The 1986 World Series was the eighty-fourth year overall, and eighty-third played, of the modern World Series which began in 1903. The champions for this year don’t get the respect they deserve, largely because of the losing team chasing old ghosts. Even thirty years later, there’s a haunting tone to this series. Despite three Red Sox championships since then, much of the specter of the sixth game has never gone away.
(The 1986 World Series logo. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)
1986 World Series
New York Mets (NL) over Boston Red Sox (AL), 4-3
Managers: Davey Johnson (New York); John McNamara (Boston)
Hall of Famers
New York: Gary Carter
Boston: Wade Boggs, Jim Rice, Tom Seaver (dnp)*
Series MVP: Ray Knight, 3B (New York)
* – Tom Seaver did not appear in the Series due to injury
Those who know me will know that this is probably one of the toughest I’ve ever had to write. For those who argue that it’s only a game, watch this entire Series from beginning to end and see if you still feel the same way. It’s not something you’d wish on your worst enemy. Rob Neyer makes a great argument in his book how in Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders, the Buckner play is the classic example. He says that the error is not a blunder, but a blooper, because he had no way of knowing it was going to happen. The blunder is that his manager didn’t take him out and didn’t give the chance to not make it. But more on that later.
1986 saw the death of Christa McAuliffe and six other people in the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger. McAuliffe had been set to be the first teacher in space, before cold weather led to a fuel leak and the shuttle disintegrating. Two days before, the ’85 Chicago Bears and their stifling 46 defense capped off a 15-1 regular season with a 46-10 victory in Super Bowl XX against the New England Patriots. The United Nations declared ’86 the Year of World Peace. Pixar Studios opened in California. Mikhail Gorbachev introduced the ideas of “perestroika” and “glasnost” in the Soviet Union. A discotheque in West Berlin was bombed, with many holding Libya’s leader Muammar Qaddafi responsible. The nuclear plant Chernobyl melted down, destroying much of the area. Even today, many areas are unsafe for habitation. Diego Maradona led Argentina to the World Cup title in Mexico, pulling off his goal known as the “Hand of God.” Belgium also made a surprising semifinal run that year. Greg LeMond became the first American to win the Tour de France. It saw the debut of The Oprah Winfrey Show, which lasted for 25 years. New York Harbor celebrated the centennial anniversary of the acquisition of the Statue of Liberty. Many classified documents of the Iran-Contra affair were destroyed by Oliver North and the National Security Council.
On the diamond, drug trials the previous year resulted in the suspensions of eleven players. Barry Bonds made his debut on May 30, and hit his first home run on June 4. Don Sutton won his 300th game, now as a member of the California Angels, joining on June 18. On June 16 (my birthday, one year before I was born), Rangers pitcher Charlie Hough took a no-hitter into the ninth, but lost 2-1, allowing only one hit and several costly fielding errors. Bert Blyleven joined the 3,000 strikeout list. Pete Rose got his final three hits on August 14, and made his last at-bat three days later. He would continue to manage the Reds, although signs of trouble were already brewing. Bob Horner hit four home runs in a game for the Braves, but they still lost 11-8 to Montreal.
For the first time since 1978, the Boston Red Sox were in the thick of a pennant race. Dwight Evans led off the season with a home run, indicating that Boston was planning to be a major player. The big moment came on April 29, when Roger Clemens took the mound against the Seattle Mariners. Clemens was a hard-thrower from Texas, and in his third year with the Red Sox. On a cold night in Boston, Clemens set a new record with 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game. The Red Sox won, 3-1. Clemens went 24-4 and led the AL in ERA, winning both the Cy Young and MVP award. Shockingly, only 13,414 people attended, largely due to the Boston Celtics playing the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA playoffs simultaneously.
(The Fenway faithful show the sign “K” for strikeout during the Clemens 20-strikeout game. Photo courtesy of http://www.nesn.com)
The Red Sox won ugly, won fluky games, and also won convincingly, beating the Yankees by 5.5 games for the division title, the best record in the American League. Dave Henderson, one of the Mariners in the 20 strikeout game, was acquired in a mid-season trade, as was infielder Spike Owen. The Red Sox were in the race again.
