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Another Viewpoint: Red Sox's Courage Almost Overlooked

October 20, 1986|SCOTT OSTLER

One last look back. Disjointed notes from a memorably disjointed Angels-Red Sox series . . .

Scene: After Game 7, in a corner of the Red Sox clubhouse, winning pitcher Roger Clemens slumps on a stool, pale and sickly, barely able to speak, barely able to move. He is answering reporters' questions in a weak whisper.

Going into the game, Clemens is the prime candidate for Choking Dog of the Decade Award in Boston. After his big regular season, he twice fails to beat the Angels. Flying from Los Angeles to Boston, he gets sick breathing cigarette smoke. He is further weakened by allergies, and racked by the flu. But when it counts, Clemens becomes Hercules unchained.

Probably not enough has been said, at least on this coast, about Boston's rising to the occasion, about the Red Sox's courage and cool under pressure. Clemens, Jim Rice, Calvin Schiraldi, Dave Henderson and Oil Can Boyd all came back from embarrassing, even humiliating, performances to play hero roles. The Sox were clutch.

Some perspective on frustration: Gene Mauch started his managerial no-World Series streak in 1960. The Angels started theirs in 1961. Just how long ago was that?

Well, the President of the United States back then was Millard Fillmore. The Cy Young Award winner was Cy Young. How much was a gallon of gasoline? Why, gasoline hadn't been invented yet. At training camp in '61, remember, the Angel players rode bicycles to the ballpark.

Still don't believe in the Curse of Anaheim Stadium, AKA the Angel Jinx? How, then, to explain the ultimate cosmic tease of Dave Henderson tipping an Angel fly ball over the fence, then hitting a home run--two astronomically unlikely occurrences?

A few years ago, a very high-ranking Angel official (no longer with the team), in all seriousness persuaded a Catholic priest to visit Anaheim Stadium on an off-day to attempt to exorcise the jinx by blessing the ballpark.

Maybe it was too late. Some say that when the Stadium was completely enclosed for football in 1979, the Jinx was trapped inside forever.

During a lull in the series action, a couple of Boston sportswriters figure out that Red Sox center fielder Tony Armas is the only player in the major leagues who can claim that every syllable of his first and last names is either a body part or a barnyard animal.

Scene: Ninth inning, game 5. Waiting for the Angels to wrap up the Series, several TV camera crews and various reporters gather in the tunnel leading from the Angel dugout to the clubhouse. They will capture in words and pictures the joy of the Angels' victory.

TV Cameras are covered with sheets of plastic to keep champagne damage to a minimum. One reporter wears a rain slicker.

They wait. And wait. Finally, Mike Witt trudges past silently, head down, cap off. He looks tired, angry. A few minutes later comes a report of a Dave Henderson home run.

Slowly, the crowd outside the clubhouse disperses.

Angel fans' proudest moment: After Game 5, Boston outfielder Dwight Evans describes the Anaheim Stadium crowd as "deafening."

Scene: Fenway Park, early afternoon before Game 6 and just after a big rainstorm. The Fenway grounds crew, led by crew chief Joe Mooney, strips off the tarps. Gene Mauch, in his clubhouse office, talks about Mooney.

"Joe will have the field ready," Mauch says. "He's one of the very best. When I was the player-manager at Minnesota (minor league Millers) back in '58 and '59, Joe was our groundskeeper. He was very valuable. When it rained, he would cover the field as fast or as slow as you wanted him to.

"I coached third base and Joe sat on the bench every game. If I was reading the pitcher, I'd yell in to Joe that I needed different shoes. That meant for everyone in the dugout but Joe to keep quiet. If my left hand was open, it was going to be a fastball. Closed, it was a curve. If I signaled fastball, Joe would keep quiet. For a curve, he'd yell out something, anything, to the hitter. Nobody (on opposing teams) ever figured it out. Nobody would ever suspect the groundskeeper. Boy, we knocked the hell out of a lot of teams."

MUP (Most Unvaluable Player)? A good candidate would be George Hendrick. One single in 12 at-bats. Plus, if he really is running out ground balls as hard as he can, George sure makes it look easy. Defensively, in Game 5 George stops in his tracks going after a Rich Gedman home run into the lower seats. It appeared that an aggressive outfielder might have had a play.

Biggest mistake: In the ninth inning of Game 5, attendants in the Angel clubhouse started uncorking the champagne bottles. Or so the story goes. It would be hard to imagine a more direct slap in the faces of baseball's gods and goblins.

Even if it didn't happen, nobody denied the rumor and the Red Sox used the champagne story to psyche themselves up for Games 6 and 7. It is now baseball lore.

Come next spring, it will all be forgotten, the Angels will never look back, right?

After Game 5, someone asks Brian Downing how many hours it would take to forget about this one disheartening game.

"I still haven't forgotten about the three losses to Milwaukee (in the league championship series in '82)," Downing said.

And now here's another one for the old memory books.

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