Pedro Martinez came to Boston in 1998 and immediately electrified Red Sox Nation. The franchise made the playoffs that season and again in 1999. Pedro won the Cy Young Award. For the starting pitcher, the arrival of a new millennium was more of the same. But for the rest of the 2000 Boston Red Sox it was a little rougher as they started a three-year stint of missing the postseason.
The pitching staff behind the ace lacked depth. Manager Jimy Williams tried everyone from Pedro’s brother Ramon, to lefty Pete Schourek to Rolando Arrojo to Tomo Ohka to shuttling Jeff Fassero and Tim Wakefield between the rotation and the bullpen. Nothing really clicked—Ohka was the only one with a decent ERA at 3.12 and he only made twelve starts. Rich Garces and Hipolito Pichardo were decent out of the bullpen, but also didn’t log a lot of innings.
It speaks volumes to how good Pedro Martinez was—and how offense-heavy baseball was at this time—that even only making 29 starts, his 1.74 ERA was enough to carry the Boston staff to the top of the American League. He won 18 games and took home another unanimous Cy Young Award. Derek Lowe was handling closer’s duties in 2000 and he had a good year at 2.56.
So even if Red Sox fans had reason to be nervous anytime someone other than Pedro or Lowe were on the mound, it still wasn’t the pitching that caused the modest decline. The blame for that lay with the offense.
Not with Nomar Garciaparra. The shortstop was brilliant. At a time when making his case over Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez as the top young shortstop in the game was still a credible argument, Nomar won his second straight batting title with an average of .372. He hit 21 home runs, scored 96 runs and drove in 104 more.
The Red Sox also acquired centerfielder Carl Everett from Houston and Everett had a monster season. His stat line was .373 on-base percentage/.587 slugging percentage. He hit 34 homers and had 108 RBIs.
There were some other notable players around Nomar and Everett. Brian Daubach hit 21 home runs at first base. Second baseman Jose Offerman had a .354 OBP. The young rightfielder, Trot Nixon’s stat line was .368/.461. Scott Hatteberg’s OBP was .367. But again, in a PED era where offense abounded, this only placed the Red Sox 12th in the American League in runs scored.
A six-game road trip to the West Coast gave Red Sox fans a taste of what was in store. Pedro pitched a shutout on Opening Day. The Sox lost the next four. Pedro pitched another gem and won the final game of the trip.
Boston came home and won five of seven to get on track. In May they built some real momentum, winning three straight series, sweeping Baltimore four straight and then winning another series in Toronto. By the time Memorial Day arrived, the Sox were 28-18 and had the best record in the American League.
The downside was that the ever-present New York Yankees, two-time defending World Series champs, had the second-best record in the AL and were only a game back. Boston only had a three-game cushion in the wild-card standings.
And tougher times were ahead as the weather warmed up. The Red Sox didn’t win a single series in the month of June. They split six games with the Yanks, but lost five of six to Toronto, who rose up and moved into a first-place tie with New York by the All-Star break. Boston was 43-41, 2 ½ back in the AL East and four back of what was then just a single wild-card berth.
They were able to get re-established out of the break and won six of nine, including over future playoff teams from the National League in the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets. The Red Sox took a series from the Chicago White Sox, who ended up with the American League’s best regular season record. Boston didn’t bottom out on a road trip west, taking four of seven from the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners.
August was a little more touch and go and the Yankees started to catch fire. The Red Sox were six back in the AL East by Labor Day. But the record was up to 70-63, they had nudged a half-game ahead of the Blue Jays and those two teams joined the A’s and Cleveland Indians in a four-team race for the wild-card.
Any lingering hopes of catching New York seemed to be quashed when the Yanks came to Fenway and took three of four. But the Sox were still within 3 ½ of the playoffs when they visited Cleveland for three games.
The Indians had been the Red Sox’ playoff foil the last two years in the Division Series, with Cleveland winning in 1998 and Boston winning in ’99. There wouldn’t be room for both of them in the postseason this time and they were about to play eight games against each other.
Boston came out swinging in Jacobs Field, scoring six runs in the third inning and grabbing the opener 8-6 behind a two-run double from Nomar and a two-run blast by Dante Bichette. They also took the series finale 7-4. Everett was the hero here with four hits, including a home run and three RBI.
Cleveland was making the return visit to Fenway the following week and the Tuesday thru Thursday schedule would be jam-packed—doubleheaders on the final two days. In the meantime, both teams were watching the A’s get hot out west.
Nomar led the way on Tuesday night, with a two-run triple and three walks keying a 7-4 win. But Wednesday’s twinbill would prove to be the team’s undoing. Pedro’s gem in the afternoon was wasted in a 2-1 loss. That evening, the bullpen couldn’t hold a one-run lead in the seventh and lost 5-4.
It looked about to get worse on Thursday afternoon, when the Indians scored seven runs in the first inning. In a stunning turn of events, the Red Sox had an 8-7 lead by the end of three. Troy O’Leary, recapturing the memories of his big playoff grand slam in Cleveland the previous October, hit a three-run jack to key the rally. Boston won 9-8. But Wakefield was hit hard in the nightcap and lost 8-5.
The end result of the eight-game joust was the Red Sox and Indians winning four apiece and effectively knocking each other out. The A’s just kept right on rolling and moved into the playoffs.
But there was still a week to go. And in a completely unexpected plot twist, the Yankees were unraveling. From mid-September to the final weekend of the season, New York lost 11 of 14. Boston bounced back and opened the final week by sweeping a three-game set from the White Sox. It was a longshot, but the Red Sox had hope.
Coming into the finale down in Tampa, the scenario was simple. Boston needed to sweep the Devil Rays (as they were then called). New York needed to get swept in Baltimore. If that happened, the Yankees would have to play a makeup game. If they lost that, there would be a one-game playoff for the AL East title.
Lo and behold, Boston got the help they needed. New York continued spiraling downhill and lost all three at Camden Yards. But…the Red Sox lost their own series opener on Friday night. They took a 4-zip lead behind a couple hits from Nomar, but Arrojo and the bullpen couldn’t hold it and an 8-6 loss officially ended postseason hopes.
Boston ended up 85-77, 2 ½ back of New York. As pre-2004 Red Sox luck would have it, the Yankees immediately reversed course in the playoffs and won a third straight World Series. The Sox continued their downward trajectory through a rough 2001. They improved in 2002, but still missed the playoffs. Not until 2003 did the franchise return to the October stage.
The Boston Red Sox endured their fair share of heartbreaking finishes through an 86-year championship drought. One thing they often did was make credible bounceback efforts. The one-game playoff loss to the Yankees of 1978 was followed up by 91 wins in 1979. The 2003 devastation at the hands of the Yanks was followed by the historic title run of 2004. The most famous of Boston’s baseball losses was 1986. But 1987 would be different. There was no redemption–not even a feisty effort to come off the mat. The 1987 Boston Red Sox were a train wreck from Day One.
It started in spring training. Red Sox manager John McNamara told the players to put last year behind them—as though making it to Game 7 of the World Series constituted an epic fail. The tone was set.
Then catcher Rich Gedman had a contract dispute and did not report to camp. Gedman wasn’t signed until the start of May. Marc Sullivan and John Marzano were inadequate as replacements and Gedman had a poor year after he returned to the fold.
Jim Rice was now 34-years-old and while the future Hall of Famer’s on-base percentage was a respectable .357, his power and dipped and he only hit 13 home runs. Don Baylor, the veteran DH, saw his power numbers slip and only slugged .404. Dave Henderson, a hero of the previous October, saw his batting average plummet to .234.
The Red Sox could still score runs. Wade Boggs batted .363 and won the third of what would be four consecutive batting titles. Boggs also hit 24 home runs, easily his career high. Marty Barrett posted a solid .357 on-base percentage. And some young outfielders started to make their mark. Ellis Burks, Todd Benzinger and Mike Greenwell were all productive hitters.
The success of the young outfielders moved Dwight Evans to first base, but the 35-year-old kept putting up numbers offensively. In fact, he posted an on-base percentage of .417, slugged .569, hit 34 home runs and drove in 123 runs. Those are MVP-caliber numbers. Evans finished fourth in the voting in spite of his team’s poor play.
There were enough success stories that Boston ranked fourth in the American League in runs scored. And Roger Clemens, fresh off his breakout year of ’86 when won both the Cy Young and MVP awards, went on to win another Cy Young Award in ’87.
But if Clemens wasn’t on the mound, the pitching in Fenway Park was a disaster. Bruce Hurst won 15 games, but the ERA of the #2 starter jumped to 4.41. Every one else who got a shot in the rotation had an ERA over 5. The bullpen was no better and the Red Sox staff ended up ranked 12th in the AL in ERA.
The season started in Milwaukee. The Brewers were an AL East franchise prior to 1998 and they used the Red Sox to get off to a blazing start. Boston lost all three games in old County Stadium. The Red Sox went on to play reasonably well against contending Toronto, winning four of seven April matchups with the Blue Jays. But a road trip from April 24 to May 3 would be devastating.
The trip started in Texas with a ten-inning loss on a Friday night. There was another extra-inning loss to the Rangers on Sunday. By the time the trip was over, Boston had lost eight of ten and was looking at a 10 ½ game hole in the AL East. And, this being the days prior to the realignment of 1994, there was no wild-card fallback to pursue.
The Red Sox hit the Memorial Day turn at 17-25, still 10 ½ out. They weren’t out of it—Detroit, who would ultimately win the AL East, was 20-21 and seven games back. But the Tigers had something the Red Sox didn’t and that was pitching. It showed in June when Boston lost six of seven to Detroit. Those games established who was going to bounce back and contend and who was dead. The Red Sox were dead.
There were still some nice moments. The Yankees had moved into first place by June and Boston took two of three in a weekend set at Fenway. Clemens won the Sunday rubber match with a complete-game win. The Red Sox also swept the Brewers. But Boston never could get the deficit into single digits and a West Coast trip just prior to the All-Star break resulted in a 3-8 record and 13 ½ game hole in the division.
At 41-47, the Red Sox were not going to get back into the race, especially not with the Tigers and Blue Jays on their way to the two best records in baseball, the Brewers en route to 90-plus wins and the Yankees in contention and actually leading the pack at the All-Star break. The balance of the season was about saying goodbye to players and enjoying some signature moments.
Bill Buckner was released on July 23. Baylor and Henderson were traded at the end of August, each landing with eventual division winners in Minnesota and San Francisco respectively.
In the meantime, the Red Sox swept an August series from the eventual World Series champion Twins. Boston delivered their rivals from the Bronx a big blow right after Labor Day when the Red Sox won two of three. Clemens again won the rubber match and the fading Yanks were pushed 6 ½ games off the pace.
This doesn’t mean there was a September surge—the Red Sox went 2-8 in games against the Tigers and Brewers. And Boston finished sub-.500 at 78-84. The last high point came on the final day of the season when Clemens threw a two-hit shutout at Milwaukee for his 20th win, a milestone that may well have secured him the Cy Young Award. Clemens received 21 of 28 first-place votes in winning the award.
But personal milestones and isolated nice moments were all the 1987 Boston Red Sox could offer the faithful after the heartbreak of October 1986. The good news is that better days were around the corner—the Sox would win the AL East in 1988and again in 1990.
The Red Sox made an unpopular decision when they let go of manager Joe Morgan, who had led the team to a successful four-year run that included AL East titles in 1988 and 1990. The 1992 Boston Red Sox would be led by Butch Hobson, who had been a popular player in the late 1970s. But his tenure in the dugout got off to a poor start and never really gained steam.
