One fateful pitch to Dent still lives in infamy

Mike Torrez always prided himself on staying loose as a pitcher.

 

So when Bucky Dent hobbled to the on-deck circle for treatment after fouling a ball off his foot, the sensible thing for Torrez to do was to throw a few practice pitches.

But he never did.

“I had great concentration. I was hitting my spots,’’ Torrez said, recalling the shutout he was throwing for the Boston Red Sox in the seventh inning of a one-game playoff against the New York Yankees in 1978.

“Then,’’ added Torrez, “I threw that one pitch. I should have thrown a few to the catcher while (Dent) wasn’t in the batter’s box, just to keep my sharpness.’’

Instead, the next pitch Torrez delivered became one of the most memorable in baseball history.

“He’d been trying to throw the ball in on me all day,’’ Dent recalled. “But then when I got back to the plate, that first pitch he threw me, he didn’t get it where he wanted it and I got a pretty good pitch to hit.’’

Few imagined the light-hitting Dent could send a shot over the Green Monster in Fenway Park. Some even attribute a gust of wind to lengthening the seemingly routine fly into a home run down the 310-foot line in left field. Torrez remembers heading toward the dugout, confident the ball would drop into Carl Yastrzemski’s mitt.

It never did. The three-run blast gave the Yankees the lead and they went on to win 5-4. The Curse of the Bambino lived. Dent even received a new middle name when Boston manager Don Zimmer expressed his disgust by inserting the F-word after the loss.

That was the first of five seasons Torrez pitched for the Red Sox. He went 16-13 the first two seasons, and 60-54 altogether in 161 appearances, all starts. Yet he never won over the Boston fans, who sometimes booed him as he warmed up in the bullpen. For that matter, he never won over the organization, which has not invited Torrez back to any Red Sox functions.

“Life goes on. It never changed my life,’’ Torrez told Baseball Digest 10 years ago.

But in one sense, it did change the native Topekan.

His inescapable link to Dent created a close friendship. Dent, upon learning Torrez was named No. 1 on The Capital-Journal’s list of Top 100 Shawnee County Athletes, was genuinely excited about the selection.

Before their playoff encounter, the two were teammates in New York. Torrez won two complete games in the 1977 World Series as the Yankees beat the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Now, they are often reunited at card shows, clinics and gatherings. Just last month, MasterCard brought them into Times Square to throw pitches to New York fans eager to step into a makeshift batting cage and interact with former Yankees heroes.

“We’re kind of like Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca,’’ Dent said of the famous 1951 playoff combatants for the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers. “Just because of the game, where it was, what it meant and so many people watching it. We’ve been friends all these years.’’

Close enough that Dent has, on occasion, felt bad for Torrez given the role the pitcher played as part of their lasting legacy. Their matchup that day in Fenway can even be retraced on a video game ... or, if you’d rather, an 8x10 autographed picture of the two together.

“He was throwing a really good game that day, and it’s just one of those games and one of those moments,’’ Dent said. “What can I say? It’s history. We’ve been linked together ever since and I’m glad we do a lot of things together. Our relationship is really good. He’s been a class guy and a great friend all these years.’’

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