If the Boston Red Sox don't win the world title this year, they might as well blow up Fenway Park.
This is the best Sox team in history - by far. Everyone from Ted Williams to the cops in Lansdowne Street say so. This Olde Towne Team has everything.
That, at any rate, is the common wisdom here in this Keep-Your-Sox-On town where a pair of rose-colored glasses comes free with every Bosox ticket.
Bostonians see their team with love a perception of the Boston team as eyes. Always have. This often leads to distorted and asymetrical as Fenway Park itself.
"You can learn a lot from history," said rougish Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver yesterday as his Birds prepared to play Boston for the first of seven times in 10 days. "But the people up here in Boston always seem to forget the past."
The Fenway Chronicles show an almost inexorable baseball law: A Red Sox ship with a single leak will always find a way to sink. For documentation, see the Harvard Library. Doctoral theses are on file there.
A thousand times no, cry the faithful here. This is the season when the hull has been caulked as never before.
A dramatic case can be made that these '78 Sox are potentially one of the most perfect blends of baseball power, skill and pitching in history. In short, if this team continues its .691 pace, it would win 112 games, breaking the American League record by one.
The Sox make that case themselves every day - perhaps an ominous note in itself.
"Did you ever hear of a team that won 97 games the year before, then went out and got 10 new faces?" asked Manager Don Zimmer defiantly. "We're so much better that there's no comparison to last year's team."
Last year's team - the one that suffers so badly in comparison - merely had the highest combination of batting average and home runs in baseball history. It took the statistical scriveners all winters to dope that out, but none of the teams that were in the vicinity of Boston's 213 homers last year approached the Sox .281 team average. And none of the teams that hit over .280 ever approached 200 homers.
That tidy little lineup - hitting .285 and homering at a 205 pace - remains intact. The eighth and ninth hitters in Zimmer's surrealistic attack - Dwight Evans and Butch Hobson - have as many home runs between them (29) as the entire St. Louis Cardinal teams.
Boston improvement have been elsewhere - everywhere else, in fact.
Without losing a single important player, the Sox got exactly the three vital players they had set their caps for after last season - Mike Torrez, Dennis Eckersley and jerry Remy.
Torrez and Eckersley - 17-2 between them - seem molded, if any pitchers are, for Fenway. Both are big, mean three-quarter-arm righties who live by sawing off the bats of right-handed hitters. And inside, as old-timers know, is the only way to pitch in Fenway. Those sloppy outside pitches are the ones that end up as lazy files off the Wall.
Remy (.274, 15 steals) and little utility man Jack Brohamer (.318) have given a tad more defense-and-speed and flexibility, respectively.
But the surprise has been in the bullpen where Bill Campbell's tender elbow has forced the discovery that Dick Drago (2.57), Bob Stanley (5-1) and Tom Burgmeier make a deep bullpen by themselves.
Now Campbell is ready to pitch again - on a gradual basis - and the cry "Get the Soup Hot" is heard again.
"Because we have better starting pitching, more speed and a longer bench and bullpen, we'll win more on the road," said Zimmer, citing the Sox' annual road woes.
If Zimmer could add one player to his 25-man team (Babe Ruth not allowed), who would it be?
"Hummmm," says Zimmer, puzzled. "I'm pretty well satisfied as is."
He should be. His personal purge of the club's country-club free spirits - Rick Wise, Reggie Cleveland, Bernie Carbo, etc. is complete - leaving the outspoken Bill Lee by himself in Space.
When Lee jumped the club for a day and popped off last week, calling Zimmer "a gerbil," Zimmer calmly said. "There was no one here to hear him." Zimmer's trades had seen to that.
The injury plague has receded around the Fenway Ark. Fred Lynn is finally himself again, hitting .320 with 25 extra-base hits and fielding marvelously. And big Dwight Evans, in his seventh season, may finally discover who "himself" is.
When Evans and Carbo shared right field, they were often called the two flakiest and most unfulfilled raw talents ever to platoon at the same spot.
Carbo's trade, for what amounted to a couple of books of green stamps, announced Evans' full-time arrival - if he can avoid slumps and injuries, his two constant buddies.
Ted Williams, batting instructor emeritus, may cure Evans' slumps, often caused by Evans' own excessive worry.
"It's just great to know Ted is there if you need him," says Evans hitting .266 with 15 homers. "I could look at films of myself for hours and see nothing.He'd take one look and in a second say, "There, dummy. That's what's wrong. It's nice to have a genius on call."
As if the Sox needed more, their defense - at leas in Fenway Park where - lack of speed in lest and center field is hidden - is close to spectacular.
So why play the rest of the schedule? Even Weaver says, "If somebody doesn't slow 'em down soon, they'll run away."
Boston has not one, but several Achilles heels.
Luis Tiant (6-0, 2.82) looks healthy, but Lee (7-3, 3.18) has shoulder miseries. If Lee gets disabled or goes sour, the Sox could join New York as teams committed to five-man pitching rotations that only have three steady starters.
Red Sox confidence has always been easily pricked.Swoons before Yankee charges are now lore generations old.Getting caught by Weaver's Orioles is a '70s trend. Weaver was delighted to give a history seminar yesterday, recalling the Birds snatching division titles from Boston in '73 and '74, while narrowly missing in '76.
And last year the supposedly undermanned Orioles tied the Sox for second-place with a victory in Fenway in the last game of the season.
Two other factors could be more important. Blundering AL schedule-makers have made the Sox play 14 games against New York and Baltimore in 16 days. If the Sox, 2-1 in the ordeal so far, could win 10 of those 14, they could put the AL race to bed early.
But for the next 10 days, Boston will see names like Jim Palmer, Mike Flanagan, Ron Guidry and Don Gullett in their sleep. They face the cream of pitchers from now on.If Boston's lead dwindles, those old ghosts could start their hunting.
Finally, Boston traditionally has fallen prey to the ancient syndrome of overrating the Red Sox. The gandy statistics of Sox hitters are taken at face value, while Boston pitchers are excused with that old rule of Stumb, "subtract one run from his ERA because of Fenway Park."
It is possible, despite statistics, that Boston is no more powerful at the plate than six or eight other big league teams. For instance, Boston hit 213 homers to Kansas City's paltry 147 last year. Enormous difference, rights?
Wrong. Both teams hit 90 homers on the road. Interpretation? Boston's slugging edge - still its central weapon - may be to a significant degree, a Fenway illusion.
That, not choking, could explain the Sox road problems. Rice, for instance, had 13 homers and 33 RBI on the road last year, but was 26-and 76 at home.
Don't run that world champion banner - which Boston has anticipated for 60 years - up the Fenway flagpole yet.
But, please, don't tear down the old park, no matter what happens.