Some pitchers might have been devastated by that walk-off piece. Angel reliever Donnie Moore cost his team the 1986 American League Championship Series when he gave up a homer to Boston's Dave Henderson, and the mistake so ate at Moore that it is believed by many to have led to his suicide in 1989. But Eckersley, if anything, emerged stronger from his mistake. "He has taken some mighty hard shots," says Rader. "Adversity destroys a lot of people. It rounds out a few too, and Dennis is one of those."
After Eckersley went back to Boston that winter, he was honored as the Player of the Year at the Boston Baseball Writers dinner. In a moving acceptance speech he thanked Nancy for sticking with him through all the trying years.
They had one more painful—and public—moment awaiting them. In April 1989 Dennis's older brother, Wallace, then 36, was put on trial and later convicted for the kidnapping and attempted murder of a 59-year-old woman in Colorado Springs in 1987. Because of Wallace's alcoholism, his attorney was using "involuntary intoxication" as a defense. Dennis was called as a character witness to describe the effects of alcohol on him and his brother. "People don't realize what alcoholism can do to a person," Dennis said at the trial. "It jeopardized my career and my relationship with my wife, which is more important to me." Dennis recalled that Wallace, who is two years older, began drinking when he was 13 or 14, and that by the time Dennis was 16, they were drinking together: "We were out to get drunk, not to have a couple of beers." Over the years, Dennis said, his brother would appear periodically, usually unannounced and drunk, sometimes accompanied by other hoboes. The last time Dennis saw him before his arrest was in May '87. "He looked strange," said Dennis in the courtroom. "He had a Charles Manson look. Eerie."
Wallace is now serving a 48-year sentence in a Colorado prison. "He's actually much better off there than in the streets," says Dennis. "At least my parents and I know where he is." Because of what happened to his brother, Dennis and Nancy now devote time to helping the homeless in the Bay Area.
No wonder Eckersley is so determined not to lose control. Don't walk Mike Davis. Don't drink.
In the music video of Richard Marx's Take This Heart, Marx, as a Cub, hits a World Series game-winning homer off—you guessed it—Dennis Eckersley. The pitcher and the musician are friends, so Eckersley agreed to be the fall guy one more time. "The first time we showed the video to Jake," the Eck says of his two-year-old son, "he saw me throwing the big pitch at the end, and I swear he said, 'Oh, no, Daddy.' At least he didn't say, Oh, no, Daddy, not the backdoor slider!"
Jake was born on April 29, 1990, which also happens to be Mandee's birthday. He was adopted, but it was an open adoption, and Nancy and Jake's natural mother are so close that "she's like my little sister," Nancy says. "We even look like sisters." Jake, for his part, is already a family breadwinner: He collected his first paycheck the other day. Nancy had to take him along to her audition for a cellular-phone commercial, and the director ended up casting both of them, as a mother and son on a bicycle.
The Eckersleys always seem to be having these little adventures. Nancy's parents came in from Boston recently to help her and Dennis move into their new house in Danville; but the family cat, Spenser—whom Nancy found on the set of the TV show Spenser for Hire, where she worked as the stand-in for Barbara Stock—went crazy and attacked Nancy's mother. Sadly, the cat had to be put down.
But nowadays most of their adventures are happy ones. Over the winter Nancy got a call from a friend who said she had just met Nancy's uncle Francis in Yarmouth Port on Cape Cod. This came as something of a shock to Nancy, who had long assumed that her father's brother was dead. In any event, she hadn't seen him for 20 years, ever since he and her father had had a falling-out. So Nancy and Dennis drove down to Yarmouth Port and left various messages around town. Uncle Francis called her in Sudbury, and they arranged to meet the next day. Nancy then informed her father, Ed, that she was going to meet Francis. "At first," says Nancy, "Dad was unsure about coming, but the next day when I went to pick up my mother to go down there, Dad got in the car with us. It was a very touching reunion." It seems that Nancy has earned another save of her own.
Dennis's parents, Wally and Bernice—he's a retired warehouse supervisor, she's a retired keypunch operator—go to every A's home game. "My father never missed a game when I was growing up," says Dennis. "I owe a lot to him. But the man can chirp. He's prouder than proud of me, and sometimes it gets a little embarrassing. Like, the other day he and Mom went to a Chinese restaurant near here with Nancy's folks, and before the owner even seats them, my dad is telling the guy that his son is Dennis Eckersley, the relief pitcher for the Oakland A's. Ed said the owner didn't know much English, much less baseball."