It wasn’t that the front office didn’t go all-in. Boston signed Minnesota ace’s lefty starter Frank Viola on the free-agent market and paired him up with Roger Clemens in the rotation. The result was a staff that would finish with the second-best ERA in the American League in ‘92. Clemens was vintage, with 18 wins and a 2.41 ERA. Viola went 13-12 with a 3.44 ERA. The two pitchers combined for 67 starts and nearly 500 innings.
The rest of the rotation, ranging from Joe Hesketh to John Dopson to Mike Gardner to Danny Darwin was average, but given the workhorses at the top, was more than acceptable. Greg Harris did good work out of the bullpen, as did Darwin who shuttled back and forth through the season.
But it was the offense, normally a given at Fenway Park, that fell apart. Wade Boggs posted a .353 on-base percentage, but at 34-years-old, his batting average slipped to .259. Tom Brunansky finished with a stat line of .354 OBP/.445 slugging percentage, hit 15 home runs and drove in 74 runs. That’s a nice enough year…but when it’s the best year of anyone in your lineup it’s a sign of trouble.
And trouble is what the Red Sox had. Tony Pena and Jack Clark were well past their prime. Mo Vaughn, a slugging first baseman who would win the MVP award in 1995, was still having growing pains. Ellis Burks dealt with a variety of injuries and only played 66 games. Jody Reed and Billy Hatcher each had bad years. Boston finished 13th in the American League in runs scored.
The Red Sox played respectable baseball early on. They split eight games with the Blue Jays, Orioles and Brewers, who were the AL East’s three best teams in 1992 (prior to 1994 each league was split into just an East & West, and Milwaukee was an American League team through 1997). By Memorial Day, the Sox were 20-19 and within 4 ½ games of the division lead.
They came out of the holiday weekend and swept a road series with the Angels, giving up only five runs in three games and nudging to within 2 ½ games of first place. But that would be the 1992 baseball season’s high point in Boston. That West Coast trip ended with five losses in six games against the Mariners and A’s.
The Red Sox continued to hang tough against the elite of their division, splitting ten games with Toronto, Baltimore and Milwaukee. But Boston was still hanging around .500, while the upper crust was getting hot. The Sox were ten back at the All-Star break.
It would be a stretch to say anyone in New England was counting on a big second half push, but if there was, they had their illusions shattered quickly. Boston lost nine of their first fourteen games out of the break against AL West teams. Closer Jeff Reardon, struggling in any case, was traded to Atlanta, where he continued his struggles all the way through the World Series. Boston lost three of four to Baltimore. And the Sox dropped three of four in mid-August to Milwaukee. By Labor Day, the Red Sox were 63-73 and well off the pace.
Today in New England you’d just switch the focus to football, but the Patriots were a bad team at this point in their history. The Red Sox would have to do for September sports. And they kept collapsing, losing their first five series post-Labor Day. The final record was 73-89 and dead last in a seven-team AL East.
This would be the low point of the short Hobson era, but it never really got going. Boston made a run at .500 in 1993 before settling in at 80-82. And they were seven games under .500 in August 1994 when the strike hit and put everyone in Red Sox Nation out of their misery. Hobson was replaced prior to 1995, when the franchise got back on top and won the AL East.
The 2004 Boston Red Sox were a team of great expectations. They’d come within five outs of the World Series the previous year before blowing a 5-2 lead to the New York Yankees and losing the seventh game of the American League Championship Series in the Bronx. A successful year marked by overachievement ended in acrimony over manager Grady Little’s handling of ace pitcher Pedro Martinez late in that game and Little was fired soon after (for reasons well beyond this particular controversy).
The Sox hired Terry Francona, signed closer Keith Foulke and dealt prospects to Arizona for Curt Schilling. The latter was a hero of the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks team that beat the Yankees, and he had the pedigree and the mindset the team was looking for.
Boston had no problems scoring runs in 2003 and that would be the case again in 2004. The offensive machine had eight of nine regulars with on-base percentages over .350. Seven had slugging percentages over .450, with the other two being only a few points shy. Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz each hit 40+ home runs and had 130+ RBIs.
Schilling won 21 games with a 3.26 ERA, while Pedro won 16 at 3.90. Each ace pitched over 200 innings and covered up for a rotation that was shakier on the back end, relying on Tim Wakefield to chew up some innings, and hoping Derek Lowe could be consistent. Foulke gave Francona the closer Little had lacked, registering 32 saves with a 2.17 ERA.
With personnel like this it wasn’t surprising that the Red Sox started 15-6, including six of seven over the Yanks. A middling May left them at 31-20, but they were still tied for first. Then a hot summer of mediocrity took over New England.
The record was down to 42-32 by the end of June and July opened with a particularly humiliating series in New York. Trailing by 4.5 games when they came in, the Sox lost three straight including an extra-inning finale where Derek Jeter went into the stands to catch a foul ball on the same night that Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra sat with a mysterious ailment.
Boston fell 10.5 games out of first and any thought of winning the AL East was a distant memory, though the wild-card was still firmly in their grasp. A ten-day stretch to close July changed the season. The team beat the Yankees two of three, including an epic Saturday afternoon game on Fox featuring catcher Jason Varitek punching Alex Rodriguez, a subsequent brawl and third baseman Bill Mueller ultimately winning the game with a three-run walkoff home run off Yankee closer Mariano Rivera to win 11-10.
Then at the July 31 trade deadline, Garciaparra, a franchise icon, was traded for shortstop Orlando Cabrera, first baseman Doug Mienkiewitcz and outfielder Dave Roberts. The trade was viewed—at best—skeptically. Cabrera was not a good hitter, Mienkiewitcz was meant to platoon with first baseman Kevin Millar and Roberts to be a situational pinch-runner. Every one of these players would play key roles before it was over.
It was August 24 when the Red Sox really took off. The wild-card race was still tight, with the Sox jousting with the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers. Boston started an eight-game win streak, won ten of eleven and went barreling down the stretch. They won 98 games, blew open the wild-card race and even pulled to within two games of the Yanks at one point. They were back in the playoffs and a chance to play for the title that eluded them a year earlier—and had eluded generations of fans since Babe Ruth was traded following the 1918 season.
The Angels had chased down and passed the Oakland A’s to win the AL West in the closing days of the regular season and was Boston’s opponent in the Division Series. The offense was built around the MVP season of rightfielder Vlad Guerrero, who hit .337 with 39 home runs. Guerrero got help from outfielder Jose Guillen, who hit .294 with 27 bombs.
Surrounding the power hitters were pesky on-base threats led by Chone Figgins, Darin Erstad and Adam Kennedy. The pitching staff had question marks. Bartolo Colon was a workhorse with good stuff, but also an ERA over 5. John Lackey won 14 games, but his ERA was 4.67. Kelvim Escobar had the best ERA of the group at 3.93 but a losing record at 11-12.
The strength of the staff was its bullpen, with Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez and the Angels had rightful respect around the game for their fundamentally sound play.
But it was fundamentals that undid the Angels in the opener. Boston led 1-0 in the fourth, and then opened up a lead with Kevin Millar’s two-run homer. In position to escape the inning still in the game, Figgins threw the ball away with the bases loaded. Staked to a 5-0 lead, Schilling cruised home 9-3, with the only concern being what seemed a minor limp off the field after chasing down a bunt late in the blowout game.
Game 2 had a similar score, but the 8-3 Red Sox win unfolded considerably different than the opener. Pedro and Colon went head-to-head, and the teams traded runs in the second. LAA grabbed two in the fifth with two singles, a hit batsmen and a two-RBI single by Guerrero.
Boston quickly wiped it out with a two-run shot by Varitek and then got the lead in the seventh, doing it a small-ball fashion. Centerfielder and leadoff hitter Johnny Damon stole second, took third on a wild pitch and scored on a sac fly by Manny. Pedro handed the 4-3 to the bullpen after seven innings and the offense broke the game open with four in the top of the ninth, including a bases-clearing double by Cabrera.
It was a late Friday afternoon game as an excited crowd at Fenway hoped to see the home team close out a sweep. Everything was going Boston’s way in the middle of the game. They opened up a 2-1 lead after an error, single and walk set up an RBI single from Manny. Ortiz then doubled and an error made it 5-1.
After adding another run the Sox were cruising in the seventh when the Angels loaded the bases with two outs. Erstad battled reliever Mike Timlin to a full count, fouled off key pitches and got a walk. Guerrero came up next and deposited a ball into the rightfield bullpen and the game was stunningly tied 6-6. No Sox fan could be blamed if a “Here we go again” mindset set in.
But this Boston team had Foulke and he turned back an Angel rally in the ninth, and along with Lowe held the score tied into the 10th. With two outs and a man on, Ortiz launched a shot over the Green Monster that sent the team into the American League Championship Series. Boston had what everyone was thirsting for—another shot at the Pinstripes.
New York was not a great team in 2004—there were great players to be sure, as they’d added Alex Rodriguez prior to the season to go with Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams in center, whose power was waning, but he was still effective getting on base. Mariano Rivera was coming out of the bullpen. But the pitching wasn’t what Joe Torre had at his disposal during the championship years of 1996-2001 when the team won five pennants and four World Series titles.
After the 2003 campaign, both Andy Pettite and Roger Clemens had left and resurfaced in Houston. Torre was patching together a rotation with the likes of Jon Lieber, Javier Vazquez, a washed-up Kevin Brown and Mike Mussina, struggling through an unusually tough year. None of the starters had an ERA under 4 and the bullpen was not exceptionally deep.
While Torre took more than his share of grief from his employer over the way this series ended, it’s truly remarkable that he won 101 games and finished in first place, ahead of a team with Schilling and Pedro at the top of its staff.
Schilling was the starter for Game 1 and after three innings it was apparent that his limp off the field in the Angels’ opener wasn’t just a spur of the moment. Between Schilling’s own missed spots and the quality of the Yankee hitters, the home team hung six runs on the board after three while Mussina worked on a perfect game.
The lead stretched to 8-0 when the Red Sox suddenly did a complete 180 and made a game of it. A three-run shot by Varitek cut the lead to 8-5 in the seventh and Ortiz hit a triple off the top of the left field wall that made it 8-7 and came within a hair of tying it up. New York was able to get two runs in the bottom of the inning and win 10-7.
Normally the Sox might have been able to feel good about the rally and look to carry it over into the next night. But the Yanks had beaten the man they’d brought in specifically to pitch this game and the word was that Schilling’s ankle would keep him out the rest of the series—at the very least he would not be available for a normal Game 5 start, much less come back on short rest in Game 4.
And the bats did not enjoy a carryover effect, as the powerful Red Sox lineup made Lieber look like the reincarnation of Vic Raschi (an old time Yankee pitcher who beat the Sox in the 1949 winner-take-all finale for the pennant). Pedro was good, but a two-run home run by John Olerud gave the Yanks cushion and they rolled 3-1.
Game 3 was set for Friday and it was the biggest day of the series. Nothing happened on the field. What did happen was that rain rolled in, pushing the game back a day and buying Schilling another day of rest. When the teams retook the field on Saturday night it certainly didn’t seem like it would matter. The Yankees battered the Red Sox from pillar to post, winning 19-8.
No one would have guessed that the Sox had just lost for the last time in 2004—and if they had, they might have noted the score bore an eerily similar look to “1918”. Boston now had to win four games in four days (the travel day was canceled due to the rain).
96 HOURS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD
An early home run by Alex Rodriguez off Derek Lowe put New York up 2-0 in Game 4, and there was no reason to think the rout wasn’t on. Lowe had been terrible in recent starts and he was a sinkerballer who hadn’t started yet in the postseason—it was easy to envision a night of his ball getting up in the zone.
