I wasn’t alive at the time, but I’m told that in the immediate aftermath of Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, much of the baseball world was calling it the greatest World Series game ever played. Now we all fall victim now and then to our own personal recency bias in the wake of bigtime events. I myself was heard telling a friend that Game 5 of the 2008 ALCS was the greatest Red Sox playoff game of all time moments after J.D. Drew’s walk-off single.

But “The Pudge Game” was no laughable loss of perspective. 

This is still undoubtedly one of the greatest of all time. 

The 1975 Cincinnati Reds were a wagon. They won 108 games in the regular season before pimp-slapping the Pirates in a three-game sweep to advance to the Fall Classic. The Big Red Machine featured the highest scoring offense in baseball (840 runs), plating 44 more runs than the second place Red Sox. They surrendered the fourth fewest runs in the game, with Don Gullett, Jack Billingham, and Gary Nolan each winning 15 games and closer Rawly Eastwick earning 22 saves, four behind MLB-leader Goose Gossage.

The “Great Eight” crew of Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Ken Griffey, Tony Perez, Cesar Geronimo, George Foster, and Dave Concepcion played together in a total of 88 games between 1974 and 1975. The Reds went 69-19 in those games. They bulldozed the opposition in 1975 to the tune of a +254 run differential, literally doubling that of the second-place Oakland A’s, who were coming off three consecutive world championships.

Charlie Finley’s Oakland dynasty was finally toppled by the Boston Red Sox, who defeated the A’s in a three-game ALCS sweep on the backs of living legend Carl Yastrzemski, star catcher Carlton “Pudge” Fisk, and rookie sensation Fred Lynn, who is still one of only two players to ever win Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in the same season (Ichiro Suzuki). Jim Rice also had a torrid rookie year in ’75. In fact, Jim Ed was the only other AL player to receive any first place votes in the Rookie of the Year or MVP voting, both of which were dominated by Lynn. Nicknamed the “Gold Dust Twins,” Lynn and Rice delivered possibly the greatest tandem rookie season in MLB history. Unfortunately, an injured wrist kept Rice out of playoff action.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Red Sox were completely dependent on their lethal offense. Only the Reds scored more frequently in 1975 than Boston (796), who outscored the third-place A’s by a whopping 38 runs. The Red Sox led MLB in slugging percentage, OPS, doubles, and total bases, and Fenway Park catered perfectly to their offensive strengths. However, there was much to be desired on the other side of the ball.

The Red Sox were 19th out of 24 MLB clubs in team ERA. Rick Wise won 19 games, and “Spaceman” Bill Lee and Luis Tiant were big names with colorful personalities, but the Red Sox did not have a single starting pitcher with an ERA under 3.95, which was quite awful by 1975 standards. Any championship hopes the Fenway Faithful had rested squarely on the bats of guys like Yaz, Lynn, Pudge, Rico, Cecil Cooper, and a promising 23-year-old outfielder they called Dewey.

A Nor’easter pounded the Boston area like a Red Sox rally in mid-October, postponing Game Six for four days while the Red Sox stewed at home and the Reds wasted away in their hotel rooms. The Reds finally arrived at Fenway Park on October 21st, 1975 up three games to two and looking to close out their first championship since 1940. Rose, Bench, Perez, Morgan, and the others had lost the 1972 series in seven games to usher in Oakland’s run of dominance. Three years later, the Reds boasted a huge playoff experience advantage as they dueled with a franchise that hadn’t raised a banner since 1918.

Pushing play for my first ever full viewing of Game Six was like closing the gull-wing door of Doc Brown’s DeLorean. The very first image I was treated to was of Luis Tiant’s father smoking a butt in the stands while donning a brown fedora, brown sportscoat, and button-up brown/white cattle-print shirt with the top three buttons unfastened. This couldn’t have been more ’70s if Boogie Wonderland was playing on the Fenway PA system.

Rather than Earth, Wind, and Fire, we got Red Sox announcer Dick Stockton taking turns on play-by-play with ex-MLB catcher Joe Garagiola while Tony Kubek handled color commentary. These three were all in on Luis Tiant’s charisma, funky windup, and big-game heroics from the beginning. Tiant had shutout the powerful Reds lineup in Game One, and Kubek was convinced that “El Tiante’s” unorthodox delivery was just as responsible for that as his pinpoint location.

Yaz robbed Pete Rose of a single with a nice sliding catch in left to leadoff the game, a good indicator of what kind of contest was about to take place. After walking Ken Griffey, Tiant got Joe Morgan to foul out to Fisk before striking out Johnny Bench to end the inning.

