Remembering the Epic 1975 Red Sox vs. 'Big Red Machine' World Series

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Remembering the Epic 1975 Red Sox vs. 'Big Red Machine' World Series
AP Images

The two-game set on tap for the Cincinnati Reds and Boston Red Sox likely won't be must-see TV, but it does have one redeeming quality:

It's an excuse for us to talk about that one time the Reds and Red Sox met in the 1975 World Series.

The 1975 Fall Classic wasn't supposed to be much of a fight. The Reds were The Big Red Machine, and '75 was the year they fielded what Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated called "the most famous lineup in history."

The Big Red Machine, 1975 Version
Order Pos Player HR RBI R SB OPS Accolades
1 3B Pete Rose 7 74 112 0 .838 17 All-Stars
2 RF Ken Griffey 4 46 95 16 .793 3 All-Stars
3 2B Joe Morgan 17 94 107 67 .974 Hall of Fame
4 C Johnny Bench 28 110 83 11 .878 Hall of Fame
5 1B Tony Perez 20 109 74 1 .816 Hall of Fame
6 LF George Foster 23 78 71 2 .875 5 All-Stars, 1 MVP
7 SS Davey Concepcion 5 49 62 33 .679 9 All-Stars
8 CF Cesar Geronimo 6 53 69 13 .690 4 Gold Gloves

Baseball-Reference.com

Note: An initial version of this article had Pete Rose highlighted as a Hall of Famer. Oops.

With this lineup, the Reds scored more than five runs per game on their way to winning a staggering 108 of them.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, won just 95 games. They had two stars in Carl Yastrzemski and Luis Tiant, whose best days seemed behind them. And while Rookie of the Year and MVP center fielder Fred Lynn, right fielder Dwight Evans and left fielder Jim Rice made for an exciting young core, Rice was out of the World Series picture thanks to a wrist injury.

What seemed in store was a romp in favor of the Reds. What the baseball world got instead was one of the greatest World Series ever that included maybe the single greatest World Series game ever.

It's worth re-living in all its epic-y epicness, which leads me to the following idea: Hey, let's do that!

 

Game 1: We Interrupt This Pitchers' Duel to Bring You a Blowout

Associated Press/Associated Press
Game 1 of the 1975 World Series was largely the Luis Tiant show.

The pitching matchup for Game 1 was to be a classic old guy versus young gun affair.

The 33-year-old Tiant, who had started an ALCS sweep of Oakland with a shutout, would be on the bump for Boston. The Reds were countering with 24-year-old lefty fireballer Ron Gullett, who kicked off an NLCS sweep of Pittsburgh with a complete game of his own. 

It looked early on as if the 35,205 at Fenway Park were in for a pitchers' duel, as Tiant and Gullett matched scoreless frames through six innings. The Red Sox had more chances, stranding eight men to Cincinnati's four, but couldn't get a key hit.

Cue Tiant taking matters into his own hands.

With the designated hitter rule shelved for the series, Tiant picked up his first hit since 1972 with a leadoff single in the seventh. After Gullett threw an Evans bunt into center field and second baseman Denny Doyle poked a single to left, the bases were loaded with nobody out.

Then, as they are wont to do, the floodgates opened.

Yastrzemski singled to bring home Tiant and chase Gullett. Right-hander Clay Carroll walked catcher Carlton Fisk (more on him later) to bring home another run. Left-hander Will McEnaney momentarily stemmed the tide by striking out Lynn, but then gave up singles to third baseman Rico Petrocelli and shortstop Rick Burleson and a sac fly to first baseman Cecil Cooper.

All told, it was a six-run inning, which, as noted by Ron Fimrite of Sports Illustrated, was the biggest World Series inning since a 10-run frame by the Detroit Tigers in 1968.

It was more than enough for Tiant. With the Fenway crowd chanting "Loo-ey! Loo-ey!" he retired the final six Reds he faced to complete the shutout. In losing 6-0, The Big Red Machine had managed just five hits and two walks.

Reds manager Sparky Anderson gave credit where it was due, saying via The New York Times"Tiant put zeroes on the scoreboard all game long, and I don’t know how much better you can be than that."

He then added: "But I’ll give you a little advice—everybody stay calm, because I am.”

 

Game 2: Ken Griffey Crashes the Bill Lee Party

Harry Cabluck/Associated Press/Associated Press
Ken Griffey Sr. ended up spoiling Boston's chance at a 2-0 series lead.

