We look back at the Boston Red Sox incredible 1986 postseason 25 years later
Dave Henderson called timeout and stepped out of the batterâs box. He had just fouled off a fastball out over the plate. The Boston Red Sox center fielder grimaced.
âThereâs a lot of thinking that goes into a timeout called with the pitcher on the rubber,â says Henderson, 53. âI knew that when you miss your pitch, youâre in big trouble.â
Out on the mound, California Angels closer Donnie Moore, with the count 2 and 2, was getting ready to throw his pitch, a hard-dropping forkball that knew no bottom. But Mooreâs out pitch didnât have the bite it had had the previous year, when he was sensational in relief for the Angels. Back injuries slowed Moore, and California catcher Bob Boone now primarily called for the pitch as a changeup.
One pitch. One strike. Thatâs all that separated California from its first-ever American League pennant in the franchiseâs 26 years. The Angels were leading the 1986 American League Championship Series three games to one, and this was it. Henderson, acquired from Seattle less than two months before, eyed Moore, thinking back to a similar situation when he was with the Mariners and had faced the hurler in the ninth inning of a game. Heâd homered then. It was a comforting thought as he stepped back into the box.
One strike away, thought Rich Gedman. The Red Sox catcher was on first base. Heâd had a remarkable day, going 4-for-4, including an earlier home run, but had been hit by a pitch the moment before. He looked around. It was unsettling to see police on horseback beginning to rim the stadiumâs perimeter in preparation for a celebration. Thatâs really strange, he thought. Weâre not done yet!
It was happenstance that Henderson was even in the game. Out of necessity, he had replaced Tony Armas, who exited in the middle innings after crashing into the left-center field wall chasing Doug DeCincesâ second-inning double.
What few remember is that Henderson was seriously hurting as well. âThe night before, I got hit by a pitch in the knee off Doug Corbett and tore my cartilage,â he remembers of his unplanned entry into the game. âMy knee was swollen, and I basically was out of the series. The doctor said I needed an operation. But when Armas got hurt, I volunteered to go out there. If you look at the tape, you can actually tell Iâm limping â a lot!â
Which didnât help Henderson when, with Boston on top 2â1 in the sixth, Californiaâs Bobby Grich sent a deep fly to center.
âNormally thatâs a ball I catch routinely at the top of the wall,â says Henderson. âBut when youâre limping, the ball bounces (in your field of vision) a little bit and it hit the heel of my glove and went over for a home run.â
Gedman recalls that sudden downturn: âEvery day was the last day we were going to play. It was 3-1 in games. The theme for the club was: Letâs win this and go back home. So, what a tremendous downer when the ball (Grichâs home run) goes over the fence. Youâre going, Aw, damn! But thatâs the will of the Angels as well. They were a tremendous team.â
And there may have been other unseen assistance on the play, according to the Angelsâ Bob Boone. âDuring the day, there was a real jet stream to the two gaps,â recalls the four-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove catcher, now the assistant general manager of the Washington Nationals. âIn fact, Grichâs homer really carried. Although, that really had nothing to do with Dave hitting the ball really good.â
That soon became apparent. Moore checked Gedman from the stretch position. One last pitch.
âThe pitch I hit was a forkball, low and away, outside,ââHenderson says. âA pitcherâs pitch. It was more of a fluke than the one that I fouled off.â Hendersonâs two-run blast suddenly put Boston up, 6â5, although he was not done with the heroics.
âThe big part of that is that we came right back in the bottom of the inning (to tie it),â says Boone, 63, of the Angelsâ own comeback. âThere was no quit in our team.â
In the top of the 11th, with Don Baylor on third, Henderson delivered the Game 5-winning sacrifice fly to plate the winning run. âThe home run was probably the biggest,â Henderson says of the one-strike-away-from-elimination pitch by Moore in the ninth, âbut the sac fly put a bow on everything.â
A World Series for the ages
The Red Sox dispatched California in the remaining two ALCS games in Boston, before heading into the most dramatic World Series in the last 25 years. On a roll, the Red Sox took the first two games against the Mets in New York. But the scrappy National League champions, who had weathered a blockbuster championship series of their own against Houston, took Games 3 and 4 in Boston. Behind Bruce Hurst, a brilliant 1â0 victor in Game 1, Boston took Game 5, heading back to New York needing just one win to claim its first World Series in 68 years.
