The Playoffs: In the best-of-five first round, Cleveland outlasts Texas 3-2 as Albert Belle slaps a game-winning double off reliever Jose Canseco in the 14th inning of the finale. Boston is also extended to five games by Chicago. Andre Dawson, who is playing his last season, delivers the series-ending hit. Afterward Dawson is accused by White Sox manager Gene Lamont of corking his bat; X-rays prove negative. The Cubs make quick work of the Braves, going through the feared Atlanta rotation with impunity. Ryne Sandberg is 8 for 12 in the series. Montreal continues to thrill its few fans, sweeping the Giants. Matt Williams does not homer.
In the best-of-seven league championship series, the Red Sox require just five games to rid themselves of the Indians. The Rocket is resplendent with a shutout in the first game. Otis Nixon steals at least one base in each game. The Cubs continue to play as if possessed and win their series in five games. They would have swept the Expos except for a Mitch Williams wild pitch that allowed Moises Alou to score the winning run in Game 4. The city of Chicago is ecstatic. So is the rest of the nation. At hand is the opportunity to abolish forever the deadly tedium of the long-suffering Cub fan.
The World Series: All of baseball history is invoked in a Chicago-Boston matchup. The Cubs' futility is the subject of much lore. They haven't been in a World Series since 1945, haven't won one since 1908. And yet the Red Sox may be the more tragic franchise. They've played in the World Series once in each of the last three decades but have lost each time in seven agonizing games. Curiously, Boston's last world championship came in 1918, with Babe Ruth pitching and winning two games, in a series with...the Cubs. The O.J. Simpson trial is suspended for the duration of the World Series, even though the Nick at Nite man is in the middle of his testimony. David Letterman moves his show to Boston for two weeks; Jay Leno takes his to Chicago. There is only one thing on this country's mind: baseball.
Roger Clemens is masterful in Game 1 at Fenway Park. He throws a five-hit shutout, his team scoring the winning run in the eighth on a Mitch Williams wild pitch. Chicago columnists do not go easy on Williams. It takes no great history student to recall that Williams blew the Series for the Philadelphia Phillies only one year earlier. Yet Game 2 is on top of everybody before a regulation lynching party can be organized. And it is Williams who finds it within himself to create a heroic moment for the ages. Given the ball in the seventh, his team ahead 1-0, Williams walks the bases loaded, none out. Manager Tom Trebelhorn appears paralyzed by the disaster taking place; he does not—cannot—make a move. Mike Greenwell lashes a rare pitch in the strike zone back up the middle, but Ryne Sandberg handles the liner, steps on second and meets a sorely confused Otis Nixon on the base path to complete an unassisted triple play. Williams passes Trebelhorn in the dugout and says, "I got my men." The Cubs even the Series.
Games 3, 4 and 5 at Wrigley Field are not uneventful. How could they be? Game 3 is a trifle sloppy, but the Red Sox prevail 9-7. Game 4 is another pitchers' duel, Roger Clemens versus Mike Morgan. Clemens is the Babe Ruth of his generation; he extends his World Series scoreless-inning streak to 20 (dating back to 1986) as Boston wins 2-0 to take a 3-1 Series lead. Chicago stays alive, though, by winning the next game 3-2 when Sammy Sosa homers off Joe Hesketh.
Were it possible to measure a city's anxiety level, Boston's would have been off the charts for Game 6. Ahead three games to two in a World Series? It is a painful historical reminder: Eight years ago the Red Sox were one strike away from a championship in Game 6 when a grounder.... But no, no creator would permit the existence of a universe that would visit such a trauma twice upon the same citizens. Or so a nervous Boston tells itself.
Yet, in fact, the game proceeds as if in a time warp, with the Red Sox seemingly doomed to repeat history in a spiral of failure that can never be arrested. With the score tied 4-4 in the 10th (it was 3-3 in the 10th in '86), reliever Jose Melendez walks Shawon Dunston, who then steals second. Dunston reaches third on Mark Grace's sacrifice fly. Two outs. Does anybody doubt what happens next? Sammy Sosa fouls off four pitches and, with a full count, finally delivers a slow hopper toward first. There is not a sound in Fenway as the ball bounces toward Mo Vaughn (it was Bill Buckner in '86), and every fan seems to see the play in slow motion. A horror forms in each fan's mind as the first baseman bends to the ball.
But Vaughn scoops it up cleanly, and the stadium erupts: Mo Vaughn has caught the ball! Mo Vaughn has caught the ball! He steps on the bag and preserves the tie. It occurs to all of Boston that life is not so cruel after all. Life is a rich joke. Our troubles are just setups for cosmic punch lines. Surely Buckner blew that play for a reason. It's certain now. The Red Sox suffered for a purpose. The stadium is absolutely giddy with relief.
Then, strangely, or so it must have seemed for a city that thought it had just grasped the order of the universe, Grace homers off Melendez in the 11th for a Cub win, and Chicago evens the Series. Boston deflates just like that. The Cubs crush the Red Sox the next day 7-3 (Mitch Williams gets the save).
Postscript: Some odds and ends as the season (the greatest ever? You be the judge) is retired. Butch Hobson is glad to have the offer from Alabama and leaves Boston immediately. Mitch Williams quits the game too, this time for good, he says. The Seattle Kingdome is officially condemned. And, yes, in a fit of pique, George Steinbrenner puts his team up for sale. Donald Trump tells gossip columnist Cindy Adams that, $4 billion in debt or not, he intends to step forward and buy the Yankees and make them a "top franchise." The O.J. Simpson trial resumes, and the Nick at Nite man picks up pretty much where he left off.