Twenty Years Ago

October 25, 1986 was a day that few baseball fans can forget, especially if you were a Boston Red Sox fan. The scene was set, The National League Champion New York Mets who had won 108 games that season were facing the American League Champion Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox of course were in the midst of a 68 year drought last winning the World Series in 1918; the year before they sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. The Red Sox were leading the series 3 games to 2 and they had their ace Roger Clemens on the mound to face the Mets Bobby Ojeda who himself had previously played for the Boston Red Sox. Clemens would after the series be awarded the American League Cy Young award as the most dominating pitcher for 1986. Needless to say, the Red Sox were heavily favored in this game. In the crisp air of Shea Stadium in New York the teams were prepared for an epic game that will be remembered for as long as there will be baseball.


The Boston Red Sox set the tone of the game quickly as Wade Boggs singled to third. Second Baseman Marty Barrett flew out to center and was followed by Bill Buckner who likewise flew out to Lenny Dykstra for the second out. Dwight Evans then singled to center allowing Boggs to score to give the Red Sox a 1-0 lead. After 3-up 3-down in the bottom of the first the Red Sox began the second inning with Dave Henderson flying out to left. Spike Owen singled to center before Roger Clemens struck out while attempting a bunt. With 2 outs Wade Boggs singles to right allowing Owen to move to third. Marty Barrett then singled to left to score Owen. The inning ended with Bill Buckner making an out to right field and with the Red Sox up 2-0. The game remained in Boston’s favor until the bottom of the fifth inning. Darryl Strawberry was walked by Roger Clemens. With Ray Knight up to bat Strawberry stole second. Knight then singled to center scoring Strawberry. Mookie Wilson singled to right and Ray Knight went to third on an error by Dwight Evans. Mets manager Davy Johnson then made a subsitution of Danny Heep as a pinch hitter for shortstop Raphael Santana. Heep hit into a double play (second to short to first) that allowed Knight to score. The inning ended with Bobby Ojeda grounding out to second but the score was now tied 2-2. In the seventh inning, Roger McDowell replaced Bobby Ojeda as the Mets pitcher. He walked Red Sox second baseman Marty Barrett. Barrett moved to second when Bill Buckner grounded out to the second baseman. Jim Rice reached first on an error by Ray Knight moving Barrett over to third. Dwight Evans hit into what looked like a double play but Rice was called safe at second. Evans was out but Barrett scored on the play. Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman hit a single to center. Rice attempted to score from second base but was thrown out by Lenny Dykstra ending the inning with the Red Sox leading 3-2.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Roger Clemens did not emerge from the dugout. There are conflicting stories about what occurred. Manager John McNamara claims that Clemens removed himself from the game citing fatigue and injury. Clemens counters that he was taken out by the manager but could have continued. Regardless of the reason, the Red Sox brought in Calvin Schiraldi to begin the inning. Lee Mazzilli pinch hit for Jesse Orosco who had come in to pitch in the top of the inning. This was part of a mistake by Mets manager Johnson who had planned to do a double switch when he brought in Orosco but forgot. This meant he lost his reliever earlier than he had planned and would have implications as the game went on. Mazzilli singled to right putting the tying run on base. Lenny Dykstra attempted a sacrifice bunt but reached first on a fielder’s choice when the Red Sox attempted to throw out the lead runner unsuccessfully. Wally Backman then came to the plate and was out on a sacrifice bunt that moved Mazzilli to third and Dykstra to second. Keith Hernandez was then intentionally walked to load the bases with 1 out. Gary Carter then hit a sacrifice fly to left field that allowed Mazzilli to score leaving runners on first and second. The inning ended with Darryl Strawberry flying out to center and the game was tied 3-3. In the ninth inning neither team could score which meant the game would go into extra innings.

The top of the tenth saw reliever Rick Aguilera stay in the game for New York for his second inning of work. This was unusual but necessary due to the bungled double switch in the eighth. The first batter was Dave Henderson who hit a home run giving the Red Sox the lead. Spike Owen then came up and struck out. With Boston leading 4-3, Red Sox manager John McNamara let Schirardi hit for himself and Calvin struck out for the second out. Wade Boggs then came up and doubled to left field. Marty Barrett collected his third hit of the game when he hit a single to center that scored Boggs. Bill Buckner was hit by a pitch bringing up Jim Rice. Rice flied out to right field ending the top of the tenth inning with Boston leading 5-3.

In the bottom of the tenth Wally Backman flied out to left field to lead off the inning. Keith Hernandez flied out to center field for the second out and left the Red Sox one out away from winning their first world championship in 68 years. Gary Carter came to the plate as the final hope for the Mets. With a count of 2 balls and 1 strike; Carter lined a single to left to keep the Mets alive. Kevin Mitchell pinch hit for Rick Aguilera and hit a single to center moving Carter to second. Ray Knight came to the plate representing the winning run. Schirardi got ahead 0-2 before Knight hit a single to centerfield that scored Carter and moved Mitchell to third. With Mookie Wilson coming to the plate McNamara again went to his bullpen bringing in Mike Stanley to relieve Schiraldi. This would become an epic at-bat with huge implications.

