New Englanders believe in the witches of Salem and the monster in Lake Champlain and, most of all, the ghosts of Red Sox past. "They sure know their history," says pitcher Bruce Hurst. So, when the members of the Olde Towne Teame took the best record in the American League to New York early last week for a three-game series, they understood the doubts that still surrounded them.
"We've been a very pleasant surprise," said Boston manager John McNamara that Monday afternoon. "But everyone's been saying, 'Let's see what they do against the Yankees and Orioles.' I don't blame them. There's a lot of history surrounding this team, especially concerning the Yankees."
Painful history: the specters of Ruth and Ruffing and Piniella and Dent, the memories of "Fahty-nine" and '55 and '78. "Every day I ask, 'Can I believe now?' " sighed lifelong Sox fan Bob Anderson, who named his son Carl after Yastrzemski.
No wonder there was trepidation. A 3½-game lead means little to a team that has been in first place after the All-Star break six times in the last 14 years and has only one pennant to show for it. Wade Boggs was sidelined with a sore rib he injured taking off his cowboy boots, half of the excellent starting foursome was out of commission—Hurst with a severe groin pull, AI Nipper with a diced knee—and middle-relief ace Sammy Stewart was on the DL with a pulled forearm muscle. The Red Sox were coming off two losses to Milwaukee in three games at home, while the Yankees had taken three of four in Baltimore.
June 29, 1986
"Everywhere we go, we have to hear about how we always collapse," said Dwight Evans, whose Red Sox history dates back to 1972. "In Toronto, a guy wrote a column calling us 'the Boston Chokers,' and we won two out of three. In New York, they'll call us a lot worse. But it's different this year. We used to win with slugging and hope to get by with pitching. We're not the slugging team we used to be, but this year we have the pitching. Sure, we have a bunch of guys hurt, but we have Roger [Clemens] and Oil Can [Boyd]." Indeed, while the Sox were ninth in the league in runs and 12th in homers, they were first in earned run average, strikeouts and fewest walks.
It was Ron Guidry against Clemens in the opening matchup. The 23-year-old Clemens, who had righted the Red Sox through every gust, was trying to become 12-0, and Guidry, who had gone 13-0 in '78 before losing, the second-best AL start ever (Dave McNally of Baltimore and Johnny Allen of Cleveland each reached 15-0), was trying to stop him. But Guidry, in search of his slider, had lost five in a row this season, and he ran into immediate trouble.
Leadoff hitter Marty Barrett singled to center, and Boggs's stand-in, Ed Romero, walked. After Bill Buckner moved up the runners, Jim Rice, who, with two homers and a .337 average since May 3, has lately become Wade Boggs II, promptly singled in two runs. Tony Armas knocked in another, so by the time Clemens took the mound, he had a three-run lead. His first two pitches to Rickey Henderson were clocked at 95 mph, and when he zigged a curveball across the outside corner for the third strike, Henderson tipped the bill of his cap. "If you're going to do that, I'm not bringing a bat," Henderson yelled. Clemens ran a 2-0 fastball in on Don Mattingly's hands for an easy ground ball, then got Dave Winfield to bounce out to short. He was already on cruise control.
Rice's third-inning RBI single removed Guidry before he could record a seventh out, and as the 10-1 rout unfolded, the rest of the night was notable more for brawls and showers of beer in the stands than baseball. In a season in which he had become the first man ever to strike out 20 in nine innings, Clemens now recorded only four K's, but won his 12th.
McNamara was sitting in the dugout at 3:35 the next afternoon, watching some of his players taking extra hitting, when visiting clubhouse man Lou Cucuzza came rushing down the runway. "Mac, come quick, Boggs is going wild," he hollered, and McNamara ran for the clubhouse. The major leagues' leading hitter had been in the trainer's room treating his ribs when he received a telephone call informing him that his mother, Sue, had just been killed in Tampa when her car was struck by a truck that ran a red light. Boggs became unmanageable, first thrashing about the room, then going into a state of shock. A trainer administered a sedative. "Every one of us was chilled," said pitcher Mike Brown.
An hour before game time, the Yankees realized they were short a player. Ken Griffey was missing and wasn't answering his phone, which set off a search mission that continued during what turned out to be a Felliniesque three-hour, 49-minute game. Griffey reappeared the next day and was fined $10,000, but his absence—for personal reasons—took on even more meaning late in the game when Yankee manager Lou Piniella ran out of players. The Red Sox were kept well informed on the possibility of Griffey making a last-second appearance because Boston's Don Baylor—who still has friends around the Stadium from his days as a Yankee—had an informant posted at the players' entrance. At half-hour intervals beginning at 7:30 p.m., Baylor crossed off a letter from Griffey's name on the Yankee lineup card taped up in the Boston dugout until, at 10:30, the Y was blotted out.
