Joe Morgan, like anyone else with a rooting interest in the Red Sox, had some extra time on his hands yesterday. Back home in Walpole, the 75-year-old Morgan was watching, at least for a while, as NESN filled hours of dead air time until umpiring crew chief Rick Reed -- undoubtedly acting with some input from superiors in MLB Central -- decided at 7:53 p.m. to call off yesterday's Red Sox-White Sox game before it wound up on top of Mt. Ararat.
That decision, as terribly tardy as it might have been, did no favors for all of those from Portland to Bangor who had driven down for Maine Day at the Fens. But it had its benefits for the home nine, who were on the short end of a 5-2 score when play was interrupted with the White Sox at bat in the fourth inning. The washout, after two rain delays, assured the Red Sox of two things: A bonanza at the concession stands, as a remarkable number of fans hung in there for almost six hours after Matt Clement's first pitch crossed the plate at 2:05 p.m., and a sendoff to Detroit and the start of a 10-game road trip with their home winning streak of 13 games intact.
That's the most successful run they've had at home since 1988, the summer of Morgan magic, when a baseball lifer named Joe Morgan, who had been the Sox third-base coach, was promoted to manager at the All-Star break after John McNamara was fired, and was in charge when the team set an American League record by winning 24 in a row at home.
''Lou Gorman told me, 'You're the interim manager till we get somebody else,' " Morgan said yesterday. ''I told him, 'Don't worry, you already got somebody.' "
Gorman, the Sox general manager at the time, already had made contact with an out-of-work manager named Joe Torre, who at the time was broadcasting Angels games for a TV station in Los Angeles. But after the Sox, who had been just a game under .500 when McNamara was fired, won their first dozen games under Morgan before losing in Texas, Torre sent Gorman a box of cigars and a note thanking Gorman for thinking about him.
''We had an 11-game homestand," Morgan said, ''and I figured we had to win at least seven games if I was going to be here next year. Six and five would never do it. Lo and behold, we won all 11, and then won the next one in Texas."
The Sox were in fourth place with a 43-42 record when McNamara, who had guided the Sox to the pennant in 1986, was fired. By winning 12 in a row and 19 of their first 20 games under Morgan, they moved into first place in the American League East for good.
''It definitely was an unbelievable time," said Morgan, who had managed for 16 years in the minor leagues, including a stint at Pawtucket, before he joined McNamara's coaching staff. ''At my age [57 at the time], I'd pretty much given up hope of managing in the big leagues.
''And then with the streak, it was unbelievable. I wouldn't wish it on anybody. All I ever wanted to do was manage, go home, and relax. But it became a real circus. The phone never stopped ringing. I thought when we went to Texas, we'd get away from that, but it was just as bad, the phone calls, the TV stations, until it finally all blew over."
Morgan's managerial debut was rained out, setting up a doubleheader the next night against the Royals. The Sox, who had won their last five home games under McNamara, swept the Royals, Roger Clemens outdueling Bret Saberhagen in the first game, 3-1.
''I had a sure winner my first game," Morgan said. ''I forgot who pitched the second game [Mike Smithson]."
The Sox took four straight from the Royals, three from the Twins, and another four in a row from the White Sox, the most improbable win coming when Minnesota scored two runs in the top of the 10th, only to have Todd Benzinger hit a grand slam in the bottom half to win it.
''I was just hoping that [Twins reliever Keith] Atherton would throw Benzinger] another fastball," Morgan said. ''In it came, and away it went."
It was after that game, Morgan has said, that Jean Yawkey, widow of long-time Sox owner Tom Yawkey, declared, ''Give that man [Morgan] a contract."
The Sox came back home to sweep their next homestand -- four against the Brewers, two against the Rangers -- then outscored the Tigers in two games by a combined score of 25-8 before finally losing in a 18-6 blowout to the Tigers in a game started by Clemens. But by that point, they'd gone 16 games over .500.
How to explain Morgan magic?
''Well, it's very simple," Morgan said. ''When a manager gets fired, usually they have a lousy team. We didn't have a lousy team, but for some reason we weren't playing like we could. After Mac got fired, we caught fire. We probably would have gotten going even if Mac had stayed."
Morgan has met Sox manager Terry Francona. ''I knew his dad," Morgan said, referring to Tito Francona. ''I played with him in Cleveland . I see him once a year now at a dinner in New York. Good person.
''He [Terry Francona] is doing all right. I had an advantage over him. I lived here all of my life. I knew about a lot of that stuff [the intense attention directed at the Sox]. At least I thought I did."
Morgan magic did not carry into October. The Sox were swept in four straight by the Oakland Athletics.
''I'll be honest," Morgan said. ''Oakland had the better team, easy. It was as simple as that. They were definitely the better team."