But the big story was the best team by record of the 1980s – the New York Mets. Keith Hernandez had come over in a trade with St. Louis, and Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, and Gary Carter anchored the team. Curtain calls became a standard in Queens that year. But even in their dominance, they were one of the most hated teams. They were rowdy, profane, and sometimes a mix of both. A fight with Cincinnati in June led to no left fielder, so pitchers Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell were forced to alternate, as Howard Johnson homered to win the game in the of the fourteenth inning.
(The Reds-Mets brawl in July 1986. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
Later in the season, a fight with the Pirates led to the release of former Reds superstar George Foster. Foster alleged racism, but was seen as a clubhouse cancer. After being traded from the Mets, Lee Mazzilli was reacquired to replace Foster. The Mets won 108 games, defeating the Cubs on September 17 to clinch the division. Despite this, Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt won his third career MVP award.
Their NLCS opponents were no pushovers, though. The Houston Astros had former Mets pitcher Mike Scott in their lineup. Despite being rumored to doctor the baseball with sandpaper, Scott became the first pitcher to clinch a playoff berth by throwing a no-hitter, winning 2-0 over the Giants.
(Mike Scott throws his division-clinching no-hitter. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
All three playoff series that year would be classics. Ordinarily, the Mets were supposed to have home-field advantage, but an NFL game between the Bears and Oilers made the Astrodome unavailable during the middle three dates, so they were forced to give it to Houston. The NLCS opened at the Astrodome in Houston. Scott took the hill in Game 1 for the Astros, and was brilliant, pitching a 1-0 shutout and finishing with fourteen strikeouts. Glenn Davis homered in the second to give Houston their only run. One moment of controversy occurred when Lenny “Nails” Dykstra beat out an infield single off Scott. He bellowed toward the Astros dugout, right in the vicinity of Nolan Ryan. Ryan promised to knock him down in Game 2, which he was starting. Dwight Gooden pitched a great game but Scott was better, and the Astros had drawn first blood.
Game 2 saw Ryan knock down Dykstra with the pitch in the fifth inning, but it had the opposite effect that Ryan was hoping for. Dykstra followed with a single, which sparked a three-run rally, giving the Mets a 5-0 lead at the time. Houston got only one run and the Mets had evened the series.
Dykstra’s big moment would come in Game 3, in Shea Stadium. The Astros jumped out to an early lead. Bill Doran hit a two-run homer in the second, and at the time, the Astros were up 4-0. But the Mets chipped away at the lead. The Mets rallied for four runs in the sixth inning to tie the score, capped off with Strawberry’s three-run home run. A throwing error by third baseman Ray Knight in the top of the seventh led to an unearned gave the Astros a 5-4 lead. The score stayed that way until the bottom of the ninth. Astros closer Dave Smith was on the mound. Wally Backman attempted to bunt, and appeared to have stepped out of the baseline to avoid the tag from Glenn Davis at first base. Astros manager Hal Lanier protested but Backman was ruled safe. Danny Heep (the man whom Scott was traded for in 1984) flied to center for the first out of the ninth. Dykstra hadn’t started the game because lefty Bob Knepper was on the mound for Houston to start the game. Smith missed just enough to see Dykstra hit a tailing line drive to right field. The ball disappeared over the fence for a walk-off two run homer. The Mets won the game, 6-5.
(Lenny Dykstra leaps in the air as he rounds third base following his home run to win Game 3. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)
The Astros would send Scott back to the mound in Game 4. The Mets were convinced that Scott was scuffing the ball, and sought to find evidence of it. They almost had it, but apparently threw the evidence away by accident. Scott threw his second complete game of the series, winning 3-1 to even the Series. Portly lefty Sid Fernandez didn’t pitch poorly for the Mets, either, but home runs by Dickie Thon and Alan Ashby gave the Astros all the runs they needed.