Griffey was hardly Boston's most serious concern in Tuesday's game. Without Hurst and Nipper they had three members of Triple A Pawtucket's original '86 rotation as starters, and rookie Rob Woodward had to face the Yankees' No. 2 starter, Joe Niekro. Bill Buckner nailed Niekro for a two-run homer, Evans hit another two-run shot and Rich Gedman doubled in a run to give Woodward a 5-0 lead in the first. After another Evans homer in the third, the lead was 7-2 and Niekro soon was gone.
But Woodward didn't make it through the fifth. McNamara desperately tag-teamed his way through his bullpen, and with two outs and the bases loaded in the eighth he sent lefthander Joe Sambito in to face Mike Pagliarulo and protect a 7-6 lead. Sambito struck him out. Then in the ninth, Sambito, who was about all McNamara had left, gave up none-out singles to Butch Wynegar, Willie Randolph and Dale Berra. However, when Berra singled, third base coach Don Zimmer decided to gamble on Rice's arm and waved Wynegar home. The move backfired. The plodding Wynegar chose to take the Cross-Bronx Expressway, and even though Rice's throw was off the mark, he was tagged out by the diving Gedman.
Sambito loaded the bases with a walk to Rickey Henderson, which meant he had to face Mattingly and Winfield with a one-run lead. He threw a fastball that Mattingly jumped on. However, Mattingly had broken his Louisville Slugger in the previous inning and was using a Japanese bat he had been given, and when he made contact with a pitch he thought he could drive over Evans's head in right, the bat broke and the fly ball came down too shallow to score Randolph.
When Sambito went to back up catcher Gedman on the play, he found a nickel in the grass. "Someone probably meant to hit me with it," he said, "but then maybe it was meant to be good luck." Sambito put the nickel in his pocket, retired Winfield, and the Red Sox had survived. "That was the biggest win we've had all season," said Baylor.
The next night rookie Bob Tewksbury gave the Yankees a game they could have won, but Boyd, Boston's other ace, pitched what might have been the biggest game of his career. The Can picked Henderson off first in the first inning and stranded runners at third with one out in both the second and third.
In the top of the ninth, with the score 2-2, Piniella had reliever Brian Fisher intentionally walk Rice to load the bases for Baylor with one out. For Baylor this was an admittedly "emotional" situation. He had left the Yankees because they said he couldn't hit righthanded pitchers and because of differences with the owner. Here—13 homers off righthanders later—he had the game on the line against Fisher, "who," Baylor would add, "I believe is righthanded."
Fisher nearly hit Baylor with one pitch, worked the count to 3 and 1 and then threw four straight fastballs in the 90s. Baylor fouled off the first three, then cracked a line drive to clear the bases. When he stopped at second, Baylor looked around. "The guys in the bullpen were all up on the fence and everyone in the dugout was on the top step, cheering," Baylor said afterward, his eyes filled with tears. "At that moment, I knew I was fully a Red Sox. And then I knew we were a team. That might have been the most emotional moment of my career." Upstairs, George Steinbrenner told Red Sox fan Tip O'Neill, "Baylor's bat will be dead by August."
Baylor's heroics were truly appreciated by Red Sox fans, and when he came to the plate in the first inning against the Orioles Friday night in Fenway Park, he received a prolonged standing ovation. "Don, Roger and the Can made the fans believe they can get caught up in all this excitement," said Gedman. If the Red Sox do finish out the season in first place, the Yankee series will be remembered as their test by fire.
Though the Sox were blown out by the Orioles 14-3 Friday, they came right back Saturday afternoon to beat the O's 7-2 as Clemens became the seventh pitcher in history to go 13-0. It was the seventh time this year that Clemens had won after a Boston loss, and it made the team's record 23-5 in games started by Boyd and Clemens. Clemens wasn't particularly sharp, but the Red Sox have a little luck going for them these days. With runners at first and third in the first, and two outs, Baylor swung at and missed Ken Dixon's pitch for strike three. But the pitch was wild, allowing one runner to score and Baylor to reach first. Evans followed with a three-run homer.
"We haven't even really started to hit," said Evans before the Sox seemingly tried to prove his point, by losing to the O's 4-0 on Sunday. "A couple of great pitchers can sure make this game fun."
And, with a six-game lead on the runner-up Yankees, perhaps bury ghosts, as well.