September 28, 1975: Red Sox tune up for postseason
When the Red Sox season ended on September 28, 1975, Andy Merchant trotted off the field and the Red Sox had only their third American League postseason berth since 1918. The Red Sox had clinched the division title the day before, thanks to the New York Yankees, who had swept a doubleheader from the second-place Baltimore Orioles. So the 28th against Cleveland was a bit of a rest day for the Red Sox. The game still drew 29,591.
Manager Darrell Johnson gave Merchant the opportunity to debut behind the plate, catching starter Dick Pole and batting third in the order. Also making his major-league debut in the day’s game was second baseman Steve Dillard. Both Merchant and Dillard collected two hits.
Merchant was tested immediately. The Indians’ leadoff batter was John Lowenstein, who singled. He tried to steal second, but Merchant’s throw to second base cut him down.
His first time up, Merchant flied deep to center off Cleveland’s Fred Beene; Dillard, who had singled and stolen second, took third on the flyout. The game proved to be Beene’s last after seven years in the majors. Bernie Carbo singled Dillard home. Merchant came up again in the bottom of the third, facing a new pitcher, Eric Raich. Dillard singled to lead off, and Merchant singled, moving Dillard to second. Three batters later, Merchant scored on Rick Miller’s single. Before the inning was over, the Red Sox had a 4-2 lead. It didn’t last; as Frank Robinson’s fourth-place Indians scored six times in the top of the fifth. An Alan Ashby grand slam off Pole proved the game-winning hit.
Merchant batted a third time in the bottom of the fifth (now facing Larry Andersen) and reached on an error by third baseman Ashby. Merchant moved up to second on a wild pitch and to third on a groundout, but was left stranded there when Bob Montgomery flied out to shortstop. He walked in the seventh but was stranded on second. With the score 11-4 in favor of the Indians, Merchant came up again with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. He singled to the fourth pitcher he’d faced in the game – Jim Strickland – but was left at first base when Carbo made the regular season’s final out.
Merchant’s major-league stats for 1975 thus showed four at-bats, with two hits and a walk – an average of .500 with an on-base percentage of .600. He’d scored one run, and was flawless in the field – two putouts (on strikeouts by Jim Willoughby in the eighth inning) and the one first-inning assist in three chances. The Boston Globe game story was headlined “Red Sox scrubs bite dust, 11-4” but Andy thoroughly enjoyed the day. “I had the best time of my life,” he recalled in a 2005 interview.1
Raich got the win, bringing him to 7-8. Strickland pitched the final three innings and earned a save.
The Red Sox faced Oakland in the American League Championship Series and then the Reds in the World Series, but Merchant was no longer on the playoff roster. “I just went home and watched old Carlton (Fisk) on TV like everybody else.”
Merchant played in two games in 1976, had one at-bat in each, and struck out both times.
1 Interviews with Andy Merchant by Bill Nowlin were conducted on October 12, 2001, and both August 10 and September 24, 2005.