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Steve Wulf
October 08, 1990
Roger Clemens's return lifted Boston in its battle with Toronto
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October 08, 1990

A Boost From The Rocket

Roger Clemens's return lifted Boston in its battle with Toronto

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It's a dirty division, but somebody has to win it. We're speaking, of course, of the American League East, and last weekend at Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays met in a three-game, head-to-head, toe-to-toe series to determine which of them would take on the—tremble—Oakland Athletics in the league's championship series. A sweep by either team might have proved decisive, but, as befits this here-you-take-it division, neither could pull it off. The sweep was within the grasp of the Red Sox after they won the first two games, but Toronto recovered to win 10-5 on Sunday. When Boston beat the Chicago White Sox in Fenway on Monday night and Toronto lost to the Orioles in Baltimore, the Red Sox extended their lead to two games. "It hasn't been easy all year long," said Boston manager Joe Morgan after Sunday's game. "Why should it be easy now?"

The series wasn't conclusive, but it was memorable. For three days, Fenway shook like the table at a seance. Indeed, these games seemed like an otherworldly series filled with strange and unexplained phenomena. Why, for instance, did a fire burst out beneath a poster of Babe Ruth in the souvenir shop across the street from Fenway a few hours before last Friday night's game, and how was it that the poster wasn't even singed? What was Morgan thinking in the ninth inning of the opener, a paranormal game if ever there was one, and how come his strategy worked? Why was Bill Lee in the company of a warlock with a black cape and a spear before the second game? Would Roger Clemens really pitch on Saturday, and when he did, how was it that he was able to hurl six shutout innings on 24 days' rest? What sport were the two teams playing on Sunday? Last but not least, did Blue Jay outfielder Junior Felix know something that we didn't when he scheduled his wedding for Oct. 20, smack in the middle of the World Series?

Like Felix, we're getting a little ahead of ourselves. The two teams arrived at Fenway tied for first place with identical records (84-72) and similar histories of wilting under pressure. But the Red Sox's haunted history is much longer, and there was dread in the air on Yawkey Way as the fans filed in for the first game. There was also smoke in the air, thanks to a propane gas explosion in the hot dog cooker underneath the Ruth poster in the souvenir store. Nobody was hurt, not even the Bambino, although traffic was snarled by the fire engines.

Inside the park, a television reporter asked Morgan to assess the mood of his club before the big game. "I don't have time to ask every guy how he feels today," he said. Actually, the players were feeling rather chipper. Pitcher Joe Hesketh had purchased a Halloween mask that day. The mask was so frightful that it looked like Boston pitching coach Bill Fischer. Hesketh, with pillows stuffed into his uniform, trailed the portly Fischer onto the field before the game. It was a good imitation—and perhaps good practice: If Boston's scheduled starter on Saturday couldn't go, the Red Sox would be asking Hesketh to imitate Clemens.

The one man in the Red Sox clubhouse who was feeling terrible was Mike Boddicker, Boston's scheduled starter, who was suffering from a painful headache. But Boddicker stymied Toronto for the first six innings. The Sox bunched together four hits off Dave Stieb in the first, yet scored only one run. But in the bottom of the sixth, Wade Boggs and Tom Brunansky homered, delighting the crowd of 35,735—Fenway's largest in more than 12 years—and giving Boston a 4-0 lead.

But this game would mirror the season in the American League East almost exactly. The Blue Jays tied the score in the seventh inning on two hit batsmen and four singles. With two outs, third baseman Kelly Gruber, who had been carrying Toronto all month, came to the plate with runners on second and third. Had he gotten a hit off reliever Larry Andersen, Boston fans would be sadly recounting the seventh inning of this game for the next 50 years. But Gruber grounded out to Boggs. In the eighth, Gruber did the Red Sox a bigger favor by making two throwing errors to first base and putting Boston back on top 5-4.

The ninth inning might have been entitled The Mystery of the Three Jeffs. Jeff Gray had pitched the eighth for Boston, and Morgan let him pitch the ninth, despite the fact that Boston's closer, Jeff Reardon, was ready. Even though Greg Myers singled sharply to lead off the ninth, Morgan left Gray in to face Felix, who hit the first pitch into the Toronto bullpen for a two-run homer and a 6-5 Blue Jay lead. In effect, Felix was trying to ruin his own wedding plans; Paula Tread-way of Myrtle Beach, S.C., will be the lucky girl on Oct. 20—unless the groom is otherwise occupied.

Only after the homer did Morgan call for Reardon, who set the Jays down in order. Morgan is a nice man and a good manager of men. However, when it comes to game strategy, he is no rival of, say, Tony La Russa. The cover story of the latest issue of Diehard, a publication for Red Sox fans, is bannered "The Mastermind: Joe Morgan Manages Red Sox To Brink Of AL East Title." Boston's players got a big kick out of that headline.

Somebody up there likes Morgan, though. In the bottom of the ninth, against Tom Henke, the Red Sox loaded the bases with one out. Mike Greenwell then singled to rightfield to tie the score. Third base coach Rac Slider held Boggs at third and watched Felix's throw sail over the head of catcher Carlos Diaz. That raised two questions: Why didn't Morgan pinch-run for the hobbled-and-slow-any-way Boggs? And will Felix mistakenly put the ring on the finger of Ms. Treadway's maid of honor?

Bases loaded, one out and Jeff Stone is on deck. Surely Morgan would pinch-hit for Stone, who entered the game as a pinch runner in the eighth. Stone hadn't had an at bat since being called up from Pawtucket on Sept. 4. "Before I went out into the on-deck circle," said Stone later, "I ran into Danny Heep and asked him if he would be hitting, and he shook his head. Then when I was in the on-deck circle, I kept looking over at Joe."

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