Both teams had everything to play for. Game 5 in Shea would tilt the momentum to one team. Rain forced the game back to a noon start time one day after it was scheduled to be played. Game 5 was a classic. Houston put runners at the corners with nobody out in the second, but Dwight Gooden pitched around it and Houston didn’t score. Keith Hernandez later admitted that his foot wasn’t on the bag during the inning-ending double play, and the Astros should have scored. Nolan Ryan was just as good, striking out ten. Both teams scored in the fifth inning; Houston scored on a single, double, and groundout. New York rallied to tie on a Strawberry home run. The game would go into extra innings, and Gooden would go ten innings. It would go to the bottom of the twelfth inning, when Charlie Kerfeld took the mound in relief for Houston. Backman led off with an infield single. Kerfeld attempted to pick off Backman, but threw the ball away, and then was forced to intentionally walk Hernandez. Up came Gary Carter, who was 1-21 coming into the at-bat. Somehow, Carter smacked a single to center field, scoring Backman to score the winning run. The Mets had momentum heading back to Houston.
If Game 5 was a classic, then Game 6 was epic. (My aunt also went to the game.) Bob Knepper started for Houston, attempting to give the ball back to Scott for Game 7. Houston’s offense jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, with Phil Garner hitting a double to start the scoring. Glenn Davis and Jose Cruz added RBI singles. Houston almost had another in the third, but a botched squeeze bunt got the Mets out of the inning. Knepper took that 3-0 lead into the ninth. Houston was three outs away from getting the ball back to Scott. The Mets new that if they couldn’t rally, Scott would be tough to beat. Many thought they’d have no chance in Game 7.
But Knepper was tiring. Dykstra hit a triple to lead off the inning. Mookie Wilson singled, and then Hernandez doubled, cutting Houston’s lead to one run with one out. Dave Smith was brought in, and gave up a game tying sacrifice fly to Ray Knight. It was 3-3, and New York was alive. No further damage was done, but Houston was now on the ropes. For four inning, nobody scored. Then in the top of the fourteenth, Carter and Strawberry reached. Backman singled to give the Mets a 4-3 lead in the fourteenth. But then in Houston’s half of the inning, Billy Hatcher ricocheted a home run off the foul pole to tie the game again. The game would go to the sixteenth inning with the same score. Three runs scored thanks to a pair of singles, a double, and two wild pitches. The Mets were up 7-4 with three outs to go. Did Houston have any life left in them?
Houston had one final rally. The Astros would score twice to cut the lead to one run. With two men on and two men out, including the tying run in scoring position, Kevin Bass came to the plate. Jesse Orosco threw Bass six straight sliders. Finally, on a 3-2 count, Bass swung and missed. The Mets had won the pennant. Despite this, Mike Scott was named MVP in a losing effort.
(Jesse Orosco celebrates as the Mets are NL champions. Photo courtesy of http://www.mlb.com)
The ALCS saw the Red Sox face off with the California Angels. Despite Clemens’ dominance, Mike Witt pitched the Angels to an 8-1 victory in the opener. A four-run second inning helped pace the Angels. Witt pitched a complete game, and the Angels had drawn first blood. Boston evened the series with a 9-2 Game 2 victory. Bruce Hurst staked Boston by pitching a complete game, allowing eleven hits but no walks. Marty Barrett hat two RBI, Jim Rice homered, and Bill Buckner had one as well.
The Angels took the third game, 5-3, to take the series lead. Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd was beaten by John Candelaria, with Donnie Moore getting the save. Former Yankee Reggie Jackson tied the game with a single in the sixth, and then in the seventh, Dick Schofield and Gary Pettis homered to give the Angels the lead for good.
Game 4 put the Angels up 3-1 in games. The Red Sox could have tied the series, but blew a 3-0 lead. Bill Buckner had an RBI, and reached on an error to score another run, and Marty Barrett drove in another run for Boston. With two out, Brian Downing was hit by pitcher Calvin Schiraldi to tie the game. The Angels came to bat in the eleventh and put two men on with one out. Second baseman Bobby Grich singled and the Angels had won the game, and were one win away from the pennant.
(Bobby Grich’s single gives the Angels the win in Game 4. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
Heading into Game 5, Gene Mauch was finally on the verge of a pennant. His teams had blown leads in 1964 with the Phillies, and with the Angels in the 1982 ALCS. Surely, it wouldn’t happen again, right?
