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Recalling Hendu’s strange Sunday

Dave Henderson, who played the outfield for the Mariners, Red Sox and Athletics during the 1980s and early 1990s, died Sunday at 57 from a heart attack.

Henderson figured prominently in another of the many childhood memories of sports I can readily recall.

Earlier this morning, I described an NFL game I watched at my maternal grandmother’s house many moons ago.

Now, I hearken back to a memorable baseball game I watched in the same house almost two years later.

The date was October 12, 1986. One day before my 10th birthday. Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev were holding a summit in Iceland.  Miami and Penn State were headed for an epic college football showdown at the end of the season. Wayne Gretzky still played hockey in Edmonton, and Bird and Magic still dominated the NBA.

That Sunday, the California Angels were within one victory of advancing to the World Series for the first time since it began play in 1961. The Angels, led by manager Gene Mauch and several stars past their prime, including Reggie Jackson, Bobby Grich, Bob Boone, Doug DeCinces and Brian Downing, led the Boston Red Sox, powered by 24-game winner Roger Clemens, 3 games to 1, in the American League Championship Series.

All it would take is a victory at Anaheim Stadium, which the Angels shared with the Rams by that time, to move into the Fall Classic against either Houston or the New York Mets.

When the 1986 season opened, the Red Sox were deeply entrenched under the Curse of the Bambino, which took effect in 1920 when then-Boston owner Harry Frazee traded Babe Ruth, his star pitcher, to the Yankees. The rest is history.

Boston won the American League East in 1986, its first division title since 1975. Clemens, only three years removed from helping the Texas Longhorns win the College World Series, enjoyed what would be the best year of his lengthy career, going 24-4 with a 1.53 earned run average.

His signature game came on April 29 of that season when he struck out 20 Seattle Mariners at Fenway Park. The Mariners’ starting center fielder that night, Dave Henderson, was strikeout victim No. 6, No. 13 and No. 18 against The Rocket.

Later that season, Henderson and the Mariners’ starting shortstop that cold night in Boston, Spike Owen, a teammate of Clemens with the 1983 Longhorns, were traded to the Red Sox.

Owen immediately stabilized a position which had been a weakness for Boston since Rick Burleson departed for the Angels. Henderson provided the Red Sox with much better defense in center field than Tony Armas, a man who was a born designated hitter long before anyone in Red Sox Nation could have dreamed of David Ortiz. Armas hit 43 home runs in  1984, but struck out way too much and was awful in the field. Boston was very fortunate right fielder Dwight Evans was one of baseball’s best defensive outfielders and thus tracked down numerous balls Armas missed.

 

Dave Henderson lived several lifetimes the afternoon of October 12, 1986.

With Boston ahead 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth, Bobby Grich, who won Game 4 the previous night with an RBI single in the 11th, hit a long fly ball to center field. Henderson leaped at the wall in an attempt to deny Grich a home run, but instead, the ball hit off of the top of the webbing of Henderson’s glove and fell over the fence.

Home run. Angels 3, Red Sox 2. The Big A was in delirium.

One inning later, Rob Wilfong singled home two more runs, and the Red Sox were in dire straits, trailing 5-2 with only six outs standing between them and the end of the 1986 season.

Nobody scored in the eight. Angels starter Mike Witt, who pitched a perfect game on the final day  of the 1984 season at Texas and pitched a complete game victory in Game 1 of the 1986 ALCS at Boston, got one out in the ninth, but also gave up a two-run home run to Don Baylor, whom, ironically, was the AL’s Most Valuable Player in 1979, when he led the Angels to their first AL West championship.

Angels manager Gene Mauch lifted Witt in favor of left-handed reliever Gary Lucas, who would face Boston’s left-handed hitting catcher, Rich Gedman. Gedman was 3-for-3 on the day, but had a bad history vs. Lucas. Lucas hit Gedman, and Mauch immediately called for closer Donnie Moore.

Moore retired Evans on a popup, bringing Henderson to the plate. The Angel hurler got ahead in the count 1-2, but Henderson fought off the next three pitches to stay alive.

On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Moore threw a fastball low and in. Henderson swung.

The ball skied to left field. Downing tracked the ball, but when he reached the wall, all he could do is look up in disgust and then slam his glove into the fence.

Home run Henderson. Red Sox lead 6-5.

The Angels somehow pulled themselves up off the carpet to score once in the bottom of the ninth and tie the game, but in the 11th, Baylor was hit by a pitch, moved to second on an Evans single and third on a Gedman sacrifice.

Henderson came through again vs. Moore, lifting a sacrifice fly to plate Baylor and put Boston back on top.

California went down meekly in the bottom of the 11th. The Angels would soon be on their way to LAX for the cross-country flight they didn’t want to make.

The Angels would have been better off calling in two forfeits.

