The bionic Boston Red Sox finished the Fenway Phase of their assassination plot yesterday.
The belligerent Bosox completed a week of mayhem with a three-game sweep of the previously winging, but now wounded Baltimore Orioles.
By sundown after this final 4-1 Boston victory over the Birds, the American League East pennant race was in critical condition with New York 8 1/2 and Baltimore 9 1/2 games behind the Sox.
One play in the ninth inning of this crisp Boston victory epitomized the Red Sox style all week.
Mike Torrez, who pitched a nine-hitter with nine strikeouts, entered the final inning extremely tired, having struggled out of jams in every inning. He needed every out he could steal. Third baseman Butch Hobson knew it.
Leadoff Oriole Larry Harlov, hit a foul pop into the Bird dugout. At any rate, it would have been if Hobson hadn't barreled into the Birds nest, grabbed the ball while falling down four steps, then tumbled halfway up the tunnel to the Oriole clubhouse, trampling a bat boy and knocking down Jim Palmer in the process.
A bush fell over Fenway Park. Trainers and managers from both teams, umpires and players, swarmed to the Oriole tunnel to see if Hobson was dead or only had broken his neck.
Hobson was in there long enough to come back out in an Oriole uniform, After nearly 20 seconds, he and umpire Nester Chylak reappeared together, Chylak waving a thumb, the uninjured Hobson smiling.
"If you guys keep playing like this, nobody'll catch you," Oriole Ken Singleton told Sox catcher Carlton Fisk after seeing Hobson's catch. "But don't slip, cause we'll be right on your back again."
"We've heard your footsteps before," answering Fisk, being gracious.
Nevertheless, the only footsteps of interest at present are those of the Sox - footsteps disappearing over the horizon.
"I'm not worried about us," said Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver. "Our pitching is sound. Dennis Martinez pitched an extremely good (complete) game today, even though he lost.
"But I sure as hell am worried about them. Whos going to beat them? They don't look like a team that's cooling off."
The Sox, who won two of three from New York before the O's arrived in town, have won 14 of 16, and 24 of their last 30.
Again this afternoon, they made the game seem elementary. Jim Rice poked an opposite-field triple into the right-field corner in the first inning. When Ken Singleton overthrew the cutoff man for an error, Rice jogged home. An ordinary 250-foot pop fly to right and Rice had circled the base without interruptions.
In the second inning the seeing-eye fly balls continued, as Fisk reached on a Texas League single to center and scored on Fred Lynn's hit-and-run double slide to right.
It should be noted that had the Sox been playing the outfield, both balls would have been caught. However, between the spaciousness of rightfield here and the wall in left, the Orioles outfield trio looks like the Brothers.
No outfielders could have caught the solo home runs that the Sox' Rick Burleson and the O's Andres Mora Knocked over the center-field fence in the fifth and sixth innings, respectively. Burleson's shot hit 20 feet up the flag pole, one of the best pokes of his life, while Mora's was strictly a wind-blown pop that landed 379-feet away in the first row of seats. "Good Lord," said Torrez, "the wind carried it fifty feet."
The last Boston run - a George Scott triple followed by Dwight Evans' grounder through a drawn-in in-field - was also flukey. "What can I say?" said Singleton of Scott's slicing liner off the low bullpen fence. 'I didn't catch the ball when it came to me. It wouldn't really have taken all that good a play. Nothing I'm not capable of.
"This is the toughest field in elther league. I don't enjoy it, and I'm glad to get out of town. Dwight Evans can have it. It shows you how great he is that he's mastered it."
This game could easily have been 4-1 in favor of Baltimore. While the O's pickets played like they were on strike, tainting three of the runs Martinez allowed, Torrez pitched out of trouble throughout to run his record to 11-3.
"I'd love to have easy innings," grinned the swarthy Torrez, Menacing on the mound, a teddy bear off it. "But I always walk somebody or a ground ball sneaks through and I have to say 'Well, Mike, you have to get to work, again.
"All I have been my whole career is a battler. I'll battle your butt off. That's the only way I know."
The pair of off-season buddies battled to a 2-2 count, Torrez getting a break on a close strike call to avoid falling behind 3-1. Singleton was unnerved. "That's the pitch that's supposed to be called a ball on me." he said, referring to his reputation for a great eye. Torrez knew his friend's unsettled mind and wasted no time, fanning him with a wicked slider low and inside.
"You won't see him chase a bad pitch twice a year with men on base." said Torrez with a grin. "But I think I picked the right spot."
The O's, outscored here 17-6, seemed almost resigned to losing to this Sox club that is 33-6 at home.
"We're so ashamed, we're going to leave the country," deadpanned Captain Mark Belanger. "And we might just win four in a row in Toronto."
"Now we have to go on the road and play them both N.Y. and Baltimore again in their own environment," appraised Fisk. "Maintaining your mental intensity . . . trying not to be intimidated by the New York crowd especially, that's tough.
"We are about to go," said Fisk with a wolfish lick of the chops," on a brief but very important road trip."
Phase Two of that dastardly assassination plot.