BOSTON – The old man gave up some big home runs, all right. On September 10, 1960, Mickey Mantle hit one so long that 25 years later a mathematician traveled to Detroit to measure it and said it flew 643 feet. In 1961, he yielded the first of Roger Maris' record 61. Neither of those, however, compared to the 1963 night Paul Foytack gave up home runs to four consecutive batters.
"I always thought that would be my record forever," the 76-year-old Foytack said from his Tennessee home Sunday night. "I guess all bad things come to an end."
Actually, Foytack need not worry about surrendering his name in baseball's official history. He now has a roommate in infamy: New York Yankees rookie left-hander Chase Wright, whose back-to-back-to-back-to-back breakdown let the Boston Red Sox back into a game they eventually won 7-6 to sweep their division rivals in their first meeting this season.
Less than a week ago, Wright was pitching at Double-A, a dead bulb compared to the klieg lights of a Yankees-Red Sox series. And though he struggled with his command the first two innings, no palm reader would dare predict what happened with two outs.
Wright left an 88-mph fastball at Manny Ramirez's waist, and Ramirez deposited it over the Green Monster. J.D. Drew, part of the Los Angeles Dodgers' quartet that homered in four straight at-bats last September, took a hanging curveball deep to center field. Mike Lowell golfed a slider over the Monster to tie the game at 3, and by the time Jason Varitek crushed a fastball into the left-field seats – the fourth of four pitches that may fly at Double-A but don't stand a chance in the big leagues – Fenway erupted into full-on apoplexy.
Bing, bang, boom – and another boom for good measure.
"It happened quickly," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "It's just another piece of experience for that kid. It has nothing to do with what he's going to be or what's going to happen in the future. I still think he's going to be special.
"He's a pretty tough kid. Otherwise, obviously, we wouldn't have sent him to the mound today. I'm not saying you dismiss it, but I don't think it's going to affect how he does."
Wright composed himself enough to strike out Wily Mo Peña and end his night after three innings and 70 pitches. He had, in his words, tried to "stay calm and cool," though that's like asking a boxer to take four haymakers to the face and then recite the alphabet backward.
"You can't work behind these hitters," Wright said. "They'll make you pay. And you have to hit your spots. If you leave it over the plate, they'll make you pay."
As Wright was paying, Foytack was flipping. He had turned his television to the game momentarily, watching Ramirez hit his home run and wondering why his pants were so baggy, before going back to what really piqued his interest: the NBA playoff game between Denver and San Antonio. Only when his phone rang did he learn he no longer could claim his record alone.
The memories of that night returned quickly. Detroit had traded Foytack to the Los Angeles Angels six weeks earlier. He was a hard-throwing right-hander on the downside of his career. He had gone seven strong innings on July 28, but with a doubleheader on the 31st, he volunteered to pitch in the second game against Cleveland.
"I should have kept my big mouth shut," Foytack said.
He pitched a scoreless fifth inning and retired the first two batters in the sixth before Woodie Held homered. Pedro Ramos, the Indians' pitcher, followed with his second home run of the game. Then Tito Francona, the father of current Red Sox manager Terry Francona, hit one. According to legend, the Indians refused to set off fireworks for the next home run, the first of Larry Brown's career, because it was costing the team too much money.
Angels manager Bill Rigney finally came to the mound.
"What do you think, Paul?" Rigney said.
"I'm not in any trouble, Bill," Foytack replied.
Rigney yanked him, and a year later, Foytack, at age 33, was out of baseball.
Wright, only 24, has plenty of career ahead of him. In the clubhouse, Yankees starter Andy Pettitte patted him on the shoulder. Reliever Brian Bruney spoke with him for a minute, slapped him on the butt and let Wright off to face the lights of the cameras.
He had seen plenty in his first week as a Yankee – the high of Alex Rodriguez's two-out, ninth-inning home run against Cleveland and the low of a sweep by the Red Sox. On Sunday, the Yankees touched up Daisuke Matsuzaka for six runs, the third consecutive game they had gotten to a Red Sox starter, and emerged with nothing to show for it.
Even after the Yankees clawed back to take a 5-4 lead off Matsuzaka, they couldn't hold it following Lowell's second home run of the night, a three-run shot off the Coke bottle stanchion in left field, and couldn't recapture it, with second baseman Dustin Pedroia's game-saving eighth-inning catch on a Josh Phelps pea.
It was that kind of night, the kind only one other man can understand.
"I'm going to write him a letter tomorrow, send it to him," Foytack said. "He's kind of young to be going through that.
"Hopefully, he'll take it to heart."
- Mickey Mantle