The 2018 Red Sox begin another ALCS run this weekend, for the first time since that blessed 2013 season. So what better time to get myself liquored up and reminisce about my experiences with the Red Sox in the AL Championship Series.
1986 ALCS vs. California Angels: My indoctrination into the Secret Club of Red Sox Heartache came during the 1986 fall classic. When Game Seven ended in New York, and the likes of Ron Darling, Gary Carter and Mookie Wilson engaged in a massive love pile-up on the field with a million boozed-up parolees, I remember quietly collapsing to the floor and remaining there a good thirty minutes before anyone thought to check if I was still breathing. It was the sort of pain I wouldn’t feel again until the 2003 ALCS.
But ’86 wasn’t all gloom and trash. Before the Sox elevated coming back from the dead to an art form — see the 2004 ALCS, 2007 ALCS, 2003 ALDS and 1999 ALDS — they stunned us all by overcoming a 3-1 deficit to the California Angels in the 1986 ALCS, after being literally one strike away from elimination. While the image of Dave Henderson’s now-immortal home run has been hard-wired into most of our brains, here’s a clip of Sox pitcher Calvin Schiraldi shutting the door on the Angels to secure the AL pennant, and the ensuing mayhem as Oil Can Boyd, Bob Stanley, Dwight Evans, Joe Sambito, Spike Owen and a few security-ducking fans kick it old school.
The one thing that got me back then was how the announcers — one of whom I believe was Al Michaels — seemed decidedly pro-California. Check how even as the Sox get ready to complete an inexplicable comeback, we’re told that we “have to feel for” Angel’s manager Gene Mauch. Why? Because he’s old? Because he spent the better part of his career as Gene Autry’s personal kicking-bag? Screw that noise, people. I’d waited my whole life for this moment.
Also, in the pre-“Dirty Water” era, the best the Fenway sound system could serve up during the post-game field rush was “Roll Out the Barrel.” But, hey, no song better signaled “party time” in the pre-Calvin Coolidge era. So I guess it’s just fine.
Anyway, this clip helped me through some of the less-then-stellar seasons of the late ’80s and early ’90s. And I still get chills hearing, “the Red Sox are trying to go from last rites to the World Series. And they do!”
Back then, a trip to the postseason was a rare occurrence, and I still remember my first taste of it. The Red Sox shirt vendors on seemingly every corner. “The Possible Dream” signs in shop windows. Mayor Ray Flynn getting a Spike Owen tattoo on his ass during a live taping of “Chronicle.” Roger Clemens and Al Nipper earning Presidential kudos for disarming a Russian sub that they spotted in the waters off Revere Beach during a late night stop at Kelly’s Roast Beef. It was the kind of thing I thought could happen every year. Ah, the innocence of youth.
1988 & 1990 ALCS vs. Oakland A’s: I sometimes forget that the Red Sox played in these series because they were gone in the blink of an eye. The Sox were swept, 0-4, in both series, as the A’s juggernaut, led by pitcher Dave Stewart, always seemed to get the better of the Sox and Roger Clemens. The 1990 edition is famous for Clemens’ epic meltdown after arguing balls and strikes with umpire Terry Cooney. Cooney ejected the Rocket, the Rocket responded by losing his shit and threatening Cooney with a hearty “I know where you live.” Actually, now I know why these games are best left forgotten. Mind you, the A’s were the favorites in this ALCS, just as the Astros are in 2018. But I’m more willing to take this year’s edition over either of these teams.
1999 ALCS vs. New York Yankees: For a Sox fan in the late ’90s, there weren’t a lot of joyful postseason memories to cling to, at least any that took place in an era in which men weren’t required by law to wear stovepipe hats. We were still living off the fumes of our comeback in the 1986 ALCS, wondering if we’d ever again get so much as a sniff of some World Series action in our lifetimes, especially after a couple of ugly October meltdowns against the likes of the A’s and Indians in 1988, 1990 and 1995.
Then 1999 changed everything. We were dead–dead I say–against Clevelend in the ALDS, but then we pulled victory from our collective arses thanks to Ireland’s favorite son, Troy O’Leary, and Pedro Martinez. Then we had a date with the Yankees in the ALCS, with the winner going to the Series.
Turns out that for Sox fans, the 1999 ALCS would be a rather lopsided and maddeningly forgettable affair. Except for game three, when the prodigal son Roger Clemens returned to Fenway, squaring off against Petey. In the first inning, when the Rocket took the hill, the crowd was out for blood, launching the now-infamous “Ro-ger” chant (which would become “Where is Roger/In the shower” a few innings later). And very quickly, Clemens found himself on the business end of a 2 run deficit, thanks to an Offerman triple and an over-the-Monster blast from Johnny V himself, as the crowd worked itself into a frenzy not unlike the crowd in the scene where Snake Plissken fights Ox Baker in Escape from New York.
