BOSTON — The ball rose with all the grace of a water balloon, and as Kirk Gibson chased it he had to be thinking, “Arrrgh — DAMN! Not again!” What kind of hit was this, to that naked little section of right field, halfway between first base and the foul pole? Come on. Be men! Give us a smack, a bullet, a cannon shot that takes you to the warning track. What kind of hit was this?

It dropped in, of course, this blip off the bat of Marty Barrett — just as an earlier “double” had fallen for Jim Rice — and by the time Gibson picked it up, the tie-breaking run had crossed the plate and Barrett was standing on second base, clapping and waving. The final regular-season game between Detroit and Boston was really decided right then, and fate had thrown its delicious arms around the Red Sox, once again.

Here is the reason the Red Sox must be considered favorites for the pennant. This kind of game. Their starting pitcher gets bashed like a nightmare’s pillow, the Tigers hit three home runs in the first four innings, yet a line shot by Bill Buckner grazes off the outstretched glove of Chet Lemon — a normally superb center fielder — and of course the bases are loaded, and three runs score, and the Red Sox wind up winning by two.

Unlikely hits. Mediocre pitching. And a 7-5 victory. What do you call that? Fate? Kismet? A roulette wheel with one color?

Red, as in Sox. It’s 1984 revisited “What can you say about a game like this?” someone asked Lemon, after the series-ending loss Sunday that dropped the Tigers seven back of Boston in the standings.

“They’re hitting it like we did in 1984,” he said, shaking his head.
“Balls just out of reach, balls in the corner — and they’re not coming with nobody on. They come with the bases loaded, or men on second and third. Jeez .
. .”

Jeez, Louise. But this is the way you win the American League East — at least that’s what the formula says. The ’84 Tigers. The ’85 Blue Jays. Victories seemed to dangle on branches for those magic teams, until they decided to pluck them off.

Who can argue such magic is not with Boston? The Tigers came into this humid hub figuring to take the Red Sox down a peg. Figuring if they get to the pitching, they win. And what happened?

They got to the pitching. Roger Clemens surrendered more hits in a game than he has all year, Dennis (Oil Can) Boyd was less effective than the resin bag, and Bruce Hurst was in the showers by the sixth inning.

And Boston won two out of three.

“What do you make of a game like this?” someone asked Darrell Evans, whose two home runs Sunday went to waste.

“When you hit two balls hard all day and you get seven runs like they did .
. .” he said, shaking his head. “Well, that’s not going to happen often, is it? But it’s happening for them.”

And that is what counts. The Tigers had a fistful of opportunities Sunday — such as the first inning, when they left the bases loaded and scored nothing. The Red Sox, by contrast, scored that same inning with the barest of artillery — a fly ball that should have been caught, a groundout, a single.

When things are going good. . . .

“What do you make of a game like this?” someone asked Hurst, who escaped without a blemish on his record despite a poor performance.

“Well, I didn’t do well at all,” he said, “but fortunately, the other guys just kept going until they won it. They never gave up. That’s what’s good about this team. We never give up.” No-show in showdown So the showdowns are over for Detroit and Boston, with the two-weekend tally a painful Red Sox 5 games, Tigers 2. And for now, no two defeats loom more ominous than this one and last Sunday’s — when the Tigers again got to Clemens but could not win. No, the Red Sox do not possess the pitching you want going into the homestretch — Clemens has been less than Superman lately, and the others have been, for the most part, dreadfully mortal.

But the Tigers dropped two of three here, and this morning the men of Boston are nestled in first place, five games above their nearest challenger.

Several Tigers left here blinking, figuring a team so seemingly vulnerable will be knocked off sooner or later. By somebody.

“We pick up more games on them when we don’t play them,” observed Tom Brookens. “Maybe it’s better we get out.”

Maybe so. The Tigers had their chances. But for now, the image that lingers is that of Gibson, chasing that blooper Sunday with no hope of catching it, no hope of stopping the run that was racing home like destiny.

The ball was right where fate would have placed it. And so was Boston. A warm rain fell as the teams boarded buses for the airport. But the spirits were considerably higher on the one full of Red Sox, who are kissed by a fate that, so far, has given the Tigers only a cold cheek.

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