After finishing just one game behind Kansas City in the A.L. West the previous year, the California Angels captured their third division title in 1986, finishing the regular season with a record of 92-70 that left them five games ahead of the second-place Texas Rangers. Featuring an offense that finished just sixth in the league with 786 runs scored, the Angels separated themselves from the rest of the teams in their division primarily with their outstanding pitching, which placed second in the junior circuit with a 3.84 team ERA.
Right-hander Mike Witt anchored California’s starting rotation, compiling a record of 18-10 and an ERA of 2.84, striking out 208 batters, and working 269 innings. He received a considerable amount of help from Kirk McCaskill and 41-year-old Don Sutton. McCaskill went 17-10, with a 3.36 ERA and 202 strikeouts. Sutton finished third on the club with 15 victories. Meanwhile, Donnie Moore saved 21 games working out of the bullpen.
Doug DeCinces, Brian Downing, Gary Pettis, and Wally Joyner paced the Angels on offense. DeCinces hit 26 home runs and drove in 96 runs. Downing hit 20 homers, knocked in 95 runs, and scored 90 others. In addition to playing an exceptional centerfield, Pettis scored 93 runs and finished second in the league with 50 stolen bases. Joyner earned a second-place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting by hitting 22 home runs, knocking in 100 runs, and batting .290.
While Texas proved to be California’s primary competition in the A.L. West, New York provided the greatest opposition to Boston in the East. The Yankees’ offense enabled them to remain close to the Red Sox in the standings the entire year, even though their mediocre pitching ultimately caused them to come up a bit short. The Red Sox won the division with a record of 95-66, finishing 5 ½ games ahead of the second-place Yankees. Detroit finished third, 8 ½ games back, while the defending A.L. East champion Toronto Blue Jays slipped to fourth in the division, 9 ½ games off the pace.
New York’s offense remained one of the best in the league, finishing fourth in the rankings with 797 runs scored, third with 188 home runs, second with a team batting average of .271, and topping the circuit with a .347 team on-base percentage and a .430 team slugging average. Dave Winfield hit 24 homers and drove in 104 runs. Rickey Henderson homered 28 times and led the league with 130 runs scored and 87 stolen bases. Don Mattingly earned a second-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting by hitting 31 home runs, knocking in 113 runs, scoring 117 others, batting .352, and leading the league with 238 hits, 53 doubles, 388 total bases, and a .573 slugging average.
However, the Red Sox were a more well-balanced team than the Yankees, finishing fifth in the league with 794 runs scored and tying for third in the circuit with a team ERA of 3.93. Boston’s deep starting rotation included Bruce Hurst, Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd, and staff ace Roger Clemens. Hurst finished 13-8 with a 2.99 ERA. The enigmatic Boyd finished second on the club with 16 victories. Clemens earned A.L. Cy Young and MVP honors by leading all league pitchers with a record of 24-4 and a 2.48 ERA. He also placed among the leaders with 238 strikeouts and 254 innings pitched.
Boston’s lineup, which compiled the second-highest team batting average in the league (.271), was solid from top to bottom. Pesky Marty Barrett batted .286 and scored 94 runs. Bill Buckner hit 18 home runs and drove in 102 runs. Wade Boggs scored 107 runs, collected 207 hits, and led the league with a .357 batting average, 105 bases on balls, and a .455 on-base percentage. Dwight Evans hit 26 homers and knocked in 97 runs. Don Baylor homered 31 times, drove in 94 runs, and scored 93 others. Jim Rice hit 20 homers, knocked in 110 runs, scored 98 others, batted .324, and collected 200 hits. He finished third in the MVP voting.
In spite of their many offensive weapons, the Red Sox scored more than three runs just once in their first four meetings with California in the ALCS, enabling the Angels to take a three-games-to-one lead in the Series. All appeared lost for the Red Sox when they entered the top of the ninth inning of Game Five trailing the Angels by a score of 5-2. However, with the Red Sox down to their last out, Don Baylor trimmed California’s lead to 5-4 when he delivered a two-run homer. After Rich Gedman reached first base via a hit-by-pitch, Dave Henderson drove an offering from reliever Donnie Moore over the left field wall to stunningly put Boston in the lead by a run. The Angels tied the game in the bottom of the frame, but the Red Sox eventually pushed across the game-winning run in the top of the 11th inning to stave off elimination for another day. With momentum clearly on their side, the Red Sox pounded California pitching in each of the next two contests, posting victories of 10-4 and 8-1 that put them in the World Series for the first time since 1975.