But A-Rod’s blow was the last and the Red Sox eventually mustered a 3-2 lead when Ortiz singled home two in the fifth. A grinding sixth inning gave the Yanks a 4-3 lead after second baseman Mark Bellhorn couldn’t quite chase down two slowly hit balls to the right side.
The game held that way through eight. “And the New York Yankees are three defensive outs from going to the World Series,” Joe Buck told the Fox-TV audience as the eighth inning concluded.
Kevin Millar led off the ninth and Rivera’s control was off, walking him on five pitches. Roberts was summoned to pinch-run. In a play universally identified as the turning point of the series, Roberts, after three pickoff throws by Rivera, stole second. Mueller then singled him home and the game was tied. The Red Sox won it in twelve innings on a walkoff home run by Ortiz.
The teams came back for a late afternoon start on Monday. Pedro was on the mound and the Sox staked him to an early 2-0 lead off Mussina. Both pitchers were settled in and the score held to the sixth. With the bases loaded and two outs, Martinez battled Jeter. The shortstop did one his proto-type cue shots into rightfield. The ball got down the line, took a funny hop off the wall and the bases cleared. New York was ahead 4-2.
In the eighth, they had a chance to add to the lead with runners on the corners and one out, but Timlin blew A-Rod for a big K and the score held. Ortiz turned around and led off the bottom of the inning with a home run to left center off setup man Tom Gordon. Boston put runners on first and third with no outs. Rivera was called on.
A common narrative of this series tells us the Yankee closer blew saves in both Games 4 & 5. I suppose that’s true, but no one should deny that Rivera did the job in the fifth game. Varitek was able to tie with a sac fly, but an inning that might have seen the Sox take the lead ended at 4-4. The game dragged on into the 14th inning. With Damon on second, Ortiz came up and fought off an inside pitch, looping it into centerfield for the win. The Red Sox had played 26 innings in two days, come within three outs of elimination one day and six outs on the next…and they were still breathing.
Now it was Schilling’s time to get the ball for Game 6. Even with the series back in the Bronx, the momentum was decidedly in Boston’s favor and the pitcher came up with the performance for the ages. With Fox’s TV cameras repeatedly going to the blood on his sock, there from the sutures left from the procedure necessary to hold his tendon together, Schilling threw seven innings and gave up just one run.
Not since New York Knicks center Willis Reed dragged himself onto the court for an NBA Finals Game 7 in 1970 and obviously dragging his injured leg, delivered his team a title, had the Big Apple seen such an example of playing with pain. It was appropriate then that Reed was in attendance and offered the pitcher a tip of his cap as the seventh inning ended. Boston ended up winning 4-2.
The eighth inning is remembered for Alex Rodriguez being called out for interference after slapping the ball out of pitcher Bronson Arroyo’s hand and a ninth where the Yanks put two on with two out and gave everyone in New England a heart attack before Foulke struck out Tony Clark. But the forgotten hero of this game is Bellhorn, who hit a three-run homer the other way in the fourth inning. Without Bellhorn, Schilling’s bloody sock would never have made it to Cooperstown.
Game 7 was the rematch that the entire baseball world had waited for—and at a time when Fox and ESPN hadn’t yet beat the Red Sox-Yankees into the ground beyond all belief, the rest of the country really did welcome a showdown between the two rivals, especially with the storyline of Red Sox pursuit of a long-sought title still intact.
Both teams were running on fumes, especially the pitching staffs. Lowe got the ball for Boston against Kevin Brown for New York. The latter clearly did not have it. Even with the benefit of getting a throw-out of Damon at the plate in the first, Brown promptly gave up a two-run shot to Ortiz and then loaded the bases in the second.
Vazquez was summoned to face Damon, who jumped on the first pitch and hit it out. It was 6-0. While none of us who root for the Red Sox were remotely in celebration mindset, Lowe was dialed in and left after six with the lead at 8-1. A bizarre decision to bring Pedro in relief helped the Yanks get two runs and it might have been more had Mienkiewitcz not made a nice defensive spear at first base on a hard-hit grounder by Olerud.
Having survived that scare, Bellhorn hit a two-run homer and the game ended 10-3. Was it The Greatest Comeback In Sports History? I’m biased and the topic itself goes beyond the scope of this article. But I think anyone should be able to agree that it was the best series comeback in sports history. We can leave comparisons to single-game comebacks for another day. Boston was going to the World Series for the first time since 1986.
The St. Louis Cardinals had been the best team in baseball in 2004, winning 105 games, although both the Red Sox and Yankees could reasonably argue that the inferior competition offered in the National League could explain away the difference. Fair enough, but there was no doubt coming into the World Series that the Cards were a heavyweight.
They had a devastating trio of power hitters led by Albert Pujols and including third baseman Scott Rolen and centerfielder Jim Edmonds. The three combined for 118 home runs. Nor were they just sluggers—each got on base at a better-than-.400 clip. Tony Womack, the second baseman, had been a teammate of Schilling’s back in 2001 and a Series hero that year. If the Cards got a lead late, Jason Isringhausen slammed the door, with 47 saves.
Starting pitching was not ideal—there was no clear ace—but Matt Morris, Chris Carpenter and Jason Marquis all won 15 games, while Woody Williams won 11 and was a veteran of October.
It was Williams that manager Tony LaRussa tapped to face Wakefield in Saturday night’s Game 1. Ortiz showed no signs of letting up after winning MVP of the League Championship Series, hitting a three-run jack in the first as Boston grabbed a 4-0 lead. St. Louis got two back, including a solo home run by Larry Walker in the third, but in the bottom of that inning the Sox turned two singles and two walks into three more runs extending the lead to 7-2.
Wakefield’s control was erratic though, and St. Louis crawled back in with a three-spot of their own and eventually tied it 7-7 in the fifth on consecutive RBI doubles from shortstop Edgar Renteria and Walker. St. Louis’ pitching couldn’t find the strike zone though. They would issue eight walks for the game, including two to start the seventh that set up run-scoring singles from Manny and Ortiz.
But while the Cards couldn’t locate pitches, the Red Sox couldn’t play defense. They made four errors including a fly ball to left in the eighth that Manny turned into what his manager called a “car accident.” It resulted in St. Louis tying the game 9-9 and leaving the Fenway crowd to wonder what more they had to do to win this game.
Bellhorn answered the question. For the third straight postseason game, he hit a home run, this one a two-run shot that clanged off the iron just inside the rightfield foul pole. Foulke closed the ninth and the Sox had an 11-9 win a game high on excitement and low on quality baseball.
Schilling was ready to pitch Game 2, as he spent the day hoping his ankle would let him respond. His offense again struck quickly as Varitek hit a two-run triple deep into the cavernous right-centerfield Triangle. The Cards got an unearned run in the fourth, but Bellhorn answered with a two-run double. Schilling was sharp again, Cabrera added some insurance and in spite of again committing four errors, Boston won 6-2. They were halfway home as the Series shifted to the Midwest.
Boston’s defense tightened up and Pedro took the mound in Game 3. He led 1-0 after a Manny home run in the first inning. The game—and arguably the Series—had its definitive sequence in the third. Pitcher Jeff Suppan led off the home half of the inning with a single and then took third on a double. No one was out and Francona played the infield back to concede the run. A ground ball to second got an out at first, but Suppan didn’t run home. Not only that, he stayed in no-man’s land, halfway down the line and got picked off third.
The rally was dead. And once Pedro got locked in, so were the Cards. The lead eventually became 4-0 and St. Loo got only an inconsequential run in the ninth. Martinez’ final start in a Sox uniform was an absolute gem.
Wednesday night, October 27 had first dibs on being the night all of New England had waited for. Lowe, a native to the region had the ball, just as he had in the decisive game against the Yankees. Johnny Damon led off the game with a home run and in the third Trot Nixon drove in two more to make it 3-zip.
Cardinal pitching did the job and shut down the Sox lineup the rest of the way, but Lowe was dialed in and for the second straight night Francona got seven shutout innings from his starter. Foulke came in for the ninth.
With two outs Renteria came to the plate with a man aboard. The words of Buck, calling the game for Fox sum up the ground ball hit—“Back to Foulke…and Red Sox fans have longed to hear it…The Boston Red Sox are world champions.”
It was an anticlimactic World Series after the epic ALCS battle. But no one in Red Sox Nation cared. The 2004 Boston Red Sox were finally champs.
The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox played a 1978 season that boiled down to a tale of two halves. Boston dominated the first half and their lead grew to 14 games. New York, after a managerial change from Billy Martin to Bob Lemon in July, countered, closed the gap and pulled even. The Yankees led the race for the final two weeks until the Red Sox finally pulled back even on the season’s final day.
The 1978 Yankees-Red Sox playoff to settle the AL East title and trip to the American League Championship Series carries a special place in baseball lore. New York would send Ron Guidry to the mound, a 24-game winner who would easily win the AL Cy Young Award. Boston countered with Mike Torrez. It was the Red Sox who struck first, as Carl Yastrzemski, hungry for a World Series win, homered to lead off the top of the second.
The Yanks threatened in the third when speedy leadoff man Mickey Rivers hit a two-out double, but catcher Thurman Munson struck out. Boston challenged Guidry again in the bottom of the inning, when George Scott, the first baseman known as “Boomer” for his big swing, doubled to lead off the inning. He was bunted over to third, but neither Rick Burleson nor Jerry Remy could pick him up.
The score stayed 1-0 to the sixth when Burleson doubled, Remy bunted him to third and Jim Rice singled him home. The lead was 2-0, but the inning ended when Fred Lynn flied out with two men on base.
It bears wondering if it was necessary for manager Don Zimmer to be so bunt-oriented in this game, something decidedly un-Red Sox. The sac bunt in the third was done by ninth-place hitter Jack Brohammer and understandable. But having Remy bunt when a man was already in scoring position, took away an out when Boston might have had a bigger inning. Then the fateful seventh inning arrived.
With one out, the Yanks got back-to-back singles, before Torrez induced pinch-hitter Jim Spencer to fly out. With the light-hitting Bucky Dent at the plate, the Sox were on the verge of getting out of the inning. Dent hit a lazy fly ball to left that Yastrzemski was sure he had. The ball drifted…and drifted…and drifted…and landed in the netting of the Green Monster. A stunned crowd saw the Yanks take a 3-2 lead.
Dent’s home run has earned him the nickname “Bucky (expletive) Dent” in New England, but there was more drama packed in these final three innings then there were in the first six.
While the Red Sox couldn’t finish off big innings, the Yanks added one more before the seventh was out, with Rivers drawing a walk, stealing second and then scoring on a double by Munson. In the eighth, Reggie Jackson hit a home run. The door for the New York offense had been opened and they bashed it down.
Just as Boston’s regular season was about more than a blown lead, but about a comeback after that, so too was this game. The Red Sox didn’t lay down and die, even trailing 5-2 and facing feared Yankee closer Goose Goss age, who came in during the seventh inning, as was the norm for closers in those days.
In the eighth, Remy doubled and Yastrzemski drove him home. Consecutive singles by Lynn and Fisk cut the lead to one run, and even though they couldn’t tie it up, the top of the order would have a chance in the ninth.
After an uneventful top of the ninth, Burleson drew a one-out walk. Remy singled to right and Lou Piniella lost it in the sun. Piniella made a smart move and pretended to move in casually as though he were about to make the catch and prevent Burleson from taking off, as no one could pick up the ball in the late afternoon shadows. Another stroke of Yankee good luck saw the ball fall right in front of Piniella and Burleson could only advance to second.
