September 4, 1991: A final push at Fenway Park
Red Sox fans – just shy of 30,000 – filed into Fenway Park hoping for some early September magic which could kickstart a final push. It was a Wednesday night game against the Angels, and the Sox were in third place in the Al East, though just 5 ½ games behind the Blue Jays. The Tigers were 2½ games out. There were 31 games left to play, and they were in striking distance. Boston had gone to the postseason in 1986, 1988, and 1990. There was some hope they could get there again. They were coming off wins in five of the last seven games, though the Angels’ Mark Langston had shut them out 2-0 the night before.
Boston manager Joe Morgan had Joe Hesketh (9-3) going against Kirk McCaskill (10-17), who’d lost his last start but thrown a three-hit 1-0 shutout against the Red Sox in Anaheim just 13 days earlier. Hesketh was subpar before the game. "I told [trainer] Charlie [Moss] I didn't feel so good. I felt woozy. My head was severely congested. I felt lousy from the neck up. But I went out to warm up and I was throwing good enough to go out there."1
Home plate umpire Rich Garcia threw the game ball to Hesketh and he put down the Angels 1-2-3 in the top of the first. The Sox got a single, a stolen base, and a walk but Mo Vaughn popped up to end any threat. For the first half of the game, no one scored. Each team had a threat ended due to a double play. Hesketh had twice given up leadoff singles, and four singles in all, but he struck out six batters through the Angels fifth and it was 0-0 at midpoint. McCaskill had also given up four hits through the first four.
With one out in the bottom of the fifth, Wade Boggs – hitless in his last seven at-bats - golfed a home run into the Red Sox bullpen in right field to make it 1-0, Boston, and Jody Reed walked, but Carlos Quintana then grounded into a double play. Still, the Red Sox had a lead. “All wrists," said Boggs. "McCaskill is a good pitcher. He pitches better than a guy with 18 losses. They don't play like a last-place club."2
And Hesketh faced some trouble in the top of the sixth. He gave up a single, a double, and two walks – rescued only because Junior Felix had hit into a double play and wiped the bases clean after the first single. And because Dave Winfield’s shot to left field left the park foul. Winfield walked, so did Gary Gaetti, and now the bases were loaded. Red Sox pitching coach Bill Fischer had Greg Harris ready, and Morgan signaled Harris in to replace his starter. Harris was in his third season with Boston, having a middling year (he wound up 11-12 with a 3.85 ERA), but he did the job, getting Lance Parrish on a routine fly out to right field.
The Red Sox added a run in the bottom of the sixth. Mike Greenwell singled to center field and McCaskill hit Mo Vaughn with a pitch. A force play moved Greenwell to third, with Ellis Burks reaching first base. Tom Brunansky singled through the shortstop hole and brought in Greenie, putting Burks in scoring position at second. But Burks was cut down on the first end of a double steal, and Tony Pena grounded out unassisted to first base. The 2-0 score held, as Harris retired the Angels in order in the seventh and – save for Wally Joyner’s third hit of the game, a single to center, got through the eighth inning, too. Harris ran his scoreless innings streak to 13, over his last eight appearances.
The scoreboard revealed that the Jays had beaten Baltimore at SkyDome.
Closer Jeff Reardon took over in the top of the ninth and threw five pitches. He made it look easy. Gaetti popped up to second, Parrish grounder out 6-1, and Luis Polonia grounded out, second base to first. The game had lasted 2:48. Neither team had made an error. Both teams had seven hits, but Boston had two runs and the Angels had none.
McCaskill’s 18th loss led the league. For Reardon, it was his 34th save on the season, eclipsing Bob Stanley’s team-record 33 saves in 1983. Hesketh had been converted from a reliever to a starter earlier in the season, and gone 8-3 since. His ERA improved to 3.41. Angels manager Buck Rodgers had Hesketh on his Montreal Expos team in 1985 (10-5 through August 23) and Hesketh seemed on his way to becoming Rookie of the Year when a home plate collision with Mike Scioscia broke his shin.
Pennant hopes? This game proved to be the first in a seven-game winning streak that brought them to within four games of first place. The Jays were winning, too. Boston wound up in second place, seven games back and tied with the Tigers.
What makes this game of interest to the author more than 20 years after the fact is that it was the first game to which he’d taken his son Emmet, 47 days old at the time. At one point during the game, it was time for a diaper change and Bill Nowlin went to the first aid room under the grandstand to ask if they had a facility. Earlier that day, the first Fenway Park diaper changing station had been installed. This was the first diaper changed on the foldout platform. A visit in 2012 revealed that the station was subsequently removed in favor of family restrooms around the ballpark.
1 Nick Cafardo, “Hesketh & Co. Zip Angels,” Boston Globe, September 5, 1991.