A new punishment has been found to fit the unique crime of the Boston Red Sox. For the felony of blowing a 14-game lead, the Sox have been condemned to the torture of triumph, the agony of a winning streak.
Boston won its seventh straight game yesterday, 5-1, over inert Toronto, Dennis Eckersley winning his 20th game with an almost uncontested five-hitter.
The Sox blasted the Jays with a rousing four-run first inning, a lead big enough for Eckersley to mow down the plucked birds any day.
The Fenway Park crowd of 29,626 rose to its feet to give their heroes an ovation as they trotted back to their positions.
However, no sooner had the crowd started to rise, than a hand behind the left field wall picked up a large metal number "5" and dropped it through a slot next to the abbreviation "N.Y."
In an instant, the swelling cheers turned to groans. And this game turned to dust. The New York Yankees were on their way to another cakewalk win, their sixth victory in a row.
"Seeing them score those five runs in the first inning was like getting punched in the gut . . . again," said Eckersley
A sense of fatality, of inexorable and well-deserved punishment seems to hang over these Sox. The Prayer to St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes, is tacked to the Boston bulletin board.
The Sox have run out of lucky charms. Manager Don Zimmer said three days ago that he thought the women in-the-locker-room flap would distract the Yanks. Then he said that moving Ron Gudiry ahead a day in the rotation would "cost 'em a game, I hope."
Now Zimmer says, "What can I say. I'm a broken record. We need help."
Boston tries its superstitious and charms, but they haven't worked. "I drive to and from the park by thesame roads every day since we started winning," said George Scott. "But I ain't figured out what to do to make the Yankees lose.
"I still don't know how they caught us that fast. I just don't know where our lead went. When I looked up one day, they were right on top of us."
These '78 Sox have become a team so complex that even the players hardly seem able to figure out how to feel about themselves. What other baseball team has mixed disgrace with courage, failure with fertitude?
"We have nothing to be ashamed of," said Yastrezmski. "I wish I'd played my whole career with these guys."
Yesterday, Remy doubled to left field, Fisk singled home two runs, Lynn lined the first of his three singles - all before that four-run first inning ended. Yet it seemed hollow.
"We're going to win 90 games," said Lynn. "We've done all that could be asked of us . . . except win."
Eckersley, called "Home Eck" because he is 11-1 in Fenway, retained his dignity again yesterday. "I have been consistent all year. I expected to win, well, close to 20 games and now I have."
Elsewhere in the American League, Baltimore's Mike Flanagan was thwarted in his bid for a 20th victory as the Detroit Tigers defeated the Orioles, 5-4. Milwaukee beat Oakland, 8-5, for Mike Caldwell's 22nd victory.
Randy McGilberry's throwing error opened the gates for four Minnesota runs in the 11th inning, giving the Twins a 7-3 victory over Kansas City.