BOSTON -- When Larry Andersen replaced Roger Clemens to start the seventh inning Saturday night at Fenway Park, public address announcer Sherm Feller should have intoned, "Ogden Nash now in to write for William Shakespeare."
For a moment in Game 1, it seemed the gods might smile on the Boston Red Sox. But then, once again, it turned out to be just a smirk.
Andersen is a fine fellow. His collection of rubber fright masks is unsurpassed. Nobody gives a better hot foot. If you make the mistake of putting a phone with an outside line in your bullpen, Andersen will call out for Chinese food -- to Beijing.
However, as a substitute for Clemens in the American League Championship Series, he's slightly inadequate. Especially when the Red Sox have a 1-0 lead, but are extremely unlikely to score another run off Dave Stewart and his Oakland A's.
However, after 97 pitches in this game, Clemens told the boss that he was fried, gassed and running on empty. No, this wasn't a recurrence of his mysterious blister in the 1986 World Series. These days, at 28, Clemens is a warhorse, a battler. As he worked out of jams in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, he looked like Al Oerter putting the shot.
No, the question this evening wasn't whether Clemens should come out of the game, but whether he ever should have been in it. If one of the sport's great pitching careers gets cut short by shoulder trouble before Clemens is 30, we'll all think of this moment as a night of real Red Sox sorrow, not Red Sox situation comedy.
Andersen's ominous entrance in this opening game was just a symptom of the Red Sox' overall plight. Boston is, to tell the truth, a team full of Andersens -- although some of them are named Bolton, Gray, Kiecker, Quintana, Reed, Harris, Heep, Lamp, Murphy, Rivera and Romine. We've got some journeymen here, some guys who've done serious bus time in the nether regions.
This season, many of those gentlemen have risen above themselves. Tom Bolton had a better year in the majors than he'd ever had in 10 minor league seasons. Greg Harris never won more than 10 games in a season in a dozen pro years, but he won 13 this summer. Dana Kiecker, after kicking around the bushes for six years, and building a 59-66 re'sume', suddenly started 25 games for a division winner. But Andersen was an emblem of them all this year. The Red Sox picked him up for the stretch run on Aug. 31 and, in 15 games, Andersen had a 1.23 ERA.
That's 15 games in one month. A week ago, Andersen was asked if he was available to pitch. "Pitch? I can't lift my arm," he said. "If a ball rolls up to me while I'm doing my running in the outfield, I'll roll it back."
Dead arms mean nothing to the Red Sox now. By Boston standards, Andersen is hale and hearty. The curveballing Harris, who has worked more innings this season at age 34 than he ever attempted in his life, can barely last two innings; he admits that he has no honest fastballs left in his arm and only throws hooks. That makes him the Red Sox' tentative Game 4 starter.
Some teams are about a brick shy of a load. The Red Sox are about two relief pitchers, a top starter and a cleanup hitter away from a load. The gap between Boston and Oakland isn't really that large -- if the Red Sox can just get one of those DeLorean time machines, return to 1918 and convince George Herman Ruth to come back. The Babe can start on Sunday here instead of Kiecker against 27-game winner Bob Welch. And he can hit anywhere he wants.
This isn't a championship Red Sox team so much as it's a wish, a hope and a prayer. However, for six innings this game, all the novenas seemed about to be answered. Wade Boggs skimmed a wind-aided home run off the tip-top of the Green Monster for the only run off the Oakland A's Death Stare right-hander. When Clemens got in trouble, divine providence came to his assistance. Once, after walking the first two hitters of an inning, Clemens threw a fastball down the pipe to Harold Baines, who smoked a line drive -- directly at second baseman Jody Reed who doubled Willie McGee off second base.
All this, however, was just a tease. Clemens labors under a pitch limit these days, imposed by his 24-day hiatus. The dugout injunction "Let's get into their bullpen" isn't a hope when you're facing Clemens these days. It's a certainty -- as long as you don't swing at too many first pitches.
And what's inside the Red Sox' bullpen at the moment would frighten Stephen King. Andersen was the losing pitcher this evening -- two runs in one inning for an 18.00 playoff ERA. However, before Bolton, Jeff Gray, Dennis Lamp and Rob Murphy got finished with their arson, the score was 9-1.
That's correct: 9-1. Nobody's going to second-guess Manager Joe Morgan for bringing in Andersen after seeing the rest of the guys who followed him. The Athletics' seven-run ninth inning only ended before midnight because a merciful third-base umpire invented an out just to stop the bleeding.
This evening, the Red Sox led with their ace of trumps. It was their best shot. Probably their only shot. Before the game was over, the A's had seen all the jokers in the deck. The Red Sox' best hope now is that the world champions won't be able to stop laughing long enough to play baseball.