In the first half of the 1970s, the Boston Red Sox had a pipeline of talent coming to the big-league club from the minors. Carlton Fisk solidified the catcher’s position in 1972, winning the American League Rookie of the Year award. In 1973 Dwight Evans became the everyday right fielder, and while his bat was still developing, his throwing arm quickly made baserunners think twice about taking an extra base. Cecil Cooper became a full-time player and part-time first baseman in 1974. And in 1975, Fred Lynn and Jim Rice, tagged by the media as The Gold Dust Twins, arrived and had arguably the best pair of rookie seasons by teammates in the modern era.
June 18 was a warm, humid Wednesday night, the final game of a three-game set with the Tigers, and the ninth game of a 13-game road trip. Over the first eight games of the trip, the Red Sox were 6-2, giving them an overall record of 34-24 and a 1½-game lead over the New York Yankees in the American League East. In the first game of the series, Lynn, Boston’s dynamic center fielder, had his 20-game hitting streak snapped. He came into the final game of the series with a .337 average, good for fourth in the American League, with 11 home runs, tied for the third highest, and 40 runs batted in, which ranked fifth in the league.
After losing his hitting streak in the Monday game, Lynn managed one hit in four at-bats in the middle game of the series. Still not quite satisfied, he was up early Wednesday morning, pacing in the hotel lobby anxious to get to Tiger Stadium for extra batting practice.
“I was expecting to see some of our men doing some extra hitting because we’re down pretty good at the moment. I look out onto the field and there’s Fred Lynn. He goes 20 straight games with hits, gets stopped, and he’s out on the field taking extra batting practice,” said Bill Freehan, the Tigers catcher.1
Detroit’s starting pitcher, Joe Coleman, retired Juan Beniquez to lead off the game, but the next four batters in the Red Sox lineup hit him for the cycle: Burleson tripled, Yastrzemski doubled him home, Lynn hit a two-run homer into the upper deck in right field, and then Rice singled. By the time the dust cleared in the top of the first, Boston had scored four runs, and the rout was on.
In the second inning, Coleman got two quick outs, but then gave up two singles, bringing Lynn to the plate for the second time. A high, majestic drive off the façade of the roof in right field resulted in his second home run of the game and drove in three more runs, bringing his runs batted in total to five.
Going into the third inning, the Red Sox had a 7-1 lead, and the Detroit bullpen was called on to pitch the rest of the game. By the time Lynn batted in the inning, Bob Reynolds was on the mound, having replaced Lerrin LaGrow, one of Lynn’s favorite pitchers to face, who had replaced the starter, Coleman. It didn’t matter, as Lynn laced a line drive to left field, over the head of Dan Meyer and off the top of the scoreboard for a two-run triple. If the ball had been hit three feet higher, it would have been Lynn’s third home run in as many at-bats.
Lynn’s fourth at-bat, in the fifth inning, was a lineout to John Knox at second base. In the eighth inning, Lynn singled to lead off the inning, his fourth hit of the game, giving him 12 total bases to that point, along with seven runs batted in.
In the ninth inning, with one out and two runners on, Lynn came to bat for the sixth time in the game. He launched his third home run, and fifth hit, of the game into the right-field upper deck, driving in the final three runs of the game, and becoming just the second rookie to drive in ten or more runs in a game. In addition, he set a rookie record with 16 total bases.
“It’s funny. I hadn’t slept, I had felt lousy. I went out to the park early to try and forget what was going on in the morning. Funny about my swing. When I’m tired, I seem to hit the ball better. I guess it’s because I wait on it better, and make better contact,” said Lynn after the game.2
In Boston’s first trip to the Motor City, in April, fans in the center-field bleachers threw golf balls at Lynn, and in the first game of this series, green smoke bombs were tossed at him.3 By the end of this game, the only thing thrown Lynn’s way was applause.
After Lynn’s historic night, he was now third in batting average at .352, second in home runs with 14, and was leading the league in runs batted in (50) and runs scored (42). He was well on his way to becoming the first player to ever win the Rookie of the Year award and the league Most Valuable Player award in the same season.
This essay originally appeared in ” ’75: The Red Sox Team that Saved Baseball” (SABR, 2015), edited by Bill Nowlin and Cecilia Tan.
The summer of 1975 occurred during my eighth year. I would turn 9 years old two days after the end of the epic World Series between Boston and Cincinnati, but as of mid-June of that year, I still hadn’t discovered baseball. An older neighbor had a paper route, and on June 19 I was helping him fold papers for delivery that day. We looked through one of the papers, and at the top of the sports section of the Pawtucket Times the headline read: Lynn 3 HRs, 3B, 10 RBI. To an 8-year-old who really hadn’t discovered baseball yet, it made quite an impression. I became a lifelong Red Sox, and Fred Lynn, fan because of that game.
1 Peter Gammons, “Lynn Rewrites Rookie Book With Power Act,” The Sporting News, July 5, 1975.
3 Larry Paladino, “Tiger Fans Certainly Saw Lynn At His Best So Stood And Cheered,” AP, June 19, 1975.