The Red Sox won Games 6 and 7 10-4 and 8-1. Boston was on to the World Series. The Mets would be the opposition. Most of you know what happened then.

The Angels would not return to the playoffs until 2002, when they won the World Series vs. the Giants. There hasn’t been a World Series game in Anaheim since Game 7 in 2002.

Boston won it two years later vs. the Cardinals, then added titles in 2007 vs. the Rockies–who wouldn’t come into existence until 1995–and the Cardinals again in 2013.

The Mets haven’t won a World Series since 1986, losing to the Yankees in 2000 and the Royals this past season.

Henderson won his World Series ring in 1989 with Oakland, when it swept San Francisco in the series interrupted by the Loma Prieta earthquake.

Dave Henderson won’t be in Cooperstown. But for anyone who watched Major League Baseball during the 1980s, Hendu’s roller coaster ride in Anaheim won’t soon be forgotten.

 

MLB’s second act at its end

The 162nd game of the Major League Baseball season will be meaningful for four teams in particular, maybe more.

NOTE: the second act is the regular season. The first is spring training, the third is the postseason. At least I can spin it that way.

The Central divisions of both leagues are still in question. The Tigers in the American League and Cardinals in the National League each have a one-game lead, but both missed opportunities to close out today.

Detroit lost its second consecutive game at home to last place Minnesota, 6-1, while St. Louis fell in Phoenix to the Majors’ worst team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, 5-2.

The Pirates came back from an early 3-0 deficit in Cincinnati and went to extra innings, but the Reds’ Todd Frazier launched a grand slam in the bottom of the 10th to doom Pittsburgh, 10-6. The Pirates must win tomorrow and the Cardinals must lose to Arizona to force a one-game playoff Monday in St. Louis. Regardless of what happens, the Pirates will be no worse than a wild card and play the Giants in the one-game playoff.

The Royals almost came back, but left a runner stranded in the ninth as they lost to the White Sox in Chicago, 5-4. If the Royals and Tigers end up tied, the playoff is Monday in Detroit. The worst that can happen to the Royals is the wild card game is in Kansas City. It will be the first playoff game at Kauffman Stadium since October 27, 1985,, the night the Royals won the World Series by blowing away the Cardinals 11-0. Back then, the stadium was known as Royals Stadium, the playing surface was artificial–the hard stuff, not the rubbery faux grass you see today–the seats were hard red plastic, and there was no replay screen, although there was the original crown scoreboard in center field.

Oakland still has a hold on the second wild card, but just barely. If Seattle can oust the Angels tonight, it will come down to tomorrow. The Athletics would have to lose and the Mariners would have to win, but there would still be hope in the Pacific Northwest. Every eye in Seattle and Washington State would be watching the M’s, because the Seahawks have a bye tomorrow.

The Brewers FINALLY clinched a winning season tonight by beating the Cubs 2-1. Milwaukee was 73-58 on the morning of August 25, and it has gone 9-21 since. Ouch. Pittsburgh was six games out of first on that earlier date.

Iffy proposition

I’m going to try to make this short. I have to leave the Marriott in less than 20 minutes and get on my way to Kauffman Stadium for today’s game between the Royals and Angels. As I was getting in the shower, I realized the crowds will be huge for when the gates open at 11, since they are giving away James Shields bobblehead dolls to the first 10,000.

If you don’t understand just how much fans love those bobblehead dolls, I’ll have to explain it later. All the bobbleheads I had were lost to Hurricane Katrina.

Baseball, however, may not be played today. There is a line of very heavy rain located between Russell and Salina, and it is steadily marching to the east. According to the National Weather Service, there is an 80 percent chance of rain through the day, and there could be an inch and a half or more by midnight. Ouch.

If this were a high school or college game, it might be called off before it even starts. However, Major League Baseball has instructed teams and umpires to do all they can to get a scheduled game in, except if the field floods or there is lightning.

The problem is, this is the Angels’ only visit to Kansas City this season, and the Royals have already made their trip to Anaheim. The only option would be a doubleheader tomorrow, but either doubleheader option would be frowned upon. The first, to play one game at 1:10 and the second at 6:10, would not sit well with the Angels because they’re trying to get out of town, but at least they’re only flying to Chicago to play Monday at 7:10 and not flying back to southern California. The second, to play a traditional doubleheader, would cost the Royals ticket revenue.

The worst would be to start the game and have it delayed for a long time and/or have it called before it becomes an official game, which is five innings (4 1/2 if the home team is ahead). Having a game called before it becomes official is a disaster, because under the rules, it must be replayed in its entirety. The only provision for a suspended game comes into effect (a) if the game reaches five innings, and (b) it is tied. Not to mention a team wastes its pitching in a game which is delayed and/or aborted.

Okay, time to run. Hopefully we’ll see nine innings. Not looking good.