The champagne was on ice. Baseball officials were setting up the congratulatory phone call from the President of the United States. A makeshift stage was set-up in the Boston clubhouse.
And, for a few seconds, the Shea Stadium scoreboard flashed the message, “Congratulations Red Sox On Your World Series Victory.’’
The Red Sox never tasted champagne that night because in the words of Mets catcher Gary Carter, in describing what happened and also the essence of his sport, said, “none of us wanted to make the last out.’’Carter might not have meant it as such, but he acutely described the beauty of baseball seen in no other sport. Football and hockey have sudden death, but mostly their games have a foreseeable ending when clock winds down.
Not so in baseball, which only ends with a last out.
Game 7 is the glamour game, but there’s more a sense of urgency, of tension, of finality in Game 6. Tonight marks the 23rd anniversary of the night Mookie Wilson’s ground ball went through the legs of Bill Buckner in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.
Eleven years earlier, Carlton Fisk’s homer in arguably one of the greatest World Series games ever, prolonged the 1975 Series with Cincinnati. The Mets played that night because they survived a memorable Game 6 less than two weeks earlier at Houston.
Whom will the fates choose tonight’s Game 6 between the Yankees and Angels?
Unfairly, but that’s how sports sometimes can be, today’s game could define a career as that play did the careers of Buckner and Wilson, who’ll forever be linked in time in the manner of Ralph Branca and Bobby Thomson.
However, baseball history is rarely that precise and measurable. The Red Sox lost that night for several reasons, including Roger Clemens leaving the game with a blister and manager John McNamara mis-managing, Bob Stanley’s wild-pitch and Calvin Schiraldi’s bullpen meltdown.
Let us also not forget, that the 5-3 lead Boston kicked away in ten innings was their third blown lead of the game.
Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez flew out to open the inning, and as the story goes, the latter, not wanting to see the Red Sox celebrate, retreated to the manager’s office to watch the rest of the game on television.
“When you’re down two runs in the last inning against their ace reliever, it’s not the most comfortable feeling in the world,’’ Wilson said that night. “But you don’t give up. Two runs is not a great deficit to make up. How did we do it? Mirrors, maybe. Whatever, but we did it.’’
But Carter singled to left, and Kevin Mitchell and Ray Knight followed with singles for one run. Enter Stanley, who promptly wild-pitched in the tying run.
Defeat for Boston was a formality, with Buckner’s slow roller only to delay the inevitable. Wilson still insists he would have beaten Buckner to the bag, and it was bearing down hard on the injured Red Sox first baseman, of whom it is often forgotten should have been removed for defense.
No, Buckner was not distracted by Wilson.
“I did concentrate on that ball,’’ Buckner said that night. “I saw the ball bounce and bounce, and then it didn’t bounce. It just skipped. It didn’t come up. I can’t remember any time I missed a ball like that, but I’ll remember that one.’’
So too, will history.
NOTE: This was posted early. I’d love for you to tell me what you remember from the Buckner game, the Houston Game 6, or anything on your mind. Then, keep it here for the Yankee game. Talk with you tonight.