The conclusion of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series represents one of the most amazing endings in the history of not just baseball, but all sports big and small. It made household names of a hero and a goat and perpetuated the belief in a curse upon what is now one of the great franchises in pro sports.
How it began
The 108-win New York Mets were favored to win their second World Series and first since 1969, but they would have to do so the hard way. Trailing 3-games-to-2 to the Boston Red Sox, the teams returned to Shea Stadium, where the Boston Red Sox, winners of the first two games, had 24-game winner Roger Clemens pitching.
Clemens was given an early 2-0 lead on RBI hits by Dwight Evans and Marty Barrett in the first two innings (another notable moment came when a fan parachuted into the ballpark unexpectedly and was escorted away by police). The Red Sox could have had more, but they left two runners on base in each inning.
The Mets were held hitless through four innings, but rallied in the fifth, tying the game on a hit by Ray Knight and a double play that produced a run.
In the seventh inning, the game turned the other way on Knight, whose error cost the Mets an out and led to the go-ahead run scoring a batter later. But again, Boston missed an opportunity for more, when leftfielder Mookie Wilson threw Jim Rice out at the plate on Rich Gedman’s hit and when Bill Buckner flied to center with the bases loaded to end the eighth inning.
That gave the Mets an opening to tie, which they did in the bottom of the eighth on Gary Carter’s sacrifice fly off Red Sox closer Calvin Schiraldi (who had been traded the previous offseason for the Mets starter that night, Bob Ojeda).
The ninth inning provided an opportunity, but this time it was the Mets who missed out. With two men on base and nobody out, the Mets made three straight outs, sending the game to extra innings.
The home run
Red Sox outfielder Dave Henderson had already been a hero once in the postseason, homering with the Red Sox down to their final out of the ALCS against the Angels, and then hitting a sacrifice fly in extra innings. That helped Boston overcome a 3-games-to-1 deficit to win that series.
Henderson would again appear to become a baseball hero, homering on Rick Aguilera’s second pitch of the 10th inning to put the Red Sox up, 4-3.
The Red Sox then netted a tack-on run on Marty Barrett’s RBI single to lead 5-3 entering the bottom of the 10th.
Something curious happened after Barrett’s hit that would come into play a few minutes later. Buckner writhed in pain after being hit by a pitch, but stayed in the game. In each of the Red Sox's previous seven victories that postseason, Buckner was replaced by Dave Stapleton near the end of the game.
But not in this one.
The Red Sox's win probability and chance to win their first World Series since 1918, jumped to 99 percent when Schiraldi retired the first two Mets in the bottom of the 10th. But the last out was an elusive one.
First, Carter singled to left. Then, pinch-hitter Kevin Mitchell, a former roommate of Schiraldi’s, singled to center. Then on 0-2, Knight fought a pitch off the fists and singled to center, scoring Carter.
Red Sox manager John McNamara took Schiraldi out and brought in his other top reliever, Bob Stanley to face Mookie Wilson.
Wilson worked the count to 2-2, including a two-strike foul in which he barely ticked the ball. Stanley then threw an inside pitch and Gedman didn’t slide over to block it. Mitchell scored to tie and Knight moved to second base.
Wilson extended the at-bat with two more foul balls, then hit a ground ball to first base that became forever memorable. Buckner, still in the game, moved for the ball, bent to field it and watch it tick off his glove and roll through his legs. Knight scored the winning run, evening the series, 3-3.
Did you know?
In 2011, we commemorated the 25th anniversary of this game and shared a number of tidbits. The most amazing of those is that Buckner made his major-league debut on Sept. 21, 1969, popping out as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning. What was prominent about that game was how it ended. The Giants beat the Dodgers with the winning run scoring on a ground ball through a player’s legs (shortstop Maury Wills).
Three World Series games have ended when a batter reached on an error. The Mets were involved in the last two- Game 4 of the 1969 World Series (J.C. Martin was hit by a throw after trying to bunt, allowing the winning run to score) and this game.
The Elias Sports Bureau notes that the Mets are one of eight teams to come back from being three outs from postseason elimination to win the World Series. The other seven are the 1912 Red Sox, 1977 Yankees, 1985 Royals, 1997 Marlins, 2001 Diamondbacks, 2004 Red Sox and 2011 Cardinals.