From worst in ’76 to first in ’77: A big second half for the Red Sox

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An MVP candidate in Fred Lynn.

A Cy Young candidate in Jerry Reuss, who was the free agent signing of the year during the offseason.

A dominant middle of the lineup led by Lynn, Dwight Evans, Jim Rice, and Cecil Cooper.

An aggressive front office willing to make key trades for veteran arms in the hopes of bolstering a mediocre pitching staff.

It all added up to a brilliant second half to 1977 that saw the Red Sox secure a worst-to-first season. Following an injury-plagued 1976 that saw Boston finish in the East Division cellar with a 55-107 record, the Sox reclaimed the top spot in the East, going 101-61 thanks to a sizzling final three months that saw them make up 19 games on the division-leading Yankees after the All-Star break.

The East Division champions will now face the California Angels for a chance to return to the World Series and ease the heartbreak from 1975 when the Cincinnati Reds topped the Red Sox in seven games.

Look for the results soon!

AN MVP-CALIBER SEASON?

It would be hard to argue for anyone other than Fred Lynn being named American League MVP after a season that saw the Red Sox center fielder with the AL batting championship with a .363 average and hit 41 home runs to tie for second in the AL with teammate Dwight Evans (Toronto’s Gorman Thomas led the AL with 55, briefly challenging Roger Maris for the single-season record). Lynn also led the AL in on base percentage (.436), slugging (.647), hits (214), runs (122), and total bases (381). Lynn’s 134 RBI were second only to teammate Jim Rice (141).

A CY YOUNG-CALIBER SEASON?

Signing Jerry Reuss in the offseason paid off big for the Red Sox. The former Pirates lefty finished first in the AL in wins with 23, sixth in ERA at 2.67, and second in walks per nine innings at just 1.5. His 23-8 record included a league-best five shutouts.

But will it be enough to claim the Cy Young Award? Probably not.

While Reuss’ name should be in the mix, the Angels’ Nolan Ryan of is the likely Cy Young winner after winning the pitching equivalent of the triple crown.

Ryan led the AL in ERA at 2.38 and strikeouts with 311. He matched Reuss’ AL-best win total, but lost two fewer games in going 23-6.

The baseball world is eagerly awaiting a Reuss-Ryan matchup in Game 1 of the ALCS.

BIG SECOND-HALF MOVES

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VIDA BLUE

After winning four straight to open the second half of the season and cut into an eight-game deficit in the AL standings behind the Yankees, the Red Sox made the key moves necessary to bring home a championship.

In a controversial move, the Red Sox dealt young, power-hitting third baseman Butch Hobson to Oakland as the Athletics dumped salary by sending ace Vida Blue to Boston. Blue, who almost became a Yankee in 1976, was a difference-maker in Boston in 1977, giving the Red Sox two top arms at the top of the rotation. He improved on a solid 9-5, 2.59 ERA in the first half with Oakland by going 10-1 with a 2.52 ERA in a Boston uniform after being acquired on July 28.

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PHIL NIEKRO

A disappointing season by the Pirates led to a similar fire sale in Pittsburgh with the Red Sox taking advantage by dealing 26-year-old pitcher Dick Pole for 38-year-old rent-an-arm Phil Niekro. Niekro was 8-4 with a 2.49 ERA in 13 starts for the Sox. While there was a downside to the deal in the loss of prospect Don Aase, the Red Sox did add another young reliever in 24-year-old minor leaguer Al Holland. The trade for Blue also led to Al “the Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky coming to Boston to bolster the bullpen in the second half.

The Red Sox got older, but continued to rebuild their bullpen at the end of July when they traded struggling 28-year-old Jim Willoughby to Houston for 32-year-old Joe Niekro.

While the Red Sox got a whole lot older in the second half, they found a short-term solution with depth in both the starting rotation and the bullpen.

All of the risks were well worth taking considering the strength of the Boston farm system.

  • The promise of Wade Boggs made Hobson expendable, especially with Ray Knight (picked up in a 1976 trade) capable of filling the immediate void at the Major League level. Boggs hit .377 for AA Bristol, then wowed the Red Sox as a September call-up, hitting .299 in 16 games and 67 at bats while filling in at third, first and DH. For his part, Ray Knight hit .298 with 11 home runs and 66 RBI at third base, giving Boston some pop at the bottom of the AL’s No. 1 lineup.
  • Keeping Niekro and Blue may be difficult, but John Tudor (9-8, 3.63 ERA at AA Bristol), Bruce Hurst (6-1, 1.29 ERA despite injuries at Winter Haven), Bruce Berenyi (8-10, 3.81 at Bristol) and Mike Smithson (11-5, 3.74 at Bristol) are all not far away from being ready to have an impact with the big club.
  • And, oh by the way, Ozzie Smith had an impressive first pro season, hitting .308 in AA and joining Boggs on the Eastern League All-Star Team.

HERE’S A LOOK AT FINAL 1977 NUMBERS:

AMERICAN LEAGUE LEADERS:

BATTING

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PITCHING

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NATIONAL LEAGUE LEADERS

BATTING:

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PITCHING:

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