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Sports Then and Now

25 Years Ago: Angels Can’t Close Out Red Sox in ALCS

Posted on October 15, 2011 by Dan Flaherty

The Red Sox & Angels staged a historic battle for the AL pennant 25 years ago this October.

It’s League Championship Series time right now in major league baseball, a time the people of Boston were able to get very used to in recent years, with four appearances in six years from 2003-08. The Sox also made this round in 1999 and prior to that the legendary (or infamous, depending on your point of view) team of 1986 played for the pennant. With this being the 25th anniversary of the ’86 Sox, let’s take a look back on the epic seven-game war they waged with the then-California Angels for the American League flag.

Boston and California had each put away their division titles without drama (from 1969-93 the leagues were split into just two divisions with only the winners advancing straight into the LCS) and the Game 1 showdown of Roger Clemens and California’s Mike Witt was highly anticipated. Clemens had just completed a regular season that would win him the Cy Young and MVP award and Witt was easily the ace of the Angel staff. The series got off to a less than auspicious beginning as the Halos got four runs in the second inning. First baseman Wally Joyner, who’d already greeted Clemens with a double to right in the first, got up again in the second and doubled the other way to pick up two of the runs. Staked to a 4-0 lead, Witt never looked back and the Angels cruised to an 8-1 win. It gave California their goal of just taking one game at Fenway. The Red So were able to bounce back with a 9-2 win in Game 2. This game was closer than the score made it look, as Boston held a 3-2 lead after six and Fenway had to be a very jittery place, particularly when Bill Buckner missed a chance to put the game away early when he grounded into a bases-loaded double play. Ultimately though, three runs apiece in both the seventh and eighth opened the game up and sent the series west knotted at a game apiece.

The three games in Anaheim were all outstanding games, gradually building to the one that would ultimately give this ALCS a storied place in baseball lore. Boston’s Oil Can Boyd pitched very well in Game 3 and the Red So were holding a 1-0 lead, but this was another case where it could have been more. Second baseman Marty Barrett, dominant throughout the series with a record 14 hits (a record that still stands) missed a chance here and popped to first with the bases loaded. Thus when Joyner drew a walk and was moved to second, he was in position to score when Reggie Jackson singled him in to tie up the score for the Angels. Boyd finally lost it in the seventh and in the most maddening way—light-hitting shortstop Dick Schofield went deep, as did leadoff man Gary Pettis, generally a pure contact hitter. A three-run inning keyed California’s ultimate 4-3 win.

Clemens got the ball on short rest for a must-win Game 4 and he was equal to the task, firing eight shutout innings. The Angels countered with aging veteran Don Sutton, who battled gamely and kept his team in the game, but with a 3-0 lead, it looked like the series was about to be tied up again. But the ninth inning would be an eerie foreshadowing of what would take place in the World Series as Clemens and closer Calvin Schiraldi couldn’t hold the lead. California third baseman Doug DeCinces homered to lead off the inning and after one out, back-to-back singles chased Clemens. Schiraldi surrendered a double to Pettis and then with the bases loaded hit designated hitter Brian Downing with a pitch to force in the tying run. When the Angels won it in 11 innings, it looked like the Sox had been dealt a death blow.

Dave Henderson's stunning Game 5 heroics are a part of baseball lore.

Game 5 has been one for the ages and I know a lot of Boston fans are already familiar with the details, so we’ll rehash the basics. Witt took the mound and was rolling along, holding a 5-2 lead in the ninth and a crowd ready to celebrate. Angels manager Gene Mauch, a longtime baseball man and well-respected manager was about to finally get his first World Series trip. Don Baylor hit a two-run homer to close the gap to one and the Sox put the tying run on first, but there were still two outs. Then Dave Henderson hit a split-fingered fastball from Donnie Moore out and the Sox suddenly led 6-5. California still rallied in the ninth, tied the game and had the bases loaded with one out. But they couldn’t push over the winning run and Henderson would later drive in the gamewinner with a sac fly. The series headed back to Boston as it should have—with every game so close it was unreasonable to think the same time would win all three, and under any other circumstance the Angels would have felt good about themselves. Instead it was the Red Sox who were sky-high and the Angels who seemed almost eliminated in spite of holding a 3-2 series lead.

When I hear this series brought up, the memory—my own included—is that California instantly melted down and in front of a raucous Fenway crowd, Boston rolled to two easy wins and a pennant. An understandable recollection, but the facts show the Angels came out right away in Game 6 with the first two runs. Reggie and DeCinces, both former scourges of the Sox in their AL East days (DeCinces played for Earl Weaver’s Orioles in the late 1970s and I trust Reggie’s Yankee ties need no further explanation), each drove in a run with a double. But Boston’s Boyd buckled down, while Angel starter Kirk McCaskill walked two men and a passed ball and fielder’s choice outs resulted in the Red Sox tying the game without getting a hit. In the bottom of the third a big double by Rich Gedman triggered a five-run outburst to put the game away. California threatened in the fourth, but Boyd struck out veteran catcher Bob Boone (a starter on Philadelphia’s 1980 World Series winner) and Pettis, and the Angels never threatened again.

Jim Rice had reason to smile after his Game 7 home run helped wrap up a pennant.

It was Clemens again for Game 7, while Mauch was forced to turn to veteran John Candelaria, who’d won Game 3. The legend of the Angel meltdown get further credence in this game as errors by Schofield and Pettis unlocked big innings from Boston, while Clemens was locked in with his good stuff. It was never a game and it was surely fitting that veteran leftfielder and future Hall of Famer Jim Rice delivered the biggest blow with a three-run homer. Boston won it 8-1 and brought home its first pennant since 1975. It would be eighteen more years before the Sox would do it again and not until 2007 would the Fenway Faithful get the privilege of seeing a celebration on the home turf. It was an October that was great to be a Boston fan.

Of course the story didn’t end here for the 1986 Red Sox. But that’s a story to take up in the next post when it’s World Series time.

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