Eddie Kasko managed in Boston for four years and turned out a winning team every year. His best team was the 1973 Boston Red Sox, who won 89 games. But they were also his last team, as the problem of continuing to finish well behind the Baltimore Orioles led to a managerial change at year’s end.
Improved pitching was the reason the ’73 Red Sox won a few more games than their immediate predecessors. Luis Tiant and Bill Lee became rotation regulars for the first time. Each pitched over 270 innings and they combined for 37 wins.
1973 was also the first time in the Kasko regime that Boston had four regular starters pitching over 200 innings. John Curtis and Marty Pattin combined for 28 more wins and consistently took their turn. The bullpen didn’t have depth, but versatile Roger Moret made 15 relief appearances, 15 starts and went 13-2 with a 3.17 ERA.
The result was that after spending the previous seasons in the lower echelons of the American League in staff ERA, Boston ranked fifth in pitching for the 1973 MLB season.
Offensively, the Red Sox slipped a bit, but still were the fourth-best in the AL at scoring runs. Centerfielder Reggie Smith finished with a .398 on-base percentage/.515 slugging percentage, both in the top four of the league. Carl Yastrzemski, now 33-years-old, found a power stroke that had been missing for a couple years and slugged .463. He also finished with a .407 OBP and drove in 95 runs.
Tommy Harper, the speedy leftfielder, stole 54 bases and set a club record that would stand until Jacoby Ellsbury arrived in Fenway. Carlton Fisk didn’t match the production of his great 1972 rookie year, but still hit 26 home runs and was a leader behind the plate.
A decline in production from third baseman Rico Petrocelli was made up for by a good year from Orlando Cepeda, the first Red Sox player to take advantage of the newly-instituted designated hitter rule. Cepeda finished with a .350 OBP and hit 20 home runs.
Boston opened the season by sweeping the New York Yankees three straight in Fenway. The Sox scored 25 runs the first two games, and then won the finale when Cepeda hit a walkoff home run against Yankee reliever Sparky Lyle, whom the Red Sox had foolishly traded prior to the ’72 season. The two rivals then went to New York for two games that they split and Boston was off to a 4-1 start.
The Red Sox took a turn for the worse, when they lost four straight at home to the Detroit Tigers, who had edged them at the wire for the AL East title in 1972. Boston pitching gave up 33 runs in the four games. When the Sox made a mid-May return trip to Detroit, the result was three more losses. Boston straggled into Memorial Day with a record of 18-21, though with the Tigers the only AL East team over .500–and not by much–the Red Sox were still just three games off the pace.
Boston continued to slog along through June. It was a five-game series in the Bronx in early July, where the Sox won four games, that got them on the move. They cleared .500 for good and it started a 12-4 stretch that pulled them to within a half-game of the lead with a week to go before the All-Star break. The Red Sox eventually reached the midpoint with a 52-44 record, 2 1/2 games behind the Yankees. The Baltimore Orioles were a game and a half out, while the Tigers had slipped to fourth and were six back.
In early August, Boston took three of five in a series at Baltimore and got to within one game of first, but the Sox again followed that up by sliding back, losing six of nine and being swept at home by the Oakland A’s, the defending Series champs (and who would repeat in 1973). Boston was now four games out and responded well, going 10-2.
The problem was that the Orioles were heating up and in that stretch, the Red Sox actually lost ground. On September 3, Boston was set to host Baltimore for a four-game set and the Orioles were leading by six games. The Red Sox were ahead of the Yankees and Tigers, but they needed to win three of four in this series if their pennant hopes were to stay alive.
Monday was a doubleheader and for 17 innings, it looked like Boston was ready to fold up shop. They trailed the opener 8-1 in the fourth inning and lost 13-8. They trailed 8-2 in the eighth inning of the nightcap. Then a rally that’s arguably the most improbable in the long history of this franchise took place.
The Red Sox not only generated four singles, a double and an error to make a stunning seven-run rally against an opponent renowned for its ability to pitch in September, but they did it with their unknown bats. It wasn’t Yaz or Fisk or even Cepeda coming up with the hits. It was Danny Cater, Mario Guerrero, Rick Miller and a still-developing Cecil Cooper that delivered the biggest hits in the stunning 9-8 win.
Another unknown was a hero on Tuesday. Luis Tiant and Jim Palmer staged an epic pitcher’s duel. Each were still pitching in the 12th inning of a 1-1 game. Then Ben Ogilvie, still in the developing phase of his own career, homered off Palmer. If you were a Red Sox fan thinking this was destiny, you had reason. Especially when 21-year-old Dwight Evans homered on Wednesday to key a six-run second inning and a 7-5 win. Boston was four games out and still alive.
But the destiny storyline couldn’t hold. The Red Sox lost two of three at home to Detroit and slipped 5 1/2 games out when it was time to play two more games with the Orioles, this time in Baltimore.
Again, Boston would not go quietly. Yaz, Cepeda, Miller and Fisk all had two hits in the opener. Tiant left with a 4-3 lead and another unknown–this time reliever Bobby Bolin–got that last seven outs in a 4-3 win. But the drive finally crested when Pattin gave up seven runs in the first four innings of an 8-3 loss.
Over the next two weeks, the Sox went 6-7 and fell 10 1/2 back. They swept the Milwaukee Brewers at home to end the year, but the decision on Kasko’s fate was made–he was out as manager.
Kasko continued to have a great career in Boston. He moved into the scouting department and spent the next twenty years there, eventually becoming VP of Scouting & Development. Kasko was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2010. His managerial tenure was a success too–winning teams every year and his best team his final season. He just couldn’t keep up with Baltimore.