The young couple from Boston angrily left Anaheim Stadium in the eighth inning thinking their Red Sox had choked again. It wasn't until the next morning, while they were nursing hangovers on the flight home, that they were informed by another passenger that the Red Sox had beaten the Angels with a miraculous rally. They thought it was a bad joke. But then they were happy. They'd won! Then they were mad. They'd missed out on the greatest game ever.
It was Oct. 12, 1986, Game 5 of the best-of-seven American League Championship Series. It was the Red Sox, who hadn't won a World Series since 1918, versus the Angels, who had never been to the World Series. It was the curse of California's Gene Mauch, the greatest manager never to win a pennant, versus the Curse of the Bambino. It was three hours, 54 minutes of riveting baseball played on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon before 64,223 fans—make that 64,221 at game's end.
"That baseball game," said Red Sox manager John McNamara afterward, "was the best baseball game, the most exciting baseball game, the most competitive baseball game I've ever seen."
Before Game 1 Mauch had said, "I want this team to win the championship. I'd rather do that than eat when I'm hungry." By Game 5 he could taste the pennant. The Angels were up three games to one and, behind starter Mike Witt, took a 5-2 lead into the ninth inning of what looked to be the clincher. Two of California's runs had scored in the sixth when Boston centerfielder Dave Henderson, who had replaced Tony Armas (sprained ankle) in the fifth, tipped Bobby Grich's fly ball over the fence for a homer. "A few guys came to me to say they were ready to hang me." said I Henderson later.
Witt had been brilliant, but Don Baylor hit a two-run homer with one out in the ninth to make it 5-4. With two out, Mauch replaced Witt with lefthander Gary Lucas to face lefthand-hitting Rich Gedman, even though Gedman was 2 for 24 lifetime against Witt and Witt had struck him out the night before. ("I can't believe Mauch took Witt out," Boston second baseman Marty Barrett said after the game.) Gedman pointed to centerfield and asked that a banner be removed because it was bothering his eyes. It read ANOTHER BOSTON CHOKE. Lucas hit Gedman with his first pitch.
Mauch brought in relief ace Donnie Moore. Henderson fell behind 1-2. "The way he looked on his first two swings," said Boston infielder Dave Stapleton later, "I didn't think we had a chance." Yet Henderson then knocked Moore's forkball over the left centerfield fence for his first hit of the series and a 6-5 lead. "I didn't have a clue," Henderson said afterward. "He'll probably throw that pitch 10 times and I'll miss it 10 times."
Henderson almost wasn't the hero. The Angels tied it in the bottom of the inning on Rob Wilfong's RBI single. Steve Crawford relieved and gave up a single to Dick Schofield, putting the winning run at third with one out. "If there had been a toilet seat on the mound," said Crawford later, "I would have used it." An intentional walk loaded the bases for Doug DeCinces, a 96-RBI man that year. Mauch said after the game, "I would have bet my house DeCinces would get that man home." He didn't: fly out to shallow right. Neither did Grich, the next batter, and the game went spinning into the 10th.
The Red Sox won it in the 11th on a sacrifice fly by Henderson, who, when the Red Sox went on to win two more games in Fenway Park to take the series, would become a Boston cult hero. It was only the second postseason game in major league history to be won by a team that had trailed by more than two runs entering the ninth. The first had come the previous night, when the Angels scored three in the ninth to tie it, then won 4-3 in the 11th. In the California clubhouse after the crushing loss in Game 5, Mauch kicked his suitcase and said, "I can't believe I have to pack that thing again." Then he added, "And I bet my house that DeCinces would get Wilfong home. I have no place to sleep tonight."