The Red Sox subsequently appeared to be on the verge of winning their first world championship in 68 years when they took a three-games-to-two lead against the New York Mets in the World Series and entered the bottom of the 10th inning of Game Six holding on to a 5-3 lead. This time, though, the Mets turned the tables on the Red Sox, scoring three runs with two men out, with the last run scoring on a slow ground ball that went through the legs of first baseman Bill Buckner. Although Boston grabbed an early 3-0 lead in Game Seven, New York rallied again, scoring eight times in the final four frames to come away with a Series-clinching 8-5 victory.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• February 28 - Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth suspended 11 players who had testified to cocaine involvement in the Pittsburgh drug trials of 1985.
• June 18 - Don Sutton of the California Angels recorded his 300th career win.
• June 21 - Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Vincent "Bo" Jackson surprisingly announced his intention to forego dealing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who drafted him with the first overall selection of the National Football League Draft. Instead, Jackson signed a contract to play baseball for the Kansas City Royals.
• July 29 - Sparky Anderson of the Detroit Tigers became the first manager in baseball to achieve 600 career wins in both the American and National League.
• August 1 - Bert Blyleven of the Minnesota Twins recorded his 3,000th career strikeout.
• August 10 – The New York Yankees retired Billy Martin’s number 1.
• Oakland's Jose Canseco (33 home runs and 117 RBIs) earned A.L. Rookie of the Year honors.
• Roger Clemens struck out a major league record 20 Mariners on April 29.
• Hall of Famers Ted Lyons, Hank Greenberg, and Red Ruffing all passed away.
• The American League won the All-Star Game 3-2 at Houston, even though Fernando Valenzuela matched Carl Hubbell’s 1934 feat by striking out five A.L. batters in a row.
• Chicago’s Joe Cowley threw a no-hitter against California on September 19.
• New York’s Dave Righetti established a new major league record by amassing 46 saves.
• Minnesota's Bert Blyleven surrendered a major league record 50 homers.
• The Hall of Fame inducted Willie McCovey, Bobby Doerr, and Ernie Lombardi.
• Toronto’s Tony Fernandez set a new major league record for most hits by a shortstop (213).
• Minnesota’s Greg Gagne hit two inside-the-park home runs in a game.
• On June 28, Cleveland’s Phil Niekro faced California’s Don Sutton in the first duel between 300-game winners since 1892.
• Detroit's Jack Morris led the league with six shutouts and placed second with 21 wins.
• Bert Blyleven led the American League with 272 innings pitched.
• Cleveland's Tom Candiotti led all A.L. hurlers with 17 complete games.
• Minnesota's Kirby Puckett hit 31 home runs, drove in 96 runs, and finished among the league leaders with a .328 batting average, 119 runs scored, and 223 hits.
• Cleveland’s Joe Carter hit 29 home runs, led the league with 121 runs batted in, batted .302, scored 108 runs, and collected 200 hits.
• Toronto’s Jesse Barfield led the A.L. with 40 homers, knocked in 108 runs, scored 107 others, and batted .289.
• Toronto teammate George Bell hit 31 home runs, drove in 108 runs, scored 101 others, and batted .309.
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- 1986 ALCS, 1986 World Series, American League, Bert Blyleven, Bill Buckner, Bo Jackson, Boston Red Sox, Brian Downing, Bruce Hurst, California Angels, Dave Henderson, Dave Righetti, Dave Winfield, Don Baylor, Don Mattingly, Don Sutton, Donnie Moore, Doug DeCinces, Dwight Evans, Eddie Murray, Gary Pettis, George Bell, George Brett, Greg Gagne, Jack Morris, Jesse Barfield, Jim Rice, Joe Carter, Joe Cowley, Jose Canseco, Kirby Puckett, Kirk McCaskill, Marty Barrett, Mike Witt, Oil Can Boyd, Peter Ueberroth, Phil Niekro, Rich Gedman, Rickey Henderson, Roger Clemens, Sparky Anderson, Tom Candiotti, Tony Fernandez, Wade Boggs, Wally Joyner