The Boston Red Sox had spent seven straight years in a holding pattern coming into 1975. It wasn’t a bad one—they were between 84-89 wins every single year. But after the 1967 “Impossible Dream” pennant, the Red Sox had not returned to postseason play.
1974 had been the cruelest cut, when they had an eight-game lead in the AL East in August before a complete collapse left them in third place. The 1975 Boston Red Sox scratched the seven-year itch, won the pennant and nearly ended the franchise’s now 57-year drought on winning the whole thing.
Boston got back on top with the most potent offense in the American League, and it was keyed by two rookies in the outfield. Jim Rice began what was a Hall of Fame career in left field and allowed another Hall of Famer—35-year-old Carl Yastrzemski—to move to first place. Fred Lynn took over in centerfield and electrified all of baseball.
Lynn produced a stat line of .401 on-base percentage/.566 slugging percentage, drove in 105 runs and made spectacular defensive plays in Fenway Park’s deep centerfield. He won the MVP award, the last rookie to do so.
While Lynn and Rice got the headlines in 1975, Boston had a third outstanding young outfielder who would have a long career in the Hub. Dwight Evans, blessed with a rifle arm, was in right field and he put up numbers of .353/.456 at the age of 23.
The trio of young outfielders combined with Yastrzemski—who posted a .371 OBP and hit 14 home runs and one of the game’s top catchers, 27-year-old Carlton Fisk, whose numbers read .395/.529 and were backed up by solid defense and on-field leadership. Boston had a lineup that could match up with anybody.
Pitching was not the strong suit, and the Red Sox finished ninth in team ERA, but some of that can be attributed to the hitter-friendly dimensions of Fenway Park, and Boston at least had clutch pitching at the top.
Luis Tiant, the 34-year-old Cuban with a twirling motion that saw him turn his back to the hitter before delivering a pitch, won 18 games with a 4.02 ERA. Bill Lee, a crafty lefthander that could change speeds and induce groundballs as well as anyone, won 17 with a 3.95 ERA. Rick Wise did the same thing. All three pitchers logged over 250 innings and took pressure off a bullpen that lacked depth.
The Red Sox started slowly, losing nine of their first sixteen and in mid-May, they were still a game under .500. The good news was that the team in first place was the Milwaukee Brewers, who at this stage of their history were nowhere close to being a serious contender.
The real power in the AL East—the Baltimore Orioles of Earl Weaver—were also slow out of the gate, as were the New York Yankees, who looked close to regaining relevance under George Steinbrenner’s still young ownership.
Boston won six of seven to move into first place by May 24 and save a handful of days, led the race the rest of the way. Their margin grew to 9 ½ games in August. The Orioles, as was to be expected under Weaver, closed the margin to 4 ½ with two weeks to go and came to Boston for a two-game series.
The Hub was a nervous city when Tiant took the mound against Oriole ace Jim Palmer, on his way to the Cy Young Award. El Tiante, as he was called, never had the stats of the game’s best pitchers. But this matchup showed why he was a gamer. Palmer was sharp and the Red Sox only scratched out two runs. But Tiant was better, twirling his way to a five-hit shutout. The AL East race was all but over.
Boston finished with a 95-65 record and a 4 ½ game margin. They would face the great dynasty of the early 1970s in the Oakland A’s in the American League Championship Series. The A’s had won the previous three World Series titles and were coming off a 98-win campaign.
The Red Sox called an abrupt end to the reign by winning the ALCS in three straight (it was not until 1985 that the LCS round became best-of-seven).
The return to the World Series set Boston up to face the Cincinnati Reds, the feared “Big Red Machine” of Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez, a lineup of four Hall of Famers (I’m including Rose since on baseball merit he quite obviously was one).
It would become a World Series that’s on the short list of the best Fall Classics ever played, but this wouldn’t be the year the trophy came to Beantown. The Red Sox dropped a heartbreaker in Game 7.