The pitching matchup for Game 2 seemed to favor the Reds. They were starting Jack Billingham, who had been a National League Cy Young contender in 1973 and 1974. The Red Sox were countering with Bill Lee, whose mediocre 1975 season had last seen him start in mid-September.

Then there was the added complication of Lee being booed in the pregame introductions. As Fimrite noted, that was Lee's comeuppance for having the nerve to call Bostonians "gutless" over opposition to the busing of black students to white schools (a little thing known as the Boston busing crisis).

The crowd eventually came around, though. Crowds typically do when great pitching is happening.

There was plenty of that going on, as Lee followed Tiant's fine example by allowing just one run through eight innings. And for a time, a win seemed in order for the soft-tossing lefty after the Red Sox took a 2-1 lead in the sixth thanks to a Davey Concepcion error and a Petrocelli RBI single.

When the ninth inning came, Lee was looking to finish Boston's second complete game in as many days, in the process giving the underdog Red Sox a 2-0 series lead.

At this, he failed.

Johnny Bench started the inning with a double down the right field line. Red Sox manager Darrell Johnson took that as his cue to replace Lee with right-hander Dick Drago, who led Boston with 15 saves in the regular season.

Drago got a ground out from Tony Perez that moved Bench to third and a not-deep-enough fly-out from George Foster. But then Concepcion made up for his costly error by grounding a ball up the middle that Doyle could only field, bringing Bench home to tie the game.

Concepcion further made up for his error by stealing second. Had he not done that, he might not have been able to score when Griffey lined a 1-2 pitch from Drago into the left-center gap.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

Griffey's double gave the Reds their first lead of the series, and rookie relief ace Rawly Eastwick had little trouble nailing it down. After pitching a scoreless eighth, the right-hander retired the side in order in the home half of the ninth.

The Reds had won 3-2 to even the series at 1-1. And from there, they were going home.

 

Game 3: The Slugfest That Turned on a Bunt

Bob Daugherty/Associated Press

The '75 Reds were a great team wherever they went, but they were nearly unbeatable at home. They went 64-17 in Riverfront Stadium, a record largely owed to their collective ability to mash there. The '75 Reds slugged .428 at home, compared to .375 on the road.

This is the situation the Red Sox were walking into for Game 3, and the Reds didn't disappoint. In front of more than 55,000 fans, their bats did come alive.

Trouble was, Boston's bats came alive, too.

The scoring started in the first inning with a solo home run off the bat of Fisk. Red Sox starter Rick Wise made the lead last for a time but gave it up on a two-run homer by Bench in the fourth. Then there were back-to-back homers by Concepcion and Cesar Geronimo to lead off the fifth. After Wise departed, Joe Morgan brought home another run with a sac-fly.

That made it 5-1 in favor of the Reds, a hole the Red Sox would be hard-pressed to crawl out of.

But crawl out of it they did.

The Red Sox got a run on a sac-fly by Lynn in the sixth and another on a pinch-hit home run by former Red Bernie Carbo (more on him later as well) in the seventh to make it 5-3.

Right-hander Jim Willoughby kept Boston's deficit at two with a scoreless eighth, and the Red Sox were in business in the ninth when Petrocelli singled off McEnaney with one out. That brought Evans to the plate as the tying run, with Anderson countering by bringing in Eastwick.

Two pitches later, it was a tie ballgame.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

Evans' homer was the game's sixth, tying the World Series record. With all that power going on, the game seem destined to be decided by a long ball.

In the end, not quite.

After going quietly in their half of the ninth, the Reds got a runner aboard in the 10th when Geronimo led off with a single. Anderson then pinch-hit for Eastwick with Ed Armbrister and called on him to bunt Geronimo into scoring position.

Armbrister did just that...but he also got himself into scoring position thanks to a run-in with Fisk at home plate that caused a wild throw into center field.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

Fisk sorely wanted Armbrister called out for interference, as did his manager. 

Home plate umpire Larry Barnett, however, saw things differently, telling The New York Times that it's "interference only when the batter intentionally gets in the way of the fielder."

A defensible call indeed, and one the Reds gladly took. It meant runners on second and third with nobody out, a prime opportunity to win the game. 

What followed was an intentional walk of Pete Rose by left-hander Roger Moret, who then struck out Merv Rettenmund after Anderson called on him to pinch hit for Griffey. That made it one out with the bases loaded, and it was Morgan's turn to try and play hero.

He obliged with a drive over Lynn's head.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

Morgan's drive gave the Reds a 6-5 win. After being dominated through the first 17 innings of the series, there they were with a 2-1 advantage and all the momentum.

