HOUSTON — Love it or hate it, cherish it or trash it. When it comes to Game 6 of a postseason series, the Red Sox have done it all.
And now, they have to do it again. It’s a win-or-go-home clash Friday night in Houston. After getting shellacked by the suddenly surging Astros, 9-1, Wednesday night at Fenway Park, the Red Sox trail, 3-2, in the ALCS. It’s Game 6 or bust, with bags packed in the hopes of forcing a deciding Game 7.
“We have to win two games to get to the World Series,” manager Alex Cora said. “You take it one day at a time, of course, but you’ve got to win the next game, and it’s not the first time we’ve been in this situation that is a must-win.”
History shows a franchise that has faced this situation many times, though interestingly, and memorably, not at all in its most recent championship run in 2018, when the dominant Red Sox stomped from New York to Houston to Los Angeles without ever needing to go beyond Game 5.
Overall, the results have been mixed. And memorable.
From a Carlton Fisk home run to a Bill Buckner error, to Curt Schilling’s bloody sock, Game 6 has a unique place in Boston lore.
▪ For most indelible, it has to be Fisk.
Who couldn’t close their eyes and still see Fisk waving the ball fair in 1975, still remember how his sheer force of will pushed his 12th-inning blast against the Reds toward Fenway’s left-field foul pole, still celebrate as he rounded the bases for a 7-6 win that forced a World Series Game 7?
The memory of it never gets old, and the impact on the Boston sports psyche never diminishes. When Christian Vázquez homered early in these playoffs to walk off Game 3 of the ALDS against the Rays, the first name on everyone’s lips was Carlton Fisk.
But while Vázquez & Co. made that home run count by winning the series, the 1975 Sox had no such luck. The World Series curse lived on, laid bare at the dominance of the Big Red Machine. Cincinnati won the Series on Joe Morgan’s ninth-inning RBI in Game 7.
▪ For most heartbreaking, it has to be Buckner.
The ball that went between Bill Buckner’s legs in 1986 happened in Game 6 at Shea Stadium, when the Sox were on the verge of breaking the curse yet again only to have Mookie Wilson, and fate, intervene. The sequence of events has been retold as often as any story in baseball history, most recently across an ESPN documentary “Once Upon a Time in Queens,” that took three hourlong episodes to cover it.
Buckner’s Game 6 miscue stuck with him till his death 2½ years ago, remembered for the way it allowed those Mets to rally from two runs down in the 10th, win, set up Game 7, and then win the whole thing. Buckner and Wilson would become friends, however, often doing appearances together.
▪ The most important Game 6 of them all has to be Schilling’s.
Just a year after Aaron Boone tore out the Red Sox’ hearts with his home run in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, the Yankees were at it again, hammering the Sox in the 2004 ALCS, bombing their way to a 3-0 series lead.
But those self-proclaimed “idiots” never let the deficit get them down, never believed they couldn’t be the first (and still the only) baseball team to come back from a 3-0 series deficit. With wins in Games 4 and 5, they turned to Schilling to keep the crazy comeback dream alive. It was a risk; Schilling, hobbled by a torn tendon sheath in his ankle, had been shelled in Game 1, giving up six hits and six runs over three innings.
But behind the scenes, the team’s medical staff came up with a radical idea to suture the loose ankle tendon back into the skin. No surprise Schilling was willing, and when some of the stitches leaked blood onto his sock, a legend was born.
The Sox won, 4-2, behind Schilling’s seven innings of one-run ball. They won Game 7 in a laugher, and didn’t come close to needing a Game 6 again that year, their curse-breaking Series sweep of the Cardinals changing franchise history.
With those three games vying for their places on the all-time Game 6 podium, there have been other memorable ones, as well.
In 2013, the win against the Cardinals in Game 6 marked the first time the Sox clinched a World Series at Fenway Park in 95 years, with John Lackey gaining a bit of redemption with 6⅔ innings of one-run ball in the 6-1 win. In 2007, Schilling delivered again with a Game 6 ALCS win, allowing just two runs over seven innings. The 12-2 win over Cleveland forced a Game 7, which the Sox won en route to a World Series sweep of the Rockies.
The Sox almost broke the curse In 1967 against the Cardinals, when a thrilling 8-4 win in Game 6 of the World Series included four home runs, two from Rico Petrocelli, one by Carl Yastrzemski, and another from Reggie Smith. Unfortunately, Bob Gibson was waiting for them in Game 7, and his third complete game of the Series (he gave up three runs in total) sent the Sox home unhappy.
In 1946, the 104-win Sox blew a 3-1 World Series lead against the Cardinals, losing Games 6 and 7. They had better luck in 1918, a Game 6 win over the Cubs clinching the title, thanks to Carl Mays’s complete game. The 1912 title team lost its Game 6 to the New York Giants, but won the Series in eight (Game 2 was declared a tie because of darkness), and the 1903 champs won their Game 6 in a best-of-nine series against Pittsburgh.
Now it’s the 2021 team’s turn.
“This is our story,” slugger J.D. Martinez said after Game 5. “We’ve been written off all year. Nobody — I don’t think anyone in here either — thought we were going to be here. To that we know what we’re capable of, and I think no one is not believing in themselves or not believing in our team that we can go out there and go off, you know?”