One thing about baseball's playoffs and World Series, they can take a little-known second baseman like Marty Barrett of the Boston Red Sox and almost overnight magically transform him into a household name. The California Angels couldn't believe he hit .367 against them, and the New York Mets would just as soon he not come up with runners on base. A couple of hits at the right time these days, or an acrobatic play in the field, and the television booth is throbbing with Marty Barrett superlatives. And it couldn't happen to a more deserving candidate.
At 5 ft. 10 in. and 175 pounds, Barrett is no power guy, but he has the knack of coming up with the key hit to keep a rally going. He was third on the club in runs scored during the regular season, with 94, and his 60 RBIs while batting second in the lineup were also more than adequate.
Before postseason action began, though, the outside world still thought of the Red Sox in terms of Roger Clemens and Jim Rice; ``Oil Can'' Boyd and Wade Boggs; Dwight Evans and Bill Buckner -- guys who either hit hard or throw hard. The rest were wallpaper, including Barrett, whose home run total this season was four. Guys like Rice and Don Baylor sometimes hit that many out of the park in a week.
Marty doesn't crush the ball, he orchestrates it. His specialty is the sinking line drive that falls just in front of a charging outfielder or the ground ball that sneaks through the infield. And he perfected the art well enough this season to bat a solid .286, with 39 doubles, 4 triples, and more than 50 multi-hit games.
You want a No. 2 hitter who gets on base a lot? Barrett did it 245 times during the regular season. You like a spray hitter who can move a runner into a scoring position? Get Marty. You want a kid who isn't afraid to take a bad-hop grounder in the chest and can still recover fast enough to get the runner at first? The name is the same.
The right side of the Red Sox infield, when you come right down to it, is not the most far-ranging in baseball. At first base, an injured Bill Buckner moves just fast enough to keep the pigeons from mistaking him for a statue.
What this means is that Barrett is expected to get everything hit to Buckner's right, while also protecting his own area. It's kind of like patting your head and rubbing your stomach while juggling a pair of Bowie knives.
``Every team needs the kind of glue that Marty provides for his teammates,'' says Red Sox manager John McNamara. ``He's dependable. He's not one of those players who gives you consistency one day and falls apart the next. And he's a tough out at the plate, with a great attitude when it comes to giving himself up in the batter's box to move a runner along.''
Barrett played so well in the American League Championship Series that even before it was over, former California manager Bill Rigney was telling writers he was a cinch to be named the playoff MVP. And after the Red Sox eliminated the Angels in seven games, the voters confirmed Rigney's opinion. So far in the World Series, the Mets have had their pitchers moving the ball around against Barrett -- a sure sign that they really haven't found a way to contain him. He collected three hits to help Boston win the first two games, including an RBI single in the midst of the three-run third inning rally that put the Red Sox ahead to stay in Game 2.
If Barrett's skills sometimes get overlooked, it may be because he hits between Boggs, the American League batting champion, and Buckner, a former National League winner. But once Marty gets a bat in his hands, he's just about as tough to strike out as anyone else. In fact, his 31 whiffs in 625 at-bats represented a ratio excelled only by the wily Buckner among Red Sox regulars. And only Boggs and Rice produced more hits and scored more runs this season.
Rival managers know only too well of Barrett's hitting ability. After Marty got 11 hits against California, Angel manager Gene Mauch simply stared into space when asked about him, paying silent tribute to the many ways the previously unsung infielder had contributed to Boston's victory.
One of the added benefits of the World Series, as opposed to baseball's regular 162-game season, is how often it points up the fact that muscles aren't everything -- that there will always be a place in this game for the so-called little man. And so far this year, the ordinary-size Barrett has been a prime example -- protecting the plate, advancing the runners, scoring without hitting home runs, and making the plays in the field. If this keeps up, he just might wind up overshadowing all those Bunyanesque sluggers. Quotable quote
Oklahoma guard Mark Hutson on the duties of the Sooners' offensive line: ``We know that when we make our blocks, our running backs are going to make a lot of yards . . . and we like to see their taillights blinking in the end zone.''