"Sure, it stings," said Clemens.
"I told them I couldn't throw any sliders, but I could get them out with fastballs and forkballs," Clemens now says. "They told me that if the first couple of hitters got on, they might hit for me."
At the postgame press conference, McNamara clearly implied that Clemens asked out of the game because of the blister. "My pitcher told me he couldn't go any further," said McNamara. When George Grande of ESPN later asked Clemens off-camera what McNamara had said, Clemens got upset and started off to confront McNamara.
"Fischer stopped me and told me it was a misunderstanding, that Mac didn't mean it," recalls Clemens. "I wanted to pitch the eighth inning, then turn it over to Calvin with three outs to go."
Despite that minor imbroglio and the other questions that besieged McNamara over the winter, this fact remains: Through seven innings that October night the manager had looked like a genius. By starting Al Nipper in the fourth game, on a night no Boston pitcher could have beaten Ron Darling, McNamara had given his ace—Clemens—a full five days of rest. And Clemens had given the Red Sox the lead with just six outs to go.
In the top of the eighth, Dave Henderson reached base courtesy of the first of two boots by Elster. Spike Owen sacrificed Henderson to second, then McNamara had rookie Mike Greenwell bat for Clemens. Interestingly enough, McNamara's defense for not sending Baylor up to hit for Buckner three batters later was: "We wouldn't pinch-hit with a lead."
Greenwell struck out, and Johnson had McDowell walk Boggs intentionally. But then McDowell also walked Barrett to load the bases. Johnson had little choice but to bring in Orosco, who would retire 16 of the 18 batters he faced in the Series and should have been the MVP instead of Knight. Here is where Johnson committed his primary strategical boo-boo. The pitcher was scheduled to lead off the bottom of the inning, so with his best reliever in the game and the Red Sox one inning away from a world championship, Johnson should have made a double switch in order to keep Orosco in the game for at least the ninth inning. He could have put Lee Mazzilli or Mitchell in left and put Orosco in Wilson's spot, thus letting the new leftfielder lead off the bottom of the eighth. "Davey forgot," says one manager. "This wasn't one of my better games," Johnson admitted later.
It's far too easy to criticize managers, and very often the critics can't see the forest for the trees. While Johnson can sometimes be an unorthodox strategist, he is usually borne out in the long run by his players' performances. But in this case, he did forget. An inning later he would compound the situation by double-switching Strawberry out of the game, which led to Strawberry's pouting, which led to Strawberry's hotdogging it around the bases in Game 7 to show his manager up, which led to Nipper—who gave up the home run—hitting Strawberry in the back in spring training.
So this was the situation: bases loaded, two outs in the eighth and the lefty Orosco on the mound. The scheduled batter was Buckner, who showed great fortitude—some said folly—by playing on his battered legs. But he was also 10 for 55 in post season play and 1 for 11 with runners in scoring position for the Series. A lefthanded swinger, Buckner had hit .218 in the regular season against lefty pitchers. And Orosco is, in the words of Dodger scout Jerry Stephenson, "the toughest pitcher in the league on lefties," an opinion supported by the fact that lefthanded hitters batted .187 against him during the season.
Clearly, McNamara had a decision to make. He thought about using Baylor, who was on the bench because the Red Sox couldn't use a DH in the National League park. McNamara and Buckner later denied it, but other players sitting on the bench claim the manager approached Buckner to tell him he was taking him out. But before McNamara could say anything, Buckner talked him out of any move. "When Johnson came out of the dugout, Mac started to tell Buck, 'If they go to the lefthander....' " says one of the players. "Buck argued, 'I can hit the guy.' He said something else and that was that. It wasn't like a bullying thing. It was as if Mac thought to himself and said, 'Hey, the guy's done this much with all those problems....' "