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As Red Sox look to close out Cards, Game 6 can turn Series into classic

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist

David Ortiz has the Boston Red Sox one win away from another championship. (USATSI)
David Ortiz has the Boston Red Sox one win away from another championship. (USATSI)

BOSTON -- A World Series that has pinballed between absolutely riveting (obstruction, David Ortiz, tremendous pitching) and shockingly sloppy (the Red Sox throwing to third base, Cardinals errors) now moves to Fenway Park for Game 6.

Now, fair warning: If, say, Carlos Beltran walks past David Ross at some point and says, "This is some kind of game, isn't it?" and Ross quickly agrees, stop what you are doing. Immediately. And sprint to your nearest television/radio/Wifi hotspot.

There is still time for this World Series to earn promotion from "riveting" to "classic." And that, my friends, is exactly what Game 6 is all about.

Some of the most memorable games in baseball history have been Game 6s, including -- especially -- the last time Fenway Park hosted a World Series Game 6. That is only considered probably the greatest World Series game ever played, so Michael Wacha, John Lackey, Big Papi and Matt Holliday, you are on notice to deliver on Wednesday evening.

Yep, in case the cobwebs have obscured your memory (and it is near Halloween, so beware of the cobwebs), no Game 6 has been played in Fenway since Oct. 21, 1975, back when the rain was pouring, Carlton Fisk was waving, rats were running and Sparky was philosophizing.

And even since that landmark evening passed into the history books, there have been some jaw-dropping, eye-popping, heart-stopping, extra-topping Game 6s.

Think Reggie Jackson slamming three home runs (1977), Joe Carter dancing around the bases (1993), Dusty Baker handing the ball back to Russ Ortiz as a premature souvenir (2002) and the Rangers twice moving to within one strike of winning the whole shebang before the Cardinals stole it from them (2011).

Game 6 is all about heroes (Kirby Puckett, 1991) and goats (Bill Buckner, 1986). It is long on drama (Cardinals 10, Rangers 9 in 11 innings, 2011; Twins 4, Braves 3 in 11 innings, 1991) and short on patience (Don Denkinger, blown call at first, 1985).

It took one travel day, three days of rain and then, finally, 12 innings for the Reds and Red Sox to author their masterpiece here in '75 with the Reds up 3 games to 2 and Boston desperately hanging on.

That was when, sometime around the 10th inning with the score 6-6, Pete Rose walked by Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk and said, "This is some kind of game, isn't it?"

Fisk stared back in wonder and replied, "Some kind of game."

They played a novel that evening that has been dissected in baseball literature classes from Boston to Cooperstown.

The weather this week in Boston is cool (low 50s, high 40s), but dry. That wasn't the case when the Reds were here in 1975, and that only helped heighten the drama.

Four days elapsed between Games 5 and 6. There was the scheduled travel day from Cincinnati, Oct. 17, followed by three days of torrential rain

"Rain, rain, rain, rain," says Dick Bresciani, Red Sox vice president of archives and history, who was an assistant public relations director in '75.

"I seem to remember it as cold and snow," says Terry Crowley, Sparky Anderson's pinch-hitter extraordinaire on that Big Red Machine team. "We felt like we were ready to go, ready to play, and we kept getting postponed."

More stir-crazy by the day, the Reds finally decided to find an indoor facility to practice: Nearby Tufts University. Harvard University also offered, but the Reds chose Tufts as the inimitable Anderson supposedly said, "I think Harvard would be a little over my head."

Then, as author Joe Posnanski writes in his book The Machine: A Hot Team, A Legendary Season and a Heart-Stopping World Series, the team bus got lost on the way to Tufts, causing quite a stir when it pulled into a service station and players walked inside, in full uniform, asking for directions.

They finally played on Oct. 21, Gary Nolan vs. Luis Tiant. Boston scored three in the first. Cincinnati answered with three in the fifth. The Reds took a 6-3 lead in the eighth and then Bernie Carbo ripped a game-tying, three-run homer against Rawly Eastwick in the bottom of the eighth.

"I remember Fenway to be very loud, and the fans would help the umpire call every pitch," Crowley says. "A pitch would be three, four, five inches outside, and if the umpire called it a ball, they hooted and hollered. I always thought it helped push the Red Sox ahead.

"And I remember how small that ballpark appeared. It was pure and it was green and it was a very historic place to play."

Reds reliever Will McEnany escaped a no-out, bases-loaded situation in the bottom of the ninth. Dwight Evans made a sensational catch to rob Joe Morgan of a potential game-winning hit in the top of the 11th.

Into extra innings they went, the Sox fighting to extend their season. It was 12:33 a.m. when Fisk stepped to the plate, bashed a home run and left us with the iconic image, Fisk frantically waving the ball fair as he started down the first-base line. Fenway Park organist John Kiley immediately launched into the Hallelujah Chorus and the place went nuts.

