That was truly a lovely affair, said Mrs. Yawkey to Mr. Autry. The grande dame of the Red Sox was sitting in the Singing Cowboy's box in Anaheim Stadium—along with Ted Williams—and she was referring to a party held the night before Game 3. But Mrs. Yawkey could just as well have been talking about the American League Championship Series between her Red Sox and Mr. Autry's Angels. It was truly a lovely affair, with high drama and low comedy, agony and ecstasy, sin and redemption. After the first five games of the playoffs, the Angels took a 3-2 lead with them to Boston, but whatever the outcome, both clubs will be long remembered for what they did in Games 4 and 5. "I'm just happy that we are in this together," said Mr. Autry to Mrs. Yawkey.
They are the last of the Victorian owners. Unlike George Steinbrenner or Gussie Busch or Marge Schott, Mrs. Yawkey and Mr. Autry are rarely addressed by their first names, respectively Jean and Gene, in deference to their places in baseball history. Mr. Autry is revered by his players the way Tom Yawkey was by the Red Sox before his death in 1976.
While the owners' personal meeting had the feeling of a tea at the Ritz, the Red Sox and Angels played with a fervor rarely seen, even in the postseason. They had both entered the playoffs steeped in histories of failure, 68 years for Boston to forget, 26 years for California. The Angels, longtime understudies to the Dodgers, were trying not only to give Mr. Autry a world championship but also to put Gene Mauch. "The Greatest Manager Who Never Won," in his first World Series after 25 seasons of managing.
In the late '70s, both the Bosox and Angels had name stars and great offensive statistics, but not the ultimate rewards. Then they came to the same conclusion: They needed pitching to win. So while the two clubs lined up with 25 past and present All-Stars between them for this ALCS, they knew they had reached the postseason not so much because of their aging stars, but because they had the two best starting rotations in the American League.
October 19, 1986
In Game 1, it was Roger Clemens versus Mike Witt—the very best pitcher in the AL against the very close to best. "In all our minds, beating Clemens is the key to the series," Bob Boone of the Angels, the Leonard Bernstein of catchers, said before the opener. And to the shock of New England and the Back Bay vendors who offered eight different Clemens T-shirts, the Angels did just that.
Six days before, Clemens had left his last regular season start after 29 pitches when he was hit in the elbow by a line drive, and it was the inactivity along with the emotion of the occasion—"I was probably too pumped up," he said—that undid him early. Uncharacteristically, Clemens allowed a couple of close calls to upset him, and the Angels moved off to a 4-0 lead after two innings. Meanwhile, Witt did what New Englanders imagined for Clemens. With geometric precision, the 6'7" righty dropped elliptic curveballs and threw searing 90-mph fastballs into Boone's mitt. He had a no-hitter until Wade Boggs bounced a single off the plate with two outs in the sixth, and finished with an overpowering 8-1 five-hitter. The only question to come out of the game was manager John McNamara's decision to leave Clemens in the game for 143 pitches, into the eighth inning.
Game 2 also belonged to a pitcher, but this time to Boston's. Bruce Hurst worked out of one jam after another en route to what he called his "nifty 11-hitter." Both sides played terribly in the field in the 9-2 rout, but the Angels were the absolute pits. "The last time I saw a game like this," mused Don Sutton, "our coach wouldn't take us to Tastee-Freeze for a milkshake afterward."
Only then, when the series moved west, did it begin to take on its special quality. Mauch would even call Game 3 "great," but then he had a special perspective—the runway between the clubhouse and the dugout—because he was ejected in the fourth inning after the Angels got the short end of a reversed call at the plate. Otherwise, the show belonged to Oil Can Boyd—or "Dipstick," as Mauch calls him. Boyd paced the infield, exuberantly waved his arms and stared down California hitters. But the Can's enthusiasm was matched against John Candelaria's cool, and in the seventh inning Boyd made two serious mistakes with two outs. Dick Schofield guessed slider, and when Boyd hung a slider, the "Duckling" hit it out for a 2-1 lead. Two batters later, Pettis hit a Boyd screwball for a two-run homer. The Angels went on to win 5-3.
In his second playoff run at his first pennant, Mauch seemed to be the manager making all the right moves. McNamara, on the other hand, was growing testy. After he announced that for Game 4 he would pitch Clemens on three days' rest—something he hadn't done all season—he shouted at a writer who had compared the move with a couple of similar ones in Mauch's haunted past. Then when Game 4 unraveled in a ninth inning that seemed to contain every nightmare of the Red Sox heritage, McNamara opened himself to a long winter of questions in a region whose natives are still second-guessing the battle plan for Bunker Hill.
Clemens, working against the masterful Don Sutton, was his old self, pouring his soul out of his arm. Sutton himself carried a no-hitter into the fourth and a scoreless tie into the sixth, but when he reached what he calls his "questionable zone of around 75 pitches" in the sixth, the Red Sox scored a run on a single, a walk and a Bill Buckner double that produced his third postseason RBI in 53 career at bats. The Angels then tried valiantly to give Boston the game with two errors, a wild pitch, a passed ball and two misplayed grounders in the eighth, but Boston got only two runs. Still, 3-0.