Game 5 continued one of the most incredible postseasons in history. Boston catcher Rich Gedman hit a two-run home run to give Boston an early lead. California got a run back in the bottom of the third when former Phillie Bob Boone homered. Grich later homered to give California the lead off of Bruce Hurst. In the seventh, the Angels made it 5-2 on a double and a sacrifice fly. Neither team scored in the eight. Mike Witt started the ninth, with the Angels three outs away from the pennant.
It’s unfair to label Buckner for one play, because he led off the top of the ninth with a single to left. Dave Stapleton came in to pinch run, due to Buckner’s ailing legs. Jim Rice struck out. Two outs to go. On a 3-2 count, Don Baylor came through with a home run to cut the Angels’ lead to 5-4.
(Don Baylor gives the Red Sox life with a two-run home run. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)
Dwight Evans popped up to third base. The Angels were now one out away. Playing the percentages, lefty Gary Lucas came in to try to get the final out. But Lucas would only throw one pitch, hitting Rich Gedman. The tying run was aboard. In came Donnie Moore, with the Angels still one out away. Could Gene Mauch finally have his taste of the champagne?
The last hope was on Dave Henderson’s shoulders. Henderson worked the count to 2-2. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Henderson hit a fly ball to left field. Brian Downing went back to the wall. It was over his head. The Red Sox had the lead, 6-5. Anaheim Stadium fell silent.
(Dave Henderson gives the Red Sox the lead in the ninth. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
(Henderson celebrates his go-ahead home run with his teammates. Photo courtesy of Boston Globe.)
The Angels weren’t dead yet, however, rallying to tie the score on a single by Rob Wilfong. Game 5 would go to extra innings. Both teams put runners on in the tenth but failed to convert. Finally, with the bases loaded and none out, Henderson hit another fly ball, this one to center field. It didn’t leave the park, but it was deep enough to score Don Baylor from third. This time, Calvin Schiraldi held the lead and the Red Sox were still in it, winning Game 5, 7-6.
The loss totally demoralized the Angels. They were still up 3-2 in games, but you could tell the momentum was with Boston. Oil Can Boyd pitched seven innings for Boston in Game 6, and Marty Barrett broke a 2-2 tie in the third inning, sparking a five-run third inning rally. The Red Sox won Game 6, 10-4, and Clemens would be getting the ball in Game 7. In the second inning, Dick Schofield made a costly throwing error, leading to an early 3-0 lead by the time the inning was over. Another error in the fourth inning led to four runs, and John Candelaria was done. Jim Rice capped off the damage with a three-run homer off the Green Monster light tower.
(Jim Rice makes it 7-0 Boston in ALCS Game 7. Video courtesy of YouTube.)
The Red Sox and Angels each added a run. But it was 8-1 Red Sox and the Angels were now down to their last three outs. Calvin Schiraldi struck out the side, getting Jerry Narron to end the game and the series. The Red Sox had rallied to win the pennant.
(What a column so far! I’ve reached the 3,000 word mark without mentioning a single word about the World Series yet. See why ’86 was one of the best postseasons of all time?)
The Series was finally set. In an interview before the Series started, Bill Buckner jokingly said that his greatest fear was allowing a grounder through his legs to lose the game….
The first game opened in Shea Stadium. Now with the Red Sox, Tom Seaver wouldn’t play in the Series, and was in his final season, but still got the loudest applause of anybody. The first game was a pitcher’s duel between Bruce Hurst and Ron Darling. Hurst’s defense helped him out with a double play to end the sixth inning. In the top of the seventh, with the game still scoreless, Rice led off with a walk and went to second on Darling’s wild pitch. After a groundout, Rich Gedman reached when the ball squirted through Tim Teufel’s legs, allowing Rice to score. It was 1-0 Boston and it would be the only run of the game. Darling had the misfortune of losing on an unearned run.