As the bottom of the first got underway, Stockton announced that umpire Larry Barnett  had received death threats from Red Sox fans after Game Three due to failing to call batter’s interference on Ed Armbrister, a Reds hitter who got in Carlton Fisk’s way as Pudge tried to field Armbrister’s 10th inning sacrifice bunt. Bumping into Armbrister caused Fisk’s throw to second to sail into center field, which setup Joe Morgan’s walk-off single. Red Sox fans, incensed over the no-call, would argue the validity of their gripe for decades thereafter.

Reds starter Gary Nolan quickly retired Cecil Cooper and Denny Doyle to open the bottom of the first, but then Yaz and Fisk knocked a pair of two-out singles to bring up Fred Lynn, the eventual Rookie of the Year and MVP. Reds manager Sparky Anderson, known as “Captain Hook” for his tendency to pull starting pitchers early in this medieval age where starters were routinely expected to go nine, got double-barrel action going in the bullpen.

Despite ending the season with a batting average of .331 and hitting .364 in the ALCS, Lynn would later claim that he had felt a drastic loss of pop as his rookie wound down. Nevertheless, Lynn sent Fenway into delirium when he took a 1-0 fastball over the Red Sox bullpen to give Boston an early 3-0 lead.

“I hadn’t hit a ball like that in a month and a half,” Lynn later commented.

Nolan set the bottom of the Red Sox order down 1-2-3 in the second, but Sparky removed him for pinch-hitter Darrell Chaney when his spot in the order came up in the top of the third.

While the designated hitter was adopted for American League regular season games in 1973, pitchers still had to hit in all World Series games until 1976, at which point the DH was used in all World Series games (in both parks) during even years only. Pitchers still hit in every World Series game during odd years until 1986, where common sense finally took over and the longstanding home team rule was adopted. I never knew any of this until I watched this game and tried to figure out why the pitchers were batting in Fenway Park two years after the inception of the DH.

Anyway, I bring all this up simply because NBC showed a graphic listing Cincinnati’s available pinch hitters when Chaney came up to bat for Nolan.

You see that? Eight available pinch hitters. Each team only carried ten pitchers on the postseason roster, which essentially gave managers an entire second team of position players on the bench.

Boston loaded the bases in the bottom of the third, which prompted Captain Hook to summon his third pitcher of the game, Jack Billingham, to face aging (really only 32 years old) Boston hero Rico Petrocelli, who was in his penultimate season and second World Series. Rico took an ugly cut on a Billingham breaking ball to end the threat, though Boston still led 3-0.

Tiant kept the Reds in check by maintaining great command of his fastball while mixing in a sharp slider and a lollipop curveball whose arc was about two inches shy of being an eephus pitch. I chuckled when Joe Garagiola mused, “I tell you what I’d like to see … I’d like to see a scouting report on Tiant to see what he throws.” Bear in mind that Luis Tiant was one of the most popular pitchers in the Major Leagues and this was Game Six of the World Series. Yet one of the play-by-play broadcasters wasn’t yet up-to-date on the different pitches in Tiant’s arsenal.

Alex Speier just cried while reading this. 

Tiant continued blanking the Reds while every pitcher to ever set foot in the state of Ohio took their respective turns keeping the Red Sox sluggers at bay. By the time we reached the fifth inning, Tiant had pitched 40 consecutive innings at Fenway without allowing a run. That bubble was bound to burst once the Big Red Machine got enough looks at him, and burst it did.

After pinch-hitter Ed Armbrister walked and Rose singled, Griffey hit a long drive to the wall in left-center. Fred Lynn raced back and leaped, but failed to come up with the ball as his back slammed against the brutal concrete base of the Green Monster. Lynn hit the deck in a heap as two runs came across on Griffey’s triple. MLB’s best player of 1975 laid out in center field like a dead man, sucking the wind out of the Fenway crowd. The moment was so deflating that it coerced legendary cheapskate Tom Yawkey to actually spring for padding along the outfield wall, which was installed right after this series to protect his new asset … uh … I mean star player.

Lynn slowly regained his bearings and stayed in the game, but the Big Red Machine had been awakened.

Bench drilled a Fenway wall-ball single that drove in Griffey to tie the game at 3, and an air of dread drifted over Fenway Park. Even way back in 1975, 1918 had been a long time ago. 29 years before the Curse of the Bambino was lifted, Red Sox fans were already pre-programmed to expect failure.

Dick Stockton lightened the mood in the top of the sixth when he revealed that Tiant smokes cigars in the shower after games. “That’s real class,” Tony Kubek replied.

