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What a day

Posted by Bob Ryan, Globe Staff  May 28, 2007 05:59 PM

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A true sports fan lives by dates, which will probably have no meaning to ordinary (read: dull) people not of the sports persuasion.

For example, Oct. 8 is a High Holyday Of Sport for me. Why? Oct. 8, 1956 is the day Don Larsen pitched the one and only perfect game (and no-hitter) in the history of all major league postseason baseball. I was in sixth grade, and all of us at St. Joseph's School in Trenton, N.J. were aware that there was a perfect game going on because Game 5 of the 1956 the World Series between the Yankees and Dodgers was like any other World Series game; that is to say, we had the game on the radio. In class.

So as my friends and I were riding home on the bus, the agreement was that if Larsen still had the perfect game going when we got home (the game had started at 1 and this was approximately 2:50), we'd stay in to see it. If not, we'd start playing touch football. That's the way life was in those days.

As you undoubtedly know, our touch football game was a bit delayed that day.

July 3 is a day with personal meaning for me. That's July 3, not July 4, although I do recall both July 4, 1977 (the Red Sox hit eight home runs off the Blue Jays) and July 4, 1983 (Dave Righetti's no-hitter against the Sawx, the last out being Wade Boggs' pathetic "swinging" -- i.e. flailing -- third strike).

But July 3, 1966 was something else. My friend John Benson and I had gone to Shea Stadium to see a Mets-Pirates doubleheader (he was a huge Pirates fan). I remember two things about that day:

1. Manny Mota of the Pirates led off one of the games with a triple and was thrown out trying to stretch it into an inside-the-parker. That's the only time I've ever seen a game start like that, at any level.

2. The scoreboard announcement that Braves pitcher Tony Cloninger had become the first player in the history of baseball to hit two grand slams in one game. So no July 3 comes along without me thinking about that.

And no May 28 comes along without me thinking of what was known as the "Vida Blue Game," or, perhaps, the "Blue-Siebert Game."

What took place at Fenway Park on the night of Friday, May 28, 1971 was merely one of the most electrifying regular season spectacles in the last 50 years of Red Sox baseball. Nothing fires up the juices of a legit baseball fan more than the prospect of a classic pitcher's duel, and what we had on offer that evening was a confrontation between young Vida Blue, who came here with a 10-1 record, and veteran Sonny Siebert, who was off to a career-best 8-0 start, and who had already thrown three shutouts.

It was also a battle of first place teams, the Red Sox owning a three-game lead over the Orioles in the AL East and the Oakland A's holding first by five games over Minnesota.

Baseball fever gripped The Hub on that May evening 36 years ago. A crowd of 35,714 packed the park, and that would stand up as the biggest Fenway crowd of a season in which they would only go over the 30,000 mark five times. And did they get themselves a game.

With Rico Petrocelli utilizing that legendary short stroke to hit a pair of homers, the Sawx took a 4-2 lead into the ninth. Blue had departed in the eighth. But Siebert was still on the mound in the ninth, and remained there even after Sal Bando hit a solo one-out homer to make it 4-3. Rick Monday fouled out to George Scott at first for out number two, at which point manager Eddie Kasko elected to replace Siebert with big right hander Bob Bolin, the pride of Hickory Grove, South Carolina.

Bolin had been a Giants stalwart throughout the sixties, mainly as a starter. But with the Red Sox he was a short reliever (the term "closer" was far off in the future). Facing him was Oakland catcher Dave Duncan, the very same Dave Duncan who has become Tony La Russa's pitching guru. Duncan had hit a homer off Siebert in the sixth, and Kasko did not like the matchup.

Duncan made things interesting. He hit not just one, but two drives with plenty of home run distance just to the left of the left field foul pole. You want to talk tension...but Bolin fanned him to end the game and preserve the 4-3 Red Sox victory.

Want to weep? Time of game: 2:15.

Said Petrocelli of the young A's southpaw, who would go on to win both the Cy Young and MVP awards: "I'll tell you this. I never batted against Koufax, but I don't see how he could have been any better than this kid. He's really something."

But Rico got him twice, and 35,714 people had a lifetime thrill. It wouldn't surprise me if someone in your family was there. Or says they were.

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About bob ryan's blog Opinions, observations and anecdotes from Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan.
Bob is an award-winning columnist for the Globe and the host of "Globe 10.0" on Boston.com.

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