In the next game, however, would be their tormentor from Game 1.

 

Game 4: The Game 1 Formula Works Again for the Red Sox

Associated Press
Yastrzemski's RBI hit in the fourth inning of Game 4 proved to be the difference.

With Game 4 taking place just four days after Game 1, Anderson chose to go with veteran lefty Fred Norman rather than pitch Gullett on three days' rest.

As Anderson would later explain to The New York Times: "Don Gullett will never be sacrificed for a world championship. He has not pitched on the fourth day in 1975 at all. You have to know what he means to the Cincinnati Reds and his family."

Norman didn't have a bad season in '75, as he pitched to a 3.73 ERA in 34 appearances (26 starts). He just wasn't on the same level as Gullett, who had pitched to a 2.42 ERA.

Norman was also going up against a pitcher with a hot hand: Luis Tiant. If the Reds were going to win, odds were they were going to need Norman to match Tiant pitch for pitch.

He couldn't.

Norman started strong but fell apart in the fourth. That's when, just as in Game 1, Red Sox hitters scraped together all the support Tiant would need with a five-run inning highlighted by RBI hits from Evans, Burleson and Yastrzemski.

That outburst wiped away what had been a 2-0 Reds lead from RBI doubles by Griffey and Bench in the first. Tiant was shaky then, and he was shaky again when he surrendered RBI hits to Concepcion and Geronimo in the home half of the fourth.

But after that, Tiant was in control. In his last five innings, he held the Reds scoreless on just three hits to close out a series-tying 5-4 victory.

The win meant that, win or lose in Game 5, the Reds were going to have to beat the Red Sox at Fenway Park if they wanted to win the World Series.

It also meant, one figures, that Anderson was going to be facing the music if his decision to hold Gullett back until Game 5 didn't pan out.

Fortunately, it did.

 

Game 5: Don Gullett and Tony Perez Come Alive

PS/Associated Press/Associated Press
Gullett would deliver the dominant performance the Reds were looking for in Game 5.

With the Reds looking for a bounce-back performance from Gullett, what they saw at the start of Game 5 was disappointing. 

Three batters in, Gullett had put the Reds in a 1-0 hole by allowing a triple by Doyle and a sac-fly to Yastrzemski. It looked then as if the Red Sox had Gullett's number.

But not for long.

The one hit the Red Sox got in the first inning matched how many hits off Gullett they would get over the next seven. Fisk was able to sum up why with a single word.

“Heat," Fisk would later say, via The New York Times. "He threw much harder tonight. He was untouchable the first eight innings.”

With his fastball blazing past Boston hitters, all Gullett needed was some offense. He ended up getting some from a source both likely and unlikely: Tony Perez.

After hitting 20 homers in the regular season and one more in the NLCS, Perez went hitless in the first four games of the World Series. Perhaps sensing that his slugging first baseman was pressing, Anderson dropped him from the cleanup spot to No. 5 in the order for Game 5.

Just what the doctor ordered, apparently.

After striking out in the second against Boston starter Reggie Cleveland, Perez busted his slump by launching a game-tying solo home run in the fourth. Later, following a go-ahead RBI double by Rose in the fifth, Perez padded Cincinnati's lead with a three-run homer in the sixth.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

After coming into the game with nothing to show for his third World Series appearance, suddenly there was Perez with two homers and four RBI.

“I try to forget about yesterday, but I didn’t want my children to talk about me setting any World Series record for not getting a hit," he would later tell the Times.

The 5-1 advantage was enough for Gullett. The Red Sox finally chased him when they got a run on three straight hits in the ninth inning, but it came with two men out and only succeeded in wiping out an insurance run the Reds had gotten on a Concepcion sac-fly in the eighth.

Gullett left having allowed only five hits and a walk, striking out a series-high seven. Appropriately, Eastwick came in and ended the game by getting Petrocelli swinging.

The Reds had won 6-2. With a 3-2 lead in the series, they were one win away.

Getting it would prove to be difficult.

 

Game 6: You Know How It Goes

HARRY CABLUCK/Associated Press
Pictured here: a long drive...if it stays fair...

The first five games of the World Series were so intense that Mother Nature evidently needed a rest, which she got by hammering Boston with enough rain to delay Game 6 from October 18 to October 21.

It wasn't just Mother Nature who got a rest. Luis Tiant did, too. And sure enough, Johnson gave him the ball and the task of saving Boston's season in Game 6.

