The key moment probably came when Larry Bird took a bounce pass from Roger Clemens, put a head fake on Patrick Roy and jammed over Jose Canseco. Then again, Lee Smith's strikeout of Patrick Ewing in the ninth was also very important. Then again, would any of that have mattered if Ray Bourque hadn't made that beautiful clearing pass to Robert Parish for the 30-foot slap shot past Mark McGwire? Hard to say.
Hard to say anything after this dizzy weekend at the end of April in the city of Boston. "Where do you go?" asked Don Skwar, executive sports editor of The Boston Globe, on Sunday morning. "Where do you turn first? You say you'd pay most attention to the team that's winning, but what do you do if they're all winning?"
For three days all the rings in the local athletic circus were occupied. Who was on first, What was at point guard and I Don't Know was on the power play, and everyone seemed to be successful. The Bruins won the Adams Division finals, four games to one, with a 3-1 victory over the accursed Montreal Canadiens, last Friday night at Boston Garden. The Celtics jumped to a 2-0 playoff lead over the equally accursed New York Knicks with a record-setting 157-128 blowout at the Garden 14 hours later. The Red Sox, in the meantime, hammered out a two-games-to-one series win over the world champion Oakland Athletics before three frenzied crowds at Fenway Park.
Life in Bean Town seemed to be lived with a transistor radio in every pocket and a plug in every ear. Applause erupted at the strangest times in the strangest places. What just happened? Basketball crowds cheered baseball scores on the Garden message board. Baseball fans cheered hockey goals in every corner of Fenway. Around and around it went.
May 6, 1990
"I was scared at first," said second baseman Marty Barrett about a roar that had intruded during a quiet moment early in the Red Sox's 7-6 win over the A's Friday night. "I heard this sound. I wondered what could have happened. Then I knew. Oh, yes. The Bruins must have scored. I was ready for it the rest of the night."
There have been other grand spring weekends in Boston sports history-wheels turning everywhere, the hockey and basketball teams each on a playoff march while the residents at Fenway begin their long season—but this one seemed particularly blessed. The Bruins, at the beginning of the season, were expected to finish behind the Canadiens. The Celtics at the same stage were surely too old to compete with the emerging Knicks. The armless, harmless Red Sox? Against the mighty A's? Please.
But all of this negativism somehow got turned upside down. Everyone was winning again. "You think about it, how lucky we've been in this city," said Bruin general manager Harry Sinden. "People here say a lot of bad things about the Red Sox, just crucify them, but they're always involved in a pennant race. Or at least most of the time. They've given me great entertainment for 20 years. The Celtics—how many down years have they had? And us. We lose Bobby Orr and we have Brad Park for seven or eight years. We lose Brad and along comes Raymond Bourque. We've all been lucky."
The Bruins were at the top of the marquee last week. They had missed a chance on Wednesday night at the Montreal Forum to sweep the Canadiens, their perpetual nemeses, for the first time in, oh, 61 years. A loss on Friday in Game 5 would return the series to Montreal and bring back visions of Rocket Richard and Jean Beliveau lacing their skates to inflict further indignities. Not only had the Bruins lost on Wednesday, but they also had seemed to lose their composure.
"[Bruin coach] Mike Milbury called me up after that one," said Red Sox manager Joe Morgan. "I don't know why. We talk a little bit now and then. He asked me how I seem to keep so cool during games. I told him not to believe the pictures he sees on his television."
Around and around. On Friday night the Bruins took a 1-0 lead, lost the lead and then went ahead on defenseman Glen Wesley's rebound slapper with 1:13 remaining. An empty-net goal finished the game at 3-1. The celebrations began. The Bruins looked ahead to their conference final against the Washington Capitals. Morgan called Milbury this time.
"I congratulated him and told him he was halfway home," said Morgan. "Then I said, 'Do you know when you're going to enjoy this most? Sometime in the middle of July, when you're sitting with your feet up, holding a beer.' "
The Celtics demolished the Knicks on Saturday afternoon. They set NBA single-game playoff records for points (157) and field goal percentage (.670), and set or tied eight team records. The old men now seemed to be the smart men, keepers of important playoff secrets. The younger Knicks were reeling, one game away from elimination in the best-of-five series that was headed to Madison Square Garden, where it resumes Wednesday night.
"They aren't going to hand it to us," said Bird diplomatically to a circle of sportswriters in the locker room after the Saturday massacre. "But if we can just weather the first couple of quarters in New York, we'll be O.K."
"What about the Bruins?" someone asked.
End of diplomacy. "They're going to win it all," said Bird. "I know they are. I said if they got past Hartford in the first round, they'd win it all. They're playing great. I'm rooting for 'em as hard as everyone else. They've never won the Stanley Cup since I've been here. This would be really great."
