BOSTON -- Kermit and Gladys Kiecker probably drove over the covered bridge at Kiecker's Crossing kind of early Monday night.
They wanted to get downtown to the Frontier in plenty of time, because after a long day on the farm, the last thing you want to do is crane your neck for a couple of hours trying to watch your kid pitch.
So they tooled the 2 miles along Rural Route 1 into Fairfax in the family car, settled in at the Frontier Bar and quickly became probably the only people in Minnesota not in football gear who were still sweating this late in the year.
On the television screen was a cable feed of the Boston Red Sox and their son, Dana, staggering through a first inning in which he threw 16 pitches, 12 of which were balls. That's not the way they teach them to throw the ball in Minnesota. Everybody in the Frontier knew that.
So when Kiecker finally got Robin Ventura to ground out with the bases loaded to end the inning harmlessly enough, the sighs of relief came not only from Portland and Pawtucket but also from the Frontier.
"If they weren't out in the fields, I'm sure they were watching the game," Kiecker said of his parents not long after surviving that first inning and going on to pitch six more against the Chicago White Sox on a night when Boston's bullpen was as depleted as U.S. oil reserves.
"There's not a whole lot going on in Fairfax, Minn., on a Monday night in October. I'm sure quite a few of the faithful were over there watching. I was trying to make the hometown proud."
Although Kiecker did not figure in the 4-3 decision, he achieved ++ his objective with a performance as vital to the Red Sox's clinching of at least a tie for the American League East title as Dwight Evans' eighth-inning single that produced the winning run. He had not won the game, but he had kept his team alive and his bullpen in its seat just long enough.
Now, about the time the Kiecker clan was heading into town, Dana was warming in the bullpen, well aware that most of the arms there needed Geritol.
Thus he was not surprised when, after giving up a single, double, walk, fielder's choice and another walk to open the game, manager Joe Morgan visited him with a brief reminder.
"I just told him not to give in to Ventura right now," Morgan said. "I told him, 'Pitch him the way you're supposed to, because you're going to be in here a long time. Believe me.' "
Morgan didn't know how right he was, because after escaping the first without allowing a run and struggling again in the second, Kiecker suddenly became as solid as the citizens of Minnesota.
"I tried to be too fine at first," Kiecker said. "I'm a breaking-ball pitcher, and this late in the year my arm's been tender.
"I haven't thrown between starts, and that affects my mechanics and my release point. It's difficult when you try to throw breaking balls on the black and then don't throw again for four days."
By the time Kiecker departed after allowing a leadoff double in the eighth, he had succeeded in making things difficult for both the White Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays, who were blowing an early lead against the Orioles in Baltimore to fall two games behind the Red Sox with two to play.
Upon his departure, Boston led, 3-0, and Kiecker had used his sinker and breaking balls to notch 15 ground-ball outs. He would get no victory along with them except for a pyrrhic one, but on the night his team locked up at least a tie for the pennant, that was good enough.
"I went all season just trying to be a .500 pitcher who keeps his team competitive," Kiecker said. "I know when I've pitched well and when I haven't.
"You just want to go in and give the team as many quality innings as you can. After a shaky start, I kept us in the game."
He also kept Kermit and Gladys smiling on the drive back out Rural Route 1 to the farm.