It was Opening Day 1978! A day on which the front page of the Boston Evening Globe loudly proclaimed, “Opening Day – Everyone’s a Winner!” The Fenway Faithful were ready to welcome their team home for the first home games of the 1978 season and team was ready to come home and get their season on track. They had started 2-3 on the road after games in Chicago and Cleveland.
The first pitch was to be thrown by Duffy Lewis, a star of the Red Sox in the early 20th century and a key member of the dynasty that dominated baseball during that time. During Fenway’s inaugural season in 1912, he showed such prowess in left field that the peculiar embankment that abutted the left field wall became known as “Duffy’s Cliff.”
At 2:15 pm on April 14th under sunny skies, fans gathered into Fenway Park for the first home pitches of new acquisition Dennis Eckersley, who had just come to Boston from the Cleveland Indians. Fans who were not fortunate enough to be among the sellout crowd had to settle for watching the game on WITS-TV. Eckersley, or “Eck” as Sox may know him today, was not the only new face making his debut on this day. Eck’s future NESN colleague Jerry Remy had just joined the Sox from the California Angels. The opponent for that day’s game was the Texas Rangers, who were also 2-3 entering the day.
A home run by Fred Lynn in the bottom of the 4th put the Sox on the board but they still trailed 2-1. A George Scott hit would score Carlton Fisk from 3rd and tie the game in the top of the 7th but that moment would prove to be fleeting and the Rangers would retake the lead in the bottom of the inning and then add an insurance run in the 8th. The Sox would get a second chance after a home run by third baseman Butch Hobson and single by Jim Rice that scored Remy tied the game in the bottom of the 8th and ultimately sent the game into extra innings. Rice would send the fans home happy with a walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th inning.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the close call at the top of 10th inning. Eckersley, still in the game, had runners on 1st and 2nd with 2 out. Manager Don Zimmer pulled Eckersley and put reliever Don Drago in to get the final out of the inning. Drago promptly threw a wild pitch, allowing the runners to advance to 2nd and 3rd. He recovered by recording the strikeout to end the inning and set up Rice’s game winning moment.
Most fans will remember 1978 for the heartbreaking division loss to the New York Yankees but on this day, the Red Sox were winners and the season was off to a roaring start.