As opposed to '95, Red Sox's Vaughn talks the talk with 7 RBIs

September 30, 1998|By Bob Ryan | Bob Ryan,Boston Globe

CLEVELAND -- The second wave of press folk was descending on Mo Vaughn, who, having first answered questions in the official Interview Room, was now seated comfortably in front of his locker.

"Mo," said one radio type, "are you all talked out?"

Talked out? Mo? Talked out after smashing two home runs and a double and knocking in a postseason record-tying seven runs? Talked out after setting the tone for an 11-3 Red Sox Game 1 victory over the Indians yesterday? Talked out after driving in more runs with three swings of the bat in this game than the entire team produced three years ago in the same series against the same opponent? Talked out after playing the role of Boston Red Sox Playoff Exorcist?

"On a day like this," grinned Maurice Samuel Vaughn, "you've got to talk."

The man had a right to talk. He had a right to gush. He had a right to do just about anything he wanted to do, because his was the kind of performance an athlete works toward. You put in the time to hone the skills so that every once in a while, it all goes your way.

The two operative tallies going into this game were 0-for-13 and 0-for-14. The former represented the Red Sox's postseason record since Thursday, Oct. 23, 1986, when Bruce Hurst beat the Mets in Game 5 of the World Series. The latter represented Vaughn's personal record of batting futility in the three-game loss to these same Indians during the 1995 Division Series. With one first-inning swing of the bat, Mo officially took care of the second problem while symbolically disposing of the first.

Simply put, Mo's three-run homer off Jaret Wright in the first was the Red Sox's biggest hit in the past 12 years. It put an end to all the aggravation.

"Even though people say, 'Well, I wasn't here,' " said Mike Stanley, "you're still cognizant of the streaks. Even if you don't read the papers, you pass by a TV and somebody is mentioning it. When Mo hit that home run, it eased a lot of minds in the clubhouse."

"I can't put any words to it," said Mo's longtime teammate and friend, John Valentin, who was on first base at the time. "But it was soooo big. It got the monkey off his back. It took care of the 0-for-13s and 0-for-14s. I know he wanted to contribute today, but I don't even think he understands how big that home run was."

"It was exciting to come up with men on base in the first inning," Vaughn declared. "You come up for the first time and you've got an opportunity to put the team ahead. Who knows what will happen? But let me tell you that you don't think you're going to hit a three-run homer your first time up in the playoffs, and that's a fact."

Mo Vaughn delivered the mail his way, and that's another fact. He poked an outside fastball into the left-field seats for a home run in the first inning. He turned on a changeup for a two-run homer to right in the sixth. And he yanked an inside pitch past first baseman Jim Thome for a bases-loaded double in the eighth. That, friends, is a vintage Maurice Vaughn day at the plate.

"That's what I didn't do in '95," he explained. "I didn't hit the ball where it's pitched. I tried to force things instead of letting the game come to me."

A lot of guys would never, ever talk about a colossal personal failure. Those guys would glare at anyone with the audacity to mention the incident and mumble something about having "put '95 behind me." That's not the Mo Vaughn way. In the days and weeks leading up to this series, he was just as likely to bring it up himself.

"In '95," he said yesterday, "I had an MVP season, and then I came here and did nothing. It was hard to take. I had the completely wrong approach. Let's face it; you've got to admit your failures and see if you can learn from your mistakes."

Then there is the matter of Mo's future. It is reasonably safe to say that with every 1998 playoff homer and RBI, the sound you hear in the background will be the cash register ka-chinging and ka-chinging. A big postseason for Mo will easily vault him into the eight-figure category.

"I'm not thinking about my contract situation for next year right now," he insisted. "Right now we've got games to win. That's what we have to be concerned with. There will be plenty of time to take care of the situation when the time comes."

That's a good answer, and it's the answer Red Sox fans want to hear. Nor is there any doubt that Mo is sincere. He wants to win. He has always wanted to win. There is no doubt that his No. 1 priority at the present time is to do all he can to bring a world championship to Boston.

But sometime between the end of yesterday's game and the start of today's game, Mo Vaughn could be forgiven for allowing a huge grin to cross his face. He had once again demonstrated that the organization needs him more than he needs the organization.

The 0-for-14 happened, and Mo can't go into the record books, armed with some white-out, and expunge those evil numbers. He doesn't even want to.

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