The second game was supposed to be a pitcher’s duel between Gooden and Clemens. But it didn’t work out that way. Wally Backman was caught stealing in the first inning to ruin a New York scoring opportunity. In the third, the Red Sox broke through. Spike Owen walked, and Roger Clemens reached on a throwing error on a bunt. Three straight hits led to a 3-0 Red Sox lead. The Mets clawed back to within a run in their half of the third, as Hernandez redeemed himself for his throwing error with an RBI groundout. But home runs by Dave Henderson and Dwight Evans in the fourth and fifth gave Boston a 6-2 lead. Clemens wouldn’t last long enough to get the win, as he departed in the fifth with two men on. Steve Crawford gave up a single to Gary Carter to allow one run to score, but no further damage was done. The Red Sox scored three times in the final three innings, making the score 9-3. The Red Sox were up 2-0 heading to Fenway Park. Even the most cynical fans began to hope.
Former Red Sox pitcher Bobby Ojeda would go for the Mets in Game 3. Furious with the perceived arrogance of the Red Sox brass, he got even with his old team and pitched the Mets back into it with a 7-1 win. The Mets offense broke out for him as well, with Lenny Dykstra homering to lead off the top of the first. Four runs scored before the Red Sox came to bat. The Monster robbed Don Baylor of a home run, as he was forced to settle for a double. Roger McDowell shut down the Red Sox for the final two innings.
Gary Carter came through big with two home runs in Game 4 to help the Mets tie the Series, breaking through in the fourth inning of a scoreless game against Al Nipper. Ray Knight later drove in Strawberry to make it 3-0. Dykstra later came through with a two-run shot, and Carter’s second made it 6-0 Mets in the eighth. The Red Sox got two runs in the eighth, but it wasn’t enough. The Series was 2-2 again.
The visiting team had won the first four games in the Series. The home team finally got a win, with Bruce Hurst giving the Red Sox the win in Game 5. For the second time in the Series, Dwight Gooden couldn’t get it done. Spike Owen’s sacrifice fly started the scoring for Boston, and Dwight Evans came through with an RBI of his own to make it 2-0. Gooden was done after four innings after two more runs scored to make it 4-0. The Mets got a home run from Tim Teufel to get on the board, and then Rafael Santana drove in a run in the ninth, but Hurst persevered and the Red Sox won 4-2. Dykstra struck out to end the game, and the Red Sox were heading back to Shea with a 3-2 lead. For the first time in sixty-eight years, the Red Sox controlled their own destiny.
Game 6. Perhaps no other game in history (at least in the World Series) was as scrutinized as much as this one. Sometimes, brevity is best, but that’s never been my style. The game is legendary. In what was probably an omen for the night’s events, parachutist Michael Sergio landed on the infield of Shea Stadium right before the start of the game, with a “Go Mets” banner attached. Sergio was arrested and taken into custody. It was time to play ball.
(Michael Sergio parachutes into Shea Stadium prior to Game 6. Photo courtesy of New York Daily News.)
In Game 6, Roger Clemens would attempt to end all of the Red Sox’s bad dreams. Future Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs led off the game with a single. After two fly balls and a walk, Evans doubled down the right field line to give the Red Sox an early lead, sending Rice to third base. Bobby Ojeda was in an early hole for the Mets. In the second inning, Boston made it 2-0 with a Marty Barrett single. Barrett had won ALCS MVP and also had a great World Series.
Through four innings, the Red Sox held the lead. They had numerous chances throughout the game, but would frustratingly leave fourteen runners on base in the game. In the bottom of the fifth, Darryl Strawberry led off with a walk and then stole second. Ray Knight singled to score Strawberry, and Wilson singled to send Knight up. Danny Heep grounded into a double play to tie the game. Clemens got Ojeda to ground out to end the inning.
Boston would break through in the seventh, set up from a Ray Knight error to put runners on the corners. Evans hit an RBI groundout, and the Red Sox were up by a run with nine outs to go. Clemens pitched through the seventh, despite a blister that was developing on his finger. Clemens came out to the on-deck circle in the eighth. And then the questions started. John McNamara always insisted that Clemens asked out of the game, saying he was done. Clemens said just the opposite, and the fact he was preparing to hit seems to support him. Still, with Schiraldi warming up in the bullpen, McNamara had made his decision. Rookie Mike Greenwell was sent in to pinch hit. He struck out on three pitches. The Red Sox also left the bases loaded in the inning. Now Calvin Schiraldi was called on to try to get a two-inning save. But he was clearly scared.
