It was 27 years ago today that the ball went through Buckner’s legs. While the Mets have had many important moments in franchise history (Cleon Jones catching Davey Johnson‘s fly ball to end the 1969 World Series, the Pete Rose/Bud Harrelson fight, Johan Santana‘s no-hitter, to name a few), no single moment has been more etched in the minds of Mets fans than Mookie Wilson‘s famous ground ball. Here’s one fan’s memory of October 25th, 1986. If you’re old enough to have watched it live, please enjoy the memory with me (and add comments about your experience). If you were not around for 1986, let’s hope that days like this one are in our near future.
Jun 29, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; A major league baseball and glove sits in the bat rack in the Pittsburgh Pirates dugout before the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
It’s a partly cloudy, mild Saturday in the New York area. The Mets are coming off of a travel day in the 1986 World Series. The Mets trail the series 3 games to 2, but have the benefit of playing the last 2 games at Shea. To be honest, the Mets are lucky to be playing at all.
The series began at Shea a week ago, and the Red Sox won the first 2 games. Fighting for their lives, the Mets went to Boston and took 2 of 3, though they lost game 5 with Dwight Gooden on the mound. It’s not supposed to be like this. Not at all.
The Mets steamrolled the National League all year, winning 108 games. In fact, at one point WPIX Sports Reporter Jerry Girard said that going to Mets’ games has become analogous to going to the opera. You just sit there and quietly say, “Bravo.” That’s how good the Mets are in 1986. Yes, they had to fight off a pesky Houston team in the LCS, but the Red Sox aren’t that good. Or are they? The Red Sox are showing themselves to be talented and determined, and now the Mets’ backs are against the wall. It’s just never easy being a Mets fan.
As the day goes on, the nausea increases. What if they….lose? The whole aura of the “invincible team” will be shattered. Davey’s bravado, Keith’s leadership, Carter’s leadership, the bench-clearing brawls, the amazing pitching, all of it, down the drain. As a commuting college student, I pace around my parents’ house, beginning at around 9 a.m. I decide I need to get out for a while, so I schedule a tennis game. The entire time, I’m thinking about tonight. My body is on the tennis court, but my mind is counting down to game time. Finally, it’s getting close, time to get ready to go.
Now it’s game time. Bob Ojeda is on the mound. Thank goodness for Bobby O. When the Mets were down 2-0 in the series, Bobby O. pitched a gem in game 3 against his former team. He’ll do it again. Come on, Bobby. It’s the top of the first, and all of a sudden with a runner on first, here comes some guy parachuting down from a plane, and he lands between first and second base. What in the world is going on? The police seize him and usher him off the field, but as he goes by Ron Darling in the dugout, Ronnie high-fives this guy! What? Bobby O. looks seriously annoyed at the break in his rhythm. I don’t blame him. Anyway, back to baseball and more nail-biting. The Red Sox take a quick 2-0 lead with single runs in the first and second innings. But they should have had more. Bobby O. stiffens when he has to. The Mets can’t seem to figure out young, fire-balling Roger Clemens. He is mowing the Mets down until the fifth, when the Mets tie the game. Darryl Strawberry starts the rally with a walk, steals second, and scores on a Ray Knight single. The Mets mount a rally, but can only tie the game on a double-play ball by Danny Heep. This is going to be painful.
The Red Sox score in the seventh, and now the Mets are 9 outs away from one of the most disappointing ends to a season in baseball history. It’s now the bottom of the 8th, and the remaining outs are down to 6. Clemens leaves the game (he was pinch hit for in the top of the inning). Maybe this is a good thing. The Boston bullpen is not its strong suit. Please, guys, it’s now or never. The Mets load the bases with one out, on a rally started by native son Lee Mazzilli. Here comes Gary Carter, and the tension, blended with excitement, is truly unbelievable. Carter gets ahead of Calvin Schiraldi 3-0, and now the tension becomes full-on pandemonium. Carter swings 3-0. He swings! He hits a bullet line drive to Jim Rice in medium-depth left field. If Carter had gotten under that ball, it was a grand slam, for sure. But now Mazzilli must beat Jim Rice’s throw home. It seems like the play takes 5 minutes to complete, but Mazzilli scores standing, and the game is tied. We have life. We have no more deodorant, but we have life.
After Rick Aguilera sets the Sox down the top of the 9th, Shea is shaking. We are convinced the Mets will win it here. They get the first two men on, and now it’s a foregone conclusion. But the Mets don’t score, and we move to the tenth. Aguliera is still pitching, and he grooves one to Dave Henderson, Boston’s LCS hero. Henderson hits it off the auxiliary scoreboard, and you can hear a few Sox fans going wild. You can also hear the Boston players celebrating. But the inning isn’t over. With two outs, Wade Boggs doubles and Marty Barrett singles. The Red Sox are up 5-3. Aguilera then hits Bill Buckner with a pitch, and Buckner chuckles as he stares out at Aguilera. He seems to be saying, “Really, kid? You just blew the World Series, and that’s your answer”? Aguilera leaves the game, the Sox score no more, and it’s the bottom of the 10th.
The Mets have been feisty all year, and to say they need that now is an understatement. They have the 2-3-4 hitters scheduled up. Wally Backman hits a shallow fly to left that appeared like it would drop, but Jim Rice got over to make the play. 1 out. Keith Hernandez drives a ball to the left-center gap, and it appeared that it would find a landing spot. However, Henderson has him played that way, and runs the drive down. 2 outs. The Mets look dejected. Shea is silent. The scoreboard flashes, “Congratulations, Red Sox. 1986 World Champions.” People start to leave. Some Red Sox fans behind third base are waving long red socks, and cheering wildly.
Gary Carter singles. I’m thinking, “Please don’t do this. Don’t give me false hope.” But reality is that a home run can tie this game, and pinch hitter, Kevin Mitchell, can accommodate that. Mitchell singles to center (when the ball left the bat, I thought it would hang up long enough for Henderson). With two on, the emotion for me is 80% despair and 20% hope. Ray Knight quickly gets down 0-2, and it’s hard to watch. But he fights off an inside pitch and bloops one over Barrett (I thought this one would be caught too). Carter scores, Mitchell to third. In comes Bob Stanley.
The worst part about the pitching change was the wait for the game to resume. How long was it, 6 hours? It felt that way. Stanley uncorks a wild pitch with Mookie Wilson up, and Mitchell steams down the line. I’m yelling “slide” as loud as I can, as if he can hear me. He doesn’t slide, and doesn’t have to. Tie game. My thoughts at this point? “Win it here, please! I can’t stomach another inning!” But Mookie strikes out a lot. You know we’re going to the 11th. And when Wilson tops the ball toward Buckner, I momentarily look away in disgust. But then the thought comes to me. “Wait, Mookie can fly. He can beat this and give HoJo a shot.” Then the ball goes through Buckner’s legs. People are falling all over each other. It looks like a mosh pit. But I’m staring at the umpire. Being the Mets pessimist that I am, I’m waiting for him to call the ball foul. He doesn’t. He emphatically points to the fair side of the bag, and I join the mosh pit.
After the game, most are saying that the Sox are dead. They can’t win game 7 after that. I’m cautiously delirious. I’m loving the moment, but my palms are sweaty. This series isn’t over. They’re still the Mets. But wow, that was something! This was one for the ages! But then it hits me again. The Mets are NOT World Champions. They dodged a bullet to fight another day. The next game will be beyond excruciating. But I’m so thankful to have the chance to “suffer” through it.