It proved to be an enormous play when Rice hit a long flyout to right and Burleson could only go to third rather than scoring. With Yastrzemski at the plate, the stage was set for a storybook finish. But pre-2004, Red Sox-Yankee stories always ended badly in Boston. Yaz popped out to third and it was over.
The Yankee-Red Sox playoff game was, at least briefly, the end of an era. Boston would not seriously challenge for the AL East title in September until their pennant year of 1986, and not until 1988 would these two historic franchises be directly involved in a big race against each other. Not until 2003 would anything approaching this drama take place.
The five years from 1986-90 were good for baseball fans in New England, at least by pre-2004 standards. The 1990 Boston Red Sox continued a pattern of even-year magic—the franchise won the AL pennant in 1986, took another AL East title in 1988 and grabbed another division crown in 1990.
Roger Clemens was the biggest reason why. The Rocket’s 1.93 ERA was easily the American League’s best. He won 21 games and finished second in the Cy Young voting. Clemens might have won the award and arguably should have, given his ERA. But the 27-win season posted by Bob Welch in Oakland was too much to ignore.
The rest of the team was well-balanced. There were no obvious stars—Wade Boggs was still a solid player and finished with a .386 on-base percentage, although for this season, centerfielder Ellis Burks was the better all-around player–.349 OBP, .486 slugging percentage, 21 home runs and a Gold Glove. Jody Reed finished with a .371 OBP at second base.
Mike Greenwell wasn’t at his 1988 runner-up MVP level anymore, but the leftfielder was a still a productive offensive threat. Dwight Evans was 38-years-old, had lost his power and relegated to the DH role, but could still get on base. On the other end of the age spectrum, Carlos Quintana finished with a .354 OBP at the age of 24.
The big free-agent acquisition was closer Jeff Reardon away from Minnesota. Reardon was good, but of perhaps more significance is that he made Lee Smith expendable. The Red Sox traded their incumbent closer to St. Louis in exchange for rightfielder Tom Brunansky. The move strengthened the outfield and Brunansky would play his best baseball at this season’s biggest moments.
Boston muddled along to start the season, with a .500 record on Memorial Day. Fortunately, so did the rest of the AL East and the entire division was within five games. The Red Sox picked up the pace in June, sweeping the Blue Jays four straight in Fenway and leading the race by as many as 4 ½ games. Boston slumped going into the All-Star break, but they were still a half-game up on Toronto and those two teams had separated themselves from the field.
Starting on July 30, the Red Sox swept a good Chicago White Sox team in Fenway. Later in August, Boston ripped off a 12-2 stretch against divisional rivals including taking three of four in Toronto. By Labor Day, Boston had a 6 ½ game lead and the race looked close to over. But in pre-2004 New England, no one could ever breathe easy. This year was no exception.
The Red Sox lost three straight to the powerful Oakland A’sand four straight in Chicago. The Blue Jays surged, on the strength of three straight walkoff wins. By mid-September, the race was a dead heat. Boston and Toronto were tied for first with six games to play when they met for a weekend set at Fenway.
Boston took a dramatic opener—the bullpen in front of Reardon was the team’s biggest weakness and reliever Jeff Gray gave up a two-run homer in the eighth to put the Sox in a 6-5 hole. They answered in the ninth, with little-used bench player Jeff Stone lining a base hit into the gap in right center to win it.
Brunansky and Clemens took over on Saturday. The former hit three home runs. The latter threw six shutout innings. The bullpen let it get interesting, but the Red Sox won 7-5. They dropped the finale, but had control with three games left.
The margin was still one game when Boston hosted Chicago in the Wednesday night finale. Brunansky ripped an RBI triple to key a three-run second inning. Mike Boddicker pitched well and handed a 3-1 lead to the bullpen. Reardon came on to try and clinch, but runners reached first and second with two outs.
Ozzie Guillen was the batter for Chicago and hit a line drive headed toward the rightfield corner that looked destined to score both runs. Instead, Brunansky made one of the great defensive plays in the long history of Fenway, a sliding catch that saved the game and clinched the AL East.
That was the last win of the year. Boston was no match for Oakland and got swept out of the ALCS for the second time in three years, scoring just one run in each of the four games. The Red Sox contended again in 1991, this time coming up short to Toronto. Morgan was fired, a decision as unpopular as it was stupid. Boston collapsed in 1992 and finished last. A brief era had ended. But Tom Brunansky and the 1990 Boston Red Sox had carved out a small little place in franchise history.
The pressure was on for the 1988 Boston Red Sox. After their pennant-winning campaign of 1986 ended with a crushing World Series collapse, the Red Sox kept the collapse going through a poor 1987 season. Manager John McNamara’s job was on the line and everyone in baseball knew it when the 1988 season began. The urgency of the moment was underscored when the team acquired Chicago Cubs’ closer Lee Smith to shore up the bullpen before the season began.
Boston could score runs. They had the top offense in the American League in 1988 and it wasn’t via the usual 1980s Red Sox route of hitting the ball over the Green Monster. Boston only ranked 10th in the American League in home runs. But they were atop the AL in batting average, walks and doubles. And no one personified that better than Wade Boggs. The 30-year-old third baseman hit .366 to win his fifth batting title in six years. His on-base percentage soared at .476 and the slugging percentage was a solid .390.
And Boggs wasn’t even the most complete offensive player on the Red Sox in 1988. That honor belonged to 24-year-old leftfielder Mike Greenwell. He hit .325, drove in 119 runs and finished second in the American League MVP voting.
Greenwell was one part of a terrific outfield. Centerfielder Ellis Burks was a rising star and the 23-year-old finished with a stat line of .367 on-base percentage/.481 slugging percentage and he drove in 92 runs. On the other end of the career spectrum was 36-year-old rightfielder Dwight Evans, who had 111 RBI and a stat line of .375/.487.
Jody Reed, the 25-year-old shortstop, added a .380 OBP to the mix. The rest of the lineup was struggled with poor years from catcher Rich Gedman and Todd Benzinger at first base. Second baseman Marty Barrett saw his production dip and future Hall of Famer Jim Rice was on the downside of his career at age 35. Rice hit 15 home runs and drove in 72 runs.
If the offense was top-heavy, carried by a small number of excellent players, the pitching staff was even more so. Roger Clemens was outstanding, winning 18 games with 2.93 ERA and pitching 264 innings. Bruce Hurst won 18 more, had an ERA of 3.66 and also cleared the 200-inning barrier. After that, it was anybody’s guess.
Oil Can Boyd made 23 starts and finished with a disastrous 5.34 ERA. Mike Smithson was worse with a 5.97 ERA in his 18 starts. Wes Gardner did some yeoman’s work shuffling between the rotation and the bullpen, posting a 3.50 ERA, but the bottom line was that anything after Clemens and Hurst was an adventure.
Smith did his part and solidified the closer’s spot, saving 29 games—a good total in the days when complete games were more common (Clemens & Hurst alone combined for 21 complete games). Perhaps the biggest lift the Red Sox staff got was the good work of a couple veteran bullpen members. Bob Stanley and Dennis Lamp each produced ERAs under 3.50. And the Boston staff was able to finish with a composite 3.97 ERA—hitting the league average right on the nose.
Opening Day didn’t go well—Smith gave up a 10th-inning home run to Detroit’s Alan Trammell and the Red Sox lost. But they still started 14-6 and that included three wins in five games over the Tigers, who were the defending AL East champs (it wasn’t until the realignment of 1994 that Detroit went into the newly created AL Central). It also included a 5-0 record against the Milwaukee Brewers, who would be in the hunt all season long.
From April 28 to May 31, the Red Sox played teams from the AL West and the season took a turn for the worse. They lost 17 of 30 games and dipped into fifth place, seven games off the pace set by the division-leading New York Yankees. When Boston resumed playing AL East teams they promptly lost four straight to Toronto in Fenway.
By the All-Star break, the Red Sox were 43-42 and nine games out. McNamara was fired and Joe Morgan replaced him—not the Hall of Fame second baseman, but the third-base coach who was a baseball lifer and had never managed above the minor-league level. To say the team responded well to the change would be a drastic understatement.
Clemens took the mound in the first game back from the break and faced Kansas City’s Bret Saberhagen in an attractive pitcher’s duel to open a Friday doubleheader. Evans hit an early two-run homer, Clemens went the distance and the Red Sox won 3-1. And the next thing you knew, Boston was off and rolling.
They swept that doubleheader, won Saturday’s game in walkoff fashion and took the first twelve games Morgan managed. After a loss, the Red Sox promptly resumed winning, taking seven straight. Throughout Red Sox Nation they called it “Morgan Magic.” They made the cover of Sports Illustrated. Even more important, they got some pitching help.
Baltimore was having a miserable season and looking to trade Mike Boddicker, a hero of their 1983 World Series championship team. Boston won the bidding war—it wasn’t exactly cheap—the price was a couple minor leaguers by the names of Curt Schilling and Brady Anderson. But in the days when the only way to the postseason were to finish first in a seven-team division and advance directly to the LCS, a deal like this was worth it…so long as your veteran pitcher delivered.
The deal went down on July 29. The next day, Clemens won another high-profile pitchers’ duel, beating Milwaukee’s Teddy Higuera 3-2, with the help of a walkoff single by Barrett. On July 30, Boddicker made his first start for the Red Sox. He threw a shutout. By the time Labor Day arrived, Boston was in first place.
It was still a close four-team race. The Tigers were nipping at the heels of the Red Sox, a game back. The Yankees and Brewers were each four out, with the Blue Jays further in the rearview mirror at 6 ½ in the hole. Boston took advantage of playing the Orioles and Indians—the only two sub-.500 teams in the AL East—in the first week after the holiday weekend and they nudged out to a 3 ½ game lead.
Clemens took the ball for the opener of a four-game home series with New York in mid-September. When he lost, the potential for another Boston fade was there. Instead, the offense rallied with 19 runs in the next three games. Hurst threw a complete-game three-hitter and the Red Sox won the next three. The Yankees were all but finished and with the AL East lead stretched to six games, Boston was firmly in command.
They made it modestly interesting, losing six of nine and seeing the lead shrink to 2 ½ games with four days left in the season. Milwaukee, New York and Detroit were still in play. Boddicker took the ball in Cleveland and threw another shutout. Burks drove in four runs and the easy 12-0 win eliminated the Tigers and assured the Red Sox of at least a one-game playoff with either the Brewers or Yankees. The magic number was one.
The clinching moment wasn’t exactly inspiring. Clemens gave up three runs in the first and lost 4-2 to the Indians on Friday night. But while that was going on, Detroit ace Jack Morris was knocking out the Yankees. Those in New England that stayed up for the West Coast games were able to celebrate when Milwaukee lost to Oakland.
It turns out that 12-0 win behind Boddicker was the final Boston victory of the season. They dropped the final two games with nothing to play for and were swept out of the American League Championship Series by the mighty Oakland A’s, with the steroid-juiced Bash Brothers of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire leading the way.
The 1988 Boston Red Sox were still a part of what was mostly a solid period in franchise history. They won another division title in 1990 and even though that also ended in an ALCS sweep at the hands of Oakland, Boston still won three AL East crowns in the five-year stretch from 1986-90. And the memories of the summer of Morgan Magic made this 1988 team just a little more special.
The 1986 World Series is one of the games’ historic, thanks to an ill-fated groundball that skipped through the legs of Bill Buckner. But the battle between the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox had more—it had early twists of fate, a Game 7 itself that was dramatic and the entire Game 6 run-up to the Buckner error.
New York came into the Series as the favorite, a 108-win team that then survived a tough fight with the Houston Astros to win the NLCS. Boston had been a surprise winner of the AL East and then staged a dramatic comeback to beat the California Angels in the ALCS. You can read more about the regular season journeys of both the Mets and Red Sox and their LCS battles at the links below. This article will focus exclusively on the games of the 1986 World Series.