Joe Garagiola gave us yet another broadcasting gem in the top of the sixth when Boston shortstop Rick Burleson moved to throw to second for a force out, not realizing that Denny Doyle had been shifted way over toward first on the play and had no way of covering the bag in time. “That was a simple mistake,” Garagiola cried. “A boner!”

’70s FTW.

Tiant escaped the sixth inning jam by retiring Rose on a grounder to short. After the commercial break, Garagiola welcomed us back with a promo for Bob Hope’s upcoming Quarter Century of Comedy special with guests Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Lucille Ball, 60 gallons of gin, and 25 cartons of Lucky Strikes.

The top of the seventh is a perfect illustration of how cutting edge Sparky Anderson’s bullpen management was in 1975 in comparison to the now-archaic philosophy of Red Sox manager Darrel Johnson, who would eventually take home 1975 AL Manager of the Year honors.

Griffey and Morgan opened the seventh with singles, bringing Johnson (nicknamed “Old Stone-Face”) out to the mound. With runners on first and second and nobody out in the seventh inning of a tied-up World Series Game Six where closer Dick Drago was ready in the bullpen and the Red Sox were one loss away from elimination with the heart of the Big Red Machine’s order due up to face Tiant for the fourth time … Johnson left Tiant in the game!!!!!

Remarkably, both Johnny Bench and Tony Perez flied out. That brought up George Foster, who had collected two hits off Tiant in Game One. Johnson remained on the bench, Tiant remained in the game, and Foster smashed a two-run double off the center field wall to drive in Griffey and Morgan and put the Reds on top 5-3. As for Tiant, he stayed in the game to get the final out of the inning because why the hell wouldn’t he?

In his second inning of work, Reds fireballer Pedro Borbon retired Denny Doyle, Yaz, and Fisk in order in the bottom of the seventh. The Red Sox were six outs away from elimination.

This week, I actually yelled at my iPad while watching a game that took place 48 years ago. Why? Because Luis Tiant came back out to the mound to start the eighth inning!!! 

Anybody wanna guess what happened to the first pitch he threw?

Geronimo had hit six home runs in 1975, and inspired less fear than any other hitter in the Cincinnati lineup. Of course, the odds sway mightily in the hitter’s favor when the arm that delivers the ball to you has already thrown 112 pitches in his 39th game of the year.

With the season on the line and Boston now trailing 6-3 in the eighth, Johnson threw caution to the wind and actually removed his starting pitcher from the game. Tiant exited, for some reason, to a standing ovation.

“Standing ovation well-deserved for Luis Tiant,” said Dick Stockton. 

7 IP, 6 R, 11 H, 5 K, 2 BB, 1 HR. Standing ovation? Well-deserved.

What f***ing planet am I on?

Reliever Roger Moret retired all three batters he faced in the top of the eighth because fresh arms are a thing.

Boston’s backs were up against the wall in the bottom of the eighth. Lynn led off the inning by bouncing a one-hopper off Borbon’s shin for an infield single. After Petrocelli walked, Captain Hook brought in his closer, Rawley Eastwick. Eastwick declined to ride to the pitcher’s mound in the Fenway bullpen car, a surprising maneuver likely brought on by an urge to not look like a complete tool.

Eastwick struck out Evans swinging and got Burleson to line out to left. With four outs till doom, the tying run at the plate, and the pitcher’s spot due up, Bernie Carbo was Boston’s last realistic chance to get back into this game. Originally drafted by the Reds, Carbo had already hit a pinch-hit homer in Game Three. This time, he was facing the Machine’s top reliever in the biggest moment of his professional life.

With the count 2-2, Carbo fouled off a tough fastball to stay alive. Eastwick dotted the next pitch on the inside corner, and Carbo took the most pathetic swing I’ve seen since the last time I stepped into the box back in 1998. By the grace of God, he got a piece of the ball a fraction of a centimeter before it reached Bench’s glove. It dribbled foul about 20 feet behind him, and the at-bat continued.

The next pitch was a fastball over the outside corner. Carbo extended his arms and barreled it.


Looking back and knowing how this series ended, I think it’s really hard to put into perspective just how important this home run was to Red Sox fans at this point in time. The season was all but over until a bench player stepped up and brought a team who hadn’t won a title in 57 years back from the dead to give them hope of reaching the Promised Land. Even now, after witnessing 20 years of absolute dominance from my favorite professional teams, I’m bummed I didn’t get to see Carbo’s at-bat live. It’s one of the most beautiful moments in Boston sports history.

Fenway Park was resurrected for the first time since Lynn slammed into the wall in the fifth. The energy carried through Dick Drago’s 1-2-3 ninth inning, and it hit another crescendo when Denny Doyle walked to lead off the bottom of the ninth. Yaz singled Doyle to third, and the winning run was 90 feet away with nobody out and Pudge Fisk heading up to the plate.

