There were days this season when people friends, teammates, some of the cheap-seat hecklers - would ride Bruce Hurst about that avalanche of offense he'd get each time he pitched.
There was that chilly Sunday afternoon game against the Texas Rangers in April, when the Red Sox gave Hurst 15 runs with which to play. Hurst won. Eight days later, in Milwaukee, they gave him five runs. And then eight runs in a home game against Minnesota. On May 5, the Red Sox gave him 16 runs against the Chicago White Sox.He won and he won and he won.
"It just goes to show you how cyclical baseball can be," said Hurst, a man who pitched an outstanding game Wednesday, yet a man who was the pitcher of record and remorse in the Red Sox' 2-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
"First, I'm getting a lot of runs, and now we get one run," he said. "But I'm not very good at putting games in categories - toughest, best, worst. All I can say is that I had fun today, and that I made a couple of mistakes, and we lost."
For Hurst, this was a game that more closely resembled his late-season frustrations than his early-season pieces of cake. His September included a 3-2 loss to the Angels and a 1-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, and his postseason began with a complete-game loss to the Athletics in which his team managed one run on one sacrifice fly by Wade Boggs.
Hurst gave up a home run to Jose Canseco, and he gave up a ground-ball single to right by Dave Henderson that brought in Carney Lansford. For this, he lost.
Yet Hurst's "mistakes" should have asterisks next to them. Take the mistake he made in the fourth inning, when he threw a 3-2 forkball to Canseco. Hurst's forkball is one of his best pitches, which is why he feels competent to throw it on a 3-2 count. He did, and it was a good one, low and inside, only Canseco drilled it to left. Canseco would later say he hit "a fastball in, and I didn't hit it that well." But he hit it well enough. Home run.
"Yes, it was a mistake," said Hurst, but he then added, "I didn't think it was that bad a pitch. It's just that he's so strong. He can get it out. It just didn't work out on this pitch."
Asked if he would have made that same pitch again in that situation, he supplied an obvious answer to a silly question: "Knowing what I know now, no, I guess I wouldn't."
But the fact is that Hurst would, and he did. Though Hurst didn't throw Canseco many more forkballs the rest of the day, he didn't back off completely. And while it's true that Canseco's home run off Hurst was his third career against the left-hander (out of five hits in 25 at-bats), Canseco had no success the rest of the day. In the fifth inning, he struck out. In the eighth, with nobody out and runners on first and second, Canseco squished an Oakland threat by bouncing into a double play.
Maybe the ongoing chants of "steroids, steroids" from the Fenway crowd had something to do with it, but Hurst offered a more realistic reason: "I didn't throw him a lot more forkballs after that," he said, "but I did throw him a forkball when he hit into that double play."
If Hurst did make a mistake, it came in the eighth inning. And it wasn't Henderson's single, which, with apologies to a cult figure of the Sox' last visit to the playoffs, was merely a ground ball that found its way into the outfield. The mistake was a leadoff double by Lansford down the left-field line.
This, too, was a forkball, only it was a forkball that was up and over the plate, not a good pitcher's pitch. In his previous three at-bats against Hurst, Lansford had taken a called third strike and twice bounced to short.
"On Carney," Hurst admitted, "I made a bad pitch."