Listen my children and you shall hear, the sound of a pall in the home of Revere.
The beloved Red Sox, who led the American League East by a remarkable 10 games just three weeks ago, suddenly have found themselves in the grip of a wholly unexpected slump.
Last night they were battered by the Chicago White Sox, 5-2, on an evening as damp and dreary as the Bosox faithful's current mood.
Chicagoan Mike Proly (2-0) begrudged his hosts only six hits in hurling a complete game in his first major league start. Boston starter Luis Tiant (7-4), who has not won a game since June 24, was foiled in his eighth attempt at his eighth victory.
The loss was the 11th in 14 games for the Rex Sox. It also was their third setback in five games of a brief homestand they hoped would turn them around before they went back on the road for two games at New York, starting tonight, and three even more vital ones at Milwaukee over the weekend.
Boston's seemingly comfortable lead has been cut to 4 1/2 games, and an unaccustomed, mournful silence has emanated from normally lively Fenway Park in recent days.
Listen closely and you shall hear the sounds of silence. Of gloom. Of high anxiety and impending panic. Of whispered prayers that the bubble has not burst, and that the next sound you hear will not be the long, painful w-h-o-o-s-h of air escaping an over-inflated balloon that has been punctured.
The Red Sox players are saying it ain't so, but the fans are worried. Boston is holding its collective breath, its baseball-mad populace hoping through the silence that they will not have to endure the sad refrain of so many New England summers - the sickening sound of the Olde Towne Team self-destructing.
A mouth back, when the Bosox were making the Baltimore Orioles, the Milwaukee Brewers, the hated New York Yankees and their other AL East rivals look like so may nags in a thoroughbred race. Fenway Park routinely became a joyous echo chamber every time the team played at home.
Now that the Red Sox seem to be pulling a Silky Sullivan in reverse, a pervasive nonverbal nervousness has replaced the bedlam.
The 33,502 seats still are packed almost to capacity every night - a crowd of 30,020 sat through the drizzle last night - but the thrill of early July is gone.
"There is comparatively little noise, because there is so little to get noisy about," observed Ray Fitzgerald of the Boston Globe in a recent column. "The people sit there and chew popcorn and munch hot dogs, and the great wall of sound we though was second nature to a Red Sox game at Fenway is absent."
The difference is that the Red Sox, who went to the plate the first half of the season as eagerly as a hungry dog does to a plate of hamburger, simply haven't been hitting.
With the exception of Monday night, when they went swinging in the rain for 12 hits in a 9-2 rout of the White Sox, Boston's recent output has been pathetic. Those nineruns were more than they scored in the entire preceding week.
Jim Rice, who led the league in his (132), slugging (578) and home runs (24) going into last night's game, has been bothered by a bruised left foot. He went 0-for-15 before getting two hits Monday. He was 0-for-3 last night.
George Scott, the erstwhile "Boomer," broke an 0-for-25 slump Monday, but he also went 0-for-3 yesterday and was greeted with an increasing crescendo of boos every time he came up.
Designated hitter Carl Yastrzemski, who returned to the cleanup spot in the linup last night after missing five gamees with back spasms that hospitalized him, laced the first pitch Proly threw him to the 379-foot marker in left center for a run-scoring double.
That brought a thundering ovation but it was short-lived. Back-to-back home runs by Lamar Johnson (a two run lazy are job into the left field net) and Bob Molinaro (an opposite field liner into the Red Sox bullpen) brought back the silence, and it lingered the rest of the game.
It wasn't this way a month ago, when the Bosox were building the lead that reached 10 games on three occasions: July 5, 6, and 8.
Then their bats were exploding constantly. Shots were ricocheting off the "Green Monster." Fenway's inviting target of a left field wall with such frequency that it looked and sounded like a pinball machine hitting "tilt."
Rice was blasting the ball and Fred Lynn, Carlton Fisk and Yastrzemski surrounded him making the heart of the Boston batting order a reasonable facsimile of Murderers Row.
Butch Hobson was hailed as the best ninth man in a lineup since Babe Ruth picked here. And the pitching, the bane of so many Boston baseball seasons was more solid than it had been in years.
Free agent Mike Torrez (12.6) and Dennis Eckersley (12-4) acquired from Cleveland during spring training, were dependable "stoppers," complementing rubber-man Tiant in Boston's most formidable starting rotation in years.
Free-spirited left-hander Bill Lee's pitching arm - if not necessarily his head - was back from Outer Space. He is 10-6, Rockie Jim Wright (6-2), who pitched his third shutout Saturday for a 1-0 victory that prevented the Kansas City Royals from sweeping a three-game series has been the "find" of the season.
Bill (Soup) Campbell, the reliever who very nearly carried Boston to the AL East title last year, is only 6-5, with a 4-60 earned run average. But Tom Bargmeier (2-1, 3.76). Dick Drago (2-4, 3.71) and the surprising Bob Stanley (5-1, 2.92) have given the Red Sox a respectable bullpen.
The fans loved it, and supplied appropriate sound effects. As surely as Boston is the home of the bean and the cod. Fenway was where optimism and pandomonium lived. All around town, the world was that the 1978 Red Sox team might well be the best in the club's 77-year history.
That was a month ago. Then came a 2-8 road trip to Milwaukee, Kansas City, Minnesota and Texas. The specter of so many swoons in Augusts past began to haunt Boston. The semi-hysterical sports press of the city amplified the alarm: "Boston might not be the Hub of the baseball universe come September after all."