"Any observations?" Oriole Ken Singleton was asked Wednesday night after the Boston Red Sox had launched five more Rawlings Rockets into the night.
"Yeah," he muttered. "When do they leave town?"
The Rawlings Red Sox, the Rabbit Exterminators, the Beantown Bunny Ball Belters (or whatever nickname they merit) are the class of the AL East. New York's basic edge, on paper, was itching and now that's gone.
In its last 23 games, the Boston staff has a 2.53 ERA. Meanwhile, Obscure Ron Guidry is Billy Martin's only dependable starter. The Yank manager can only wince as hitters tie a dead cat to Jim Hunter's tail. A moment of silence for the redoubtable Catfish is in order.
"My pitchers are being overlooked," Boston manager Don Zimmer laments. Save your breath, Zim. They're going to continue being overlooked. When a team outhomers its two nearest rivals, New York and Baltimore, by a total of 24-1 over a six-game span, as Boston did, fans will always savor the home runs rather than the ones that good pitching prevented.
Zimmer's instincts are correct. Praise those pitchers. Cincinnati's Sparky Anderson is paying the price for years of subtly denigrating his hurlers. (Some call it honesty.) The Reds now have Tom Seaver plus nine of the least likely hurlers ever to be called a big league staff.
Not only will Cincinnati never catch Los Angeles, but it will never even make it close. When Reds GM Bob Howsam spitefully gave away Jerry Kapstein clients Gary Nolan and Rawly Eastwick to beat the trading deadline, he closed the door on his team.
Before the first intimations of mortality creep up on the Red Sox, look at some of their statistics from an eight-day splurge that may never be matched.
The Red Sox are setting and tying records so fast that they broke two major league marks Wednesday and few noticed. Those five homers not only broke the record for four-baggers in eight games (26), it also retroactively broke the marks for six (22) and seven (24) straight games. The Bosox have hit more balls out of the park in three, four, five, six, seven and eight games than any team in history.
Actually, Boston hit more home runs (29) in eight games than any team in major league history hit in 10 games (28). No wonder Baltimore's Ross Grimsley, who was supposed to start last night's final game against Boston, suddenly came up with a minor muscle pull and suggested that rookie Mike Flanagan be allowed to toy with the Red Sox while he rested until Saturday.
An extrapolation of the Boston batting marks shows how preposterous their hitting binge has been. At their current paces, George Scott would finish with 50 homers. Jim Rice 45, Carlton Fisk 37, Carl Yastrzemski 32, Dwight Evans 27, Butch Hobson 25, and Fred Lynn and Bernie Carbo 15 each. As a team, Boston would hit 257, breaking the 1961 Yankee mark by 17.
Five Sox are ahead of a 100-RBI pace, and five are also hitting more than 300.
Isn't anyone suspicious that the Rawlings factory is just down the road from Fenway in Chicopee, Mass.?
Boston's worst news is that Evans damaged his knee Tuesday as a defensive replacement and is out for at least two weeks. Surgery is possible and the no-bench Bostonians don't need that.
Pitchers say an evil spirit lurks in the Boston bat rack. The Red Sox respond that hitting coach Walk Hriniak has helped Fisk and Rice alter their batting stances.
Fisk always had a "Do Not Disturb" sign hung on the inside half of the plate and pitchers worked there at their peril. But any good pitching sequence that forced Fisk to swing at a breaking ball low away sent him back to the dugout.
Fisk's stance is now so closed - and his head hung so far over the plate - that it looks like he is trying to hit fungos to the first base coach. He is still death on inside pitches (yanking fewer of them foul now) and covers the plate far better. Until he learns how to bunt the ball with his chin, Fisk will be weak on pitches up and in. Because umpires don't seem to recognize that corner of the plate, Fisk may prosper as long as he refuses to swing at any pitch on which he can read the label.
Rice's problem was the opposite. He had a hole in his swing as big as a canteloupe in the jam zone. He was buzzed on the fists more than a beekeeper. Now he stands as far from the plate as possible. His concession is that he must hit outside pitches to right field. He certainly can't pull them unless he gets a custom-made four-foot bat.
"I've discovered," said Rice," that all parks come complete with a right field." Rice, as is Scott, is hitting most of his homers from left center all the way to the right-field line. Pitchers think it is unfair for men that strong to use the entire field. Scott now calls his slicing, opposite-field homers "Boomerangs." Of his 20 homers, only three have gone over Fenway's Monster.
Despite all the fireworks, the highlight of this week's Baltimore-Boston mismatch may have been Scott's dash to the mound Tuesday in search of fleeing Dennis Martinez. "I wanted his hide," said Scott, known for his devotion to massive quantities of chicken wings but who would have settled for fricasseed Oriole. "I've been hit too many times by this club. If I don't get Martinez, I'll get one of those other Mexican pitchers they got."