The American League began a new experiment in 1973, with a designated hitter added to the batting order, and the pitcher exempted from having to bat. The Red Sox signed 35-year-old (and future Hall of Famer) Orlando Cepeda in January 18, their first DH. After 15 years in the big leagues, 1973 was his only season with Boston, but he produced. He played very well, batting .289 with 86 RBIs, his RBI total second only to a revived Carl Yastrzemski, who drove in 95 while hitting at a .296 pace. Fisk’s 25 homers led the team, but the catcher’s average dropped all the way to .246. Fisk and Tommy Harper each drove in 71.
Two of those Fisk homers came on Opening Day, against the Yankees at Fenway Park. He homered his first time up, then doubled, then hit a grand slam his third time up, driving in six runs in all and almost single-handedly beating the Yankees, 15-5. Tiant got the win. It was not a particularly good game – Luis walked five, and all five Yankees runs were earned – but it was the first of 20 wins he collected before the season was out. His first-inning walk of Ron Blomberg represented the first plate appearance by a DH in a big-league game. The Red Sox won the second game of the year, 10-5, for a total of 25 runs scored against New York in the first two games of the George Steinbrenner era. The Boss had bought the Yankees from CBS in January. And New York lost the third game, too, on a walkoff home run by Cepeda, the first hit ever recorded for a Red Sox designated hitter.
The two teams moved to New York, and Tiant allowed just four hits, beating the Yankees for the fourth game in a row, 3-1.
Two left-handers - Bill Lee and Roger Moret – pitched very well, too, with a combined 30-13. Lee was 17-11 (his 2.75 ERA was distinctly better than Tiant’s 3.34). Moret put up a spectacular 13-2 record (3.14). Pattin was 15-15 and John Curtis was 13-13.
Reggie Smith, at .303, was the only player to hit over .300. His 21 homers were second on the team. In the April 16 game in Boston, Reggie, a switch hitter, hit out one from each side of the plate. Tommy Harper (.281) scored 92 runs, most on the club, and ran up a storm, forging a Red Sox record which stood until 2009 with 54 stolen bases.
There were bumps and bruises, too, and some of the first battles of an intensifying Red Sox/Yankees rivalry. It was a tight game, 2-2, in the top of the ninth on August 1 at Fenway. New York’s Mel Stottlemyre had started against John Curtis. Catcher Thurman Munson doubled to lead off the inning, and took third base on a ground out. When Gene Michael tried to lay down a suicide squeeze, and missed, Munson barreled into Fisk at the plate while Fisk planted a hard tag on Munson. They both flipped up in the air – Munson was out, but both catchers started swinging at each other, Munson admitting he threw the first punch. Both catchers were ejected. Bob Montgomery strapped on the “tools of ignorance” for the Red Sox, and Michael grounded out to end the inning. Monty hit a two-out single in the bottom of the ninth, took second on a walk to Rick Miller, and then scored the winning run on Guerrero’s single to center off Sparky Lyle. Playing the same number of games as the Tigers, the Red Sox outpaced them in 1973, winning four more games than the year before, but the Baltimore Orioles looked down on both, with an eight-game lead over the second-place Red Sox.By Bill Nowlin
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- Bill Lee, Bob Montgomery, Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk, George Steinbrenner, John Curtis, Luis Tiant, Mario Guerrero, Orlando Cepeda, Reggie Smith, Roger Moret, Ron Blomberg, Sparky Lyle, Tommy Harper