They drew more Fenway fans than any team in franchise history. They gave you two triple plays in one game, Bill Buckner’s inside-the-park homer, Jeff Stone’s midnight single, and the moondance madness after Tom Brunansky’s classic corner catch.
But last night there was a strong hint of resignation. Nobody wanted to say the words, but it seemed like the Red Sox and their Fenway fans were saying goodbye. The Sox dueled the world champion A’s to a 1-1 tie for six innings, but Boston’s bullpen failed again. The final score was 4-1, and there was little emotion in the ancient theater when it was over. There were no tears, no boos -- just a polite procession into the streets after watching the better team win again.
The staggering Red Sox now must go to Oakland trailing, 2-0, in their best- of-seven playoff series. What this means is that in all likelihood, it’ll be almost time to pay your taxes and we’ll have a new governor when the Sox play their next game in Fenway Park. The next two or three American League Championship Series games are in Oakland, where the mighty A’s have devoured far better teams than the 1990 Red Sox.
We hate to bring this up, but dating back to Game 6 in 1986, the Red Sox have lost eight consecutive postseason games. There is no evidence that they have yet recovered from the unspeakable horrors at Shea Stadium.
“We stayed in the game right until the end again,” said manager Joe Morgan. “You don’t have to tell ‘em too much now. They can read that easy enough.”
Boston’s best hope last night was found in the Reverse Lock Theory. First put forth by Earl Weaver’s Orioles in the 1970s, the Reverse Lock holds that when the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of something happening, we should look for the opposite to occur.
And so Sox fans came to the park hanging their hopes on the improbable. Realistically speaking, there was no way the Red Sox could win. On the mound, the Sox had a 29-year-old rookie, Dana Kiecker. Born in the mythical-sounding Sleepy Eye, Minn., Kiecker spent 6 1/2 years in the minors and compiled a winning record only once. He went 8-9 with the Sox this year and his Fenway ERA was 6.50. Kiecker wore a brown uniform before coming to the Red Sox this season -- and we don’t mean a San Diego Padres uniform; he was a driver for United Parcel Service.
Meanwhile, pitching last night for the A’s was Bob Welch, a man with a 27-6 record. In the last 38 years, only one major league pitcher (Denny McLain, 31 in 1968) has won more games than Welch won in 1990. And when, if ever, has a playoff starter been able to boast of 19 more regular-season wins than his opponent?
In the face of these insurmountable odds, the Fenway fans were looser and louder than on Saturday night. Horrific Game 1 was history, the mysterious Roger Clemens was no longer a part of the equation, and the Sox had nothing to lose. If this was going to be the last Fenway night of 1990, why not go out with a roar instead of a whimper?
Boston took a 1-0 lead in the third when much-maligned Luis Rivera doubled off The Wall, took third on a grounder and scored on Carlos Quintana’s sacrifice fly. Kiecker, a man who looks and sounds a little like Carlton Fisk, buoyed the hopes of the fandom with 5 2/3 strong innings. Kiecker was perfectly heroic, but for the second straight night, the Red Sox did not hit enough to win.
It was a 2-1 game when old friend Dennis Eckersley smothered the Sox’ final flame in the eighth. Eck was back for the ninth and got the side in order. Does this man throw anything but strikes? Welch, meanwhile, has a chance to win 30 games before this season is over.
Morgan was asked if Oakland’s bullpen was as tough as he’s seen and replied, “Yeah, it’s as tough as I’ve seen and so is their team.”
Boston’s weaknesses are unchanged. These Red Sox don’t hit with enough power to generate The Big Inning and the bullpen is badly splintered. The Sox did a good job disguising their flaws in the American League East, but you can’t hide against the Oakland A’s.
The Red Sox at this moment are in Oakland. They might be coming back for more games, but if they don’t, it’s not fair to complain. This Boston baseball edition has performed far beyond expectations and there’ll be plenty to talk about over hot stoves this winter. If it makes you happy, you can light the fire, pass the logs, rip Lou Gorman and wonder why Roger couldn’t pitch into the seventh.
But it’s not over yet. Save those Game 6 tickets and check out the long- range weather forecast for New England next weekend. Just in case.