For those New Englanders who believe all Red Sox fans were put on earth to suffer, the ninth was the ultimate heartbreaker. Roger Clemens with a three-run lead and three outs to go? Well, he was coming off that 143-pitch performance on three days' rest. McNamara asked him how he felt. "I'm fine," he told the manager. Doug DeCinces led off the bottom of the ninth with a homer. McNamara had his best relief pitcher, Calvin Schiraldi, primed, but he stayed with Clemens. Only after Schofield and Boone poked one-out singles, did McNamara finally call for Schiraldi. Pettis then drove a line drive to deep leftfield. With Jim Rice playing three steps from the warning track, the liner didn't appear to be a problem, but Rice broke in on the ball, and it sailed over his head.
Even then, though, Boston was still up 3-2, and after an intentional walk to load the bases, Schiraldi struck out Bobby Grich on a hellacious fastball. He then blew two straight fastballs past Downing. For some reason he and catcher Rich Gedman decided to try a backdoor slider they hoped would slice across the inside corner. "It was," Schiraldi would say, "the stupidest pitch of my life. I tried to throw the perfect pitch and choked it." The ball plunked Downing in the thigh and the tying run crossed the plate. New England was given a new meaning for the word Calvinism. Two innings later Grich singled in Jerry Narron for the 4-3 vietory, and the young Schiraldi, distraught, moved to the dugout and covered his face. Don Baylor deployed six teammates to shield and console him.
Even Baylor admitted that when he arrived at the park at 8:15 a.m. Sunday, he thought about the likelihood of Game 5 being his last of the season—but it turned out to be one of the happy chapters in the long story of a team born to break hearts.
A two-run homer by Gedman had given Hurst, also working on three days' rest, an early lead, but Witt, the Angels' starter, settled down. Then with two outs in the sixth and a 2-1 lead, DeCinces hit what appeared to be a routine out. However, because of the sun, the wind and confusion, centerfielder David (Hindu) Henderson and rightfielder Dwight Evans watched the ball drop for a double. Grich then hit a towering fly ball to left center. Henderson got to the warning track, leaped and appeared to make a brilliant catch. "It hit in the heel of my glove," he said. His wrist, though, hit the top of the wall, and the ball carried over. Home run. Angels 3, Red Sox 2.
At the end of the inning, Baylor told his teammates, "We may have only nine outs left in this season, so let's make them quality at bats and, if we go out, go out with our heads high."
Six Red Sox outs later, the Angels had a 5-2 lead, and champagne was brought into the home clubhouse. Buckner began the ninth with what seemed like an innocuous single, but he had put in motion an ending that would leave Baylor hoarse and McNamara in tears. After an out, Baylor found himself with two strikes against Witt. "I told myself that if this were my last swing, it would be one helluva swing," and when Witt came in with his best curveball. Baylor pulled it over the leftfield fence. 5-4. In the visitors' bullpen, pitcher Joe Sambito yelled "Wait" to the security guards who had taken their equipment and were preparing to drive it around to the clubhouse. But Witt got Evans for out No. 2.
The potential final Boston batter was its proudest figure, Gedman. This day he had homered, doubled, singled and thrown out his third and fourth runners of the series. Mauch took no chances. He brought on lefthander Gary Lucas, who had struck Gedman out Saturday night. As Lucas toed the rubber, Gedman called time and pointed to the centerfield bleachers. A banner was bothering his vision, and he wanted it removed. The banner read ANOTHER BOSTON CHOKE.
Lucas hit Gedman with his first pitch, though, so Mauch brought on Donnie Moore to get—appropriately enough—Henderson for the final out. With two strikes on him, Henderson weakly fouled off a fastball. But he recalled Baylor's advice to "keep your head down the way [batting coach] Walter Hriniak taught you," and he went down to meet an off-speed split-finger. He drilled it over the leftfield fence. Red Sox 6, Angels 5.
But still it wasn't over. The Angels tied it back up in the bottom of the ninth and they had the bases loaded with one out. Steve Crawford retired DeCinces and Grich. In the 10th, the Red Sox got two men on, only to have Rice ground into a double play. But in the bottom of the inning it was Rice who raced back to the fence to stab a shot by Pettis.
Baylor led off the top of the 11th. Moore hit him with a fastball. Evans singled through the middle, and Gedman surprised third baseman DeCinces with a bunt for his fourth hit, to load the bases with none out. Henderson, suddenly ubiquitous, was back at the plate. He lofted a majestic fly ball to Pettis to score Baylor, and it was 7-6 Sox.
And that brought Schiraldi out of the bullpen and onstage for his shot at redemption. "When I got to the park I was down and a little stiff," he said. "But by the time the game got going, I felt better and better, and all I wanted was the ball back in my hand again." He struck out the first two hitters, and then got Downing to pop up for the final out, sending the series back to Fenway. The final score was 7-6, same as it was in the epic sixth game of the '75 World Series.
When Baylor was hit to start the 11th, he trotted to first and stood beside Grich, his close friend since they signed with the Orioles in 1967. "What do you think?" Grich asked Baylor.
"Greatest game I've ever played in," Baylor replied.
Grich slapped Baylor's hand. "Me, too, partner."