The World Series opened on a Saturday night in Shea Stadium, with the Mets’ Ron Darling—the current Turner Broadcasting postseason analyst who also does Mets games during the season—against Red Sox lefty Bruce Hurst. Both pitchers would dominate.
New York missed an early opportunity in the third, putting runners on first and second with one out, before Hurst got Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter to kill the threat. No one else threatened until the top of the seventh when the Red Sox made a move, with considerable help from the Mets.
Jim Rice drew a walk, took second on a wild pitch and scored on an error by New York second baseman Tim Teufel, in for starter Wally Backman only because Hurst was a lefty and Teufel was a right-handed bat. This softest of runs was all that was needed. The teams combined for just nine hits and all were singles. Boston’s 1-0 win gave them an early hold on the series.
The Red Sox could now give the ball to their ace. Roger Clemens was a 24-game winner who won both the Cy Young and MVP awards in 1986. He faced off with New York’s Dwight Gooden, who had won the Cy Young in 1985 and enjoyed a strong year in ’86.
Pitching continued to dominate through two innings as neither team could get a hit. In the top of the third, it was Gooden who blinked first.
Boston shortstop Spike Owen worked a walk. Clemens came to the plate and dropped down a bunt. An error by Hernandez left both runners on. The top of the order came up and in succession, Wade Boggs doubled, Marty Barrett singled and Buckner singled. It was 3-0 and there were still two on with none out. Rice’s fly ball to rightfield moved Barrett to third base, but Gooden buckled down to strike out Dwight Evans and Rich Gedman and keep the score as is.
New York bounced right back in the bottom of the third, scoring its first runs of the Series and they also started with the bottom of the order. Rafael Santana singled and Gooden beat out his bunt. Leadoff man Lenny Dykstra sacrificed again to put runners on second and third. A single by Backman scored one run and a RBI groundball from Hernandez scored another to cut the lead to 3-2.
Over the next two innings, the Red Sox broke it open. Dave Henderson, a hero of the ALCS, led off the top of the fourth with a home run. In the fifth, Rice started with a single and Evans hit a two-run blast. It was 6-2 and everything was set up for Clemens, but he couldn’t get settled in. In the bottom of the fifth, he issued a walk to Backman and Hernandez singled. Manager John McNamara pulled the trigger and pulled his ace before he could qualify for the win.
Reliever Steve Crawford gave up a run-scoring single to Gary Carter, but was able to strike out Darryl Strawberry and keep the score 6-3. The Mets stopped hitting and the Red Sox kept going. In the top of the seventh Boston got five straight singles, with Rice, Evans, Gedman, Henderson and Owen all coming in succession. Two runs came in. Another was tacked on in the ninth.
The Red Sox finished the game with 18 hits, double the combined output of both teams from Game 1. Every starter had a hit, seven of the eight position players had multiple hits, six drove in runs and six scored runs. It was a complete team emasculation of Gooden in the 9-3 win.
Only once before in history had a team lost two straight at home to open the Series and then gone on to win it. And the first time had come in 1985, when the Kansas City Royals did it against the St. Louis Cardinals. What were the odds it was going to happen two years in a row? The Mets were in a serious trouble as the Series went to Fenway for games on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night.
Prior to the season, the Red Sox and Mets had made an eight-player trade in which the focal points were New York getting lefty starter Bob Ojeda and Boston getting a talented young closer in Calvin Schiraldi. It was Ojeda on the mound as the Mets tried realistically to save their season in Game 3.
And the New York offense came on the attack against Red Sox starter Oil Can Boyd. Dykstra opened the game with a home run to rightfield. After Backman and Hernandez singled, Carter doubled to score another run and set up second and third. With one out, Danny Heep singled both runs in and Ojeda had a 4-0 lead before he took the mound.
Boston got a run back in the third when Dave Henderson singled, Boggs walked and Barrett hit an RBI single. But that was the only noise the Red Sox would make all night. The Mets put it away in the seventh. With one out, Santana and Dykstra singled and with two outs, Hernandez drew a walk and Carter knocked in two runs with a base. They added another run in the eighth. The game ended 7-1 with Ojeda giving up five hits in seven innings of work.
With the Mets still facing a desperate situation, they went back to Darling for Game 4. The Red Sox should have considered the same tactic and returned to Hurst—both he and Clemens had worked on short rest in the ALCS and this was a customary short series approach at the time. Boston’s fourth starter, Al Nipper, was easily the biggest liability in the rotation.
The Red Sox threatened early, loading the bases with two outs in the first and Gedman starting the second with a double. Darling escaped both times and in the fourth, the Mets got after Nipper.
Backman led off with a single and Carter homered over the Green Monster. Strawberry doubled down the left field line and scored on a single from Knight.
Darling was continuing to pitch well and made the 3-0 lead stand up. The Mets threatened to add to the lead in the sixth when Carter doubled and reached third with one out. But he was thrown out at the plate by Rice attempting to score on a fly ball. Nipper, to his credit, at least gave his team a chance.
But the Mets broke it open against Crawford. In the seventh, Mookie Wilson singled with one out and Dykstra homered with two outs. Carter again homered over the Green Monster in the eighth. The lead was 6-0 and even though Darling left after seven innings and the Red Sox scored twice in the eighth, they never got the tying run to the plate in the 6-2 final.
Through four games we already seen two big twists, with the underdog Red Sox grabbing the early lead and the Mets then showing their resilience in front of the Fenway crowd. Hurst and Gooden were on the mound for a crucial Game 5.
Not only had the road teams won all four games, but the home teams had never even led. That changed in the bottom of the second with Henderson tripled into the Fenway Triangle in rightcenter and scored on a sac fly from Owen. Boston got another run in the third. An error by Santana and a walk opened the door and Evans hit a two-out RBI single to make it 2-0.
Hurst was again in complete command and not until the fifth did New York threaten, putting runners on second and third with one out. He struck out Dykstra and got out of the inning. The Red Sox then added some insurance in the bottom of the inning.
Another triple to the Triangle, this one from Rice, got it rolling. Don Baylor, the DH was only able to start in the Fenway games, singled in the run and Evans followed with another single. Gooden was lifted and Sid Fernandez came on. Henderson doubled to left for another run and it was 4-0.
The last two innings got a little bit interesting. Red Sox fans serenaded Strawberry with “Dar-ryl, Darryl!” taunting chants, and drawing an equally mocking doff of the cap from Strawberry. And on the field, the Mets made a bit of a move. Teufel homered in the eighth, the first time the Mets had scored off Hurst in seventeen innings. In the ninth, with two outs, Wilson doubled and Santana singled to make it 4-2 and bring the tying run to the plate. Hurst again struck out Dykstra to close the win.
Boston was one win from their first championship since 1918 and the fans were feeling it. This World Series was shaping up as one in which the overall series was competitive, but the individual games at least modestly one-sided. All that was about to change as they headed back to New York for the weekend.
The Red Sox gave the ball to Clemens and the Mets countered with Ojeda. Boggs started the game by beating out an infield hit and with two outs scored on a double by Evans. In the bottom of the second, Owen singled with one out. Boston again finished the rally with two outs, with a single to right by Boggs moving Owen to third and a base hit from Barrett bringing him home.
Clemens cruised through four with the 2-0 lead before New York made a counterattack. Strawberry started it with a single and stole second. Knight singled to center to cut the lead in half. Wilson singled and moved Knight to third. There was still none out and the infield was playing for the double play. Clemens got it, with Heep grounding into a 4-6-3 twin-killing that brought the tying run in through the backdoor.
The Mets again threatened in the sixth, with runners on first and third, one out and Carter and Strawberry due up. Clemens K’d them both and one inning later the Red Sox got the lead.
Ojeda was removed for Roger McDowell, the best righthanded option out of the New York bullpen. Barrett walked and then took second a groundball out from Buckner. Rice grounded to third, but a throwing error by Knight set up a second and third situation. Gedman came to the plate and singled to left, but in a play that would loom large, Rice was thrown out at home by Mookie Wilson. Boston had a 3-2 lead, but it could have been more.
Prior to the eighth, Clemens was removed and there were debates about whether he asked out or McNamara made the decision on his own. Given how well Clemens was pitching, and his competitive nature, it seems unlikely the pitcher would have asked out on his own. Schiraldi was summoned.
Lee Mazzilli came up as a pinch-hitter, batting in the pitcher’s spot, and singled to right. Dykstra laid down a bunt that wasn’t handled and everyone was safe. Backman bunted again and there were runners on second and third. Hernandez was intentionally walked to set up the force at home, but Carter did his job and lifted a sac fly that tied the game. Strawberry had the chance to give his team the lead, but flew out to center.
The Mets got in position to win the game in the ninth, with a walk and yet another muffed bunt putting two aboard with none out. This time, Schiraldi punched out Howard Johnson, then got Mazzilli and Dykstra to send the game to extra innings.
Rick Aguilera, a combination fifth starter/long reliever, had come on for the ninth. In the tenth, Henderson greeted him with a leadoff home run. After hitting the home run that saved the Red Sox in the ALCS, Henderson was in position to become a New England hero. That outcome seemed even more likely after, with two outs, Boggs doubled and Barrett singled him in.
Schiraldi was still on to hold the 5-3 lead. He got Backman and Hernandez to fly out. Carter came up and kept the game alive with a single to left. Moments earlier, Kevin Mitchell had been in the clubhouse making arrangements for his flight into the offseason, so certain was he that the game was over. He had to rush back into his pants when summoned to pinch-hit. He singled. Knight singled.
The score was now 5-4, runners were on first and third and Mookie Wilson was at the plate. Bob Stanley was called into the game. Earlier in the year, Stanley had been booed by the fans. His response was that they would love him in October when he got the last out of the World Series.
With that opportunity in front of him, Stanley and Gedman couldn’t get on the same page and an inside pitch skipped past the catcher and tied the game, with Knight moving up to second. It was then that Wilson hit the groundball we’ve all seen countless times, the one that skipped through the legs of Buckner and gave the Mets a stunning 6-5 win.
Buckner has to be defended on three different counts—the game was already tied when he made the error. It was also a deep groundball and with bad heels, Buckner did not run well and there’s a good chance Wilson beats the ball out. Knight would have to stay on third and keep the game going, but it’s far from a guarantee this even ends the inning. And there was still a Game 7 to play.
It was a Game 7 that was delayed by rain, and McNamara used the extra day to get Hurst on the mound. Hurst had already been voted Series MVP once, when the preparations were being made for the Boston celebration. He could really seal the deal by winning his third game on Monday night.
Darling was making his own third start, as the Series would end with the same pitching matchup that it began. It wouldn’t be quite the pitcher’s duel this time around.
Any thought of the Red Sox just rolling over after the events of late Saturday night were dispelled in the second inning. Evans and Gedman hit back-to-back home runs to start the frame. Henderson walked and with one out Hurst bunted him out, and then Boggs knocked in the run with a single.
It was 3-0, although a fatalist Red Sox fan might recall that in 1975 Boston also led the seventh game 3-zip and that was also against a 108-win team, Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine.
Hurst continued his extraordinary pitching through five innings, allowing just one hit and Darling also settled in. New York came back in the sixth.
Mazzilli and Wilson each singled with one out and Teufel worked a walk. Hernandez delivered a two-run single to center and with runners on the corners, a productive groundball from Carter tied the game 3-3. Hurst would leave after the sixth, turning it over to Schiraldi, a circumstance that no one in Boston could possibly feel good about.