Things started well. After Tiant worked around a one-out walk in the first, he got a 3-0 lead to work with when Lynn launched a Gary Nolan offering over the Boston bullpen.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

Tiant took his 3-0 lead and spun three scoreless innings. When the top of the fifth came, the Red Sox were 15 outs away from evening the series with their ace on the mound.

The 1975 World Series being the 1975 World Series, though, it's only natural that the script was flipped.

Boston's 3-0 lead evaporated in the fifth thanks to a two-run triple by Griffey and an RBI single by Bench. In the top of the seventh, the Reds got to Tiant for two more when Foster brought home Griffey and Morgan with a two-out double.

Then came the kick while the Red Sox were down. After hitting just six homers all year, Geronimo's second homer of the series was a leadoff job in the eighth inning that pushed Cincinnati's lead to 6-3 and chased Tiant from the game. 

Like that, the Reds had conquered their tormentor and put themselves six outs away from the title.

Enter the unsung hero of Game 6: Bernie Carbo.

Carbo—a former first-round pick of the Reds in 1965apparently didn't have a particularly clear head while all the drama of the 1975 World Series was going on.

“I probably smoked two joints, drank about three or four beers, got to the ballpark, took some [amphetamines], took a pain pill, drank a cup of coffee, chewed some tobacco, had a cigarette, and got up to the plate and hit,’’ Carbo told Stan Grossfield of The Boston Globe in 2010.

This is the man Johnson called on when the game was on the line in the bottom of the eighth. After Lynn and Petrocelli had gotten on to lead off the inning, Eastwick entered and got two quick outs with Roger Moret's position in the batting order coming up.

Johnson called on the supposedly loaded Carbo to pinch hit. Initially, it looked like a bad call.

“So I go into the batter’s box. I ain’t ready to hit," recalled Carbo. "Next thing, strike one, strike two, ball one, ball two. Then he threw me a cut fastball, a little slider and I took it right out of Bench’s glove—the ball just dribbled out. I step out and I’m thinking, ‘Aw man, I almost struck out. I was lucky.’ "

Carbo wasn't kidding about his swing on the 2-2 pitch. Ron Fimrite of Sports Illustrated jabbed at it by writing that Carbo had "swung with all the power and grace of a suburbanite raking leaves."

But then, just when Carbo's at-bat seemed doomed, he swung at a fastball and drove it in the direction of the center field seats. When it landed, the score was 6-6 and Fenway Park was going nuts.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

After Carbo's homer tied it, the Red Sox seemed poised to win it in the ninth when they loaded the bases with nobody out for Lynn.

The Red Sox didn't need much. A simple fly ball could do the trick, provided it was deep enough.

Lynn did hit a fly ball, lofting one along the line out to left field. What he didn't do is hit it deep enough to render Foster's arm moot.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

After Foster nailed Doyle at home plate, the Boston threat was officially squandered when Petrocelli grounded out.

The Reds nearly took advantage in the 10th inning, getting Concepcion to second on a single and a stolen base with just one out. The Red Sox were able to dodge that one, but were right back in trouble in the 11th when Joe Morgan came to the plate with one out and a runner on first.

And at the crack of the bat on a 1-1 pitch from Drago, Morgan seemed to have something. He sent a long fly ball to right field that looked assured to get over Evans' head and bring Griffey home from first with the go-ahead run.

Evans' glove and arm, however, intervened.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

The miraculous play by Evans preserved the 6-6 tie. And after the Red Sox withstood another threat from the Reds in the 12th inning, Fisk came to the plate to lead off the bottom half of the inning.

What happened next was partially Rose's fault. Fisk would say after the game, via the The New York Times, that the Reds star and Fisk had had a conversation in the 10th that went something like this: " ‘This is some kind of game, isn’t it?’ And I said, ‘Some kind of game.’ “

Last October, Fisk recalled (via MLB.com) feeling "rejuvenated" by the exchange, going from feeling exhausted to feeling energized by the realization that, yeah, he was playing in a great game.

Fisk took the first pitch from right-hander Pat Darcy up high. On the next pitch, Fisk sent a high fly ball down the left field line. As Fisk watched it, he knew there was only one question.

“When I hit it, I knew it was high enough, I knew it was long enough," he said in 2013, "but I didn’t know if it was going to stay fair. And then it did.”

With a little help of a little body English, of course.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

Fisk's walk-off homer did three things. It gave the Red Sox a 7-6 win, evened the series at 3-3 and capped one of the greatest games in World Series history.

