In the days before 1988 spring training, there were few baseball stories in the papers. The Bruins were headed for their first Stanley Cup finals series in ten years. Behind quarterback Doug Williams, the Redskins blew out Denver in the Super Bowl, 55-10.
One of the few Sox articles was a small one by Dan Shaughnessy entitled "Hurst Ailing with Virus". Bruce Hurst had picked up the illness in the final weeks of the 87 season, which he had finished on a down note, with a 15-13 mark and 4.41 ERA. "It's not mono, per se," Hurst was quoted as saying, "It's a virus with the symptoms of mono...If it means being a little slow at the start of the season, I'll just have to put up with that. As the blood tests improve, I'll increase my work."
It is not surprising that the unassuming Hurst did not blame the illness for his mediocre showing in 87. A Mormon born in St George, Utah, he lacked the super-hero image of a Roger Clemens or the super-enigmatic one of an Oil Can Boyd. But the southpaw hurler, rather forgotten today, had an outstanding Sox career, especially in the ultimately depressing 1986 postseason.
A heralded rookie picked 22nd overall by the Bosox in 76, Hurst made the opening day roster by 1980. His first few seasons with the team were disappointing, with a 42-46 mark and 4.59 ERA , and he briefly considered retirement.
All that changed in 86, however. Despite missing six weeks with a pulled groin, Bruce finished 13-8, with 11 complete games, 4 shutouts, and a 2.99 earned run average. He shone even more in the postseason. In game 2 of the ALCS against the Angels, Hurst had a complete-game 9-2 victory, scattering 11 hits and walking none. He did not fare as well in game 5, though the Sox rallied on Dave Henderson's dramatics to take a 7-6 victory in 11 innnings and prolong the series.
Hurst's work in the World Series was even better. In the opener on a Saturday night at Shea Stadium, he outdueled the Mets' Ron Darling, hurling 8 shutout frames, allowing 4 hits and fanning 8 as the Bosox triumphed 1-0. After the New Yorkers rallied with a pair of wins in Boston to knot the series, the lefty came through again with a complete-game 4-2 triumph. Though touched for 10 hits, Bruce walked only 1 while striking out 6. Despite the length of the game (over 3 hours), manager John McNamara chose not to bring in a reliever to finish as he had in game one-probably a bad move.
After the game 6 debacle, it rained on Sunday October 26, pushing the seventh game to Monday night. Given the choice of starting a shaky Boyd on five days rest or Hurst on three, Mac chose the veteran. It looked good for Hurst and the team in the first five innings, as back-to-back homers by Rich Gedman and Dwight Evans produced a 3-0 lead. But Hurst, perhaps tired from game 5, suddenly ran out of gas in the sixth, allowing the home squad to tie. With the relievers failing again, the Mets took the game and the Series by an 8-5 score. If his teammates had managed to win Saturday night, Bruce was scheduled to be named Series MVP.
Though he was inducted into the Sox Hall of Fame in 04, Hurst has never really gotten the credit he deserved in Boston. One of GM Lou Gorman's worst moves as GM was letting Hurst sign with San Diego, where he had several more fine years. But that is a story for another day.