Lee Mazzilli led off the bottom of the eighth with a single. Dykstra bunted and reached after they couldn’t get him. First and second, none out. Backman sacrificed them both one base. Keith Hernandez was walked to load the bases. But Gary Carter hit a fly ball to Rice in left field, deep enough to score Mazzilli and send Dykstra to third. Schiraldi escaped any further damage, but the game was tied again.
Rick Aguilera came in to pitch the top of the ninth for New York. After striking out Rice, Evans reached on an error. The Red Sox had the go-ahead run on. But Gedman grounded into a double play to end the inning. The Mets put the winning run on second with nobody out, after a walk and a Gedman throwing error. But Schiraldi bore down and struck out Johnson and got two fly balls. Game 6 was going to extra innings.
Dave Henderson came up to lead off. For the second time in the postseason, Henderson was clutch, hitting another home run. The Red Sox had the lead again.
(Dave Henderson gives the Red Sox the lead in the tenth inning. Photo courtesy of http://www.bostonbaseballhistory.com)
After two strikeouts, Boggs doubled to left. Marty Barrett singled to score Boggs. The Red Sox were up 5-3. After Buckner was hit by a pitch, Rice flied to right and the Red Sox were three outs away from the title.
In every one of the Red Sox’s seven postseason wins, Dave Stapleton replaced Bill Buckner in the field, because Buckner had been in massive pain with his legs. Whether Buckner asked to stay in or McNamara let his emotions get the better of him, Buckner stayed in the game.
Schiraldi went to the mound for his third inning of work. He got an 0-2 count on Backman, getting him to fly out to Rice. Keith Hernandez followed. He flied to center on a 2-1 pitch to Dave Henderson. The Red Sox were now one out away. Hernandez was so disappointed that he retreated to the clubhouse. The Red Sox were almost there. For a brief moment, the Shea Stadium message board flashed a message, then just as quickly disappeared. It said only this: “CONGRATULATIONS BOSTON RED SOX. 1986 WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS.” Nobody knows if the Mets saw it, but Gary Carter was the Mets’ last hope.
Carter told himself not to be the last out, and he came through with a single. Schiraldi was still in control. Kevin Mitchell was sent to pinch hit for Aguilera. Mitchell had to be found after trying to book a flight home. He hurriedly got dressed, and followed through with a single. Carter moved to second. Schiraldi moved Knight to an 0-2 count, but Knight fought off a pitch and singled to right-center, scoring Carter and moving Mitchell to third. McNamara had been hurriedly warming up his closer Bob Stanley, and now summoned him from the bullpen. The Red Sox fans had seen this before. Now they were on their heels, trying to survive another heartbreak.
Stanley came in to pitch to Mookie Wilson. Wilson hung in, fouling off several pitches. On one of them, the ball curved just foul, which would have been the third out had it stayed fair. After seven pitches, Wilson had the count 2-2. On the next pitch, Stanley tried to get Wilson to chase in the dirt. But it curved just a little too much. Wilson dove out of the way. The ball escaped past Gedman. Mitchell raced home to score standing up. The Mets had tied the game. The Red Sox needed one strike three times. Three times, they failed to come through.
(Rich Gedman chases after the wild pitch, causing the Mets to tie the game. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)
Bob Costas had been in the locker room, with cellophane ready in anticipation of the Red Sox spraying champagne. He was watching on a TV, and as the Mets tied the game, was ordered to get out of the locker room. The crew began taking down all the preparations, as fast as a scene change in a Broadway play.
Wilson had a full count on him. He fouled off another pitch. Finally, on the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Wilson put the ball into fair territory. Bill Buckner raced over to try to field the ball. He got ready to close his glove. He closed it. But the ball wasn’t there. It had skipped past him into right field for an error. Knight placed his hands on his head as he raced around third with the winning run. The Mets had won 6-5. The Series was tied, 3-3. And the Red Sox had another moment of heartbreak in their history.