"I don't think I've ever gone through a more emotional game," said Fisk afterwards, via Fimrite. "I don't think anybody in the world could ask for a better game than this one."

Even Anderson had to agree, telling the Times: “The way I hurt all over, it was probably as good a ball game as I’ve ever seen. A great game in a great series."

Morgan, on the other hand, didn't feel much like glowing.

“We had the championship within our grasp tonight," Morgan told the Times. "And we’ll have it within our grasp tomorrow night. We let it get away.”

Morgan was right: The series wasn't over yet. For all the excitement of Fisk's walk-off homer, it hadn't won the series. It had only prolonged it. There would indeed be a Game 7.

And as it would turn out, Morgan himself would have a hand in deciding it.

 

Game 7: Not With a Bang, But a Bloop

HARRY CABLUCK/Associated Press
Despite Boston's many teases that it was the team of destiny in 1975, it was really the Reds all along.

Judged against the high drama of Games 1 through 6, Game 7 of the 1975 Fall Classic was, as Ron Fimrite wrote, "strangely anticlimactic."

Judged against most of the other games in World Series history, however, it was another classic.

Making his third start of the series for the Reds would be Gullett. This time, his blazing heat would be matched by Bill Lee's assorted collection of junk.

Lee had the advantage early on, shutting out the Reds through three. In the bottom of the third, the Red Sox started treating Gullett as they had treated him back in Game 1.

After a walk by Carbo—who would later tell ESPN's William Weinbaum that he was far from ready for his surprise start in left field—and a single by Doyle, Yastrzemski opened the scoring with an RBI single. With two outs, Gullett delivered back-to-back bases-loaded walks to Petrocelli and Evans.

That made it 3-0, and Gullett's day was done soon after. In four innings, he walked five and gave up four hits.

Luckily, Anderson had a bullpen that had produced a 2.79 ERA in the regular season to turn to. And in this game, Anderson's faith in his bullpen was well placed. After Gullett left, Billingham, Carroll and McEnaney combined to allow one hit and no runs in five innings.

As they did their job, The Big Red Machine did its job.

With one out and Rose on first in the sixth, Bench grounded one to short that might have been a double play...had Doyle been able to get off a clean throw to first base. He couldn't because of a hard slide by Rose, which forced a wild throw.

This allowed Perez to come to bat. And after he had followed up his big Game 5 with two hits in Game 6, the no-longer-slumping slugger homered over the Green Monster to cut Boston's lead to 3-2.

An inning later, Rose—on his way to series MVP honors with a .370 averagefollowed up his game-turning slide by lining a single to center field to bring home the game-tying run.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

After the Red Sox went quietly in both the seventh and eighth, there were the Reds again in the ninth.

Griffey led off with a walk and was subsequently sacrificed to second by Geronimo. After Dan Driessen pinch-hit for Carroll and grounded out, Rose drew a walk to bring Morgan to the plate with one out and Griffey just 90 feet away at third base.

Red Sox lefty Jim Burton was able to get ahead of Morgan 1-2, but the low and outside slider he tried to throw past Morgan wasn't low and outside enough to avoid Morgan's bat.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

It wasn't a shot off the pole in left field or Pesky's Pole in right field, nor was it a booming liner off the Green Monster. But a hit is a hit is a hit. Morgan's could have been more dramatic, but it simply landing and giving the Reds the go-ahead run was good enough.

And this time, there would be no comeback rally.

McEnaney came in and retired pinch-hitters Juan Beniquez and Bob Montgomery. With two outs, Yastrzemski worked the count to 2-1 before lofting a harmless fly ball to center field.

The Gold Glover Geronimo had no trouble getting to it.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

When Geronimo squeezed the final out of the 1975 World Series, one championship drought ended and another was extended.

For the Reds, it was their first World Series since 1940, not to mention the title The Big Red Machine couldn't win in 1970 or 1972.

For the Red Sox, it made it 57 years since they had last won the World Series in 1918. Unbeknown to them, nearly 30 more years of frustration were waiting.

Still, you might say that the Red Sox didn't so much "lose" the 1975 World Series as they did "not win" it. Though they entered as practically hopeless underdogs, they proved to be a fine match for one of the greatest teams in baseball history. They came this close to being David to Cincinnati's Goliath.

No need to tell Anderson.

"We are the best team in baseball," he said at the Reds victory celebration, according to Fimrite. "But not by much." 

 

Note: Stats and game data courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

 

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