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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS : Henderson Still Making the Most of a Dual Role

Times Staff Writer

For a guy who has made it into postseason play only twice, Dave Henderson is making more than his share of impact. He has been up. He has been down. He’s a regular playoff yo-yo.

In 1986, when he was with the Boston Red Sox, Henderson came into Game 5 of the American League championship series against the Angels just in time to help push a Bobby Grich drive over the center-field fence.

But before he could be written into baseball history as the man who helped the Red Sox lose the pennant, he hit a home run off Donnie Moore, graciously handing over the goat label to the Angel reliever. Then he hit a sacrifice fly in the 11th inning to win it for the Red Sox and earn himself a hero’s welcome when the team returned to Boston on its way to the World Series.

Now we flash forward to Oct. 6, 1988. Henderson is in the green and gold of the Oakland Athletics. He’s playing against the Red Sox. He already has the game-winning RBI in the Athletics’ 2-1 victory in Game 1. And he already has made a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch in the deepest recesses of Fenway Park’s right-center field to rob Ellis Burks of an extra-base hit in the fourth inning on this night.

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But Boston has ace Roger Clemens on the mound, and Clemens is breezing through the Oakland lineup as if it’s loaded with Little Leaguers. Oakland’s Storm Davis is also pitching a shutout, however. And it looks as if this is one of those games in which an error could make the difference.

Enter Henderson. Again. With two out and two on in the sixth inning, Boston’s Jim Rice lines a shot to center. Henderson rushes in. He reaches out to make a waist-high catch. It’s in his glove. It’s out of his glove. It’s on the ground. One run scores. Then another scores on a single by Burks.

The Red Sox lead, 2-0.

“At that point, with the way Roger was throwing, I thought we were a shoo-in,” Boston Manager Joe Morgan said.

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“To be honest, things looked pretty dismal right then with Clemens on the mound,” Oakland reliever Dennis Eckersley said.

Henderson wasn’t worried, though. These things are nothing to get concerned about, you know.

“Sure, it was a critical play, but we had three more innings to play,” he said. “I wasn’t about to just cash it in right then and there.”

Henderson led off for the Athletics in the seventh, and if the error was on his mind, it didn’t show. He singled to center.

Clemens had an 0-2 count on Jose Canseco when he noticed Henderson jumping around at first base. Canseco got ahold of a fastball and sent it deep over the Green Monster in left field, and it was 2-2.

“Roger had rediscovered that low outside fastball that no one can hit,” Morgan said. “He was dynamite. But he thought Henderson was running on that pitch, and he lost a little concentration. He didn’t get the ball in enough, and the big guy got all of it.”

Two innings later, the Athletics had a 4-3 victory and a 2-0 advantage in the series.

Oh, that Henderson. He does the big things. He does the little things. He does the bad things and the good things. And he never lets one get in the way of the other.

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“That’s the way it’s supposed to be, right?” Henderson asked, smiling. “It’s just like ’86. I don’t get too high or too low, even in the playoffs. I don’t get more emotional about postseason play. I like to hit in the money situations, and I don’t try to screw up in the field, but whatever happens, good or bad, you can’t let it affect the other.”

So he just goes about his zany business of give-and-take.

First there’s the taking, though maybe robbing would be a better word here.

Burks ripped a shot into right-center in the fourth. Henderson turned his back to the plate and raced for the wall. The ball ended up in the only spot where it could possibly be caught--the strange little spot in right-center where the fence in this strange little park juts out at a weird angle to 420 feet from home plate. Henderson looked up at the last minute and stabbed the ball before crashing into the wall.

“I just put my head down and took off,” Henderson said. “When I looked up, I knew I had a shot at it. The wind carried into that triangle out there.”

His play on Rice’s drive was an example of giving. The ball was well hit, but it was certainly catchable. It hit the heel of Henderson’s glove and then popped up into the webbing, where it stayed for just an instant before falling out.

“That’s just part of the game,” Oakland Manager Tony La Russa said. “I mean, it wasn’t a routine fly ball. It was a sinking line drive, and it popped out of his glove. I always remind myself that these are men, not machines.”

Henderson said: “I was coming in hard, and it sunk a little right at the end and hit the heel of my glove. I missed it.”

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Then there was more taking, and with Clemens, you take what you can get. Henderson got a fastball over the plate and lined it into center for his third hit of the series. A moment later, he was dancing around on first base, and Canseco got the pitch he wanted as a result.

With Henderson, what goes around comes around. It’s enough to make most guys dizzy. Not Henderson.


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