They were just one pitch away
Editor’s note: This article is from the Boston Globe archives. It originally ran on Oct. 26, 1986, after the Red Sox lost Game 6 of the World Series to the Mets.
NEW YORK -- One pitch away from a world championship. One pitch from an end to 68 years of frustration. One pitch.
Not close enough.
In a heartbreak that ranks with all of the heartbreaks ever recorded in the long book of Boston Red Sox heartbreak history, the Olde Towne Team let that world championship bounce away in the red dirt of Shea Stadium last night. One wild pitch. One error by first baseman Bill Buckner. One pitch away. The New York Mets scored three runs in the bottom of the 10th and final inning after allowing the Red Sox two in the top of the inning to post a wild, 6-5 win in the sixth game of this World Series and force a seventh game tonight at 8:35 (NBC-TV).
Never have the Red Sox come this close and failed. Never in the Bucky Dent game or the Enos Slaughter game or the Jim Burton game or all the recorded games of frustration had the finish been this close to a championship. Never. Not since 1918. Never.
“We didn’t get that final out,” manager John McNamara said. “That’s all I can say. We needed that one more out, and we didn’t get it. All I can associate it with is the feeling California had when we beat them out there.
“Yes, it’s disappointing, but at least we have another chance tomorrow.
That’s something they (the Mets) didn’t have.”
How much of a heartbreak was this? A simple recitation of the roller- coaster events of the 10th is enough to show how bad this one was. In the top of the 10th, Dave Henderson, apparently God’s favorite baseball player of this October, homered to left. The Red Sox added another run, and they had a 5-3 lead and an apparent win.
What more could they want? Relief ace Calvin Schiraldi was on the mound. There was dancing in the dugout. There was a party in half the houses in New England -- tell the truth -- crepe paper being strung everywhere, the civic reception and parade virtually ready to go.
Schiraldi took care of leadoff hitter Wally Backman with a fly ball to left. One out. Schiraldi took care of slugger Keith Hernandez with a fly to center. Two outs. Two outs? Two outs!!!!!
The moon suddenly fell out of the sky and landed on the Red Sox’ heads. Ker-plunk! Ka-boom! Ouch and double ouch!
How to describe the unraveling? Gary Carter singled to left. So what? Pinch hitter Kevin Mitchell singled to center, Carter moving to second. Big deal. Third baseman Ray Knight, husband of pro golfer Nancy Lopez, swinging with two strikes, singled to center to score Carter and move Mitchell to third. Uh-oh. The lead now was 5-4 and the tying run was on third.
Schiraldi was taken from the game and replaced by Bob Stanley. Wouldn’t this be the story of stories? Wouldn’t that be the perfect final picture, Stanley hugging catcher Rich Gedman as the 68 years of frustration ended? Here was the man who has endured the longest run of wrath from the Fenway Park fans. Couldn’t he celebrate the loudest?
The batter was Mookie Wilson, the Mets’ left fielder, a man who will swing at most pitches thrown anywhere near the plate, a swinger’s swinger.
Stanley pitched. Mookie swung. Foul ball. Stanley pitched. Ball one. Stanley pitched. Ball two. Stanley pitched three straight times. Mookie fouled all three pitches backwards. The count was stuck at 2-2.
On the next pitch, Stanley ran the ball inside. Mookie jumped backward. Gedman reached for the ball, but not far enough. Wild pitch. Kevin Mitchell ran home as if he were yelling ollie-ollie-in-free and setting the Mets and the entire city of New York free in a giant game of hide and seek. Tie game, 5-5.
Knight now was on second with the winning run. Stanley still was on the mound. Mookie still was at the plate. The count now was 3-2. Stanley pitched again. Mookie fouled the ball backward again. Stanley pitched again. Mookie fouled again.
On the next pitch, Mookie hit a weak ground ball toward first. Half the crowd of 55,078 began to record the easy, unassisted out in the scorebook. The other half breathed nervously, relaxing for the inevitable 11th inning.
Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner bent low to pick up the ball. Bill Buckner, the man of a million aches and hurts, didn’t bend low enough. The ball skipped directly through Buckner’s legs and down the first base line. Knight, running all the way with two outs, virtually cartwheeled to the plate, landing so hard to officially score the run that he thought he hurt himself.
Pandemonium landed as if it were a giddy disease. The Mets gave curtain call after curtain call, handshake after handshake, while the Red Sox walked off the field with the dumbstruck look of accident vicims. The worst. The absolute worst.
“Thinking about the team’s history. . .,” manager McNamara was asked in the interview room.
“I don’t know anything about history,” he said with a toneless voice, ‘’and don’t tell me anything about that choke crap.”
Due to the lateness of the game, added to early deadlines at most metropolitan newspapers, story after story was ripped up in a hurry. How many leads had been written about this game that had the Red Sox winning, 5-3, and ending all that frustration? How many actually made the newspapers? How many happy stories, traded for sad? How fast? How unbelievably fast?
“This is the worst yet,” a man in the press box said. “This is the game that truly will be remembered forever.”
”Not yet,” he was told. “It all will depend on what happens in the final game. If the Red Sox win that game, the story will be a sidelight. But if they don’t . . . “
Never easy with this team. Never easy.