For the first time in his eight full major-league seasons, Wade Boggs did not finish in the top three in the batting race, did not bat at least .325, did not get 200 hits.
The very unBoggs-like totals that the Boston Red Sox's third baseman brings to the American League Championship Series against the Oakland Athletics are a .302 average and 187 hits. After reaching base via hits or walks at least 300 times in each of the last five seasons and six of seven, Boggs reached just 274 times in 1990.
Fifth in the batting race, too. The shame of it all.
"Slipped?" broadcaster Tony Kubek asked recently. He laughed. going to have about 190 hits and 90 walks. I don't think he's slipped. I think it's a tribute to the man that anyone even asks if he's slipping. He's got the fourth-highest lifetime average in the game [behind Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby and Joe Jackson]. He's what, 32 years old?
"People like him have been given a gift to start with, a little better hand-eye coordination or something. But a lot of people have been given that gift and screwed it up. Here's a guy who worked so hard and didn't screw it up. He's still amazing."
Boggs expresses amazement only in that his numbers fell in 1990 and that he failed to extend his modern major-league record of consecutive 200-hit seasons to eight.
"I've said all along this year that I've hit the ball harder than any year in my career and just had less to show for it," he said. "I've hit it right at people. It's all luck."
Boggs believes, despite his steadiness in previous years, that line-drive hitters are more at the mercy of luck than all other hitters. "For guys that hit the ball consistently hard all the time," he said, "luck just has to have more to do with it. But once it leaves the bat, there's nothing you can do."
Although Boggs' complaint is an age-old refrain, Mike Marshall, who joined the Red Sox on July 28 after spending his career in the National League, agrees.
"Since I've been here, he's probably hit at least 15 line-drive outs. That's his game," Marshall said. "He hits a lot of 300-foot line drives. He could easily have six, seven, maybe 10 more hits just since I've been here. Figure that out over the season and that might be the difference between .310 and .340."
While Boggs' critics point to his drop-off in walks during the season's second half as evidence that he put his quest for 200 hits above team interests, Marshall paints another picture of the six-time All Star . . . without even being asked.
"No matter how well someone does, there is always a knock on him," Marshall said. "With everything that he has done, I had heard that all he cared about was his hits. And that is the biggest fallacy I've ever heard. This guy works harder than anyone on the team. At Boston, he's at the park at 3 o'clock to take extra ground balls. He's just dedicated to the game. To me, he's the ultimate team player."
If 1990 wasn't exactly the ultimate Boggs season, that's behind him now. His third postseason experience lies ahead.
"What you do in the regular season doesn't mean anything in the playoffs," Boggs said. "It's two different games. There are so many distractions that you have to try to block out the media. A lot of players get enveloped and lose perspective on what they're trying to accomplish."
With five batting titles to his credit, it might seem Boggs has little left to accomplish. If he does have specific targets in mind, such as 3,000 hits (he needs 1,216 more), he chooses not to reveal them.
"I'm not a goal-oriented person. People who set goals set plateaus for their ability. When you set plateaus, then you don't know how good you can be," he said. "There's always one peak higher."
The peak that remains for Boggs sticks out like Mount Everest. That World Series ring that has proved so elusive to all Red Sox players since Babe Ruth changed addresses is within reach once more.
"That's the ultimate plateau. That's the pinnacle everyone strives for," Boggs said.
Few players ever have come closer to winning a World Series before falling short than Boggs and the other members of the '86 Red Sox. They had a two-run lead in the top of the 10th inning at New York in Game 6 before the Mets rallied for three runs in the bottom of the inning, the famed "Buckner's legs" incident. In less dramatic fashion, the Red Sox blew a three-run lead in Game 7.
Boston's more recent postseason experience was short-lived, the four-game sweep by Oakland in '88. Boggs hit .385 in that series, while his teammates hit .187.