Every generation has its defining moment. People who grew up in the 1960s know exactly where they were when President Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated. In the 1980s, every American knows where they were when the Space Shuttle exploded. It's no different for Mets fans.
People who grew up rooting for the Mets remember every detail of the 1969 Miracle Mets' run to the World Series. Fans of my generation well up with happy tears when you mention two words to them: Game Six. How can anyone forget the night of October 25, 1986?
The Mets were facing elimination entering Game Six of the 1986 World Series. They fought back to tie the Series at Fenway Park after dropping the first two games of the Fall Classic at Shea Stadium. Then Bruce Hurst shut them down in Game Five to send the series back to New York with the Mets down three games to two.
It was up to Bob Ojeda to save the Mets' season. He was opposed by Roger Clemens, who was on his way to his first Cy Young Award. Ojeda was also called upon for Game Six of the 1986 NLCS against the Astros, a game in which the Mets defeated Houston in 16 innings to claim the National League pennant. In that game, Ojeda struggled early, giving up three runs in the first inning before settling down. Game Six of the 1986 World Series was no different for Ojeda. He gave up single runs to the Red Sox in each of the first two innings, but then settled down.
When Ojeda was replaced by Roger McDowell to start the seventh inning, the Mets had come back against Roger Clemens to tie the score at 2. Although the drama that unfolded in the tenth inning is what Game Six is most known for, a number of interesting events occurred in the seventh inning that are often forgotten.
With one out and Marty Barrett on first base for the Red Sox, Jim Rice hit a ground ball near the third base line that barely stayed fair. Ray Knight fielded it and threw wildly to first base, with the ball popping in and out of the glove of a leaping Keith Hernandez. That brought up Dwight Evans with runners on the corners. Evans hit a ground ball for the second out of the inning, but Barrett scored the go-ahead run and Rice was able to advance to second base. That was when Mookie Wilson became a hero for the first time that night.
Roger McDowell was able to get ahead of Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman by throwing strikes on the first two pitches, but Gedman then grounded the 0-2 pitch from McDowell between short and third for a base hit that appeared to give the Red Sox an insurance run. However, Mookie Wilson charged the ball and fired a strike to Gary Carter at home plate to cut down a sliding Jim Rice for the third out of the inning.
The defensive efforts of Wilson and Carter helped keep the Red Sox lead at one, a lead that would be erased when the Mets came up to bat in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Roger Clemens had been pinch hit for in the top of the eighth inning, so the Red Sox brought in former Met Calvin Schiraldi to pitch the bottom of the eighth. Schiraldi had been brilliant in relief for the Red Sox during the regular season, compiling a 4-2 record and a sparking 1.41 ERA. However, all that changed once Lee Mazzilli led off the inning with a base hit. Lenny Dykstra followed with a sacrifice bunt, but he reached first base safely when Schiraldi threw wildly to second base in a failed attempt to nail Mazzilli. Now the Mets had two men on with nobody out for Wally Backman, who laid down a bunt of his own. His successful sacrifice moved Mazzilli and Dykstra into scoring position for Keith Hernandez, who was intentionally walked to load the bases. That brought up Gary Carter. On a 3-0 pitch, Carter had the green light and lined a sacrifice fly to left field. The fly ball allowed Mazzilli to score the tying run. When neither team scored in the ninth inning, the stage was set for the most dramatic frame in Mets history.
The inning started with a bang, but not the one wanted by Mets fans. Dave Henderson led off the tenth with a laser beam down the left field line that just stayed fair as it cleared the wall. The home run off Rick Aguilera silenced the Shea Stadium crowd of 55,078 and gave the Red Sox a 4-3 lead. They weren't done yet. Aguilera came back to strike out the next two batters but then proceeded to give up a double to Wade Boggs and a run-scoring single to Marty Barrett. The latter hit gave the Sox an insurance run as the lead was now 5-3. The next batter was hit by a pitch. Who was the victim of Aguilera's wayward offering? None other than Bill Buckner (more on him later). Now there were two men on base for Jim Rice. Rice could have redeemed himself for being thrown out at home in the seventh inning with a hit in the tenth. However, Rice failed to add to the Red Sox lead when he flied out to Lee Mazzilli in right. His failure to come through in two crucial spots set up the events in the bottom of the tenth inning for the Mets.
