Trying to close out a tight win in the early stages of an American League pennant-winning season, the 1986 Red Sox found themselves in a fog off the shores of Lake Erie.
It looked like something out of a science-fiction movie.
Wednesday marked the 34th anniversary of that fog-shortened 2-0 victory over the Indians at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland that allowed the Red Sox to increase their lead in the AL East to two games.
“And that was an important game for us too. We got away with a win there. It was a big win for us,” former Red Sox right fielder Dwight Evans recalled earlier this week.
It was a win that wound up requiring just 17 outs instead of 27. It was a win that was capped by one of the most unintentionally hilarious quotes of all time from Boston righty Oil Can Boyd. And it was a win that might not have been possible if not for some great acting in the outfield by Evans.
The lead-in to the madness
There didn’t seem to be anything that unusual about this Tuesday night at Municipal Stadium in the early innings. The Red Sox built a 2-0 lead in the top of the first on RBI singles by Bill Buckner and Jim Rice against Greg Swindell.
By the third inning, however, the fog started to roll in.
“The fog rolled in and it was like, you couldn’t see 15, 20 feet in front of you, it was that thick,” said Evans.
Even Red Sox broadcaster Joe Castiglione, who had called games for the Indians before landing with Boston in 1983, couldn’t believe what he was seeing -- or not seeing.
“I saw a lot of frigid games. Maybe a little fog, but it always lifted, it was nothing like that. It kept getting worse as the day went on,” said Castiglione. “Of all the games I’ve seen, and it was certainly over 1,000 games at Cleveland Stadium, I never saw fog roll in like that and have such an effect.
“It was the end of May. That ballpark until mid to late June was known for being cold. It was right on the lake. I think it might have been a little bit warmer that night and with the cold water, the fog was unbelievable.”
By the bottom of the sixth inning, things were getting out of hand. After Boston starting pitcher Mike Brown walked Tony Bernazard to open the bottom of the inning, crew chief Larry Barnett called for a fog delay.
In a unique way of testing visibility, Indians coach Bobby Bonds grabbed his fungo bat and hit fly balls to Evans.
This created some comedy on a couple of different fronts.
“Bobby Bonds was trying to hit it to Dwight and he kept hitting it over the fence,” Castiglione said. “We could see it go up and then we lost it for a little bit, and we could see it land over the fence.”
Dan Shaughnessy was covering the game for The Boston Globe.
“Someone was hitting fungoes and Evans was out in right field, and we couldn’t see him and he came out of the clouds with the ball,” Shaughnessy said. “It was crazy. You couldn’t see anything.”
Evans played along, telling the umpires he wasn’t seeing the ball well off the bat.
Thirty-four years later, he’s willing to fess up.
“You know what, I could see the ball,” said Evans. “I kind of acted a little bit. I did a little Hollywood out there and acted like I couldn’t see it. I could see it. Playing in Fenway [Park], with all the weather we’ve had there, you’re pretty much used to that.
“We can laugh at it now and I can tell that story now, but I respected umpires so much and everybody so much, but I was truly a team player and wanted to do what was right for our team. He must have hit me five or six or seven balls and I did a pretty good job of acting.”
While the umpires seemed to take Evans at his word, Indians manager Pat Corrales wasn’t buying it.
“Evans said he couldn’t see the ball out there, but I could and he’s a better outfielder than me,” Corrales told The Associated Press after the game.
When the umpires waved Evans back in, he figured the game was over. With it being an official game by that point, Evans knew that if the game didn’t resume, the Red Sox had the win.
“When I came to the dugout,” Evans said, “I said something, I think to Clemens, I said, ‘The game’s in the win column.’”
A brief restart
That first delay lasted just 15 minutes, and the fog cleared enough for the game to resume. Just not for long. Brown gave up a single to Julio Franco once the game continued.
That put the tying runs on base for Cleveland. Red Sox manager John McNamara called on reliever Steve Crawford, who struck out Joe Carter. Up next was Mel Hall, and he drove one to deep center that very well could have tied the game given how much trouble Boston center fielder Tony Armas had seeing the ball. But Armas banged into the fence while making a great catch.
“I picked it up off the bat, then I just saw it at the last minute when it was coming down. It was very tough,” Armas told reporters after the game.
The adventure by Armas turned out to be the last play of the game, even though it was just the second out of the inning. And no one will ever know if those two runners would have eventually scored to tie it.
The umpires again waved for the players to come off the field -- this time for good. The game was officially called after another delay of roughly an hour and a half. The Red Sox had a win -- one of their six shutouts that season -- in front of a sparse crowd of 6,661 in a cavernous stadium also used for football.
“In my 23 years [as an American League umpire], this is the first time I’ve ever seen fog like this sock us in,” Barnett told a pool reporter that night. “We waited 1 1/2 hours and then went into the outfield. Any fly ball would have still been impossible.”
A quote for the ages
Once the Red Sox knew they were going home with the win, Evans showered up and got ready to go back to the team hotel. And then he heard a conversation Boyd was having with reporters that still makes him laugh to this day.
“I love Oil Can, but he was next to me. We had a locker space between us and I could remember the writers talking to him,” said Evans. “The writers were like, ‘Have you ever seen anything like this, Oil Can?’ Now, Oil Can went to college. He goes, ‘You know what, I’ve never seen anything like this, but that’s what they get for building a ballpark by the ocean.”’
It’s just that … well, you know, Municipal Stadium was on a lake, not the ocean.
“I couldn’t stop laughing,” said Evans. “He didn’t even ask me what I was laughing about, but the writers were laughing too. It was a classic. It was a Yogi Berra-ism. It was funny. And that was an important game for us too. We got away with a win there.”
The kicker for the Red Sox -- and it had to feel like a kick in the pants for the struggling Indians -- came when the players started to leave the ballpark.
“Thirty-five, 40 minutes later, you could see the stars and the sky was clear.”
Before the bottom fell out for the Red Sox on that fateful October night at Shea Stadium, that 1986 season was filled with unfathomable wins. There was a walk-off balk against the Angels, a walk-off walk against the Blue Jays and a walk-off hit batter against the Twins, but none were more quirky than the win in the fog.
“You’ve got to have that when you win. You’ve got to have those kind of breaks,” said Evans. “I look at the Red Sox in 2018, how many times they came back in that season. You’ve just got to have it if you’re going to win. It was fun [in 1986]. The season ended in a really lousy way. I’ve still never watched that ’86 highlight film. All in all, it was a fun season.”