The Red Sox were in fifth place in the six-team AL East (for you youngsters, the East included the Yankees, Orioles, Tigers, Brewers, and Cleveland). They were 57-63, 15.5 games behind the Yankees, quite a drop from their near-win in the World Series against Cincinnati the previous October.
I know I watched some of the seven-game battle against the Reds. What I distinctly remember (as opposed to having seen subsequent clips that now feel somewhat like memories) was watching Looie Tiant's 6-0 shutout (and his single and baserunning!) in Game 1 and Fred Lynn's hard crash into Fenway's centerfield wall (padding was added the following spring) early in Game 6.
1976 was my first year as a serious Red Sox fan. I learned to score games and did so every night, listening to Ned Martin and Jim Woods on WJOY.
My father worked at IBM and employees were offered transportation/tickets to about four or five Red Sox games every season. (The price of $25 per person sticks in my mind.) I assume that my father saw how much I was into the Sox that summer and picked one of those weekend games for us to see. The Red Sox were hosting the Oakland Athletics, the team they had swept in the previous year's ALCS. (Oakland had won the 1972, 1973, and 1974 World Series.)
I will never forget walking up the ramp and coming out into the park, on the first base side, and seeing all that green. We had a black and white TV at home and seeing for the first time the green expanse of the outfield and the Wall -- contrasted by the gleaming red seats -- was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. An older man was smoking a cigar to my left and even now -- 30 years since that day -- a certain type of cigar smoke will bring me right back to that moment.
We sat in Section 17, about halfway up in the grandstand. I wish I still had my scorecard from that afternoon, but nothing from that trip (or from my subsequent trips the next two years (I was also there on September 9, 1978, Game 3 of the Boston Massacre)) survives.
I did get a copy (via eBay) of the program they sold that day (in which the first six innings of Boston's 9-6 loss to the Yankees on September 29 are scored), and thanks to Retrosheet, I know exactly what happened.
Oakland Boston Billy North, CF Rick Burleson, SS Bert Campaneris, SS Denny Doyle, 2B Don Baylor, RF Fred Lynn, CF Billy Williams, DH Carl Yastrzemski, LF Sal Bando, 3B Cecil Cooper, 1B Gene Tenace, 1B Jim Rice, DH Cesar Tovar, LF Carlton Fisk, C Phil Garner, 2B Dwight Evans, RF Larry Haney, C Butch Hobson, 3B Paul Norris, P Fergie Jenkins, PFinding out that Jenkins was pitching annoyed the hell out of me because it seemed like every time the Sox were shown on Saturdays on Channel 22 (the only time to watch a game besides Monday Night Baseball) Jenkins was pitching. I wanted to see someone else.
The Red Sox had won the first two games of the series, 2-1 on Friday night behind Tiant (and Hobson's sac fly in the bottom of the ninth) and 5-2 on Saturday. With me, my father, and 27,524 other fans in attendance, the Red Sox took a quick 1-0 in the first inning, when Doyle scored on Yastrzemski's single. It was Yaz's 37th birthday.
Oakland took the lead with two runs in the top of the fourth, but they also had two runners thrown out at the plate in that inning. As soon as Tom Murphy replaced Jenkins in the sixth, the A's scored four times and led 6-1.
Boston came back immediately, tying the game in the bottom half of the sixth. Yastrzemski singled and after Cooper was hit by a pitch, Rollie Fingers relieved Paul Lindblad. After Rice struck out, Fisk singled to left, loading the bases. Pinch-hitter Rick Miller doubled to left, scoring two runs. Hobson grounded out to shortstop and Fisk scored. Burleson doubled in Miller and Doyle brought home Burleson. And at the end of a very long sixth inning, we had a 6-6 tie.
Each team had several two-out hits -- Wayne Gross's single in the 8th and Baylor's double in the top of the 9th for Oakland, Rice's single in the seventh, Burleson's single in the eighth, and his double in the 10th for the Sox.
In the top of the 11th, Garner singled to left, and was bunted to second. Campaneris's fifth hit of the day moved him to third. Don Baylor laid down a suicide squeeze bunt, which was fielded by Willoughby, but his throw home was too late. 7-6. With one out in the home half, Yaz got his fourth hit of the day, but two force plays ended the game.
And it was back on the bus for the five-hour trip home. I made the trip another two (three?) times before I finally saw the Red Sox win.
Two notes: Both relief pitchers who came in during the sixth inning finished the game: Fingers threw six innings and Willoughby tossed 5.1. ... Several players left the game early, and I don't know why. Norris left after 1.1 innings, Evans was pinch-hit for in the 4th inning, and Jenkins was pulled after five innings, trailing 2-1. (I know I have a microfilm printout of Peter Gammons's game story from the next day's Globe, but it's buried in a box somewhere.)