The now-historic Game 6 was dramatically tied 3â3, when Henderson led off the 10th. With a repeat flair for the extraordinary, the Sox center fielder lofted another critical home run to give Boston the lead.
âPeople talk about the Donnie Moore home run,â says Henderson, âbut I like the one in the 10th inning, Game 6, with the World Series on the line. From a baseball perspective, when youâre hitting .400 in the Series and itâs a tie ball game and you could win the Series, pitching coaches and pitchers donât really want to mess with you. I hit a home run anyway.â
In the bottom half of the inning, just like the Angels in the ALCS, Boston was one out away from destiny. One out from burying The Curse of the Bambino drought that had crushed the teamâs fortunes since 1918. But Red Sox reliever Calvin Schiraldi suddenly gave up three straight singles, and the Mets, shockingly, had the tying run on third. Bob Stanley was summoned to face the left-handed-hitting Mookie Wilson.
New York reliever Jesse Orosco, in the Metsâ clubhouse with five other players and the clubhouse manager, was having difficulty watching the TV.
âWe kind of had our heads down, thinking that itâs all over,â says Orosco, 54, who won three games in the NLCS against Houston and did not allow an earned run in four appearances in the World Series. âStanley was a hard sinkerball pitcher who usually keeps the ball down. Heâs trying to induce Mookie into a ground ball and had thrown some nasty pitches down and in and away. Mookie fouled them off and battled him.â
But then Stanley unleashed a pitch that âjust went all the way across,â according to Orosco. âI mean Mookie jumped up and it was literally underneath him.â
With the wild pitch, Kevin Mitchell scampered in from third with the tying run, Ray Knight moving to second. âFirst of all, Iâm disappointed that I didnât catch the ball,â says Gedman. âI actually got back to it very quickly, but I didnât pick it up clean. If I pick the ball up clean, I think we have a play at the plate.â
Then, on a 3-2 pitch to Wilson, one of the most famous plays in World Series history took place. Wilsonâs routine ground ball to first base went through the legs of Bostonâs Bill Buckner, as Knight raced in from second with the winning run.
âIt was just one of those fluke things that happen where thereâs no explanation for it,â recalls Gedman, 52, now a batting instructor with the Lowell Spinners, Bostonâs Short Season Single-A affiliate in the New York-Pennsylvania League. âI remember our team being stunned at the moment, but really kind of rallying around â âHey, we have another chance. Itâs not over! That opportunity slipped through our hands, but we still have a Game 7. Weâre not done!ââ
This time they were done, though not without a fight. Two nights later, after seeing their early 3â0 lead disappear as the Mets went up 6â3, Boston fought back valiantly, scoring two runs in the eighth. With two on and no outs, New York brought in Orosco, who got the last six outs to close it all out.
âFrom Game 1 all the way through, it was electric,â says Orosco, now semi-retired in California. âBoth teams are champions, but only one can walk out of it. It couldâve gone either way.â
Henderson, now a part-time commentator for the Mariners, went on to play in three more World Series with Oakland, winning the Earthquake Series in â89 against San Francisco.
âIn baseball you lose games sometimes, but the Mets beat us,â he says. âThereâs a difference. We feel like we lost Game 6. They beat us in Game 7. Itâs a lot easier to live with a team beating you than by giving up the World Series. But the one in â86? It seems like the ones you lose you remember a whole lot more.â
This article originally appeared in our Athlon Sports monthly, available in newspapers nationwide.