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MARKETPLACE:  Auto | Jobs | Personals | Yellow Pages  November 29, 2003
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Red Sox approach anniversary of playoff homer
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BOSTON (AP) -- The net where Bucky Dent�s homer landed 25 years ago is gone from above the Green Monster. The painful memories remain for Boston.

That stunning blow from a light-hitting shortstop started the Boston Red Sox toward a 5-4 loss in a one-game AL East playoff and the New York Yankees toward their second straight World Series title.

Now there are seats above that left-field wall in Fenway Park. A fan with a glove stands a few feet away from where Dent�s ball settled. He also was in Fenway Park on Oct. 2, 1978.

�When Bucky Dent hit the homer, the park was like a tomb,� Sherman Spritz said. �It was just typical Red Sox lore that we�ve gotten used to. It�s always something.�

In 1919, the Red Sox began their 84-year streak without a World Series title. In 1975, in Game 7 of the World Series, they blew a 3-0 lead and lost to Cincinnati 4-3. In 1986, a grounder rolled through Bill Buckner�s legs in Game 6, and Boston , which had been one strike from the championship, also ended up losing Game 7 and the Series to the New York Mets.

And in 1978, an infielder playing for Boston�s archrival hit his fifth homer of the season, barely clearing the 37-foot high wall.  Red Sox fans still moan about Dent�s three-run shot.

�I think because of the fact that Boston has not won since then, it kind of sticks in their craw,� Dent said. So does the fact that a player who batted .247 with 40 homers in his 12-year career hit that homer.

Boston led New York by 14 games on July 19, 1978, but trailed by one heading into the final game of the season. The Yankees lost to Cleveland 9-2 and Luis Tiant beat Toronto 5-0 to force the one-game playoff.

The Red Sox went ahead 2-0 on Carl Yastrzemski�s homer in the second and Jim Rice�s RBI single in the sixth. Mike Torrez was exceptional through six innings. �I pitched a great game,� Torrez said. �I had nothing to be ashamed of.�

In the seventh, Roy White and Chris Chambliss singled. Dent, batting ninth and hitting .140 in his previous 20 games, took ball one. He fouled the next pitch off his foot then switched bats when teammate Mickey Rivers noticed a crack in the one he was using.

The next pitch was over the heart of the plate, and Dent hit his first homer in 45 games to make it 3-2. At first, Dent and Torrez thought it was just a long fly to left. So did radio broadcaster Ernie Harwell, who also called Bobby Thomson�s homer off Ralph Branca that gave the New York Giants the pennant in 1951.

�When Bucky hit the ball, I told the folks, �It was a fly ball to left field. Oh, it�s a home run,�� Harwell recalled. �I gave Bucky a tape later and I said, �I�m sorry Bucky, I said it�s just a fly ball to left.� And he said, �That�s all it was.��

The Yankees made it 5-2 on Thurman Munson�s RBI double in the seventh and Reggie Jackson�s homer in the eighth. The Red Sox scored twice in the eighth then threatened in the ninth.

With Rick Burleson at first, Jerry Remy lined a one-out single to right field. Lou Piniella, blinded by the sun, somehow spotted the ball in time and held the runners at first and second. Rice�s fly to deep right moved Burleson to third.

Then Yastrzemski fouled out to third baseman Graig Nettles. �I remember running across the infield into the dugout,� Remy said. �That place became dead silent. People couldn�t believe it was over.�

Piniella was back at Fenway this month as Tampa Bay manager.  Sitting in the visiting dugout, he points to right field where the late-afternoon shadow cast by the Fenway roof ends and the sunlight begins.

Just about where he stuck his glove out and stabbed Remy�s hit.  Had it gone by, Burleson almost certainly would have scored, Remy would have reached third and Rice�s fly ball would have driven in the winning run.

�It was just a beautiful, beautiful October afternoon,� Piniella said. �It�s the most fun game I ever played in.� He said he didn�t see the ball until the last instant. Burleson, running around second, jammed on the brakes.

�I knew it would come out of the sun invariably. I just didn�t know where,� Piniella said. �And it came out right on the side of me and just jumped right into my glove. What can I say?�

Remy was confident the Red Sox could overcome Dent�s homer, especially in the ninth with two runners on, one out, and Rice and Yastrzemski due up.

�I thought one of those two guys, especially Yaz when he came up, was going to come through,� Remy said. �Dent�s home run was huge because he was not a home-run hitter. Everybody makes a big deal about Bucky Dent, but Bucky didn�t beat us.�

Jackson�s homer and Piniella�s play also were critical. �I see it a lot on TV,� Remy said. �I know one of these days we�re going to win that game. One day that ball will get by Piniella.�

Dent is now manager of the Yankees� Triple-A team in Columbus.  Torrez has a promotions business in Chicago that sells caps and other items with corporate logos. They�ve done card shows together and joke about the day.


�Mike�s such a class guy,� Dent said. �Through this whole thing, our friendship has been great.�

Torrez was a Yankee in 1977 and pitched two complete-game wins in the World Series, including the Game 6 clincher. In 1978, he was 16-13 with Boston .


�You have to learn to take the good with the bad,� Torrez said. �One day you�re on top, the next day you�re in the gutter.


Members of the 1978 Red Sox recall the agony.

�That was the saddest day for everybody,� Tiant said. �Yaz cried. I cried. I couldn�t believe we lost the way we did.�


But it�s ancient history to the 2003 Red Sox, who expect to spend the anniversary next Thursday in Oakland for Game 2 of the playoffs.


�The big goal for the Red Sox is to win a World Series,� Dent said. �Until they actually win one, I think there�s going to be some self doubt from their fans.�


One of them, Sherman Spritz, watched Dent�s homer from section 27 along the third-base line. Now he�s 51 and looking from the Monster seats during batting practice before a recent game.

�If Piniella doesn�t make that catch out of the sun, Bucky Dent�s homer doesn�t mean anything,� Spritz said. �And Yaz, typical Yaz, popped out to end the game. We couldn�t believe it was over. Everybody grumbled and swore.�


His son Danny is 14 and roots for the Red Sox but also knows about Dent�s homer.

So is this finally the year?


Danny looks at his dad, breaks into a hopeful smile but says cautiously, �I�m not going to say.�

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