Around and around. The Red Sox's victory on Friday over the A's was accomplished with a two-out, two-run single in the ninth by centerfielder Ellis Burks. The other hitting star was leftfielder Mike Greenwell, who entered the game with a .173 batting average, no home runs and one run batted in. He homered twice and added a single in the ninth. Afterward, he disclosed that he had received a helpful batting tip from Celtics forward Kevin McHale. Of course. McHale had sent him a message: "Drop your front shoulder and be patient." Greenwell dropped his front shoulder and became patient. Two homers and a single. Of course.
"I really don't know Kevin," said Greenwell. "I met him once, but it was a long time ago. I just think an athlete, another athlete, any sport, sometimes can see something you're doing wrong. I'll listen, sure. Tell him thanks."
On Saturday, playing at the same time as the Celtics, the Red Sox did their best to match the Garden rout. They led 4-0 at the end of the first inning and 6-0 at the end of the second en route to a 12-3 romp. On the floor of the Garden, Knick forward Kenny Walker looked as if a firecracker had exploded at his feet when the crowd yelled as the first baseball score was flashed. What was that? Had Green-well sent a return message of advice to McHale? (Dear Kevin, wait for our score to be announced, and then drive past Walker while he is still surprised.)
The A's had arrived at Fenway with an 8-0 record on the road. Suddenly they were losers to two fill-in starters in the Red Sox's ragged rotation, Dana Kiecker and Greg Harris. The Red Sox were a half-game out of first place. First place?
On Sunday attention finally could be concentrated on baseball. The pitching matchup was one of those happy blips on the 162-game schedule, a convergence of time and tide and the best two starters in the young season. Oakland's Dave Stewart, 4-0 going in the game, faced Boston's Roger Clemens, who was also 4-0. Not even the arrival of a damp cold front, causing temperatures to drop 50° from the 95° heat of Saturday, could take away from the attraction. This was ace against ace, no stopping.
"You know what's good about being a starter?" said Harris, normally a reliever. "Now, I can stay in the dugout to watch this game. You can't see anything from the bullpen. This is one of those games that comes along only once in a while during the season."
The A's scored a run in the first inning when Rickey Henderson broke to steal third, third baseman Wade Boggs moved to cover the bag, and Canseco slapped a single through the spot Boggs had vacated. The Red Sox missed getting a run in the sixth when a Dwight Evans smash to center went into the bullpen on a single bounce. The hit became a ground-rule double, and base runner Green-well, who would have scored easily, was forced to return to third, where he was stranded. That was that for the scoring. Oakland won 1-0. Stewart was still undefeated. Clemens was not. The weekend was done.
"It's nice to see those other teams going well," said Barrett at the end. "You root for them because you know how it can be in this town if a team isn't doing well. There's been so much success here that people expect you to do well. If you're not.... One thing I've always noticed is that when the winter teams are doing well, the heat's off us for a while. Once they're done, everything just shifts to us."
The final tally for the five games in three sports was four wins, one loss. The Bruins looked as if they had a good chance of winning their first Cup in 18 years. The Celtics looked as if they would move along to offer a solid challenge to the defending NBA champion Detroit Pistons, presuming the Pistons finished off the Indiana Pacers in their series. The Red Sox looked.... The Red Sox looked as if maybe they weren't half as bad as had been predicted.
"What's nice is that everyone's pulling for everyone else," said Sinden. "That hasn't always been the case, especially with the Celtics and us. When Red Auerbach was in charge of the Celtics, there was a feeling that they didn't care about the Bruins at all. He'd say things like, 'I went to a game when Orr was playing, and I haven't been back since.' Since Red's moved back a little bit, the two teams get along fine.
"We have the one weight room in the Garden, and a lot of the Celtics use it. We see each other here and there. It's a nice feeling. McHale has done a lot for that feeling. He's from Minnesota and a big hockey fan. I find myself talking with him a lot, just out in the corridors."
Clemens was seen over the weekend sporting a black-and-yellow Bruin cap. Bird often wears a Red Sox cap. Scott Thompson, who works at The Fours, a sports bar near the Garden, reported heavy channel-flipping on the seven TV sets as patrons tracked the action. Cheers mixed with cheers. Somebody always seemed to be doing something good.
The local newspapers led with the Bruins on Saturday, the Celtics on Sunday and the Red Sox on Monday. The sports-casters talked even faster than usual to fit all the news into their allotted time slots. "Not in recent memory has there been a weekend like this," they said. "Not since Phil Esposito struck out Dr. J in the last minute of overtime. Not since Ted Williams homered off Gump Worsley. Not since Bill Russell skated around Jim Palmer. Not since Yaz himself, Carl Yastrzemski, hit that 25-footer in Jerry West's face...."
Or something like that.