The Oakland A’s won three straight World Series from 1972-74, and the 1975 ALCS marked their fifth straight appearance in postseason play. It also marked the end of the dynasty, as the Boston Red Sox ended the A’s great run with three-game sweep in what was then a best-of-five League Championship Series.
The ALCS opened in Fenway Park on the first Saturday of October. The Red Sox sent veteran Cuban righthander Luis Tiant to the mound, while the A’s countered with 18-game winner Ken Holtzman. Tiant was Boston’s most clutch pitcher and Holtzman had a demonstrated record of big-game performance. Each were dialed in for Game 1 and an unearned run for the Red Sox in the second inning was the only score as the game went into the seventh.
Boston then broke through. Dwight Evans and Rick Burleson hit back-to-back doubles with one out. Juan Beniquez singled to drive in Burleson and it was 3-0. Consecutive steals by Beniquez put him on third base.
The Oakland defense was a train wreck in Game 1, with four errors and a simple fly ball to center was dropped by Bill North, allowing another run in. With two outs, Carlton Fisk singled and Fred Lynn drilled a two-run double. The close pitcher’s duel had turned into a party at Fenway, and the game ended 7-1.
Oakland might not have played well in Game 1, and it might have been they—rather than a mostly young Boston team with precious few players tied to the 1967 pennant winning team that was the last time they experienced October—who looked like a deer in the headlights. But the A’s veterans regrouped and struck early in Game 2.
Third baseman Sal Bando doubled with two outs, and then Reggie Jackson homered to give the A’s a quick 2-0 lead in the first inning. Their outstanding lefty, Vida Blue, was on the mound and the A’s added another run in the fourth on consecutive doubles from Joe Rudi and Claudell Washington.
Boston began coming back in the bottom of that same inning. Denny Doyle singled and then Red Sox veteran, future Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, homered to cut the lead to 3-2. Fisk doubled and Lynn singled, resulting in an early hook for Blue. Even though Rico Petrocelli hit into a double play, Fisk came in through the backdoor, the score was tied and Blue was out of the game.
Oakland still had the best reliever in the game, Rollie Fingers, in an era when you went to such a pitcher early in and often—like the fifth inning of Game 2. Fingers came in after Cecil Cooper hit a leadoff double, and escaped the jam, with help from Jackson, gunned Cooper at the plate when he attempted to score on a sac fly.
The Red Sox were able to chip away at Fingers though. Yastrzemski doubled with one out in the sixth and scored the lead run on a base hit by Fisk. Petrocelli, not known for his power, homered in the seventh. And in the eighth, Beniquez singled, was bunted over, and scored on a single by Lynn.
While Fingers struggled, Boston’s Dick Drago was getting it done. The Red Sox’ top reliever tossed three scoreless innings, allowing only two hits and the Red Sox won 6-3.
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Oakland still had the remainder of the ALCS on their home field and Game 3 would provide more than its share of back-and-forth on Tuesday.
The Oakland pitching staff was top-heavy in its reliance on Holtzman, Blue and Fingers, and the Game 3 pitching decision illustrated it—with the season on the line, Holtzman would make the start on two days’ rest.
Boston made an early mistake, when they got runners on first and second with one out in the top of the first—Doyle tried to tag and take third base on Jackson after a fly ball out. Doyle was gunned down. Making the final out of an inning at third base is a faux pas in any event, but it’s even more so, when the league MVP—Lynn—is coming up to bat. The game stayed scoreless through three innings.
With two outs in the top of the fourth, the A’s defense again helped the Red Sox. Washington, a 20-year-old leftfielder, committed a two-base error off the bat of Lynn and Petrocelli picked up the RBI single. In the top of the fifth, after a double by Burleson, Boston got another big two-out RBI single, this one from Doyle.
After a base hit from Yastrzemski, Holtzman was removed. Fisk hit an RBI single, Yaz moved up to third and eventually scored on a wild pitch. It was 4-0 and the Red Sox could start to at least sniff a pennant.
Oakland got a run back in the bottom of the sixth, but Boston starter, 18-game winner Rick Wise, struck out Jackson with a man aboard to keep it a 4-1 game. The Red Sox added another two-out RBI single, this one from Cooper in the eighth, to make it 5-1.
There were six outs to go, but this wouldn’t be the pre-2004 Boston Red Sox if everything went smoothly. The A’s fought back in their own half of the eighth.
A single and an error set up RBI base hits by both Bando and Jackson, the two Oakland hitters who swung the bat well in this ALCS. The lead was cut to 5-3, there was only one out and Rudi was coming to the plate.
Drago came on, and induced Rudi to hit a ground ball to short, where Burleson started a 6-4-3 double play. All of New England could exhale and Drago closed the door in the ninth. Boston was going back to the World Series.
There was no MVP in LCS play at this time. There’s also no doubt that it would have Yastrzemski, with his .455 batting average over three games, would have won the award. Yaz was now 35-years-old and his push to be a part of the first Boston team to win a World Series since 1918 was a great story in of itself and that would of undoubtedly driven media voting.
I’m not saying it would have been a bad choice, but since we have some historical liberty here, I’m going to say that Drago would have been the best choice for ALCS MVP in 1975. He pitched 4.2 IP of shutout baseball. He outdueled Fingers in the critical final frames of Game 2, the point at which the series really swung. And Drago closed the door in a very anxious situation at the end of Game 3.
Baseball fans would not get to see the Oakland A’s dynasty take on the Big Red Machine in the World Series, but the coming seven-game battle the Red Sox would stage with the Cincinnati Reds more than made up for it. Of course Boston came up a run short in that one, but at least they were again giving New England a taste of World Series baseball.