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Hendu's '86 heroics an enduring legacy for Sox

September 25, 2018

BOSTON -- The 1986 Red Sox had two eventual Hall of Famers in Jim Rice and Wade Boggs. They had one of the greatest pitchers of all-time in Roger Clemens, who broke out that season. They had a former MVP in Don Baylor, a two-way threat throughout the 1980s in

BOSTON -- The 1986 Red Sox had two eventual Hall of Famers in Jim Rice and Wade Boggs. They had one of the greatest pitchers of all-time in Roger Clemens, who broke out that season. They had a former MVP in Don Baylor, a two-way threat throughout the 1980s in Dwight Evans and a gritty, accomplished veteran everyone respected in Bill Buckner.
But the Red Sox never would have tasted the World Series in 1986 if not for a man who wasn't on anybody's radar when the playoffs started.
The late Dave Henderson, with his gapped front teeth, wide smile and surprisingly clutch bat, was the man who provided the most joyful October moments for the 1986 Sox, who came one strike away from ending the agonizing drought that Big Papi and friends finally took care of in 2004.
Each team's most unlikely postseason heroes
So as the team's current juggernaut prepares to start the postseason in a couple of weeks, remember that it won't be all about J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts or Chris Sale. It could be someone like Brock Holt or Blake Swihart or Steve Pearce that steals the show.
The beauty of October is that anyone on the roster can grab the spotlight.
When it comes to a quintessential example of an unlikely hero emerging at just the right time, Henderson will be tough to top in Red Sox lore.
On Aug. 19, 1986, Henderson and shortstop Spike Owen came to Boston in a trade with the Mariners for four players (Rey Quinones, Mike Brown, Mike Trujillo and John Christensen) who never panned out.
Owen was the key player in the trade for the Sox, because they had a shortstop issue all season and he was acquired to stabilize it. Henderson? He was just an insurance policy for an outfield that boasted Rice, Tony Armas and Evans. For the final six weeks of that 1986 season, the man known as "Hendu" was a late-inning defensive replacement who was otherwise used sparingly by manager John McNamara. Henderson had 54 plate appearances and batted .196 with a homer and three RBIs.
So when the Red Sox were down to their last strike of the season in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series against the Angels, who could have predicted Henderson would come up with one of the most dramatic home runs in baseball history in that spot?
He had come into the game in the bottom of the fifth only because Armas had injured his ankle earlier in the contest.
When Henderson stepped to the plate with two out in the ninth and his team down a run, his only contribution to the game had been when he raced back to and tried to make a play -- but instead knocked the ball over the fence for a home run by Bobby Grich.
So here he was in a righty-righty matchup that seemed to heavily favor Angels closer Donnie Moore, who was summoned to face Henderson after lefty Gary Lucas hit Rich Gedman.
After falling behind, 1-2, Henderson took a pitch low for a ball and then fouled off two straight pitches. But on the seventh offering from Moore, Henderson stunned the baseball world by clocking one over the wall in left to give the Red Sox the 6-5 lead.
Henderson jumped for joy and then did a backwards pirouette as he ran the bases. 
With one flick of his wrists, Henderson silenced the "Big A" in Anaheim.
"That was huge, because the guard dogs were around the field [for the Angels' celebration, cops were on horses and 64,000 were screaming because they had all the football seats there for the Rams. It was huge," said Red Sox radio broadcaster Joe Castiglione, who called that game with Ken Coleman.
Evans had already seen some big moments in his career, including the Carlton Fisk wave-it-fair blast to end Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.
"That was the biggest home run I ever saw until Dave Henderson in 1986," Evans said.
Few people remember that the Angels actually came back and tied it in the bottom of the ninth and had runners at the corners with one out with Doug DeCinces up. A sacrifice fly would have won them the pennant. Instead, DeCinces flew out to shallow right, and reliever Steve Crawford kept the game tied.
In the top of the 11th, when the Red Sox needed another big RBI, Henderson provided it with a sacrifice fly to center. The Sox won it, 7-6, then flew back to Boston and blew the Angels out in Games 6 and 7.
The story would have been a beauty if it had ended right there. But Henderson continued his heroics in the World Series, putting the Red Sox in position to take out the powerhouse Mets, who had won 108 games that year.
Taking over for the still-injured Armas, Henderson hit .400 (10-for-25) in the Fall Classic with six runs, two homers and five RBIs.
That latter homer took place in the top of the 10th inning of Game 6 to snap a 3-3 tie. It was a majestic blast that smacked off the Newsday sign above Boston's bullpen. At that point, Henderson had put the Red Sox just three outs away from their first World Series win since 1918.
The smiles for the Red Sox faded and turned to despondence in the bottom of the 10th, when, with two outs and nobody on, the Mets pulled out a rally for the ages, which ended with a ground ball going through Buckner's legs.
However, those October moments helped vault Henderson to a different place in his career. Henderson played for three straight pennant-winners for the Athletics in 1988-90. In '89, Henderson helped Oakland win it all against the Giants. Not surprisingly, he came up big in that World Series also, clocking two homers and two doubles.
"He was made for big moments," Castiglione said. "I think a lot of it was because of his personality. He obviously had a lot of talent, but he was a very loose guy, always smiling, joking."
Sadly, Henderson died at the age of 57 in 2015 after suffering a massive heart attack. But his October legacy will never be forgotten.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.