"I thought that particular Big Red Machine team was one of the best teams offensively in the history of baseball," Crowley says. "I respected Boston, but I did not think the World Series would go six games, let alone seven. I knew what a powerhouse we had.

"Then Fisk hit the home run that [would result in] every little kid in Boston taking that mythical swing and waving the ball fair."

Now, here's the fun backstory of the image that is frozen in time: Back in 1975, television cameramen normally followed the flight of the ball. They did not keep their cameras trained on the player for reaction. But NBC cameraman Lou Gerard, who was at ground level inside the Green Monster with Fisk in his lens as he swung, was dealing with more drama than Fisk at that exact moment.

He told director Harry Coyle during Fisk's at-bat that a rat "the size of a cat" was threatening him.

"Well, it was a misty night and, with Lou looking a rat in the eye, it was tough to pick up the ball," Coyle told the New York Times years later. "So when Fisk swung, Lou stayed with him at the plate and got the whole bit -- Fisk frantically trying to wave the ball fair and then the home run trot. Give that rat credit, not me, for what may have been the greatest shot in televised sports."

Only in Game 6, which inherently possesses the powerful ability to create instant legends, man or rat.

By definition, Game 6 brings sudden-death possibility, along with the delicious prospect of one more winner-take-all game tomorrow if the team trailing 3-2 can just … win … one … more … time. And we'll see you tomorrow night. …

That's exactly what the Twins did on Oct. 26, 1991, to pull even with the Braves in the Metrodome in another of the most famous Game 6s ever.

"Jump on my back, boys," Puckett called out in his trademark cackle before the game, and then he made good on his vow to carry his teammates with a spectacular catch against the Metrodome's center-field plexiglass to steal a home run from Ron Gant (shades of Beltran robbing Big Papi in Game 1 in Fenway) before crushing the game-winning homer in to lead off the 11th against Charlie Liebrandt.

Crowley, the hitting coach for manager Tom Kelly then, remembers that single game more than any of the games in the three World Series he played in as a player (1970 and 1979 with the Orioles, 1975 with the Reds).

"I have three major recollections," Crowley says. "No. 1, you could not hear yourself think. That was the loudest place I've ever been in my life. If I wanted to pass information on to hitters about the pitcher, I literally had to cup my hands over my mouth and scream into his ear. You could not hear anything.

"No. 2, Scott Erickson was pitching a gem. I mean, as good a game as I've ever seen him pitch. When he got relieved, so much stuff was going on I failed to congratulate him. So between innings, I ran upstairs and into the clubhouse and told him, 'Scotty, great job.' He had a sore arm. It had been hurting and he kept it to himself. When I went up there, he was taking off his sweatshirt and his right elbow was as purple as anything you've ever seen.

"No. 3, when they went to the lefty [Liebrandt], Puck walked back from the on-deck circle and shouted, 'Crow, if they bring this guy in, this game is over.' If you've ever seen any film that they have, he circled the bases steps on the plate, comes back to the dugout and gives me a big hug and says, 'Crow, I told ya.' You can hear it on the video. And that's what took us into Game 7."

Every single Game 6, one team is desperate to push to Game 7. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But it is loud. And it is raucous. And it is chaos and screaming and rats and weather.

The Cardinals endured a day of rain in St. Louis in 2011 heading into Game 6, then went out and cold-heartedly unleashed David Freese, whose two-out, two-strike, two-run triple in the ninth tied the Rangers at 7-7. Then Freese won it with a homer in the bottom of the 11th. Then the Cardinals won it all in Game 7.

Even that, though, will never erase the memory of Denkinger's blown call in the ninth inning in Kansas City in 1985 with the Royals on the verge of elimination. Kansas City would have lost Game 6 otherwise. Instead, they went on to win Game 7, too, stealing the title from St. Louis.

Which was almost as painful to some in Missouri as the ground ball rolling through New England's gut (and Bill Buckner's legs) in Shea Stadium, a miserable Red Sox Game 6 moment that arrived just 11 years after the jubilation of Fisk's homer.

That was a 10-inning classic that ran so long it did the unthinkable: It canceled Saturday Night Live for the evening.

Now comes John Farrell's Red Sox and Mike Matheny's Cardinals, and already things are going off the rails: The Cards' charter flight Tuesday was delayed for several hours because of mechanical problems.

Meantime, with the Sox poised to win their first World Series in Fenway Park since Babe Ruth and 1918, tickets are going on the secondary market for more than $2,000 each for the first Game 6 in Fenway since Fisk and Sparky.

Another for-the-ages Game 6 in store? Will something happen to upgrade this thing to classic? Live, from Boston … it's Game 6.

"With no disrespect to history or to Carlton, it's an iconic video and a highlight that is shown repeatedly, and one of the more memorable swings that probably has taken place in this ballpark," Farrell says. "But, hopefully, there's somebody tomorrow night that can wave their arms just the same."

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