The way this season started affected the way it ended, and it wasn’t good for the Red Sox. It may have cost them a pennant. The season began nine days late due to a work stoppage, the first in baseball history. The players went on strike. When both sides came to agreement, they fixed the starting date as April 15. Rather than play out a revised 162-game season, it was agreed to just play the schedule beginning on the 15th, fully aware that this meant some teams would be playing more games than others.
In the AL East, the Tigers, Twins, and Indians each played 156 games, the Red Sox and the Yankees each played 155, and the Orioles played 154. At the end of the year, this had serious consequences. A major 10-player trade in October 1971 brought Tommy Harper, Lew Krausse, Marty Pattin, and minor-league Pat Skrable to Boston, while the Brewers received Ken Brett, Billy Conigliaro, Joe Lahoud, Jim Lonborg, Don Pavletich, and George Scott.
In March, perhaps because he was a little too boisterous for Boston (there are stories about him sitting on birthday cakes, in the buff), ace reliever (and future Cy Young Award winner) Sparky Lyle was sent to the Yankees for Danny Cater and the player named later, Mario Guerrero. The strike-delayed ’72 season finally began with Boston and Pattin losing to Detroit and Mickey Lolich, 3-2, in a one-game “series” at Tiger Stadium.
The Red Sox led off with three straight singles, loading the bases. A one-out single scored Harper. Aparicio rounded third, but ran into coach Eddie Popowski’s stop sign and scrambled back to the bag – just as an “overzealous” (Boston Globe) Carl Yastrzemski tore into third from the other direction – and was ruled out. What might have been a huge inning ended with just one run when Cater struck out. The baserunning gaffe foreshadowed an October 2 loss. Rico Petrocelli’s May 5 home run was the first of the season – it had been 220 days since the team last hit a home run. They hit 124 on the season, with rookie catcher Carlton Fisk’s 22 leading the team. Reggie Smith was second with 21, and led in RBIs with 74. Yaz had a true off-year, hitting only 12.
New Hampshire native Fisk put up good numbers – with 61 RBIs and a club-high .293 average, leading the league with nine triples – and won a Gold Glove. He made the All-Star team, and after the season became the first player to ever be unanimously named the AL Rookie of the Year.
The Sox also had another award-winner, Comeback Player of the Year Luis Tiant. He’d been 1-7 in 1971, but totally turned things around and was 15-6 in 1972, with a league-best 1.91 ERA. Luis even placed sixth in the Cy Young voting and eighth as MVP. From August 19 to September 4, he threw nothing but shutouts – four in a row. On September 16 and 20, he added another two shutouts. Marty Pattin’s two-run home run on September 26 was the last homer hit by a Red Sox pitcher until Josh Beckett hit one on May 20, 2006. Pattin led the Red Sox in wins, 17-13.
The Red Sox were playing good baseball at the end. They took possession of first place on September 7 and held it – save for one day – through October 1. The Red Sox had three games left to play, all against the Tigers, and led them by a half-game. It was like a three-game playoff – whichever team won two of the three would win the division, but there was no chance of a tie because of the imbalanced schedule. Detroit had played 153 games and the Red Sox had played 152.
In the October 2 game, it was like déjà-vu. Another Aparicio/Yastrzemski baserunning mixup may have cost the Red Sox the chance to make the playoffs. Yaz doubled to center in the top of the third inning, with runners on first and third. Aparicio tripped while motoring around third and hoping to score; he retreated to the bag to play it safe – but found himself, once again, finding Yaz roaring into the base. Once again, Yaz was called out. When the Red Sox failed to score more than just the one run, the Tigers took over first place. All Detroit needed to do was win one of the next two games, which they did the very next day.
Had the Red Sox had the opportunity to play one additional game at any point in the season – thus playing the same number of games as the Tigers – and had the Sox won that game, the two teams would have wound up tied, with a single-game playoff to decide which one went on. Without that extra game, it worked out the way it did and Eddie Kasko and the Red Sox went home. Their season was over.By Bill Nowlin
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- Billy Conigliaro, Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk, Danny Cater, Don Pavletich, Eddie Kasko, Eddie Popowski, George Scott, Jim Lonborg, Joe Lahoud, Josh Beckett, Ken Brett, Lew Krausse, Luis Aparicio, Luis Tiant, Mario Guerrero, Marty Pattin, Reggie Smith, Sparky Lyle, Tommy Harper