by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

BOSTON — Dave Henderson bounces. He is young and muscular and slides into the bag like a Boeing jet crashing in some distant desert, but then, whoop, he’s back up again, springing to his feet — so quick the dirt doesn’t stick. Up, down, up. The perfect slide for the man from nowhere.

Where did he come from, this guy Boston suddenly knows as Hendu? Twelve days ago he was a part-time player on the Red Sox’s bench. Then Tony Armas went down with in an injury in a California playoff game forever known around here as “Game 5,” and Henderson came in and soon he was the last hope for the Boston season. Ninth inning, two out, two strikes, and he hit a two-run home run that led to a victory and more victories that didn’t stop until the Sox had a 2-0 lead in the World Series.

Where did he come from? Nobody cares. He has played every game since, and he came into Thursday night’s Game 5 with the best average on the team, .429. And, as if on cue, there he was, second inning, poised on third base with a triple off the Mets’ Dwight Gooden, watching Spike Owen lift a sacrifice to left field.

Take off! Henderson charged the plate, the throw came in, he crash-landed and, whoop, he was back up, hands high, like a rock star saying goodnight. The Red Sox had their first run in this crucial game.

And pitcher Bruce Hurst went out and shut the Mets down. Buckner scores! Mercy! Bill Buckner doesn’t bounce. Bill Buckner doesn’t spring. What words would you use for that painful picture of the 36-year-old Bucker rounding third and heading for home on a Dwight Evans single in the third Thursday — as Len Dykstra threw from center for a play at the plate?

How painful was it? How many injuries does the guy have? Ankle, leg. “They should shoot him for mercy,” the latest joke goes. He can barely walk. He had special high-top shoes made so he could limp passably. And here he came charging home, racing the throw, as if every disappointment ever suffered in Boston was strapped to his ankles. Lumbered? Trudged? Surely it was not running.

The ball reached the catcher’s glove and Buckner did what comes naturally. He slid — only with Buckner, it wasn’t as much a slide as a landlocked bellyflop. Splat! Yes. Splat! was the word, but splat was good enough. The throw was high, Buckner touched the plate and the second Boston run had scored.

When he rose to his feet, slowly, his uniform was covered with his effort. Dirt sticks to Buckner. It looks a lot like blood.

And Hurst went out and shut the Mets down. Laughter is for winners Jim Rice neither bounces nor trudges. His is the elegant gait of a man who knows his ball is over the fence, beyond the wall, no need to get dirty. He is 33 years old, playing in his first World Series
(he was on the Sox but injured in 1975). Quiet, sometimes haughty, and he runs with dignity — even when he slammed a ball to the deepest center field in the fifth inning, and it caromed off the wall, one foot from being a home run.

Even then Rice came into third base standing, head up, proud as ever. No slide, no flop, no bounce. He would score the Red Sox’s third run — which would be one more than they would need this night — on a Don Baylor single, and he would go into the dugout and point to Baylor and laugh.

Laughter? Yes. Here were the Red Sox trying to regain the saddle. Here was Bruce Hurst trying to become the first Red Sox left-hander since Babe Ruth to win a World Series game in this park. He was brilliant, pitched a complete game, striking out the Mets when they threatened most, hearing a chorus of
“BRUUUCE!” with each out.

The Sox fans were louder than they had been all Series. Why not? The home boys came in with a 2-0 lead, and since when has Boston known how to behave with an advantage? But tie things up, as the Mets did, slam the Sox against the wall, give them their last game of the year in Fenway Park — with the ugly prospect of returning to New York having to win both games — and, hey, there’s something Sox fans can relate to.

In the end, they got the win they desperately wanted, 4-2. “Too much Bruce Hurst,” Dave Johnson, the Mets’ manager would say. And Boston goes to New York up, 3-2. And sitting in the stands Thursday was a man whose silent nod said it all.

Ted Williams.

Whatever happens now, they got something to remember, these Fenway fans, a World Series win in Boston — the first in 11 years — from this, perhaps their most uncharacteristic Red Sox team. A pastiche of young and old and injured, symbolized best Thursday by the three slides of Henderson, Buckner and Rice — and the tireless arm of Hurst, who had old timers here dreaming of a championship, and thinking about The Babe.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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