Friday, September 16, 2011

1986 ALCS: Stomach Punch

How They Got Here
After both teams won their divisions by five games, the Boston Red Sox and California Angels met in the 1986 ALCS. Those two teams have met in the playoffs three times in the last decade, but 1986 was their first postseason meeting.

The first two games were noteworthy only because of the surprising beat-down the Angels handed Roger Clemens and the Red Sox in Game 1. Boston bounced back with a romp of their own in Game 2, and the series went across the country to Anaheim.

That's where the Angels surprised Boston by winning the next two games, putting them one win away from the first World Series appearance in franchise history.

And then Dave Henderson happened. With the Angels one strike from the World Series in Game 5, Henderson hit a go-ahead home run off Angels closer Donnie Moore. The Angels came back to tie the game in the ninth, but the Red Sox won the game in the 11th to send the series back to Boston. A 10-4 Boston win in Game 6 sent the series to a 7th game.

The Game
While there were two games still to play in the series, for all intents and purposes, the 1986 ALCS ended when Henderson's drive cleared the left field wall in Anaheim. The Angels never recovered from that shot; they were right at the doorstep to the World Series, only to find out that it was the wrong door.

Boston also had Clemens ready to go for Game 7. While he had been battered in Game 1 and gotten a no-decision in Game 4, that didn't give the Angels any extra advantage. In fact, that lack of success just made him angry.

Well, that's deceiving. That makes it sound like Clemens was breathing fire and throwing smoke, striking out Angel after Angel. That didn't happen. What did happen was that the Red Sox scored three unearned runs in the second and four unearned runs in the fourth, and Clemens cruised through seven efficient innings. That he gave up one run in the seventh seemed more like a charity case than anything else. The game was over long before that lone run came in.

After handing the Angels the most devastating loss in franchise history in the ALCS, the Red Sox moved on to the World Series, where they suffered the most agonizing loss in the history of their franchise. Leading the series 3 games to 2, Boston had the lead in the ninth inning in Shea Stadium in Game 6. Then Bill Buckner happened.

Though neither moment was the official end of its postseason series, Mookie Wilson and Bill Buckner are as intrinsically tied to the 1986 season as Dave Henderson and Donnie Moore. Both teams took a long time to get over their heartbreak, with the Angels not returning to the postseason until their World Championship season of 2002, and the Red Sox needing to wait until 2004 to end the Curse of the Bambino.

The difference, then, is what happened to the antagonists. Bill Buckner, long reviled in Boston, was finally forgiven when the Red Sox won. Donnie Moore never got that chance, hearing boos every time he took the mound for the Angels in 1987 and eventually taking his own life in 1989. He paid the ultimate price for his failure.

The Rundown
What I'm doing.

The list so far:
23. 1986 ALCS: Boston 8, California 1
24: 1996 NLCS: Atlanta 15, St. Louis 0

Still to come:
1972 NLCS: Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh
1972 ALCS: Detroit vs. Oakland
1973 NLCS: Cincinnati vs. New York
1973 ALCS: Baltimore vs. Oakland
1976 ALCS: Kansas City vs. New York
1977 ALCS: Kansas City vs. New York
1980 NLCS: Houston vs. Philadelphia
1981 NCLS: Los Angeles vs. Montreal
1982 ALCS: California vs. Milwaukee
1984 NLCS: Chicago vs. San Diego
1985 ALCS: Kansas City vs. Toronto
1987 NLCS: St. Louis vs. San Francisco
1988 NLCS: Los Angeles vs. New York
1991 NLCS: Atlanta vs. Pittsburgh
1992 NLCS: Atlanta vs. Pittsburgh
2003 NLCS: Chicago vs. Florida
2003 ALCS: Boston vs. New York
2004 NLCS: Houston vs. St. Louis
2004 ALCS: Boston vs. New York
2006 NLCS: New York vs. St. Louis
2007 ALCS: Boston vs. Cleveland
2008 ALCS: Boston vs. Tampa Bay

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