A healing rain caressed Fenway Park yesterday, a rain of balm and absolution. In that soft October drizzle the Sox of Boston were washed clean.
On the scheduled final day of the baseball season, just as New England was ready to give up hope, the prayers of Red Sox fans were answered. Boston, behind Luis Tiant, won 5-0 and New York lost, 9-2.
Now, what may in time be regarded as the most spectacular and sustained pennant race in American League history, has reached the only climax worthy of it, a tie in the American League East and a Red Sox vs. Yankee playoff here today at 2:30 p.m. (WJLA-TV-7 and WJZ-TV-13).
"There may be more interest in this one game than in the whole World Series," said Jerry Remy, minutes after the Sox had spanked hopeless Toronto on Triants two-hitter.
"This is what you call the ultimate confrontation," said Boston catcher Carlton Fisk, still almost too ecstatic to believe what the scoreboard told him that Cleveland stomped the world champion Yanks to save Boston's season.
This was one long delirious afternoon in Fenway. "When I'm in my wheelchair with my plastic knees - about two years from now - I'll always remember this day," said the exhausted Fisk, who had just caught his 156th game of the season, an AL record. "We're tired down to the bone. And proud of ourselves down to the bone, too."
Just two weeks ago, the Red Sox had finished one of the most ignominious collapses in history - losing 17 1/2 games in the standings to New York. Yesterday the Sox won their eighth in a row, their 12th in 14 games since that nadir. Baseball offers no fall and rise to match it.
This indescribably delicious ball yard saw bizarre echoing eruptions rumble through the stands whenever word of the Yank demise arrived by radio.
A tizzy started even an hour before the game when Toroato's mischievous Sam Ewing posted a ficticious "8" next to "Cleve" on the scoreboard.Ewing was a run shy.
The celebrations of the 29.201 started at 2:12 p.m. when the center field megaboard proclaimed, "Andre Thornton hit a two-run homer off Hunter in the first."
The hullabaloo did not cease until Jack Brohamer caught the final Jay popup at 4:20 p.m. and began a victory dance worth of a Series triumph.
The Sox brass, however, could not contain itself that long. At 4 o'clock, before either game was over, the megaboard exalted, "Next Red Sox Home Game Tomorrow."
The Hose know they haven't won anything yet - except the chance to face the hardest-to-beat 20-game winner in the history of baseball - Ron (.889). Guidry, the man who already has blanked them on two-hit shutouts twice this month.
However, it was the things that the Bosox have rewon that mattered most - the unreserved love of their fans and their own professional respect.
"Choke . . . choke . . . choke, that's all any of us were going to hear for the rest of our lives if we hadn't come back to square this thing." said pitcher Mike Torrez, who will take the mound for Boston in today's Armageddon.
"We're a different club than the one the Yanks saw a couple weeks ago," said Torrez, the $2.7 million free agent lured away from the Bronx this season. "We were just prayin' for a shot to prove it to 'em."
"If we hadn't won today, we'd have been considered the chokers who blew it," said shortstop Rick Burleson, who, with Jim Rice, supported Tiant with wind-aided home runs over the short left field wall of Fenway.
"Now we've got a second chance. Now maybe both of these teams will be considered great not just one.
"We have the home field. We have the momentum. They . . . " said Burleson, pausing, "have Guidry."
The Sox were more concerned all day with the scoreboard than with the Jays. After all, Toronto, with its 102 losses, has played 4-25 ball in September. The Jays have not scored more than one run in a game in a week and were outscored by Boston here this weekend, 21-1.
Only three Jays reached base against the speed-changing, head-bobbing, wickedly determined Tiant, who never allowed a man past first base. [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Lynn robbed two Jays of leadoff [WORD ILLEGIBLE] with gaudy centerfield catches.
On the other hand, Toronto gift-wrapped Boston's first two runs in the fifth when second baseman Dave McKay fielded a prefect double play ball with his foot, kicking it into center. A Brohamer ground out scored one run and Remy plated Brohamar with a ground-rule double crashed into the Sox bullpen. "I hit one that far about twice a month . . . in batting practice," said the tiny Remy, a Boston native who wanted the '67 Series from the Fenway bleachers.
Burleson's two-run homer in the seventh - one foot fair and one foot over the Wall - iced the exaltation.
"I wanted to greet him at home plate with a kiss," said a grinning coach, Johnny Pesky, who played third base in the only other playoff in AL history. Boston lost to Cleveland in 1948 in that one, when the Sox surprise starter was Denny Galohouse.
"So what if we lost the one 30 years ago?" said Torrez. "That just means that the history books owe us one. I think I'm gonna be more excited than I was for my Series starts."
Boston's final run in the eighth came on a towering Rice homer - his 46th - a shot so palpably a Fenway El Cheapo that Rice did penance by taking 30 minutes of postgame batting practice under the stands.
Remy, by contrast, reacted to the desperate victory by saying, "I won't know how I feel about this until I go home and get totally blotto. But don't worry, I won't have any hangover tomorrow."
In the Sox clubhouse, so recently a morgue, Tiant's 16-year-old son gave his father a kiss on the cheek, and Fisk bounced his blond-haired boy on his knee.
"Lord, we've played our rears off the last two weeks," said Lynn. "We deserve to win."
"Do I believe this is all real?" said Tortez. "Baby, you better believe tomorrow's gonna be as real as you want to get it."
In front of his locker Bob (Big Foot) Stanley could not stop smiling to himself.All afternoon he had kept a transistor radio to his ear in the bullpen, then would leap to his feet to lead hundred of fans in ovations for Cleveland runs.
"Tomorrow, I won't need a radio," said Stanley with a wolfish grin. "Tomorrow they'll be right here."
Big foot made it sound like that's right where he wanted 'em.