Knight greeted Schiraldi with a home run to start the seventh. Dykstra singled, moved up on a wild pitch and scored on a base hit by Santana. McDowell, now in the game for Darling, stayed in to bat for himself with the 5-3 lead and bunted up Santana. McNamara made a pitching change, going to the lefthanded Joe Sambito. After an intentional walk to Wilson and a real walk to Backman, Hernandez hit a sac fly to make it 6-3.
Now the Mets were in command, and the Red Sox were the ones that refused to go quietly. In the top of the eighth, Buckner and Rice singled and each scored on a double from Evans. There was nobody out, the score was 6-5 and the tying run was on second. Jesse Orosco, the lefthanded option out of the pen came on for McDowell. Gedman hit a line drive, but it resulted in an out. Henderson, out of miracles, struck out. Baylor grounded out.
The Mets were three outs away, but insurance wasn’t going to hurt. Nipper was now in the game and Strawberry took his revenge for the Game 5 taunts, homering to right. Knight singled and eventually scored on a single from Orosco, who helped seal his own save.
The drama was finally over. At 8-5, Orosco took care of business in the ninth, striking out Barrett to end it.
Knight would be named Series MVP, going 9-for-23 for the series and the Game 7 home run that put his team ahead to stay. Carter was 8-for-29, had the two-homer game in the must-win Game 4 and finished with 9 RBI—no one else on the Mets had more than five. Kudos also to Darling, who pitched 17 2/3 innings in his three starts and only gave up four runs.
On the Red Sox side, Hurst would still have been a reasonable pick in defeat, going 2-0 and giving up just five runs in 23 innings pitched. Henderson went 10-for-25 and had what looked to be the Series-clinching home run in Game 6. Evans was 8-for-26 and also drove in nine runs—and like the Mets, no one else had more than five.
Given all that, I find the Knight selection to be shaky. If I had a 1-2-3 ballot, it would go Carter-Hurst-Knight.
One thing we can say for certain—the 1986 World Series had plenty of heroes. It’s time to focus there rather than the unfair goats horns that have hung on one man.
One team was one of baseball’s history-laden franchises, the other an expansion team. But they were united a shared heritage of heartbreak. The Boston Red Sox and California Angels met at the 1986 ALCS and it was inevitable that somebody’s fan base would be crushed when it was over. In a rare turnabout for the pre-2004 era it was the Red Sox who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat rather than the other way around.
Boston and California had each pulled away from their respective divisions and made September anticlimactic. Homefield advantage was determined on a rotation basis rather than merit, so there was really nothing to do for the last few weeks of the regular season than point to this showdown. You can read about the paths each team took to its division title at the links below. This article focuses exclusively on the games of the 1986 ALCS.
The series opened on a Tuesday night in Fenway Park, and it was a matchup of aces. Roger Clemens won by the Cy Young and MVP for the Red Sox, while the Angels’ Mike Witt finished third in the Cy Young voting. And to the surprise of the Fenway crowd, this was Witt’s night.
In the top of the second, Clemens issued a pair of walks and then in rapid succession, Ruppert Jones singled, Wally Joyner doubled and Brian Downing singled to left. It was suddenly 4-0. In the top of the third, California had some more two-out magic. After an error by Boston shortstop Spike Owen, the Angels got hits from Bob Boone and Gary Pettis and the lead was 5-zip.
Witt was in command and not until the sixth did the Red Sox get on the board. Owen drew a walk, Wade Boggs beat out an infield hit and Marty Barrett took a single the other way to right. But it was not the sign of an impending comeback. Witt finished off a complete-game five-hitter with no further damage. Clemens worked into the eighth, sparing the bullpen, but the Angels tacked on another couple runs in the 8-1 win.
Lefty Bruce Hurst got the ball for the Red Sox on Wednesday night who faced a virtual must-win on their homefield. Kirk McCaskill was on the mound for the Angels. This time it was Boston who came out on the attack. In the bottom of the first, Boggs lead off with a triple and Barrett doubled him home. In the bottom of the second, Rich Gedman and Owen singled and Boggs beat out another infield hit.
The bases were loaded with one out. Barrett popped a single to left and it was 2-0. McCaskill escaped further damage by getting Bill Buckner to bounce back to the mound and start a double play. California took advantage by tying the game up in the middle innings. Downing and Doug DeCinces opened with singles. A Boggs error and an infield hit by Dick Schofield brought in a run. One inning later Joyner homered to make it 2-2.
Boston got the lead back in the bottom of the frame when Buckner singled, veteran DH Don Baylor worked out a two-out walk and Dwight Evans doubled in the lead run. In the seventh, the Red Sox got real separation. After an error by second baseman Bobby Grich, Jim Rice singled and Baylor walked. Another error, this one by DeCinces at third, made the game 4-2.
McCaskill looked ready to get out of it when he got a ground ball to second that looked like a double play. California got the out at second, but Schofield’s throw to first went awry and two more runs scored. McCaskill was done and so were the Angels. Hurt gave up eleven hits, but finished the game because Joyner’s home run was the only one that went for extra bases. The Red Sox tacked on three runs in the eighth for good measure, keyed by Rice’s two-run homer. The final was 9-2.
An anticipated series had opened with two blowouts. At the very least, the Joyner routs had gone both ways, so there was room for excitement to build. And the three games out in Anaheim would be a building crescendo of drama.
Oil Can Boyd, the colorful Red Sox righthander got the Game 3 start and faced off with John Candelaria, a veteran of the Pittsburgh Pirates 1979 World Series champions. Boston got an early run in the second, but a baserunning error prevented a bigger inning. Rice led off with a walk and Baylor singled, but the lefthanded Candelaria picked Baylor off of first. Subsequent singles by Evans and Gedman only resulted in one run.
The Angels threatened in the fourth, putting runners on first and second with two outs. DeCinces then beat out an infield single to first, but Joyner tried to score all the way from second. Buckner wasn’t buying and threw him out at the plate. The Red Sox blew a bigger opportunity in the top of the fifth, failing to score after getting men on second and third with none out. Owens grounded to first, but failed to score the run, Barrett popped out and Candelaria escaped.
California finally tied it up in the sixth. Joyner drew a walk and moved up on a groundball. Hurst faced an old Boston nemesis, DH Reggie Jackson, who singled to tie the game. In the seventh, the Angels’ contact hitters displayed some muscle. The diminutive Schofield homered with two outs. After Bob Boone singled, speedy Gary Pettis also went deep. The Angels suddenly had a 4-1 lead.
The Red Sox made a move in the eighth when Barrett led off with a single. Rice drilled out a two-out double that spelled the end of the night for Candelaria. California manager Gene Mauch went to his closer, Donnie Moore, who promptly balked in a run. After issuing a walk to Evans, Moore surrendered a base hit to Rich Gedman that cut the lead to 4-3.
With two runners still on base Moore got the game’s biggest out, when Tony Armas flied out to center. California got an insurance run in the eighth when Jackson drew a walk, went all the way to third on a Boggs error and scored on a sac fly by Jones. Moore closed the ninth without incident and the 5-3 win put the Angels halfway to a pennant.
The significant downside that came out of the game for California was that Joyner would no longer be available. The first baseman and Rookie of the Year suffered a staph infection after Game 2 and while he tried to play in Game 3, it wasn’t working and he was out for the remainder of the ALCS.
The Red Sox turned to Clemens on three days’ rest to even the series. The Angels, in the stronger positon for the series, and having a future Hall of Famer in veteran Don Sutton available, kept on their normal rotation.
Clemens and Sutton traded zeroes for three innings in the prime-time game. In the top of the fourth, Boston missed a chance. Boggs led off with a double and Barrett bunted him up. But a Buckner fly ball wasn’t deep enough and Sutton escaped. The Red Sox got another chance in the sixth and cashed in. Armas started it with a single, Owen dropped down a sac bunt and with two outs, Buckner ultimately redeemed himself with an RBI single.
Sutton left after seven excellent innings and Vern Ruhle came on. But the bottom of the order was causing problems. Owen singled, took second on a groundball out and eventually scored on a base hit from Barrett. Chuck Finley came out of the Angel bullpen, but was let down by a pair of errors that resulted in Barrett scoring. Mauch, emptying his bullpen, to try and keep it close, went to Doug Corbett, who struck with Baylor with two outs and two on.
I still recall this Saturday night. A high school sophomore who was playing poker in a room separate from the TV set, I was walking back and forth and confidently reported to the other teenage card players that “the series is tied.” It would be a premature call.
Clemens, after a magnificent night, gave up a leadoff home run to DeCinces. With one out, consecutive singles from veteran pinch-hitter George Hendrick and Schofield, got the Red Sox ace out of the game. Manager John McNamara went to closer Calvin Schiraldi. Pettis greeted him with an RBI double that made it 3-2 and put runners on second and third.
After an intentional walk to Jones, Schiraldi came up with a big strikeout of Grich that looked ready to save the game. But with two outs, the closer plunked Downing. The score was tied and Reggie was coming to the plate. If nothing else, Schiraldi didn’t let the longtime New England nemesis deliver the final blow and Jackson grounded to second. But it merely delayed what looked like a fatal loss.
Schiraldi was still on the eleventh, as the Boston offense could get nothing going in extra innings. Angels’ catcher Jerry Narron singled and was bunted up by Pettis. Grich redeemed himself with a line drive single to left that won the game and put California on the brink of a pennant. With Witt ready to go on full rest for Sunday afternoon, and Clemens having been beaten twice, there seemed little hope left for the Red Sox.
Boston still came out strong, with Rice singling in the second inning and Gedman hitting a two-out home run. Hurst, on short rest, escaped jam in the innings’ bottom half pitching around a leadoff double by DeCinces and keeping the score 2-0. But the Boston bats fell silent, as Witt began cruising through the lineup. And California cut the lead in half on a solo shot by Boone in the third. They took the lead in the sixth when DeCinces hit a two-out double and Grich homered to make it 3-2.
The Angels appeared to all but sew up the pennant in the seventh. Hendrick legged out an infield hit. After a sac bunt by Boone, Pettis drew a walk and a double by Rob Wilfong put California up 5-2. There were just six outs left and Witt worked the eighth without incident.
Witt took the mound to open the ninth and quickly got into trouble. Buckner singled to center. After Rice struck out, Baylor homered and now it was 5-4. Witt recovered to get Evans to pop out and Angels Stadium was ready to celebrate. With the lefthanded hitting Gedman at the plate, Mauch decided to engage in situational managing and brought in lefty Gary Lucas.
This managerial decision has been the subject of considerable controversy, pulling your ace with one out to go and no one in base. In Mauch’s defense, Gedman had homered earlier and another one would tie the game. And the fact Baylor had already homered this inning suggested Witt was just hanging on. But when Lucas hit Gedman with a pitch, it seemed a useless change.
Mauch summoned the righthanded Moore to face Boston’s Dave Henderson. The count ran 2-2. One strike from elimination, Henderson homered on the next pitch. The Red Sox had a stunning 6-5 lead.
This is the moment when most recollection of the 1986 ALCS basically shuts down and the eventual Boston triumph seemed inevitable. It didn’t actually play out that way on late Sunday afternoon. The Angels rallied against the Red Sox bullpen in the ninth.
Boone led off with a single. Ruppert Jones came in to pinch run for the aging catcher and was bunted to second. McNamara played his own righty-lefty game and removed Bob Stanley, opting for lefty Joe Sambito to face Wilfong. It didn’t work. Wilfong singled and the game was tied. McNamara went back to the pen, going for righty Steve Crawford. He allowed a single to Schofield, sending Wilfong to third with the winning run and only one out. Downing was intentionally walked. DeCinces came to the plate and got a fly ball to right…but not deep enough to score. The agony of the Angels only increased when Grich hit a line drive, but right back at Crawford. The Red Sox had escaped the ninth inning not once, but twice and it was 6-6 as Sunday afternoon wore on.
