Reprinted from yesterday's late edition.
When dizzy Dwight Evans swung in vain to end another agonizing Boston Red Sox defeat, 4-1 to Jim Palmer and the Baltimore Orioles, a delirious cheer exploded.
The ovation, however, was not here in Memorial Stadium where most fans had already wandered to the exits.
The tumult came in Yankee Stadium where nearly 5,000 fans were in their seats long after New York's 4-2 win over Detroit, listening to a telephone hookup play-by-play of the continuing Bosoz demise over the P. A. system.
As the Sox dragged themselves off the field, slamming helmets, kicking dirt, try;ing to find something inanimate to swat, their American League East lead over the Yanks had dwindled to four games with 25 to play. Boston would have won five of the last six division pennants, instead of one, if the season had ended after 125 games. Once again, however, the vilainous schedule-makers are forcing the noble Sox to play out the month of September.
The mighty Bostonians reached the point last night where they were hoping against common sense for the unexpected, the undeserved, to pull them up by their sagging Sox.
And that miraculous something almost arrived in the form of a rookie southpaw named Bobby Sprowl, making his major league debut. After six innings, Sprowl, up from the PawSox of Pawtucket, had a 1-0 lead and was working on a two-hitter.
Had a child been sent to lead them from the wilderness?
That fantasy dissolved in two unnerving back-to-back Red Sox defensive blunders that turned the game.
Lee May opened the seventh with a blast to left that celared the seven-foot fence by inches. Left fielder Jim Rice, had he not turned the wrong way in his pursuit, could have stood on tiptoe and made the catch. However, his last-second sideways lunge merely helped deflect the ball into the Orioles bullpen.
Two pitches later, Andres Mora smashed a grounder directly at third baseman Butch Hobson, the walking emergency ward who inhabits the hot corner. The ball darted directly between Hobson's legs for his second error of the night and 35 (!!!) of a horrendous defensive team.
Pinch runner Mike Dimmel took third on a ground out and scored the winning run as ninth-hitter Carlos Lopez lofted a soft liner over the drawn-in field which did not reach the outfield grass on the fly. Against a normal infield, Lopez's tie-breaker would have been the meekest out. Last night, it was the Sox spike in the heart.
After allowing a leadoff walk and single in the eighth, Sprowl departed. "The kid only threw three or four bad pitches all night," said catcher Carlton Fisk, "but he kept apologizing to me."
It was the Sox defense and bullpen that should have apologized. Dick Drago came on and served up a two-strike, two-run pinch-hit double to Terry Crowley, immediately after manger Don Zimmer had told him, "It doesn't matter if you walk Crowley. We can still work to (Rick) Dempsey."
With that three-run lead, Don Stanhouse relieved Palmer to start the ninth and collected his 21st save. Little did Stanhouse know that his strikeouts of Carl Yastrzemski and the recently beaned Evans got the biggest applause of the night - in Yankee Stadium.
If the Sox injuries, their evaporating poise as they have lost five of six games, were the dominant impression last night, Palmer's clutch pitching took an elegant second-billing.
Palmer, now 18-12, has had minimal support all season - in 22 of his 33 starts the O's have scored three-or-less runs. Yet the three-time Cy Young winner has won his last four starts and now seems a cinch for 20 wins for the eighth time in nine years.
Every time Palmer needed a crucial out, he was magnificent.
His only weak inning was the second when a Fisk single and Evans' opposite-field double scored the Boston run. A leaping grab by Eddie Murray of a liner to first and a Doug DeCinces stab-and-throw behind third ended the inning without further crisis.
Three times Palmer faced the ferocious Rice, hottest hitter in baseball with 18 RBI in his last 13 games with a man on base. Three time, Palmer fanned him swinging - once with a changeup curve, once with the patented Palmer rising fast ball, and finally with a step-toward third, three-quarter-arm fast ball in the wheelhouse to end the eighth.
Rice, who seems certain to amass 200 hits, 400 total bases, 130 RBI, 100 runs, 40 homers, 15 triples and 25 doubles, has had his due for one of the amazing offensive seasons of the century.
Palmer, however, has labored (for once) almost in anonymity although of his 33 starts, only four could be called less than good.
"Jim could easily have three or four more wins and be leading the majors," said Earl Weaver.
Palmer has overcome a paneity of runs and an abysmal outfield defense. Last night center fielder Lopez, a truly inimitable butcher, swatted yet another fly ball to the turf lest it hit him squarely between the eyes.
Palmer's response to that familiar leadoff two-base error by an outfielder was (after a sacrifice bunt) to fan Evans and forced George Scott to pop up and end another scoreless inning.
Palmer (2.41 ERA) has just 121 strikeouts this season, but 100 of them seem to have come in a crisis. All four last night came when Palmer needed them most - and the woebegone Red Sox wanted to see them least.
Evans has painted a mock scar-Frankenstein style - on the back of his batting helmet to show where a Mike Parrott fast ball conked him last week. As Evans trudged back to the Sox clubhouse after his game-ending whiff, that helmet scar was not the only crack showing in the Sox's once impregnable armor.