Everybody else is talking about the wonderful Jackie Bradley, Jr. (four RBI Sunday, now batting .423) and his chances of making Boston's Opening Day roster, so I thought I'd step into the Wayback Machine in honor of another Red Sox first-round draft pick who celebrated his 55th birthday Sunday.
Roger Clemens got the MVP and Cy Young Award in 1986, as he richly deserved, but down the stretch and through the playoffs that season there was no better pitcher in baseball than Bruce Hurst. The left-hander from Utah was injured through most of June and July, but he went 8-3 after coming back -- including five straight wins as the Sox distanced themselves from New York and Toronto in the AL East. Hurst, not Clemens, was named AL Pitcher of the Month in September as Boston clinched its first division title in 11 years.
In the ALCS against the Angels, Hurst won Game 2 with a Tiant-esque performance -- an 11-hit, 127-pitch complete game—but Boston lost Games 1, 3, and 4 (two started by Clemens, one by Oil Can Boyd). It was up to Hurst to stave off elimination in the fifth contest at Anaheim, and he turned in six solid innings (seven hits, three runs) to keep the Red Sox in the game and set up the ninth-inning heroics of Don Baylor and Dave Henderson in Boston's thrilling, 7-6, victory.
Boston won Games 6 and 7, of course, giving Hurst the rest needed to start Game 1 of the World Series at Shea Stadium. Once again, the big lefty was outstanding, allowing the heavily favored Mets just four hits over eight shutout innings in a 1-0 win saved by good 'ole Calvin Schiraldi. Riding this momentum, the Sox crushed Dwight Gooden in Game 2 to take away New York's home-field advantage.
The Mets gave the Sox their own medicine back at Fenway, however, and the Series was all knotted up when Hurst got the ball again in Game 5. This time the Mets got to him for two runs, but not until the eighth and ninth innings after Boston had built a 4-0 lead. Going the distance one more time, Hurst now had allowed two runs over 17 innings against the NL's 108-win powerhouse.
What happened next, Red Sox fans know, is still very painful to recount—although not quite as bad as it was before October 2004. Boston lost Game 6 at Shea (no details necessary), after which a Game 7 rainout gave manager John MacNamara the extra day needed to start the red-hot Hurst in the finale over a heartbroken Boyd.
For a while, everything went well. The Red Sox took a 3-0 lead in the second on back-to-back homers by Dwight Evans and Rich Gedman (I bet you forgot that, Sox fans, didn't you?) and a Wade Boggs single, and Hurst allowed just one ground-ball single through five innings in holding the advantage. Bruce was headed for his third win of the series and a sure MVP trophy.
Then the ghosts of the past made their way to Shea. Three hits, a walk, and a groundout gave New York three runs in the sixth, and although Hurst had only thrown 74 pitches, MacNamara elected to bring in Schiraldi—who had already blown the save and lost Game 6—to start the seventh inning of a 3-3 game. Before you could say "Deer in the Headlights," Darryl Strawberry sent Cool Cal's fourth pitch to Newark and the Mets scored twice more for a 6-3 advantage from which Boston never recovered.
Despite failing to hold the lead, Hurst was never held accountable for the world championship that got away. His 2-0 record and 1.96 ERA for the World Series, and his 2.13 postseason ERA over 38 mostly fantastic innings that fall, had been all Boston fans could ask for.
Hurst never did get another chance to pitch deep into October, and left the Red Sox two years later to pitch closer to home with the Padres. I assume, being a religious family man, he also wanted to get away from the "Delta Force" atmosphere around the Sox in those days.
Anyway, wherever you are Bruce, I hope you had a great day Sunday—and thanks for the memories.
Saul Wisnia lives less than seven miles from Fenway Park and works 300 yards from Yawkey Way. His latest book, Fenway Park: The Centennial, is available at http://amzn.to/qWjQRS, and his Fenway Reflections can be found at http://saulwisnia.blogspot.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @saulwizz.