8. GAME 7, 1975 WORLD SERIES, CINCINNATI AND BOSTON

Another Game 7 with another anticlimactic result. This one had the misfortune of following the most famous game in World Series history, Game 6 (we'll get to that one later), which was like following Abe Lincoln on the podium at Gettysburg. but game 7 also started the ball rolling on the whole "curse" thing. Red sox fans knew their team hadn't won a World Series since 1918, and after years of misfortune and disappointment, Boston's dramatic victory in Game 6 made people think that maybe, just maybe, things had changed. And when the Sox jumped to a 3-0 lead after five innings at Fenway, people could smell victory. They could taste it.

But Boston was facing the Big Red Machine — an awesome collection of talent headlined by Hall-of-Famers Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench, Should-Be-a-Hall-of-Famer Tony Perez, and Can't-Be-a-Hall-of-Famer Pete Rose — and in the sixth inning all hell broke loose. Rose wrecked a potential inning-ending double play by barreling into Boston's Denny Doyle, keeping the inning alive with two outs and Bench on first. Then Boston starter Bill "Spaceman" lee decided to throw his favorite pitch to Perez, a rainbow curve that hung tantalizingly in the air before dropping over the plate for a strike. Lee called it the "blooper curve."

Red Sox fans loved this pitch. Until Game 7.

Although the Sox coaching staff warned its pitchers to never, ever throw Perez off-speed pitches, Lee did, and Perez smacked the blooper curve over the Green Monster, over the Mass Pike, and over Allston into Cambridge. Suddenly Boston's three-run lead was down to one and cigarettes lit up all around New England, especially after the Reds tied the game at 3-3 in the seventh with Rose's RBI single. Now it came down to the bullpens, the one area where the Red sox had an advantage, as they proved in Game 6 (coming up; give it a few paragraphs).

With two out and nobody on base in the bottom of the eighth, Sox manager Darrell Johnson inexplicably pinch-hit Cecil Cooper for relief ace Jim Willoughby. Not only was this the biggest mistake in the history of sports, but it can be favorably compared to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signing the Munich Pact with Hitler in 1938 ("Okay, Adolf, you can have part of Czechoslovakia, but that's it."). Cooper flied out. Three outs. Willoughby was gone, and Johnson entrusted the ninth inning of the final game of the 1975 World Series to rookie left-hander Jim Burton. Burton wasn't a hard-throwing hayseed rookie lefty from Oklahoma like the kind Robert Redford faced at the end of The Natural; he was a career minor leaguer, almost 26. So nobody was surprised when Burton gave up a two-out RBI single to Joe Morgan, putting Cincinnati up 4-3.

Boston went down meekly in the bottom of the ninth, with the Series ending on a Carl Yastrzemski fly ball to Cesar Geronimo. Once again, the Sox were a day late and a dollar short. And after that game, after World Series losses in 1946 and 1947, after pennant collapses in 1948, 1949, 1972, and 1974, New Englanders began to truly believe their Olde Towne team was jinxed.

POSTSCRIPT:Burton pitched one more in his major-league life, one inning for Milwaukee in 1977. Look it up.

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