Rico, like Scott, Andrews and Jones, is only 23. Outfielders Tony Conigliaro and Carl Yastrzemski, with nine years of experience between them, are 22 and 27. Rookie Center Fielder Reggie Smith is 22. The old man in the starting lineup is a 28-year-old rookie catcher, Russ Gibson from Fall River, Mass. Gibson spent 10 years in the minors and was never under a major league contract until this year. He handles pitchers well his first game was rookie Bill Rohr's one-hitter against New York; his second was an eighteen-inning marathon), throws well (he nailed three base-stealers in one game and twice threw out Kansas City's speedy Bert Campaneris) and, until three hitless games in Anaheim last week, he was batting .300.
But Boston's strong hitting and—for the most part—surprisingly good fielding have not surprised the league as much as the pitching. Dennis Bennett, a prime candidate for Williams' censure in both the sore-arm and avoirdupois departments, had an operation on his left shoulder a year ago to remove a "huge hunk of calcium, about three-fourths of an inch in diameter." It had been cutting into a tendon. Further, Bennett, who weighed 225 pounds, is now down to 206 and is aiming at an even 200. Last week against the Angels he went a full nine innings, allowed no runs and six hits and helped himself by hitting a three-run homer.
Bennett's shutout was both pleasing and painful to the Boston press corps. In 1965 Bennett copied the late Tony Lema and threw a champagne party for the newsmen on the occasion of his first complete game with the Red Sox. He was promised a reciprocal champagne bash when he got his first shutout. The one against California was it, but Bennett was merciful. He said he would settle for domestic stuff as a patriotic gesture.
Another encouraging left-hander is Rohr, only 21, who came so close to a no-hit game in his first major league appearance. He has a deceptive motion, a fast ball, a curve and a changeup off both the fast ball and the curve. A third young pitcher, 24-year-old Jim Lonborg, who has a degree in biology from Stanford and who once wanted to be a surgeon, had a 2-1 record that could easily have been 5-0. Williams says Lonborg twice blew three-run leads by "coasting," but then, against Kansas City, "he did just what we wanted him to, go hard all the way. He shut out the Athletics and struck out 13 guys."
Lonborg was almost that effective against the Angels in his next start, but with unhappier results. All that California got in the first six innings was a walk. Jim Fregosi broke up no-hit thoughts with a sharp single in the seventh, but Lonborg still had a 1-0 lead as he went to the mound in the bottom of the ninth. Fregosi got his, and the Angels', second hit of the game, a slashing single to right. Two ground-ball hits followed that scored the tying run, and an intentional walk left the bases loaded with two out. Then came a play that all the togetherness and morning running could do nothing to prevent.
Lonborg bounced a wild pitch in front of the plate and off Gibson's leg. The catcher lost track of the ball and whirled around in frantic haste to find it. But the ball rolled back out toward the mound. Lonborg raced in and picked it up, but Gibson was still searching and there was no one to take the toss. Jay Johnstone raced in from third to score the winning run. It was Boston's fifth one-run loss of the season, and as Lonborg and Gibson trudged off the field together the ball sat undisturbed near home plate, right where the chagrined Lonborg had dropped it.
Still, the Red Sox generally have looked sharp and the idea lingers that this is a different sort of Boston team and one that might attain Williams' goal of "winning more games than we lose," a revolutionary idea for Boston (it hasn't happened since 1958).
"The pitching will be the story," agreed California Manager Bill Rigney. "I don't even want to talk about those guys in the corners—Yastrzemski in left field, Conigliaro in right. Yaz beats the heck out of our club. And that shortstop—Petrocelli—he always has been good when he wants to be."
Jimmy Piersall of the Angels, who was with Boston for eight seasons, made a statement that should raise the spirits of Red Sox fans from Swampscott to Fall River.
"I haven't seen enough of them yet, I admit, but right now they look better than any Red Sox team in the last 10 years."