That was truly a lovely affair, said Mrs. Yawkey to Mr. Autry. The grande dame of the Red Sox was sitting in the Singing Cowboy's box in Anaheim Stadium—along with Ted Williams—and she was referring to a party held the night before Game 3. But Mrs. Yawkey could just as well have been talking about the American League Championship Series between her Red Sox and Mr. Autry's Angels. It was truly a lovely affair, with high drama and low comedy, agony and ecstasy, sin and redemption. After the first five games of the playoffs, the Angels took a 3-2 lead with them to Boston, but whatever the outcome, both clubs will be long remembered for what they did in Games 4 and 5. "I'm just happy that we are in this together," said Mr. Autry to Mrs. Yawkey.
They are the last of the Victorian owners. Unlike George Steinbrenner or Gussie Busch or Marge Schott, Mrs. Yawkey and Mr. Autry are rarely addressed by their first names, respectively Jean and Gene, in deference to their places in baseball history. Mr. Autry is revered by his players the way Tom Yawkey was by the Red Sox before his death in 1976.
While the owners' personal meeting had the feeling of a tea at the Ritz, the Red Sox and Angels played with a fervor rarely seen, even in the postseason. They had both entered the playoffs steeped in histories of failure, 68 years for Boston to forget, 26 years for California. The Angels, longtime understudies to the Dodgers, were trying not only to give Mr. Autry a world championship but also to put Gene Mauch. "The Greatest Manager Who Never Won," in his first World Series after 25 seasons of managing.
In the late '70s, both the Bosox and Angels had name stars and great offensive statistics, but not the ultimate rewards. Then they came to the same conclusion: They needed pitching to win. So while the two clubs lined up with 25 past and present All-Stars between them for this ALCS, they knew they had reached the postseason not so much because of their aging stars, but because they had the two best starting rotations in the American League.
In Game 1, it was Roger Clemens versus Mike Witt—the very best pitcher in the AL against the very close to best. "In all our minds, beating Clemens is the key to the series," Bob Boone of the Angels, the Leonard Bernstein of catchers, said before the opener. And to the shock of New England and the Back Bay vendors who offered eight different Clemens T-shirts, the Angels did just that.
Six days before, Clemens had left his last regular season start after 29 pitches when he was hit in the elbow by a line drive, and it was the inactivity along with the emotion of the occasion—"I was probably too pumped up," he said—that undid him early. Uncharacteristically, Clemens allowed a couple of close calls to upset him, and the Angels moved off to a 4-0 lead after two innings. Meanwhile, Witt did what New Englanders imagined for Clemens. With geometric precision, the 6'7" righty dropped elliptic curveballs and threw searing 90-mph fastballs into Boone's mitt. He had a no-hitter until Wade Boggs bounced a single off the plate with two outs in the sixth, and finished with an overpowering 8-1 five-hitter. The only question to come out of the game was manager John McNamara's decision to leave Clemens in the game for 143 pitches, into the eighth inning.
Game 2 also belonged to a pitcher, but this time to Boston's. Bruce Hurst worked out of one jam after another en route to what he called his "nifty 11-hitter." Both sides played terribly in the field in the 9-2 rout, but the Angels were the absolute pits. "The last time I saw a game like this," mused Don Sutton, "our coach wouldn't take us to Tastee-Freeze for a milkshake afterward."
Only then, when the series moved west, did it begin to take on its special quality. Mauch would even call Game 3 "great," but then he had a special perspective—the runway between the clubhouse and the dugout—because he was ejected in the fourth inning after the Angels got the short end of a reversed call at the plate. Otherwise, the show belonged to Oil Can Boyd—or "Dipstick," as Mauch calls him. Boyd paced the infield, exuberantly waved his arms and stared down California hitters. But the Can's enthusiasm was matched against John Candelaria's cool, and in the seventh inning Boyd made two serious mistakes with two outs. Dick Schofield guessed slider, and when Boyd hung a slider, the "Duckling" hit it out for a 2-1 lead. Two batters later, Pettis hit a Boyd screwball for a two-run homer. The Angels went on to win 5-3.
In his second playoff run at his first pennant, Mauch seemed to be the manager making all the right moves. McNamara, on the other hand, was growing testy. After he announced that for Game 4 he would pitch Clemens on three days' rest—something he hadn't done all season—he shouted at a writer who had compared the move with a couple of similar ones in Mauch's haunted past. Then when Game 4 unraveled in a ninth inning that seemed to contain every nightmare of the Red Sox heritage, McNamara opened himself to a long winter of questions in a region whose natives are still second-guessing the battle plan for Bunker Hill.
Clemens, working against the masterful Don Sutton, was his old self, pouring his soul out of his arm. Sutton himself carried a no-hitter into the fourth and a scoreless tie into the sixth, but when he reached what he calls his "questionable zone of around 75 pitches" in the sixth, the Red Sox scored a run on a single, a walk and a Bill Buckner double that produced his third postseason RBI in 53 career at bats. The Angels then tried valiantly to give Boston the game with two errors, a wild pitch, a passed ball and two misplayed grounders in the eighth, but Boston got only two runs. Still, 3-0.