(Bill Buckner can’t come up with the ball,losing Game Six for the Red Sox. Photo courtesy of Boston Globe.)
(Buckner walks off the field in defeat, in pure agony. Photo courtesy of http://www.nesn.com)
(Ray Knight crossed home plate with the winning run. Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report.)
Costas and his team immediately went to work dismantling the championship preparations. The first planned TV interview in the wake of a Red Sox title would have to wait. There was one more game to play.
Rain delayed the seventh game back by one day. Many thought that it was Red Sox fans tears that were too strong to be contained. McNamara had one more gamble up his sleeve. Because of the extra day of rest, Oil Can Boyd was pushed back in favor of Bruce Hurst. Boyd was so furious that he became drunk in the clubhouse and would be unavailable just in case.
Game 7 started well for the Red Sox. Evans and Gedman led off with back-to-back home runs in the second inning. Wade Boggs came in with a single to make it 3-0 in the second inning. Would Boston shrug off the blues from Game 6? Could they? Perhaps, despite everything, the loss was so catastrophic that nobody could do anything to help Boston.
For five innings, Bruce Hurst kept the Mets off the board, as bravely as possible. In the bottom of the sixth, he got a groundout to Owen for the first out. Then the Mets came back. Mazzilli and Wilson singled, and Teufel walked to load the bases. Hernandez singled in two runs to cut the Red Sox lead to one. On a force play, the Mets tied the game one batter later. It was 3-3.
Roger McDowell kept the Red Sox off the board in the seventh. One last time, McNamara went to Schiraldi. One last time, it was the wrong move. Ray Knight took a 2-1 pitch deep to left. It disappeared over the fence. The Mets led, 4-3. Schiraldi and the Boston bullpen fell apart after that, allowing two more runs in the inning. The Mets were up 6-3 with six outs to go.
(Ray Knight hits the go-ahead home run in the seventh inning. Photo courtesy of http://www.newsday.com)
The Red Sox had one last rally in them, down to their final six outs. Buckner and Rice singled, and Evans drove both of them in. The tying run was on second with nobody out. But Jesse Orosco replaced McDowell and got out of the inning. Al Nipper pitched the eighth, despite Clemens being ready, desperately hoping to get the ball to redeem himself. It never happened. Strawberry gave the Mets a much-needed insurance run with a leadoff home run, and after Nipper got an out, Orosco came through later in the inning with an RBI single. Steve Crawford got out of a shaky eighth inning. McNamara had messed up again. The Red Sox were three outs away from elimination.
Shortstop Ed Romero led off the top of the ninth with a pop up to Hernandez at first. Wade Boggs grounded out to second base. Now the Red Sox were down to their final out. It would be up to Marty Barrett. Barrett had a terrific Series, collecting 13 hits for a .433 batting average. He worked the count to 2-2. Then Orosco came in with a high fastball. Barrett swung and missed. Game over. The Mets were champions.
(Gary Carter jumps into Jesse Orosco’s arms as the Mets rush to celebrate. Photo courtesy of http://www.metsmerizedonline.com)
Bill Buckner became the scapegoat for much of Boston’s baseball failures. The media never let up on him. Despite four more seasons, including a return to Boston, retiring in 1990. Despite 2,705 hits, two World Series appearances, and playing through immense pain, he was remembered for only one moment. He had to move to Idaho to escape the scrutiny, before finally coming back to Fenway Park in 2008.
Bill Simmons, a.k.a. The Boston Sports Guy, writes about Game 6 in the terrific book Now I Can Die in Peace. In painstaking detail, he goes through the events. In his 2002 “Levels of Losing” column, it is the worst type of loss on this list, described in only two words: “That Game.”
Bruce Hurst was the presumptive MVP had the Red Sox held on. When the Mets won, Ray Knight was named MVP. Sadly, the Mets didn’t reward him, and he signed as a free agent with the Orioles in the offseason.
Bobby Ojeda later was involved with two off-field accidents. He almost sliced off a piece of his finger while gardening, and in 1993 spring training, as a member of Cleveland, was involved in a boat crash that killed pitchers Steve Olin and Terry Crews. Ojeda only survived because he wasn’t sitting up directly.
