwight Evans hit a tying two-run shot in the 9th. Tiant took the mound again for the visitors in Game 4, and threw his second complete game in as many starts. The flamboyant Cuban moundsman steadied himself after allowing two runs in the opening frame, and wound up throwing 163 pitches as Boston again rallied from the early hole, this time winning 5-4. After three consecutive one-run games Gullett shut down the Red Sox offense in Game 5, and the Reds took a three games to two lead with a 6-2 decision.

So the teams returned to Fenway Park, where they were greeted by three days of torrential rain. Game 6 had been scheduled for October 18th, but there was no hope of playing baseball on that soggy Saturday, nor the next day nor the next. Finally nature relented, and the two teams took the field before 35,000-plus crammed into the tiny old ballyard, with Dick Stockton and Joe Garagiola providing the commentary for NBC’s television coverage.

With the extra days of rest because of the rain, Red Sox manager Darrell Johnson went back to Tiant in hopes of denying Cincinnati their first title since 1940. Boston center fielder Fred Lynn, who would win both the Rookie of the Year and the MVP award in the AL that season, gave his pitcher a quick lead with a three-run homer in the 1st; and Tiant breezed through the first four frames. But with two Reds aboard in the 5th Ken Griffey tripled to clear the bases, and then scored on a single by Bench to tie it. Cincinnati plated another pair in the 7th and then a solo home run by Cesar Geronimo in the 8th made it 6-3 in favor of the Reds and chased Tiant.

Fans were on edge with the home squad down to six outs, but Lynn singled to lead off the 8th and moved to second when Rico Petrocelli walked. Cincinnati manager Sparky Anderson called on reliever Rawley Eastwick, who struck out Evans and retired Rick Burleson on a fly to left. Eastwick appeared to have pinch hitter Bernie Carbo on the ropes with a count of 2-2, but after staying alive with a weak foul Carbo sent the sixth pitch of the at-bat out of the park in deepest center field for a game-tying three-run homer.

There the score remained through four more innings of play. Though along the way the Reds’ Will McEnaney had to pitch his way out of a no-out bases loaded jam in the bottom of the 9th, and Evans had to make a spectacular catch in deep right to rob Morgan of a sure homer in the top of the 11th. The Reds threatened again with a pair of singles in the 12th, but were again denied. That brought the contest to the bottom of the frame, with Boston catcher Carlton Fisk leading off against Pat Darcy, working his third inning on the mound as the eighth Cincinnati pitcher of the night.

Out in left field, peering through a hole in the manual scoreboard that sits at the base of Fenway’s Green Monster, NBC cameraman Louis Gerard listened through his headphones as his director instructed him to follow the ball if Fisk hit it. But Gerard was not alone. As he told the Sporting News three years ago, he replied “I can’t. I’ve got a rat on my leg that’s as big as a cat. It’s staring me in the face. I’m blocked by a piece of metal on my right.” Not sure what to do, Gerard offered to keep his camera trained on Fisk and “see what happens.”

What happened of course was Fisk launched Darcy’s second pitch, a low sinker, into the Boston night. As the ball flew down the left field line, fans in the stands and those at home followed it, even as Stockton proclaimed “There’s a long drive, if it stays fair;” followed closely by “home run!” as the ball ricocheted off the left field foul pole. But even as Fisk rounded the bases and joyous fans poured onto the field, the producer in the NBC truck noticed the shot captured by Gerard. It was of Fisk in the batter’s box watching his shot as it hooked toward foul ground, hopping, shouting, his arms aloft, waving, no willing, the ball back to fair territory. That is the shot that is burned into memory.

The record book shows that the Reds won the 1975 World Series the following night, rallying from a 3-0 deficit to tie the game in the 7th, before Morgan plated the Series-winning run in the top of the 9th with a bloop single. It was the fifth game decided by a single run. The Big Red Machine would go back-to-back with a sweep of the Yankees the next season, while Boston would wait eleven years for another trip to the Fall Classic and nearly three long decades for a championship.

But even after three titles in less than a decade, Red Sox fans still recall with joy and wonder the night Pudge Fisk commanded a game-winning homer to stay fair. And with multiple cameras at every sporting event, every director makes sure that as others follow the ball, one remains focused on the player of the moment. The reaction shot, something that younger fans expect whenever they sit down in front of their flat screens, was born on that October evening at Fenway, with a little help from a rat.



  1. Nice!

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