Sparky brought in lefty Will McEnany, who intentionally walked Fisk to load the bases for Lynn, an incredibly curious move considering the season Lynn had enjoyed and the fact that he had already homered and singled in the game. The move paid off though.

Lynn floated a lazy fly ball down the left field line. It wasn’t hit deep, and left fielder George Foster was well-positioned for a throw to home as he settled under the ball. Doyle shocked everyone in Fenway when he darted for home plate, and Foster made a perfect one-hop throw to nab him, completing the double play.

After the game, Doyle said that he took off for home because he thought his third base coach, Don Zimmer, yelled, “Go! Go! Go!” Zimmer then claimed that he actually said, “No! No! No!” Which begs the question, why in all that is holy would a third base coach ever bark a command that sounds so similar to a different command that means the exact opposite thing??? How about using signals like Red and Green instead of No and Go, guys?

After Rico grounded out to third to fully extinguish the Boston rally, Stockton welcomed us to extra innings by breaking the news that although The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson would not air due to the length of the game, The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder would start 30 minutes after its conclusion. Conan O’Brien, for his part, laid in his Brookline bed dreaming about hair care products. 

The Reds threatened again in the top of the 11th when Dick Drago plunked Pete Rose to leadoff the inning, but the rally was snuffed out by some fantastic defense. First, Fisk pounced on Ken Griffey’s bunt and gunned down Rose at second. Then, NL MVP Joe Morgan sent a lump into the throats of a million Sox fans when he smoked a high fly ball to deep right.

Dwight Evans, who was only playing due to Jim Rice’s absence, took off toward the corner, took a blind leap into the air, and speared Morgan’s shot to rob him of extra bases and at least one RBI. Griffey, who had already rounded second expecting to score on the play, was then doubled up when Evans fired the ball back to the infield. 

Evans’ catch was probably the Red Sox’ signature legendary defensive play for four decades until Andrew Benintendi took his title in Game Four of the 2018 ALCS. Dewey went on to have a great career in Boston, treating us to his fair share of big moments in the process. But I think Dewey would 100% agree that this catch would forever reign as the top highlight of his career.

When Rick Wise took the mound in the top of the twelfth, the Sox and Reds broke a World Series record by using 12 pitchers in a game. FYI, the Dodgers and Red Sox set the current record by using 18 pitchers (nine for each team) in their 18-inning marathon in 2018. 

Garagiola was highly impressed with the catch Fisk made on Bench’s foul pop to open the 12th. The towering popup rose above the upper deck behind home plate, allowing the wind to grab hold of the ball and push it back into the field of play as it plummeted toward the earth. Fisk actually dropped to his backside as he backed up to make the catch. “I could never make the play,” the ex-catcher explained. “If you can’t do it, you appreciate somebody who can.” 

Perez and Foster both singled to left, but Wise escaped the jam by getting inducing a Concepcion flyout and striking out Geronimo. 

Pudge Fisk led off the bottom of the twelfth against Pat Darcy, who was entering his third inning of work. Fisk was 5-21 in the series, and had caught all 58 innings. Neither team had hit the ball over the Green Monster yet in the series.

“Fred,” Fisk said to Lynn in the on-deck circle before strolling to the plate, “I feel something good here. I’m gonna hit one off the wall and I want you to drive me in.” 

His premonition was off by just a hair. 

A winded Darcy delivered a knee-high, 1-0 fastball. Pudge bent at the waist, threw down the head of his bat, and swatted his way into immortality. 

Fisk didn’t just win the game, he did with style. Way more people remember the image of Fisk waving the ball fair than the circumstances surrounding the game. In fact, if you polled 100 casual baseball fans with no allegiance to Boston or Cincinnati, I bet more than half would say that this home run won the Red Sox the 1975 World Series. 

As we know, the Reds would take Game 7 the next night. The curse would plague Red Sox fans for three more decades, adding the ultimate groin kick in the next World Series Game Six they would play 11 years later. In spite of it all, this game has always been looked on with great reverence by Red Sox fans, both up to and after 2004. Mentioning the names Carbo, Evans, Fisk, or even Denny Doyle will usually bring a smile to the face of any lifelong BoSox fan because of what this game means to them, regardless of the fact that they actually lost the 1975 World Series. 

Red Sox baseball has one of the richest traditions in professional sports. Even after incredible playoff runs yielded world championships in 2004, 2007, 2013, and 2018, Game Six of 1975 may still be one of the three most cherished games in Boston baseball lore. 

By Luke

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