2003 ALCS vs. New York Yankees: I think the best thing I can say about the 2003 ALCS is that it kicked my ass so badly, I needed to create this website to completely and effectively channel my rage. There are some people who say that it wouldn’t have mattered to them if the Sox lost the 2003 World Series to the Marlins, just as long as they beat the Yankees for the AL Championship. While I’m hesitant to say a Series victory isn’t the ultimate goal, beating the Yankees would have been a tremendous event, lifting generations of monkeys off our backs and smashing all this Curse nonsense to tiny pieces. It would have been a majestic good time, giving Red Sox fans everywhere the chance to know what it feels like to watch our heroes douse each other with champagne while George Steinbrenner looks on in amazement and disgust. It would have felt so friggin’ nice. But it was not to be. You can ask Grady Little about that.
2004 ALCS vs. New York Yankees: Yeah, this ALCS was alright.
2007 ALCS vs. Cleveland Indians: Believe it or not, there was a time when loving Josh Beckett was an okay thing. This was true in 2003 when he lead the Marlins over the Yankees in the World Series, and it was true again in 2007 when he helped us step over the Indians en route to another championship season. The Indians were so frightened of Josh, in fact, they invited one of his ex-girlfriends to sing the National Anthem before game five in Cleveland. As attempts to get in a guy’s head, rolling out the ex is a pretty shrewd move. But it back-fired big-time. In fact, the extra shot of testosterone was just what The Commander needed to finish off the Indians. Because, as everyone knows, Josh Beckett is fueled by testosterone, Coors Light, and the blood of his victims. Anyway, it’s easy to forget that the Sox were down 1-3 in this series before taking the last three and getting all of Cleveland wondering what the hell they had to do to win a World Series.
2008 ALCS vs. Tampa Bay Rays: Among the great Red Sox Victories In Playoff Series We Eventually Lost, game six of the 1975 World Series perhaps stands tallest. And that makes sense. But right below that–-and certainly before any indignities suffered in 1986 and 2003–-I’d put game five of the 2008 ALCS. In the list of Rays-Sox battles, I’d even put it above Pedro getting attacked by Gerald Williams then almost no-hitting Tampa Bay.
Again, it’s tough to cast a positive eye on it, knowing how the series ended. Especially since, at the time, the Rays were one of our most hated rivals, far removed from the chew toys they’ve become for us this season. I was watching it at The Fours down on Causeway, packed in with all the other drunks and diehards who knew that, in the wake of the 2004 ALCS, nothing was impossible. But in the seventh inning, we were down 7-0 in the game and 3-1 in the series. So the beers were draining faster and with extreme prejudice.
Then the Elf knocked in a run. Then Papi cracked a three-run bomb. And we headed to the eighth down by 3. And one inning later, we had those runs too, courtesy of a JD Drew two-runner and a Coco RBI. By now, the crowd was frenzied. And I’ll be damned if I didn’t try to get a spirited call of “WHEN I SAY KOTSAY, YOU SAY FUCK YEAH” going.
By the time Drew pulled another rabbit out of his hat, knocking in the winning run with a walk-off double, the full grip of 2004 Mania was upon us. While we can never take away the magnitude of what the original band of “Idiots” achieved that magic post-season, that game five comeback in the 2008 ALCS was the second-biggest in playoffs history. And the possibility of going to the World Series in consecutive years, and the accompanying thought that we may be witnessing a dynasty in the making, was almost too much for my beer-soaked brain to process.
Let’s just say I spent the rest of the night roaming the streets of Boston literally unable to sleep, unable to contain my feelings, unable to wait for the first pitch of game six. While I still can’t watch the Aaron Boone game, even knowing what happened the following year, I’ll roll tape on game 5 of the 2008 ALCS every now and then. Because it really was a fucking magic show.
2013 ALCS vs. Detroit Tigers: This is the series forever remembered for David Ortiz’s insanely timely game two grand slam, which sent Torii Hunter ass-over-elbows into the bullpen and changed the course of the series after the Sox dropped game one. Look a little closer, though, and you’ll realize that the real turning point came in game three, when John Lackey outdueled Justin Verlander for a nailbiter of a 1-0 win. The difference maker was a towering home run by Mike Napoli, who earned every block of his shirtless run down Boylston with this hit.
2018 ALCS vs. Houston Astros: It’s gotta go better than the 2017 ALDS… right?