BOSTON — The season was slipping away, that much was certain. The Yankees had walked into Fenway Park, they had gotten good and pounded by the Red Sox, the deficit in the AL East was as big as it had been all year, and after the final out the yard was filled with a civic hymn that had only lately entered the local lexicon.
What the Yankees needed, truth be told, was a little intervention, because the next day they were going to throw a rookie pitcher making his first-ever major league start against the first-place Sox, which was like tossing a squirrel at a hungry terrier.
“If he survives it,” the manager said, half-jokingly, “I just may keep him around just for taking one for the team.”
But a funny thing happened the next day — July 4, 1978. Rain started falling in the morning, and it never stopped. The Yankees-Red Sox game for that afternoon was postponed and rescheduled for a mutual off-day Thursday two months later, in early September. The kid pitcher — a name only the diehards know, and for a different reason: Paul Semall — was sent back to the minor leagues.
See, when people talk crazy about divine intervention being a part of that forever New York-Boston summer 40 years back, they think they’re being funny. But it’s actually true. Of all the things that broke properly for the Yankees that year, a well-timed rainstorm was one of the first dominoes to fall.
Forty years later, the Yankees could use some more rain.
That isn’t a slight at Chance Adams, a prized Yankees prospect who was 15-5 with a 2.45 ERA last season though he has struggled to match that output this year at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. And it certainly isn’t to suggest these Yankees, despite falling a season-high 7 ½ games behind the Sox thanks to a 4-1 loss Friday at Fenway, are in as dire a predicament as their ’78 forebears.
Still, there is an 80 percent chance of rain for 4 o’clock Saturday, when this series resumes. And if it’s not exactly time to pray for rain … well, Boston is a lovely city in which to enjoy a surprise Saturday night. There have been worse twists of fate.
“We want to make this as normal for him as we can for him,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of Adams, who is 3-5 in 21 starts for Scranton with a 4.50 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 98 innings. “He’s going up against a great team. We won’t make it any bigger for him than it has to be, just make him comfortable and get into his routine, get him ready for his start.”
Exactly 40 years and one month earlier, the Red Sox had chased Ed Figueroa in the fourth inning and bombed the Yankees 9-5 to move to 53-24 on the year. Worse for the Yankees, they didn’t have a usable starter available for the next day. So Martin summoned Semall from Double-A West Haven, mostly because that was only a two-hour ride away by car.
Semall made the drive, but never got in a game — not then, and not at any other point during an ill-fated nine-year professional career best known for June 26, 1979, when he was traded, one-for-one, to the Cubs for Bobby Murcer, allowing Murcer his Second Act as a Yankee.
If the rain was the worst possible luck for Semall, it was manna from heaven for the Yankees. They were spared the inevitable carnage that would’ve filled the holiday matinee. The rescheduled game was played Sept. 7 — which turned out to be the first game of the four-game Boston Massacre that still lives in infamy in these parts. Nothing is for certain in baseball, of course, but a Boston win on July 4 would have been enough to make sure the season ended Oct. 1 with a Red Sox pennant, instead of a tie which required a one-game playoff which …
Well. Anyway. It all started with rain 40 years ago.
Forty years later, the Yankees can be forgiven if they won’t be terribly offended if they are forced, through another nudge of Mother Nature’s guiding hand, to put off the debut of Chance the Stopgapper at least a little while longer. Maybe not as long as she postponed poor Paul Semall’s, but …
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