It ended with Tom Brunansky making the most sensational Sox catch since Dwight Evans’ Game 6 grab in the ‘75 World Series. It ended with Wade Boggs, near tears, raising his arms over his head and screaming “Be-lieve” to the hysterical masses applauding behind the first base dugout.
The 1990 Red Sox regular season ended last night. On the 162d and final date, under a giant pumpkin of a moon, the Olde Towne Team won its third division title in five seasons, beating the Chicago White Sox, 3-1, to finally eliminate the Toronto Blue Jays.
“They called us misfits from the North Pole, castoffs,” said Boggs. “We were etched in stone for seventh place. But this team has got heart and desire I’ve never seen before. A heart as big as the Pru.”
A heart as big as the Pru. There’s a switch. The 1989 Red Sox had a heart smaller than a grain of salt. And now they are division champions with a heart as big as the Pru.
The 90th Boston baseball season started late in February when Rick Gedman conducted informal lockout workouts on the dusty diamond at Winter Haven High School. We wondered what the Red Sox would do without Nick Esasky and how many games Shane Rawley would win.
They flew north with a fiery new leader named Tony Pena and on Opening Day it was Bill Buckner who got the biggest ovation. It was then that we first sensed this might be a magical, cathartic season.
Last night’s Fenway victory averted a midnight Sox flight to Toronto for what would have been the third one-game playoff in American League history. Instead, the Red Sox are AL East champs and have two days to prepare for the World Champion Oakland A’s. The American League Championship Series starts Saturday night on Yawkey Way and the A’s will be prohibitive favorites -- just as the Jays were a lock to win the American League East.
“Let’s savor this,” said Sox second baseman Jody Reed. “Ask me about the A’s tomorrow.”
Buckner, Gedman and Rawley are long gone. This Boston edition is led by the old core of Evans, Boggs and Roger Clemens; people in their prime named Ellis Burks, Mike Greenwell and Reed, plus new blood in the persons of Pena, Carlos Quintana, Dana Kiecker, Tom Bolton, Greg Harris and Jeff Gray. They don’t hit homers or steal bases, but the overachieving Red Sox of 1990 are guaranteed to sell a lot of playoff programs.
Their run for the finish line furnished non-stop drama and fed fears
cultivated by 72 years of failures and near misses. The Red Sox had a 6 1/2- game lead Sept. 5, lost Clemens, then lost their composure and direction. Everything came together when Clemens returned and they took two of three from Toronto in Fenway last weekend. Last night, the Sons of Joe Morgan finally sipped champagne with their wives in a private celebration in the Fenway Diamond Club under the left-field stands.
Clemens wasn’t there. The Rocket flew to Toronto early in the evening; just in case.
There will be no one-game playoff. “He can stay up there and go shopping now,” said Morgan.
The Red Sox won the division title on the field, the way it should be won. And the final out -- Brunansky’s diving catch of Ozzie Guillen’s potential game-winning shot into the corner -- was a classic. Get used to watching the clip; this is footage that will grow old and yellow on the shelf next to Carlton Fisk’s Game 6 Series homer and Dave Henderson’s Game 5 ALCS shot.
“It was a pretty good catch,” said Reed. “Good enough to make my heart stop.”
Brunansky at this hour is taking on the look of Dave Henderson, circa 1986. Fans have been on him since the deal was made, but now it’s beginning to look like he might be one of those big-game players -- oblivious to pressure and circumstance. He hit five homers and made some nice catches in the weekend war with Toronto and last night he was the offensive and defensive hero. The man has a championship ring (1987 Twins).
A word about the Chicago White Sox: They came into last night’s game with 94 wins, third best in baseball. They are going nowhere this year, but this week in Boston they covered themselves with glory and upheld the game’s integrity by playing gut-busting baseball for three straight nights. Red Sox fans might remember Bill Rigney’s California Angels doing this against the Tigers in Detroit during the final weekend in ‘67. On the final Sunday, after the Sox beat the Twins to clinch a tie, the Red Sox waited for the second- division Angels to knock off Detroit. Rigney went all out, and even had three pitchers warming in the bullpen when Dick McAuliffe grounded into a game-ending double play. Detroit’s aged owner, John Fetzer, was brokenhearted, but he invited Rigney to his suite for a post-game drink.
White Sox manager Jeff Torborg this week acted in the same spirit of sportsmanship and honor. He was intent on making the Red Sox earn their division title.
The Red Sox earned it.