Boston missed a chance in the tenth, as Rice grounded into a double play with runners on the corners and one out. Moore was still in the game in the top of the eleventh. Baylor was hit by a pitch and Evans singled. Gedman dropped down a bunt and beat it out. The bases were loaded with none out. Henderson—who else—hit a sac fly that made it 7-6. Even though no further damage resulted, this one was finally over. Schiraldi came in for the Red Sox and closed it out.
The Red Sox were flying high as the teams went back east, with a day off on Monday and resuming play on Tuesday. The Angels had to try and reclaim some momentum and they got right at it against Boyd.
After Jones worked a walk, Jackson and DeCinces hit back-to-back doubles for a quick 2-0 lead. But the Red Sox countered with a soft rally. Boggs and Barrett each worked full-count walks off McCaskill. A productive groundout, a passed ball and another productive ground ball tied the game.
In the third inning, Boston leveled McCaskill. Owens and Boggs singled to lead it off. Barrett doubled and Buckner singled to make it 4-2. Barrett tried to score on a groundball to third off the bat of Rice, but was thrown out at the plate. But with runners on first and second, Baylor singled to the opposite field. In an attempt to make another play at home, Joyner’s relay throw went wild and both runs scored, while Baylor went to third. Evans smacked a single to center making it 7-2 and ending McCaskill’s night.
California tried to rally in the fourth, putting the first two men on base. Boyd reached back to strike out Boone and Pettis and there were no runs. The Red Sox added to the lead in the fifth. After Baylor was hit by a pitch, Evans and Gedman singled, setting up an RBI groundball by Henderson. Even though Boggs ultimately killed the rally with a double-play, it wouldn’t really matter. The Angels got a solo home run from Downing in the seventh and an unearned run in the ninth, but even those were sandwiched around a two-run triple by Owen. The final was 10-4 and it was all coming down to a seventh game.
The Red Sox had Clemens available for a third start, while the Angels would turn to Candelaria. Even without Witt, you had still like the pitching option for California. Candelaria had some big-game mojo from 1979 and had pitched a shutout in Game 6 of the World Series in Baltimore, a game his Pirates faced elimination in. But October 15 in Fenway wouldn’t work out quite as well.
In the bottom of the second, an error by Schofield started the rally. It was followed by a base hit from Baylor, a walk to Evans and an RBI groundout from Gedman. With two outs, Boggs slapped a two-run single and it was 3-0.
Boston missed a chance in the third, when a Baylor double keyed a second and third situation with one out. But Evans couldn’t pick up the RBI and Candelaria escaped. But the roof finally fell in on the Angels in the fourth.
A fly ball off the bat of Henderson turned into an error by Pettis and Henderson ended up on third. Owens singled in the run. After a walk and two outs, Rice came to the plate. He smashed a three-run homer sending Fenway into a frenzy and at 7-0, this American League Championship Series was all but over.
Evans tacked on another home run in the seventh and Clemens pitched seven innings of four-hit ball and left after an eighth-inning single that the Angels turned into a meaningless run. The 8-1 final sent the Red Sox to the World Series for the first time since 1975. And it would be another chapter to the Angel history of heartbreak.
Barrett was named ALCS MVP, going 11-for-30. Other good contributors were Owen, whose 9-for-21 was a boon to the lineup out of the 9-hole. Gedman had ten hits and Baylor added nine of his own. On the Angel side, Boone went 10-for-22 and had the team closed it out in Game 5, Witt would almost certainly have been named series MVP.
The most notable struggle came from McCaskill, an integral part of the California rotation all year, but who only worked nine innings combined in his two starts and gave up 13 runs. And the loss of Joyner is a big what-might-have-been for Angels fans.
This American League Championship Series was just one-third of the most incredible October baseball has ever seen. The NLCS provided similar high-stakes drama between the Mets and Astros. And the World Series has a unique place in the game’s history, as it would be Boston’s turn to connect with a heritage of heartbreak, getting to one strike of winning the World Series before a series of unfortunate events, highlighted by a famous error from Buckner, took it away.
Even amidst the ending that Red Sox fans lived with for eighteen years, Henderson still remained a hero in the area for his vital role in the amazing ALCS battle.
They’re remembered for a fatal error that cost them the World Series. Kinder observers will also remember that they had a miracle comeback of their own in the American League Championship Series. But before the 1986 Boston Red Sox could do any of the above they had to win the AL East and that, in of itself was a surprise.
Boston had not won the AL East since the pennant year of 1975, and they had not made a serious run at it since the heartbreak of 1978and Bucky Dent. They had not won 90 games since 1979. The Red Sox hadn’t been a bad team by any stretch—they still won more than they lost—but they had ceased to be a relevant team outside of New England.
John McNamara, who managed the Cincinnati Reds to a division title in 1979, had come on as skipper in 1985and finished .500. The team was breaking in Roger Clemens and the fireballer from the University of Texas gave hope for the future. Clemens came through in 1986 with a year that was not only a breakout campaign, but also the best season of his career.
Clemens won his first thirteen decisions and finished the season 24-4. His ERA was 2.48. On April 29, at home against Seattle, he struck out twenty batters. He won both the Cy Young and MVP awards, a feat that would not be duplicated until Justin Verlander did it for Detroit in 2012. Clemens was easily the biggest reason a pitching staff not known for success and having to work in hitter-friendly Fenway Park finished fourth in the American League in ERA.
There were other good young arms. Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd was 26-years-old and posted a 3.78 ERA in his thirty starts. Bruce Hurst, a 28-year-old lefty had a 2.99 ERA. Depth was a problem but in June, the Red Sox traded utility man Steve Lyons in exchange for the great Tom Seaver. “Tom Terrific” was 41-years-old, but he had a championship pedigree that was badly needed in Boston and over 16 starts he finished with a 3.80 ERA.
An offseason trade aimed at the bullpen didn’t work out as well as planned. The Red Sox traded a reliable lefty in Bob Ojeda to the Mets as part of an eight-player deal whose highlights for Boston were young arms Wes Gardner and Calvin Schiraldi. Even though Schiraldi came on strong down the stretch—a 1.41 ERA—he still only worked 51 innings and Gardner was a non-factor. Meanwhile, Ojeda pitched well in Queens and the disparity of this trade would really be laid bare when the teams met in the World Series.
And until Schiraldi got rolling, the rest of the pen was staffed by mediocre arms. Bob Stanley, Sammy Stewart and Joe Sambito all had some great high points in their careers, but none finished with an ERA under 4.00 in 1986.
Even so, the quality of the starting pitching combined with the traditional Boston bats to make a winner. The Red Sox offense would rank fifth in the American League in runs scored and they were led by Wade Boggs. The 28-year-old third baseman hit .357 and won his third batting title in four years. He also slugged .486, peppering the Green Monster with extra base hits.
Jim Rice was 33-years-old, but the one-time AL MVP (1978) was still producing. He hit .324 and drove in 110 runs. Another veteran outfielder, 34-year-old Dwight Evans hit 26 home runs, drove in 97 runs and posted a .376 on-base percentage. Marty Barrett, the 28-year-old second baseman was coming into his own and finished with a .353 OBP.
There were disappointments in the lineup. Rich Gedman did not have a good year behind the plate, centerfielder Tony Armas didn’t age as well as Rice and Evans, and shortstop Rey Quinones was a big offensive liability. The Red Sox made an August deal to get a modest upgrade at short in Spike Owen and added Dave Henderson to the outfield, an acquisition that would be huge dividends in October. But the biggest and best trade the 1986 Boston Red Sox made came just before spring training ended.
It was the Friday before the Final Four began, and while the nation might have been thinking about Louisville, Duke, Kansas and LSU, the Red Sox were talking deal with their ancient rivals in the Bronx. Each team had a productive designated hitter—lefthanded hitting Mike Easler for the Red Sox and righthanded hitting Don Baylor for the Yankees. Each would be better served by switching parks, Easler to hit at Yankee Stadium’s short rightfielder porch, Baylor to take aim at the Green Monster.
In another era, ownership of these same teams had discussed swapping Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams for the same reasons, and according to legend that seems well-founded, even agreed to it during a heavy night of drinking before recanting in the morning. Easler-for-Baylor wasn’t quite on the same level, but it had an impact.
Easler remained a productive player in New York, but Baylor had a clubhouse presence that would be invaluable for a Red Sox team living in a city haunted by its history. And he was awfully good at plate, hitting 31 home runs and finishing with 94 RBI.
After starting the season 9-8, Boston took advantage of a long stretch of games against the weaker AL West, going 19-6. By Memorial Day, the Red Sox were 28-14 and had the second-best record in baseball behind the Mets. But Boston was only a half-game better than the Yankees in the AL East and the race looked to be on.
The Red Sox surged in the early summer and owned their division rivals. They swept a home-and-home with the Indians, going 6-0. They took two of three from defending AL East champ Toronto. They won three straight in New York, scoring 22 runs in the process and winning a Clemens-Ron Guidry showdown in a 10-1 rout.
Clemens didn’t lose his first game until early July. By the All-Star break, Boston was rolling at 56-31 and had some separation in the race, plus-seven games on the Yankees, with the Indians, Orioles and Blue Jays all hoping to make a run.
The city of Boston flew into a panic when the Sox lost 10 of 13 on a road trip against the AL West. By the end of July, the Yankees and Orioles had the lead cut under five games, while the Blue Jays and Tigers were only 5 ½ out. The Indians were 6 ½ back. It was at this time that Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy wrote that the Red Sox were the only team that could be mathematically eliminated while still in first place.
But the clubhouse, led by Baylor, didn’t panic. Having Seaver in the rotation was also a boon, and he opened a three-game series in Detroit on August 8 with a complete-game five-hitter. The Red Sox swept a series that Clemens didn’t pitch in, scoring 23 runs in the process. The race was still close, but Boston stabilized. On Labor Day, they were 3 ½ games up on the Blue Jays and 6 ½ up on the Yanks.
There were thirteen games against either New York or Toronto in the final month. New England was battening down the hatches for a fight to the finish. Instead, the completely unexpected happened and Boston took the bull by the horns.
They swept three-game sets against Texas & Minnesota and took three of four in Baltimore. By the time September 11 arrived and the big sequence of games began, the Red Sox were running away with the AL East, nine games up on Toronto and ten games ahead of New York. Even though Boston went 4-9 in those games, it didn’t matter. The Blue Jays had been swept by the Yankees, while New York struggled in two series against Oakland, enabling the Red Sox to pull away.
On September 28, the penultimate Sunday of the season, Boston clinched against Toronto. Oil Can Boyd threw a complete-game and Barrett’s three hits led an offensive barrage that produced a 12-3 win. The Red Sox were going back to the playoffs.
The most dramatic postseason in baseball history awaited the Fenway Faithful. They were driven to the brink of elimination against the California Angels in the ALCS before making a stunning climb off the mat to win it. Henderson hit a two-out, two-run homer in the ninth inning of Game 5 to give Boston a 6-5 lead when they trailed the series three games to one. The Red Sox won that game in extra innings and came back to Fenway to secure the pennant.
The World Series saw Boston take on a more familiar role, that of aggrieved victim. They won the first two games on the road against the 108-win Mets. They lost two at home, but took Game 5. With the sixth game in extra innings, Henderson hit another huge home run. Boston led 5-3 and had two outs with nobody aboard. Three singles and a wild pitch set the stage for Bill Buckner’s error and the shocking loss. They lost Game 7 in spite of grabbing an early 3-0 lead.
