51s’ new pitching coach not stuck in 1986

" And the Mets refuse to go quietly. With two outs they come scrambling back and John McNamara goes to the mound. And he’s also going to the bullpen. He wants Bob Stanley to pitch to Mookie Wilson "

Robert William "Bob" Stanley is the new 51s pitching coach, an assignment that will have him tutoring the club’s flame-throwing right-handers and crafty left-handers on the acquired art of pounding the bottom of the strike zone, as he did with that sinkerball of his for 13 seasons, all of them with the Boston Red Sox, the team for which he grew up cheering.

If Stanley is successful in that regard, he still will be most remembered — always be remembered — for two sinkerballs he threw to Mookie Wilson on Oct. 25, 1986, during Game 6 of the World Series against the New York Mets, neither of which was caught, both of which should have been.

It has been nearly 26 years since, in the words of the legendary Vin Scully, it was "5-5 in a delirious 10th inning" at Shea Stadium.

There are days when Bob Stanley isn’t asked about 1986. These usually occur when he is fishing, or on an off day.

On 51s media day last week at Cashman Field, I became the 143,214th person to ask about those two sinkerballs. I tried to slide the question in there at the very end of our conversation, tried to sneak it across the outside corner, like one does when pitching to Prince Fielder in the bottom of the ninth with ducks on the pond.

Stanley saw it coming. He always sees it coming.

We had a pleasant chat, during which he told me he was out of baseball for three years, so he could spend quality time with his dying mother, Theresa, to be there for her as she always was for him. He said he missed "the camaraderie of being with the boys," so when the Blue Jays were looking for a minor league pitching coach, he made his pitch.

"The Blue Jays’ philosophy is to pound the ball down in the zone, and I was pretty famous for doing that," said Stanley, 57, Boston’s all-time saves leader with 132 until Jonathan Papelbon passed him in 2009. Stanley still holds Boston’s record for most pitching appearances with 637.

He said with the exception of spending a couple of Cactus League seasons as a pitching coach in the Giants organization, he hasn’t spent much time out West, hadn’t been to Las Vegas in 20 years. And he seemed surprised that the Riviera, where he stayed the last time, is still hanging in there, much like Mookie Wilson in the bottom of the 10th.

" And the tension mounts some more. Two outs in the 10th, 5-4 Red Sox, Ray Knight at first, Kevin Mitchell at third, 2 and 2 to Mookie Wilson AND IT’S GOING TO THE BACKSTOP! Here comes Mitchell to score the tying run and Ray Knight is at second base!"

Rich Gedman, the Boston catcher, had set up for an outside pitch. Stanley threw inside. Wild pitch, or so it was scored.

And then, after Wilson had fouled off two more offerings, Stanley threw one, last, nasty sinker.

" Little roller up along first, behind the bag AND IT GETS THROUGH BUCKNER! Here comes Knight and the Mets win it!"

The Mets won Game 7, too. And so the Red Sox, who were one strike away, did not win their first World Series since 1918. It wouldn’t come until 2004, to be followed by another three years later.

Good, Stanley thought. Perhaps now people will stop asking about 1986.

They haven’t.

"Whaddya’ gonna do?" he says in a monotone flatter than a Double-A fastball. "That’s baseball. And what happened to me after baseball with my son "

Well, that was worse than losing even the biggest of ballgames. That gave him perspective when some was needed.

Stanley’s son, Kyle, had a cancerous tumor in his sinus cavity. He was 9 when he lost sight in his right eye. He’s 30 now, and though he doesn’t play baseball, you should see him hit a golf ball. Beats his old man all the time.

When Kyle was battling his cancer, his father spent a lot of time with the other kids at the Jimmy Fund Clinic, so named for a former Boston Braves fan who contracted cancer as a youngster during the 1940s. Stanley managed to break through to a 10-year-old who had become withdrawn by presenting him with his No. 46 Red Sox jersey, the very one he had worn when he set Boston’s all-time saves record.

The boy began to talk again.

And a few months later, when cancer refused to loosen its deadly grip, this brave little boy asked that he be buried wearing Bob Stanley’s jersey.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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