Pitch 1 – Strike

Pitch 2 – Ball

Pitch 3 – Ball

Pitch 4 – Strike (foul)

Pitch 5 – Strike (foul)

Pitch 6 – Strike (foul)

Pitch 7 – Ball (Wild Pitch to the backstop that scored Mitchell from third to tie game. Ray Knight went to second putting the winning run in scoring position)

Pitch 8 – Strike (foul)

Pitch 9 – Strike (foul)

Pitch 10 – In Play, No out recorded

The next sequence has been played a million times since that moment. It will be etched in the minds of Boston Red Sox fans forever. Hall of Fame announcer Vin Scully had the call for NBC television.

A little roller up along first … behind the (first-base) bag … it gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight … and the Mets win it!

The ball was a slow roller down the first base line, Bill Buckner who had been removed from every World Series game to this point for a defensive replacement was playing first. He was playing behind the bag and along the line to protect against an extra base hit. When the ball was hit Mike Stanley froze on the mound and did not attempt to cover first. Buckner reached down to field the ball but the ball rolled under his glove into shallow right field. Ray Knight was running on contact with 2 outs and rounded third leaping into the air the final two strides to score the winning run. The crowd was delirious and pandemonium erupted at Shea Stadium. After a full three minutes of just crowd noise and video of the on field celebration, Vin Scully uttered these masterful words:

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 6 of the 1986 World Series. The Mets are not only alive, they are well, and they will play the Red Sox in Game 7 tomorrow!

It was probably the most bizarre ending to a World Series game ever. The Red Sox who just minutes ago were one strike away from winning the World Series were now faced with a bitter loss and the thoughts of having to come back from this heart breaking defeat to play another game the next day.

Game 7 was very much anti-climatic after what was seen in Game 6. The Red Sox again jumped out to an early lead scoring 3 runs but lost the game 8-5 keeping their World Series drought going. Bill Buckner would become the poster child for scapegoats and things would become so bad that he would leave the Boston area settling in the mountains of Idaho to raise his family. His otherwise stellar career would be marred by this one error. In what has become an even stranger footnote to this tale, it has been discovered that on that fateful night 20 years ago, Buckner was wearing a Chicago Cubs batting glove on his hand inside his mitt when he took the field in the tenth inning marrying the two most maligned franchises in World Series history. Some have pondered whether this could actually be a double curse that caused the ball to somehow miss his glove when Mookie Wilson hit it. We’ll never know why he was wearing that batting glove as Buckner has for obvious reasons stopped talking about the 1986 series of events. But on this anniversary of the event it is interesting to look back at what has become a moment of history and wonder about this series of events.


2 Comments

  1. I remember every single moment of the bottom of that inning. It’s like seeing a horrific car accident and that image is just frozen in your mind forever.

    Anyway, one thing that has always bugged me is everyone (fueled by the media) blaming Buckner for the loss. Some fans will try to add some insight and say it was as much the fault of McNamara, Schiraldi, Stanley, Gedman, Clemens or pick whichever player they want to vilify the most.

    There are 2 things I like to remind everyone when they bring up Buckner and the error.

    1 – The game was TIED at the time he made the error. With a runner on 2nd and 2 outs in a tie game in extra innings, the home team has over a 70% chance of winning. (22% of the time a run scores with a runner on 2nd and 2 outs, and if he doesn’t about a 50% chance of winning in the following innings). So Buckner expedited the win, but at that point it already looked pretty good for the Mets.

    2 – The game should have never gone into extra innings. I believe the Sox were 0-14 with runners in scoring position. They had numerous chances that they didn’t capitalize on. Looking at a play-by-play of that game, you see one player who had more chances to put the game away than any other. Twice he came up with the bases loaded, and ended the inning. He came to the plate a total of 6 times, every single time with runners on base, and ended up 0 for 5. His at bats had a lot more to do with the Sox losing the game, than an error in a tie game in the bottom of the 10th. Who was this player? None other than William Joseph (Billy) Buckner!

    So, who should be blamed for the Sox curse being extended? Yes, Billy Buckner more than anyone else, but very little to do with the error everyone remembers.

  2. Buckner will forever be the scapegoat poster child. Granted his error will go down as the most often replayed clip in the world but I don’t think he deserved the humiliation that he has endured. I think when his son missed a grounder and people began telling him he was just like his father, that is over the line.

    You brought up some very good points. Buckner did not have the best series at the plate but there are many other players in similar situations. Until 2001 Randy Johnson had not won a play-off game but you didn’t see him have to endure what Buckner has had to because of past failures.

    While baseball is extremely important, sometimes we need to remind ourselves that it is only a game.

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