Dwight Gooden was never credited with the win in a postseason game. Similarly, Roger Clemens was 2-6 in playoff games that he pitched with the Red Sox (including two games where the bullpen blew it).
Because of the one day rain delay, Game 7 was broadcast simultaneously alongside a Monday Night Football game.
The end of Game 6 caused the first ever cancellation of the show Saturday Night Live, which which would have begun filming live at 1:30 a.m.
This Series is the first one to popularize the “Curse of the Bambino” that was said to haunt the Red Sox from 1918 until 2004. In 1990, Boston writer Dan Shaughnessy published the book The Curse of the Bambino, which led to much anger, sadness, and confusion for many years.
Bill Buckner was wearing a Chicago Cubs batting glove under his first baseman’s glove when he botched Wilson’s ground ball. Could this have played a part? Buckner had been acquired in a 1984 mid-season trade that sent Dennis Eckersley to the Cubs.
1986 is the most recent title for the Mets to date, and the most recent loss for the Red Sox to date.
Tom Seaver was on the Red Sox roster, but did not play due to injury. He attempted to come back with the Mets, then retired. He finished with the highest voting percentage to the Hall of Fame until he was passed by Ken Griffey, Jr. in 2016.
The Mets became the second consecutive team to lose the first two games at home and then rally to win the Series.
Kevin Mitchell was rumored to have killed a cat with a knife, according to Dwight Gooden’s autobiography. Because of his rumored affiliations with gangs, Mitchell was traded to San Diego in the offseason.
When Jesse Orosco struck out Kevin Bass to win the NL pennant, he threw his glove up in the air. It got stuck in the rafters of the Astrodome and never came down.
Orosco was trade from Minnesota for longtime Met Jerry Koosman in 1979. He also holds the record for most games pitched in a career (1,252), retiring in 2003, aged 46.
This is the first time I’ve reached 6,000 words in a column. As tough as it was to write, I hope I’ve done you, the readers, justice.
Because of their hard living, manager Davey Johnson said “The bad guys won.” Perhaps, but the Mets were the best team in baseball that year, as much as Red Sox fans must clench their teeth to admit it. But signs were clear about the Mets falling off during the victory parade. Dwight Gooden overslept, and was suspended for drug use the following year. The Mets were scheduled to become a dynasty. Within six years, they’d be at the bottom of the barrel again. The Red Sox, meanwhile, blamed Buckner, McNamara, Gedman, Stanley, Schiraldi, you name it. Eighteen years after suffering their greatest heartbreak, they’d finally celebrate their greatest joy.
References and Sources
The Boston Globe.
New York Daily News.
Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns
Catching Hell (ESPN 30 for 30)
The Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame…Bill Buckner (ESPN Classic, available on YouTube)
Fever Pitch (Farrelly Brothers movie)
Game 6 (Michael Hoffman movie)
100 Years of the World Series (Eric Enders)
The Baseball Hall of Shame: The Best of Blooperstown (Bruce Nash, Allan Zullo)
Now I Can Die in Peace (Bill Simmons)
The Bad Guys Won! (Jeff Pearlman)
The Rocket That Fell to Earth (Jeff Pearlman)
Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders (Rob Neyer)
The Ultimate Book of Sports Lists (Andrew Postman, Larry Stone).
Game 7, 1986: Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life (Ron Darling, Daniel Paisner)
The Baseball Codes (Jason Turbow, Michael Duca)
It Ain’t Over ‘Til the Fat Lady Sings (Howard Peretz)
One-Year Dynasty: Inside the Rise and Fall of the 1986 Mets, Baseball’s Impossible One-and-Done Champions (Matthew Silverman)
Tough as Nails: A Memoir of Life on the Edge (Lenny Dykstra)
Season of Ghosts: The ’86 Mets and the Red Sox (Howard Burman)
The Psycho 100 (Steve Lyons)
The Underground Baseball Encyclopedia (Robert Schnakenberg)
The Seventh Game (Barry Levenson)