Tons of computer paper rained down on the World Series champion New York Mets last week. A blizzard of shredded Wall Street printouts—replacing the traditional ticker tape—spewed from office windows as more than two million fans lined the streets of Manhattan for a parade saluting their heroes. For the Mets, a computer-age franchise born in 1962, it was the second Series triumph and no less sweet than their first victory in 1969. But for the Boston Red Sox, born in the horse-andbuggy era in 1901, it was the fourth Series loss since 1918, the year they won their last world championship. The largest U.S. television audience ever for a World Series game watched the Mets win the final 8-5 and baseball’s championship four games to three. But the Series was actually decided in the late-night chill of game 6, when the Red Sox squandered a two-run lead in the 10th inning. Said Boston second baseman Marty Barrett: “We lost it. We didn’t make them earn it.”
Few of baseball’s 82 previous Series held more promise than this one—the first meeting between teams from New York and Boston since 1912. The Mets, leading baseball in bravado, high-five handshakes and self-congratulation, also arrived with the season’s best record (108-54). The Sox arrived with Roger Clemens, at 24 wins and four losses the game’s best pitcher in 1986. It was heralded as the brash Mets versus the veteran Sox, in a fall classic shuttling between raucous Shea Stadium and quaint Fenway Park. Instead, it became a Series of the unexpected and, often, the inexplicable. New York barely managed to escape defeat, and Boston—the weight of history on their shoulders—found new ways to avoid winning. Said Sox right fielder Dwight Evans: “Everything is kind of weird in baseball these days.”
The first indication that the 1986 edition would be anything but classic came in game 1, which Boston won 1-0 courtesy of a wild pitch and an error. Then followed game 2’s long-awaited pitching matchup between the hardthrowing Clemens and New York’s brilliant fastballer, Dwight Gooden, the best pitcher in baseball in 1985. But instead of a taut pitchers’ duel, it was a hitters’ showcase. Pounding out 18 hits, Boston won 9-3 and returned to Fenway two games up, knowing that only one team—the 1985 Kansas City Royals—had ever lost the first two
games at home and come back to win the Series.
But in Boston, the Mets quickly tied the Series, winning games 3 and 4. The Sox rebounded to win game 5 by a score of 4-2, and the stage was set for the return to Shea Stadium—and the Gong Show of game 6. Ignominy is no stranger to Red Sox teams. Other Boston clubs have lost important games in bizarre ways. But in the long chronicle of Sox defeat, the open wound of the sixth game has few rivals. Twice, Boston was one strike
away from winning the world title.
Many Sox fans say that the team has operated under a curse since 1920, when then-owner Harry Frazee committed the blasphemous sin of selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees. But the 1986 collapse may have had more to do with Sox manager John McNamara’s lack of intervention. Leading 3-2 in the eighth inning, Boston had the bases loaded with two out. The left-handed Bill Buckner was scheduled to bat against New York’s left-handed pitcher Jesse Orosco—a situation in which most managers, favoring the percentages, would automatically pinch-hit a right-handed hitter. McNamara chose not to, Buckner flied out and Boston left three runners stranded. Then, having ignored one of baseball’s cardinal rules, McNamara unaccountably de-
cided to leave Buckner—hobbled by ankle and knee injuries and a pulled Achilles tendon—in the game at first base. Said Dave Stapleton, Buckner’s defensive replacement in all of the Sox postseason victories: “I figured I’d go in this time too. I thought it would make sense.”
With Stapleton on the bench, the Mets tied the score in the eighth inning. But the Sox went ahead 5-3 in the top half of the 10th, quickly retired the first two Mets in the bottom and were poised for their first world championship in 68 years. Two Mets hits later, Boston was still only one strike away from winning when Ray Knight, the Series’ most valuable player, singled in a run. Then, with Mookie Wilson at the plate and the Sox again one strike away from victory, Bob Stanley
threw a wild pitch, scoring Kevin Mitchell from third base, and the game was tied. Three pitches later, Wilson hit a slow-moving ground ball that rolled between the limping Buckner’s legs for an error, scoring New York’s winning run.
The Mets came back from a threerun deficit to win game 7, but the Series had already been lost between Buckner’s bandaged ankles. Said Mets manager Davey Johnson: “We were the best team. We deserved to win.” For baseball’s historians and second-guessers, that assessment and the bizarre events of the 83rd Series will provide ample grist for contemplation—at least until the first pitch of the 1987 season next April.
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