Red Sox: Underrated trade provided unexpected boost in 1986 postseason
By Sean Penney
A mid-season trade with the Seattle Mariners in 1986 paid dividends for the Boston Red Sox when Dave Henderson and Spike Owen shined in the playoffs.
The 20 strikeout masterpiece by Roger Clemens against the Seattle Mariners in 1986 aired on NESN last night, flashing back to a historic performance by one of the greatest pitchers in Boston Red Sox history at the pinnacle of his career. The Rocket set a single-game major league record for strikeouts that night on his way to earning a Cy Young and MVP Award while leading his team to the World Series.
Revisiting this pure domination of the Mariners lineup also serves as a reminder of a trade that Boston would make with Seattle later that season. Without that mid-season deal, the Red Sox may not have made it to the Fall Classic.
On August 17, 1986, the Red Sox acquired shortstop Spike Owen and outfielder Dave Henderson from the Mariners in exchange for rookie infielder Rey Quinones and a pair of minor league relievers.
Both players that Boston received in this trade were featured in the Mariners lineup when Clemens racked up 20 strikeouts. Owen recorded the first hit allowed by Clemens in the game but punched out twice in four plate appearances. Henderson struck out in all three trips to the plate.
They weren’t able to do much damage against Clemens but the pair of former Mariners would have their fair share of memorable moments after they switched uniforms. The under-the-radar trade was met with a lukewarm reaction at the time but it proved pivotal to Boston’s postseason run.
Owen was a light-hitting shortstop who owned a meager .246 average and .636 OPS at the time of the trade. The Red Sox hoped that he would add a steady glove in the middle of their infield defense.
While he hit a pathetic .183 in 42 regular season games for the Red Sox down the stretch, Owen’s defense proved valuable enough to keep him in the lineup for the postseason. Good thing. Owen would end up hitting a scorching .365 in the playoffs. He went 4-for-4 with a triple that drove in a pair of runs in Game 6 of the ALCS as the Red Sox evened the series with the California Angels.
Henderson looked the part of a hulking slugger but his power production hadn’t lived up to his 220-pound muscular frame to that point in his career. He was hitting a modest .276 with the Mariners that season but had only 14 home runs when he was traded to Boston.
The Red Sox viewed Henderson as a late-inning replacement for the aging Tony Armas and he gave them little reason to demand a larger role when he slashed .196/.226/.314 in limited time following the trade.
That all changed when Armas injured his ankle during Game 5 of the ALCS, pushing his understudy into a leading role. Boston had their backs against the wall trailing 3-1 in the series and 5-4 on the scoreboard when Henderson stepped to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning and delivered a two-strike, two-run homer to deep left field.
The Angels would tie the game in the bottom of the ninth but the Red Sox wouldn’t have made it to extra-innings without Henderson’s blast, which is fondly remembered as one of the greatest clutch hits in franchise history. Henderson drove in the winning run with a sac fly in the 11th inning to help the Red Sox stave off elimination.
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Boston would fall short in a soul-crushing seven games against the New York Mets in the World Series but Henderson did his part to keep his team alive. He hit .400 with two home runs and five RBI in the Fall Classic.
His home run in the 11th inning of Game 6 nearly clinched the title for Boston until they unraveled in the bottom of the inning with a wild pitch from Bob Stanley and the infamous error by Bill Buckner when a ground ball rolled between his legs.
The Red Sox traded Henderson to the San Francisco Giants on September 1 of the following season. His playing time had diminished with the emergence of rookie outfielder Ellis Burks and Henderson’s meager production quickly made the club forget his postseason heroics.
Owen had a couple more mediocre seasons in Boston before moving on to the Montreal Expos in 1989. He was a part of the 1988 club that lost to the Oakland A’s in the ALCS but rarely saw playing time, drawing a walk in his only plate appearance.
The two players didn’t stay in Boston for long and their overall production left much to be desired but the 1986 trade with the Mariners proved to be an underrated success. The Red Sox ultimately fell short of championship glory but they never would have found themselves one strike away from winning the World Series without the stellar postseason performances of Owen and Henderson.