On a 2-1 pitch from Schiraldi, Carter singled to left. Then Kevin Mitchell, pinch-hitting for Rick Aguilera lined a hit to center on an 0-1 curveball. The tying runs were now on base for Ray Knight. If you recall, Knight had made an error in the seventh inning that led to a run for the Red Sox. Perhaps this game would never have gone into extra innings had Knight not committed his error. Knight didn't care. All he cared about was getting a hit to continue the inning. Unfortunately for him, Schiraldi threw his first two pitches for strikes. The Mets were down to their final strike, but Knight had a little something to say about that.
On a pitch that was headed for the inside corner of the strike zone, Knight fisted it over Marty Barrett's head into short center for another base hit. Carter scored from second base and Mitchell went from first to third on the hit. The tying run was 90 feet away and the winning run was at first base. Red Sox manager John McNamara had made up his mind. He was going to Bob Stanley to try to win the World Series. Stanley would face one batter, Mookie Wilson, with everything on the line.
During the regular season, John McNamara had always removed first baseman Bill Buckner for defensive replacement Dave Stapleton during the late innings. However, this time Buckner was left in the game despite the fact that he was hobbling around on two gimpy legs and had just been hit by a pitch in the previous inning. What was McNamara's reasoning for the decision? He wanted Buckner to be on the field to celebrate their championship with his teammates. Instead, Buckner was on the field for a different celebration.
Buckner was at first base as the count went to 3-2 on Mookie Wilson. A mountain of pressure had been lifted off his shoulders once he went airborne to elude Stanley's pitch. A relaxed Mookie came back to the plate to finish what he came up there to do. After fouling off two more pitches, including a line drive that curved foul down the left field line, Wilson hit a slow ground ball that hugged the first base foul line, bringing Mets fans to their feet as Bill Buckner hobbled to the line in an attempt to field it. I'll let NBC broadcaster Vin Scully describe what happened.
"Little roller up along first. Behind the bag! It gets through Buckner. Here comes Knight and the Mets win it!"
A miracle had happened on the diamond. Perhaps Mookie's grounder hit a pebble. Perhaps Buckner took his eyes off the ball as he watched Mookie sprint down the first base line. Perhaps God was a Mets fan. Regardless of what caused it to happen, Mookie's grounder found its way under Buckner's glove and the Mets lived to see another day. (Buckner later admitted in the film "Catching Hell" that his momentum as he approached the first base line caused his glove to close on its own, a split second before he would have fielded it. With the glove closed before the ball reached it, the grounder was able to scoot by the gimpy first baseman.)
As the unbelievable events were flashing on the TV screen for those of us who weren't fortunate enough to have tickets to the game, Vin Scully came back on the air after a long pause to tell the viewers everything they needed to know about what they had just seen unfold at Shea Stadium on that Saturday night. The recently retired Hall-of-Fame broadcaster said:
"If one picture is worth a thousand words, you have seen about a million words. But more than that, you have seen an absolutely bizarre finish to Game Six of the 1986 World Series. The Mets are not only alive, they are well and they will play the Red Sox in Game Seven tomorrow."
Game Six didn't give the Mets the World Championship as many baseball fans mistakenly believe. There was still one game left to play. Although it was scheduled for the following night, rain put a hold on Game Seven until the night of Monday, October 27. Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd, who had been scheduled to start the seventh game for the Red Sox, was scratched from his start to allow Met killer Bruce Hurst to pitch. But I'll leave that narrative for another night.
For now, think of the memories you have of that unbelievable Game Six. Imagine how different things would have been if Jim Rice had not been thrown out at home plate in the seventh inning, or if Bob Stanley had relieved Calvin Schiraldi before Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell or Ray Knight produced base hits in the tenth inning. Mets fans who celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Miracle Mets during Citi Field's inaugural campaign might still be talking about that team as their only championship squad.
A miracle happened at Shea Stadium 30 years ago today, on October 25, 1986. It is the single greatest Mets memory I have. I'm sure for many of you reading this, it's your favorite Mets memory as well. Do Mets fans believe in miracles? If you watched Game Six of the 1986 World Series, the answer is a definite yes.