The Boston Red Sox stopped hitting the poor baseball so hard tonight.
Instead of frozen ropes directly to defenders and 400-foot fly outs, the desperate Bosox beat the New York Yankees' ace Sparky Lyle, 7-3, tonight with a six-run inning built on a barrage of worm killers and a bloop.
"I told the guys we were goin' to have to chink 'em to death" gloated the Bosox' Denny Doyle whose seeing-eye ground-ball triple drove in the final three runs of the assault on the supposedly impregnable Lyle.
The good ship Boston is still in deep waters and listing badly. The Sox trailed the New York destroyer by 2 1/2 games and now face a three-game series in Baltimore against the Orioles, with whom they share second place.
"When the Sox and Orioles finish their weekend in Baltimore," said the Yanks' Reggie Jackson, "somebody is going to have a hurtin' problem."
Nevertheless, the Red Sox knew tonight that if they lost their season probably would be over."We'd have been all done," admitted Carl Yaztrzemski. "Being 4 1/2 games back with just 15 to play is too much."
The Boston uprising in the sixth - all against Lyle - was a collection of five seeing-eye grounders, a walk and one Texas League single.
Lyle was summoned from the bullpen earlier than usual tonight because starter Mike Torrez reported a "stiff shoulder" after the fourth, and asked to be relieved.
"Justice, simple justice," said Red Sox jester Bill (Spaceman) Lee. "The way they had caught the shots we hit in the first two games here, I though (Yankee owner George) Steinbrenner had sold his pancreas to the devil."
The big inning, which drove Lyle's ERA up from 1.81 to 2.21 and may have ruined his push for league MVP, ended a draught in which Boston had scored just three runs in 23 innings despite dozens of violently struck balls.
"I alone," said George (Boomer) Scott, hand over heart, "had five hits stolen and maybe six ribbies (RBI)."
Lyle, who admits his arm is tired and who has survived several assaults without a defeat in recent outings, could only look around him and see his luck crumbling.
Bernie Carbo opened the sixth of a 1-1 game with a one-hopper just past the lunge of second baseman Willie Randolph. "I thought he had it," said Carbo, who had three WORD ILLEGIBLE Randolph's glove.
Next came Carlton Fisk, who hit several balls into Death Valley in the first two games. This time his grounder up the middle eluded every one.
Yastrzemski was next and he was mad. Trying for home runs here, he had made eight straight outs at one stage. When Lyle knocked him down for the second time of the night, Yaz was even hotter. "I've been knocked down a thousand times," Yastrzemski said afterward. "I know what to do."
The Boston captain's smash just missed Lyle's feet, went into center and broke the tie.
The dam had broken and Boston seemed to know it. Jim Rice hit a feeble fly to right, but Reggie Jackson, playing almost on the warning track out of respect for the man with an incredible 359 total bases, got a bad jump, ran in cautiously and arrived an instant too late. Bases loaded, none out.
Scott, the victim of so many defensive muggings, including the home run his buddy Jackson had taken from him the night before, hit a simple sharp grounder toward second. Double play? Not on your life. Randolph was shaded far toward second and once again came up a step short. Scott had two more precious ribbies (88 for the season) and the Sox a 4-1 lead.
The grim Lyle twice knocked down Fred Lynn, then walked him on a 3-2 pitch to reload the bases. But Butch Hobson grounded into a third-to-home force out.
Boston's murderers row - seven straight power hitters who have built that 197 home run total - were finished. Only little Doyle, Mr. No. 9 in the order, remained.
But it was Doyle who made the saving blow, the one that will allow New Englanders to keep hoping, at least for a few more days.
"Don't ask me how I did it," said Doyle with a laugh. "Those questions are for hitters. I just try to get the bat on it."
Doyle's grounder over the bag just eluded first baseman Chris Chambliss. The ball rolled politely into the corner while three men scrambled for the plate.
Much of the rest of the evening was a genuine "Night of the Heavy-weights," as the disgruntled crowd of 55.218 engaged in a knock-down-drag out brawl about once every two outs. Take me out to the brawl game.
The fans stopped flipping fingers, spit, curses, beer, punches and kicks at each other just long enough to give Thurman Munson an ovation in the eighth for his two-run homer that finished the scoring.
These folks - who ran the three game total to 164,852 (largest in the WORD ILLEGIBLE for three dates since 1958) - were so mean that they even booed the recording of the National Anthem - because it was played by the Boston Pops Orchestra.