The 1993 Boston Red Sox were a team coming off a last-place finish with a second-year manager in Butch Hobson that needed to prove himself. The ’93 Red Sox looked like they make a run at it and hung in the race longer than expected, but an August and September fade did them in.
It was a strange Boston team. The potent offenses the Fenway Faithful had seen, both in the years prior and the years to come, were nowhere to be found in 1993. The Red Sox finished 12th in the league in runs scored. It was pitching, in spite of a subpar year from Roger Clemens, that kept the team afloat, as they finished second in the AL in ERA.
Boston said goodbye to a franchise legend prior to the season, as Wade Boggs left via free agency and amidst bad blood with the front office, signed with the New York Yankees. Scott Cooper had a nice year in taking over for Boggs at third base, with a .355 on-base percentage, but Boggs still left a hole in the lineup virtually impossible to fill.
Nor did the team do a lot to fill that void. They signed 38-year-old Andre Dawson to DH, but Dawson had an unproductive year. Tony Pena, the 36-year-old catcher hit .181. The Red Sox got a good year from leftfielder Mike Greenwell, and tolerable seasons from Billy Hatcher, the new centerfielder and former World Series hero for the Cincinnati Reds, along with Scott Fletcher and John Valentin.
But the only real producer for the offense was a power-hitting first baseman named Mo Vaughn. The big and burly Vaughn hit 29 home runs, had 101 RBI, and finished with an on-base percentage of .390. Through most of the remaining 1990s, Vaughn would define the offense for the Red Sox.
Clemens struggled to an 11-14 record with a 4.66 ERA, but 37-year-old Danny Darwin picked up the slack, winning 15 games and finishing with a 3.26 ERA. Frank Viola won 11 with a 3.14 ERA, and 23-year-old Aaron Sele made 18 starts and finished with a 2.74 ERA.
What set this Red Sox staff apart though, and what made them quite different from recent editions of the franchise, is that they had a bullpen with good middle and setup men. There were veterans like Greg Harris, young arms like Ken Ryan and Paul Quantrill, and a strong closer in Jeff Russell to back them up. The pen was able to cover for anything the rotation lacked.
Boston spurted out to an 11-3 start, and even though they quickly lost six in a row on the West Coast, the team was still in first place as late as May 2. A terrible June made it look like this would be another lost season—the Red Sox lost 15 of 18 to start the month, which included a 2-9 stretch against prime AL East contenders in the Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles.
Then, in the latter part of the month and leading into the All-Star break, the Sox turned around just as quickly. They won 12 of the next 13, and after falling as many as thirteen games back in the AL East, they closed to within three games in a division race that had five teams packed on top of each other.
Boston came out of the break with another hot streak. They ripped off 10 wins in 11 games in a homestand against AL West competition, and by July 25, they were back into a tie for first place. On August 10, they began a crucial week—the Blue Jays and Yankees were each coming to Fenway Park.
New York had been down for several years—the Yankees had been without a title since 1978 and a pennant since 1981. The end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s saw truly awful teams in the Bronx. A new manager, Buck Showalter, had the Pinstripes back on the upswing, and on August 10, the Yanks and Red Sox were tied for second place, a game back of the Blue Jays.
Viola took the ball in the opener and threw six shutout innings. Joe Hesketh came out of the bullpen and posted three more zeroes. Vaughn and Valentin each homered, and a 5-0 win started the homestand.
It didn’t last—Clemens gave up four runs in the first inning the following night, an 8-3 loss. The Yankees took the finale 4-1. The loss was bad enough, but the cruel cut was that Boggs was the difference-maker—he drew four walks and scored twice, reminding Red Sox fans of the plate discipline they had lost.
Toronto was the defending World Series champion and two-time defending AL East champion, and the Jays rolled into town on Friday. Once again, the series started well. Darwin pitched well on Friday, Scott Fletcher got three hits and the Red Sox won 5-3.
And once again, the good times couldn’t last and Clemens was at the heart of the problem. After Toronto won 5-2 on Saturday, Clemens pitched poorly on Sunday. He was in a 6-0 hole by the fourth inning and lost to Dave Stewart, who had been the Rocket’s postseason nemesis when Stewart was with the Oakland A’s in the 1988 and 1990 ALCS battles.
The Red Sox were still just three games back when the disappointing week ended, but the 1993 season might as well have ended right there. Boston quickly lost seven of the next eight and fell 7 ½ games back. Then they mailed in the rest of the season, going 11-20 in September and the early days of October. A six-game losing streak to close the season pushed the team under .500, at 80-82.
1993 offers some what-ifs for Red Sox fans, and it’s mainly this—what if Clemens had a vintage year? It’s tough to think they would have won the division—Toronto pulled away and won a second straight World Series, while Boston ended up fifth. But the Red Sox certainly would have contended much longer than they did.
Perhaps the bigger issue though, was that Hobson couldn’t keep the team above water, and after the strike year of 1994, his managerial tenure would end.