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Memories I'll never '86

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If you were to play word association with most baseball fans, and the cue was "1986," you'd probably get a response of Buckner or Mookie or -- if you're dealing with a Red Sox fan -- go screw yourself.

Bill Buckner
The image of Bill Buckner trudging off the field after the Game 6 defeat still haunts Red Sox fans.
While the bottom of the 10th of Game 6 of the '86 World Series is one of the most talked-about innings in baseball history, it does tend to overshadow all the other twists and turns and dramatis personae of that postseason, arguably the most entertaining fall ever. Even 15 years later, I still get goosebumps marveling at Mike Scott's stuff, still smile as widely as Hendu over his heroics, still feel my breath catch over every ball hit to Spike Owen.

My memories of that postseason are so rich that if you were to say 1986 to me, I couldn't confine it to one player or one inning or even one series. And I might just utter something nonsensical, like "$20 in quarters," or "I wish Jim Palmer would get out of my way," or "Damn you, Agatha." Then a wave of tremendous guilt will wash over me.

Perhaps a little background is in order. After several years of covering postseasons for Sports Illustrated, I was the magazine's baseball editor in 1986, working with some hack named Peter Gammons. The downside was that I had to stay in the office, and missed many of the games in person. The upside was that I no longer had to act and write objectively, so I was free to express my inner fan, which was rooting hard -- very hard -- for the Red Sox.

Watch "Battle Lines" on ESPN Classic
"Battle Lines: The 1986 World Series" will air at 9 p.m. ET Oct. 28 on ESPN Classic.

I wasn't born to the Olde Towne Team, but I was married to someone who was, and my newborn son had seen his first three games at Fenway Park. Besides, it was about time they won a World Series.

First, they had to get there, of course. Down 5-2 going into the top of the ninth of Game 5 in Anaheim, they were about to be eliminated. But then Dave Henderson hit a two-out, two-run homer off Donnie Moore to put the Sox ahead 6-5, Rob Wilfong tied it up in the bottom of the ninth, and Hendu knocked in what proved to be the winning run with a sac fly in the 11th, sending the ALCS back to Boston.

I wasn't there in Anaheim that day. I was in a bus station in Albany, N.Y., awaiting a Trailways for New York. Actually, I let bus after bus leave the station bound for New York, because I couldn't pull myself away from Game 5, which I was watching on one of those little black-and-white pay-TVs, 25 cents for, like, 10 minutes. The only time I left the TV was to go next door to the newsstand to replenish my supply of quarters. I arrived at the Port Authority Terminal much later than I wanted, but much happier than I had a right to be.

Dave Henderson
Without Dave Henderson's dramatic homer in Game 5 of the ALCS, the Red Sox never would have reached the World Series.
I was in Fenway for Game 7 of the ALCS, which was Oct. 15, the same day as Game 6 of the NLCS. Now that was a series, the one between the Astros and the Mets. Scott had two gems, but the Mets had a 3-2 lead, thanks to Bob Ojeda's complete game in Game 2, Lenny Dykstra's homer in the bottom of the ninth in Game 3 and a 12-inning victory in Game 5 that featured a for-the-ages duel between Nolan Ryan and Doc Gooden.

Game 6 lasted 16 innings, after the Mets rallied for three in the ninth. I watched the last few innings on a monitor on the field at Fenway. Actually, I had to peer around Jim Palmer, who had a better view than me, though he did provide excellent analysis of the game, which finally ended when Jesse Orosco struck out Kevin Bass to end a 16th inning that featured a combined five runs.

As for the World Series, I saw Games 1-5 in person. But on the evening of Game 6 in New York, some friends of ours were having a wedding party aboard a boat in New York harbor. Occasionally, I would sneak away to watch the game on a hand-held TV my mother had given me after hearing of my bus station adventure. At around 10 p.m., I left the wedding party to relieve our babysitter, Agatha, who was watching Bo, our 4-month-old. When we left that evening, he was dressed in a little Red Sox nightie.

  Even 15 years later, I still get goosebumps marveling at Mike Scott's stuff, still smile as widely as Hendu over his heroics, still feel my breath catch over every ball hit to Spike Owen. 

So, like many of you, I was watching the last few innings of Game 6 in my living room. When the Red Sox went ahead in the top of the 10th, I thought to myself -- perhaps like some of you -- that someday my child might want to know he saw the Red Sox win their first World Series in 70 years. So, I gently lifted him from his crib, brought him into the living room and propped him on my knee.

It was then, in the bottom of the 10th with two outs, that I noticed that Agatha, who was a Mets fan, had changed Bo's night clothes. Awake and blinking at the screen, he was now wearing a Mets nightie. Before I could re-dress him and undo the magic, Mookie stepped to the plate.

The rest is history. And my bad.

It really was The Curse of the Bambino.

Steve Wulf is executive editor of ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at

memories of '86 

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