The place: Shea Stadium
. The date: October 25, 1986. The situation: The New York Mets
, winners of 108 games in the regular season, are down three games to two in a best of seven series against the Boston Red Sox
. These same Red Sox, who only a week ago were one strike from elimination at the hands of the California Angels
, are one game away from winning their first World Series
The Red Sox send Roger Clemens, winner of the Cy Young Award and the league's MVP, to the hill against former Red Sox Bobby Ojeda.
The Sox take a quick 2-0 lead, scoring single runs in each of the first two innings, but the Mets answer, scoring two of their own in the bottom half of the fifth. The Sox put another run on the board in the seventh, chasing Ojeda from the game, and still lead 3-2 until the eighth inning, when manager John McNamara takes Roger Clemens out in circumstances that to this day remain mired in controversy. Clemens claims that he was given the hook. McNamara maintains that Clemens asked out of the game. Whatever the story, the Mets knew that once they got to the weak bullpen of the Red Sox, anything was possible. With Calvin Schiraldi on the mound, the Mets tie the score at 3-3.
In the bottom of the ninth the Mets get a runner to second base with one out. Manager Davey Johnson chooses not to bunt him to third, a move that backfires when Lee Mazzilli flies to right, which would have been the sac fly that scored the winning run. Instead, the Mets strand the runner, and regulation ends with the score knotted at three.
Cut to the tenth inning. Mets star reliever Rick Aguilera takes to the hill, looking to preserve the tie for the hometown Mets. Dave Henderson ends all hopes with a leadoff home run to put the Sox up 4-3. Two outs later, Marty Barrett sends a single through the infield that scores Wade Boggs to put the Sox up 5-3.
When Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez fly out to start the bottom of the tenth inning, Aguilera holds his head in despair. Just one more out, and the underdog Red Sox will have won their first World Series in 68 years. The Mets, who won the NL East by 21 1/2 games, who triumphed over the Houston Astros in the NLCS, who were heavily favored by everyone to win the World Series, will fail because of Aguilera.
The center field scoreboard momentarily reads "Congratulations Red Sox". Two NBC announcers are rehearsing with Sox owner John Harrington, who will accept the trophy on behalf of his team. Dead silence falls over the 55,000 at Shea Stadium.
But then Gary Carter singles to left, and Kevin Mitchell, who was undressing in the locker room when called upon to pinch hit, bloops one to center. Schiraldi gets ahead of Ray Knight 0-2, but Knight lines a single to center, scoring Carter, and sending Mitchell to third. In comes Bob Stanley - the "Steamer" - the Red Sox top closer to face Mookie Wilson, with two runners on and the game hanging in the balance. Get an out... the Red Sox win it all... give up a run... go to the eleventh inning... give up more than a run... well, let's not even start thinking about a Game Seven just yet.
An epic battle ensues between Stanley and Wilson. Stanley throws two balls, then fights back, forcing Wilson to foul off two tough pitches to even the count at 2-2. After Wilson fouls off another pitch, Stanley delivers what is officially scored as a wild pitch. Most people think catcher Rich Gedman should have caught the ball. Regardless of the official scoring, the play has the same result:
The Mets tie the score at 5-5. This is important to remember, because regardless of what happens from this point, the score has been tied.
With the count 3-2, the battle continues. Wilson hits a pop foul into the stands, and then lines one down the third base line just foul. On the next pitch, Wilson hits a slow roller down the first base line. Bill Buckner, who had been taken out of every previous playoff game in which the Sox had a lead for defensive replacement Dave Stapleton, hustles over into position for the ball.... which dribbles through his legs. Ray Knight, who had moved up to second on the wild pitch, rounds third and heads for home, jumping up and down the whole way. The New York Mets mob him at home plate. They've just forced a Game Seven, and with momentum on their side, there's no way they'll mess up this second chance.
Misconceptions about the game, perpetuated by Mets and Red Sox fans alike:
- It was the deciding game of the World Series No, it was Game Six.
- The Sox lost it in the ninth The Mets tied it in the eighth, and the Sox lost it in extra innings
- Bill Buckner lost them the World Series Not true. The Red Sox had their chance, and a lead in fact, in Game Seven, but blew it.
- Well, if Bill Buckner hadn't made that error... Who knows? People seem to forget: THE GAME WAS TIED. Many people believe that Wilson would have been safe anyway, as Buckner was far away from the base, and Stanley wasn't covering. Would Knight have scored from second? Probably not. But this is all speculation. Bill Buckner did not lose the game.
- Can't we blame Buckner for anything here? Sure, for making an error. But if you're blaming one guy for a team losing... you're missing the whole concept behind team sports. If you feel the need to place blame, blame brilliant strategist John McNamara, manager of the team, who made one tactical blunder after another, and is generally regarded as the man most to blame for the dismal failure of the Red Sox in the '86 Series...
- Clemens is a crybaby for asking out of the game There's still some question to the truth of this. Clemens initially said nothing to refute McNamara's statement that Clemens was tired and hurt. Then, after McNamara was fired, Clemens maintained that he was pulled. His story is backed up by several other players, so it's more than likely that he kept his mouth shut to avoid irritating his manager.
Game Six - At New York, October 25, 1986
123 456 789 0 R H E
Boston 110 000 100 2 5 13 3
NEW YORK 000 020 010 3* 6 8 2
* Two outs when winning run scored
Pitchers: BOS - Clemens, Schiraldi (8th), Stanley (10th)
NYM - Ojeda, McDowell (7th), Orosco (8th), Aguilera (9th)
Home Runs: D. Henderson, BOS