That’s what the 1986 Boston Red Sox are most remembered for. But they should also be remembered as the team that turned back challenges throughout the summer, blew a race open and won a division title that seemed to come out of nowhere.
The 1979 Boston Red Sox entered the season dealing with the wounds of heartbreak from the previous two years. Both times they lost a close race for the AL East crown to the hated New York Yankees. The ending in 1977 was disappointing, the finish of 1978 positively devastating. The ’79 Red Sox came back off the canvas and still played good baseball, but they slipped just enough to fall well off the pace in the AL East.
Boston was defined by a potent offense and they led the league in runs scored. They simply hit the heck out of the ball–the Red Sox led the league in batting average, doubles and home runs, while being in the bottom half of the AL in walks.
Jim Rice came off his MVP season of 1978 and delivered 39 home runs and 130 RBI. Fred Lynn had an amazing year in centerfield, 39 home runs of his own and a .333 batting average, had 122 RBI and scored 116 runs. That Lynn, also an excellent defensive centerfielder, finished fourth in the MVP voting, as an indictment of the voters.
The outstanding outfield was rounded out by rightfielder Dwight Evans, who finished with a .364 on-base percentage/.456 slugging percentage, while being another terrific defensive player. Evans hit 21 home runs of his own.
But the assault didn’t stop there. Carl Yastrzemski was 39-years old ,but still hit 21 home runs and finished with a .346 OBP in his DH duties. Third baseman Butch Hobson popped 28 home runs. The Red Sox acquired first baseman Bob Watson in mid-June and Watson hit .337. One only wonders how much offense this team would have produced had catcher Carlton Fisk not been limited to 91 games.
The pitching wasn’t bad–it was fifth in the American League in ERA, but they lacked depth and a clear stopper. Mike Torrez was reliable in taking his turn, logging 252 innings. But the work was often mediocre, with a 4.49 ERA. Bob Stanley, a starter/reliever hybrid did most of his 1979 work out of the rotation and had a nice 16-win season with a 3.99 ERA.
Dennis Eckersley was the best of the starters, going 17-10 with a 2.99 ERA. But the rotation was damaged badly by a terrible offseason trade–the Red Sox shipped lefthander and Yankee-killer Bill Lee off to the Montreal Expos for infielder Stan Papi.
The problems with Lee were all personal, and not business. Manager Don Zimmer didn’t like Lee–who was admittedly a pain in the posterior. But there’s no evidence the lefty was a clubhouse poison and the Red Sox lost a valuable arm for a player who never made an impact.
Relief pitching was similarly thin. Dick Drago won 10 games and saved 13, while Tom Burgmeier finished with a 2.74 ERA. But there weren’t good options after that.
Boston showed no signs of a hangover from the previous October. They won six of eight in a mid-April homestand, capping it off by sweeping the three-time defending AL West champion Kansas City Royals and scoring 25 runs in the trio of wins. The Sox put together a manageable 5-4 trip to the West Coast and then started the month of May with 10 wins in 16 games, including splitting six with the Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles.
The Sox briefly slowed toward the end of May, with a 5-6 road trip, but they were still just two games back of Baltimore and narrowly ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers and Yankees as the calendar turned to summer.
What Boston was up against in 1979 was made crystal clear in the month of June. The Red Sox played terrific baseball and went 20-8…yet they managed to lose ground to Baltimore, and the AL East deficit was 4 1/2 games at month’s end. Winning six of nine leading into the All-Star break helped the Sox crawl back to within two games.
It was clear the Orioles, and not the Yankees, were going to be the team to beat and a terrible tragedy on August 2 finalized that. New York catcher and team captain Thurman Munson died in a plane crash, flying his private plane to his Ohio home on an off-day. A pall was cast over the entire season.
On the field, the Red Sox slipped into mediocrity. On the positive side, they took three of four in Milwaukee, who would ultimately win 95 games. Boston closed to within 4 1/2 games of Baltimore in late August, and still had seven games left with Baltimore in September. But a three-game series in Kansas City undid all of that.
The Red Sox faced rookie Craig Chamberlain in the Friday opener at Royals Stadium. Chamberlain had made two great starts to begin his career, and he made another tonight, beating Boston 4-2. Chamberlain began to slow down the rest of the season and never made another major league start after 1979, and this would be just one of countless instances of a pennant race being affected by the unknown player.
On Saturday afternoon, Torrez gave up a leadoff home run to Kansas City’s Willie Wilson. Torrez pitched brilliantly the rest of the way, but lost a duel to KC’s Dennis Leonard. Wilson kept it going on Sunday, with four hits and a 6-3 loss completed the sweep.
Those three straight losses in Kansas City were the beginning of a 3-9 stretch that preceded Baltimore’s September arrival in Fenway Park. By this time, Boston was eleven games out and the fact they dropped three of four to the Birds barely registered. Baltimore won 102 games and coasted home to the AL East crown.
Boston still won 91 games, and finished with a better record than the AL West champion California Angels. By the standards of today, the Red Sox were a playoff team with room to spare. In the tougher world of 1979 MLB, they were getting further from October, not closer.
The 1981 Boston Red Sox took advantage of the unique nature of that season’s major league baseball campaign to put themselves in position to reach postseason play. But the Red Sox continued their pattern of the 1970s and came up short at the worst possible time.
MLB’s labor problems came to head in 1981 and there was a midseason players’ strike that began in the first part of June and lasted for two months. When play returned, the solution to restore interest was to declare the teams that were in first place when the strike hit to be “first half champions”, and reset the standings to zero. Everyone would play out the remainder of the schedule and the “second half champions” would meet the first-half winners in the first-ever Division Series.
Even before the turmoil within the game overall, Boston went through a tumultuous offseason. They let beloved catcher Carlton Fisk walk to the Chicago White Sox via free agency, and Fisk continued to produce.
The Red Sox traded the left side of their infield, Rick Burleson and Butch Hobson to the California Angels to get a new third baseman–24-year-old Carney Lansford, centerfielder Rick Miller and reliever Mark Clear. And they dealt former AL MVP Fred Lynn to California in a separate deal whose most notable acquisition was lefthander starting pitcher Frank Tanana.
While letting Fisk go was debatable, the deal to get Lansford, Miller and Clear was a boon. The first two were good hitters in 1981, and Clear was an acceptable reliever whose only problem was being forced to take on an outsized role in a mediocre Boston bullpen. Tanana was a reliable, if unspectacular starter, though certainly not worth the price tag of Lynn.
Boston had no problems scoring runs in 1981, with the most productive offense in the American League. Dwight Evans was the star of the show. The rightfielder finished second in the league in on-base percentage (.415), third in slugging percentage (.522), tied for the lead in home runs (22), was second in runs scored, fourth in RBI and first in walks. Evans was also one of the best defensive rightfielders in baseball and he finished third in the MVP voting.
Evans wasn’t the only star though–Lansford won the batting title, hitting .336. Second baseman and leadoff hitter Jerry Remy hit .307. Jim Rice popped 17 home runs. Rich Gedman, the new 21-year-old catcher showed promise with the bat and posted a .434 slugging percentage. Miller put up a .349 OBP.
And then there was Yaz. Carl Yastrzemski was now 41-years-old, and his power was gone. But the future Hall of Famer could still get on base and he finished with a .338 OBP.
The pitching wasn’t quite as good. Mike Torrez, now 34-years-old was the best starter at 10-3 in 22 starts, although his 3.68 ERA was more that of a middle-of-the-rotation arm than an ace. Tanana and 26-year-old Dennis Eckersley each made the full complement of 23 starts and had ERAs over 4.
First-year manager Ralph Houk patched the rest of the rotation together with a mix of John Tudor and a pair of 23-year-olds, Bob Ojeda and Steve Crawford, to marginal effect. The same was true in the bullpen where Houk squeezed what he could out of Clear, Bob Stanley, Tom Burgmeier and Bill Campbell.
After a 7-5 start, Boston dropped seven straight to non-contenders in the Texas Rangers and Minnesota Twins. Curiously, a ten-game road trip seemed to revive the Red Sox. They went 8-2 and closed to within two games of the AL East lead. Boston then traveled west to face the Oakland A’s in the first weekend of June.
Normally, this would have been just another road trip in early summer. In 1981, it was a series being played when the deadline for resolving the labor dispute was coming up the following Thursday. No one knew what impact the standings of mid-June would ultimately have, but it was looming out there.
Oakland was leading the AL West, and Tanana came out and held the A’s to one run through seven innings. The score was 1-1 in the top of the eighth, when Evans walked, then Yaz and Rice hit consecutive home runs. Tanana and Campbell finished out the 3-1 win.
Crawford got rocked on Saturday and the Red Sox lost 6-2. In the finale, Eckersley was brilliant for eight innings and had a 3-1 lead. Eck got two outs in the ninth, but gave up a game-tying home run. Clear gave up a walkoff shot in the 11th. The Red Sox were now four games out and that’s where they ended up when the strike shut down baseball until August 12.
Boston didn’t come blazing out of the gate, energized by a fresh start. They started the second half with a 14-12 record. The Detroit Tigers were 18-9 and were setting the pace, but starting on Labor Day the Red Sox would play the Tigers seven times in ten days.
The three-game set in Detroit didn’t begin well. The only offense Boston got was a solo shot by Yaz off Tiger ace Jack Morris in a 3-1 loss. But Yaz kept hitting on Tuesday, with three hits and a home run keying a 5-3 win. On Wednesday, the Red Sox trailed 4-1 in the eighth. Rice singled to drive in a run, and then in the ninth Remy hit a game-tying single with two outs. Boston scored twice in the eleventh, held off Detroit and won 6-5.
When the Tigers made a return trip to Fenway a week later, the results were even better. Remy sparked the offense with two hits and two RBI, while Stanley turned into 3.1 innings of brilliant relief work in a 5-2 win.
Then came Wednesday’s doubleheader. Eckersley and Morris staged an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel, each still on the mound in the 10th with the score tied 1-1. Lansford won the game with a two-out RBI single. The Red Sox got another big two-out hit in the nightcap–trailing 4-3 in the seventh, Dave Stapleton picked up two runs with a single and the 5-4 lead stood up.
Rice took over on Thursday, with four hits, four RBI and a home run. The 6-1 win completed Boston’s fantastic week and the AL East race was now a four-team affair–the Red Sox, Tigers, Brewers and Orioles were all packed on top of one another.
Boston kept rolling and took two of three from the New York Yankees. The Yanks had won the first half but their only reward for winning the second half would be an additional home game–the second-place team in the second half would advance, so New York was inconsequential to the race, and they joined the other first-half winners in basically playing out the string.
The Red Sox then won a series from Milwaukee. Detroit had held on to first place, but Boston was only a half-game out and tied in the loss column, with the Brewers and Orioles still in hot pursuit with a week and a half left.
With a four-game series at home against the Cleveland Indians, the time was ripe for the Sox to make their move. But in the pre-2004 era of this franchise, that move was often to miss an opportunity like this. The Red Sox dropped three of the four games, including an 8-7 decision in 11 innings that ended the series. Then they went to Milwaukee and dropped a series there.
By the time the final weekend came, it was over. The Brewers and Tigers were now both ahead of the Red Sox and the former two teams were playing head-to-head. Milwaukee won the second half race, and even though Boston took two of three in Cleveland, they had to settle for tying Detroit for second place.
There were some great moments for the 1981 Boston Red Sox, especially the early September run of wins against Detroit. But in this strange year for major league baseball, at least a missed opportunity for Boston was something fans could still rely on.