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Good To The Very Last Out
Ron Fimrite
November 03, 1986
The Mets, one strike from defeat, staged a couple of remarkable comebacks to deny the Red Sox their first World Series in 68 years
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November 03, 1986

Good To The Very Last Out

The Mets, one strike from defeat, staged a couple of remarkable comebacks to deny the Red Sox their first World Series in 68 years

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And so there he was, on the mound in the World Series only one out away from the anticipated cheers. "It's the dream of every major league pitcher to be on the mound for the world champions, to be there for the final out," he said. Mookie Wilson was the hitter standing between him and the dream, and Wilson, by his own admission, is inclined to "swing at balls over my head and in the dirt." This time, though, he was determined to have a memorable at bat.

Stanley went 0 and 1 on him, then 1 and 1, then 2 and 1, then 2 and 2. Wilson fouled off two breaking balls. Stanley decided to go inside with a fastball that would run away from Wilson toward the plate. Mets third base coach Bud Harrelson, meanwhile, had advised Mitchell, the rookie running at third, to be alert for wild pitches. Mitchell nodded nervously. Stanley threw his fastball. But it didn't sail away from the hitter; it stayed inside, heading for Wilson's ribs. If it were to hit him the bases would be loaded, but, said Wilson, "As intelligent as I am, my instincts took over, my instinct for self-preservation. I didn't want to get hit." He flung himself aside with a mighty jump, momentarily blocking catcher Rich Gedman's sight of the ball. Mitchell also had trouble following the ball. He hesitated before making his break, unaware of Harrelson's shouts for him to go, go, go! At last he did go. "I didn't know if I'd make it. Four steps from the plate I was going to dive. Then I saw I didn't have to." The ball had bounced away from a cursing Gedman all the way to the backstop for a wild pitch. Score tied. Knight now on second.

The count now was 3 and 2 on Wilson. He fouled off the next pitch. He could see that Buckner at first was playing him deep, perhaps 30 feet behind the bag. With his speed, he knew he had a chance to beat out a ball hit down the line. Buckner knew that, too, and when Wilson hit the next pitch directly at him, the first baseman decided against going to his knees to make the catch, knowing that a throw from that position might not have enough on it. The ball was not hit all that solidly. "It bounced and bounced and then it didn't bounce," said Buckner. "It just skipped." It skipped under his glove and between his aching legs as Knight hopped crazily home with the winning run. The Mets were still alive in the World Series.

"I can't remember the last time I missed a ground ball," said Buckner. "I'll remember that one." So, he must know, will a lot of people.

The suddenness of the Red Sox' demise in Game 6, and their proximity to the Promised Land, might best be illustrated by what happened to NBC broadcaster Bob Costas and his crew in the bottom of the 10th. Costas was perched in the corner of the visiting dugout nearest to the runway leading to the clubhouse. It was past midnight, of course, because with the television-induced late starts, this had become the Witching Hour Series. Costas had taken up his position in anticipation of the historic Red Sox victory. The rest of his crew was already inside the clubhouse, busily setting up the interview platform, positioning the cameras and aiming the lighting. They were ready for the big moment.

When Backman flied out meekly to open the 10th, Costas edged toward the tunnel. Then when Hernandez lined out, Costas headed for the clubhouse, mentally preparing himself for the champagne-soaked interviews that would follow within minutes. Inside the locker room, Costas learned that he would be flanked on the platform by Red Sox president Jean Yawkey and chief executive officer Haywood Sullivan, both of whom were waiting in the wings. Baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth would be there to present the World Series trophy to them and to read a congratulatory message from President Reagan. Costas was told that Hurst, winner of two Series games, would be given the Most Valuable Player award. The cellophane was draped over the players' cubicles to protect their belongings from the spray of champagne. Costas decided to check the NBC monitor. Hmmm, Carter was on first base. The game hadn't ended. Then Mitchell got a hit, and Knight another. The game was far from over. Dave Alworth, the commissioner's liaison man for television, dashed nervously into the busy room. If the Mets tied the game, he told Costas and crew, they would have to clear out of there, bag and baggage, in a big hurry.

Then came the wild pitch to Wilson. "I swear," said Costas, "that ball had not stopped rolling before the technicians had packed up and gotten out of there. I had never seen anyone move so fast. I stayed behind to watch the monitor. And when that ground ball rolled between Buckner's legs, they just pulled the plug on me and hustled me out of sight. We were all gone by the time the Red Sox, uttering what epithets you can imagine, got back there. It was amazing. It all happened so fast. We just disappeared." And so did victory for the Red Sox.

McNamara will, of course, have to live with his decision to keep Buckner, hobbling on two injured ankles, in the game on defense with a world championship on the line. In the past, he has replaced him defensively in similar situations with the much more mobile Dave Stapleton—usually, however, after Buckner has been lifted for a pinch runner. McNamara actually had an opportunity to pinch-run for him in the Red Sox' half of the 10th when Buckner was hit by a pitch. But he left him in. "He has good hands," his manager said, "and he was moving pretty well tonight." McNamara's decision will also be long remembered.

Not as memorable, certainly, but equally baffling was Johnny Mac's continued reluctance to employ his leading home run hitter, Don Baylor, in these Shea Stadium games. The designated hitter, Baylor's position, was allowed only in the American League park this year, but Baylor was certainly available for pinch-hitting service. And yet when the opportunities to pinch hit did arise, in Games 1, 2 and 6 at Shea, McNamara went to lefthand-hitting rookie Mike Greenwell all three times. Greenwell went 0 for 2 with a walk. Baylor played in more games, 160, than any of his teammates in the regular season, and he hit 26 of his 31 homers off righthanded pitching. Surely, he could not be expected to lose his touch in the Series. There was some speculation, for that matter, that Baylor might even play first base in Buckner's stead on Saturday against the lefthanded Ojeda. But no. The World Series for this fine player and dangerous clinch hitter had become strictly a home-field affair.

Johnson, for his part, certainly made a similarly unpopular decision when he did his switcheroo in the ninth, having Mazzilli bat in the pitcher's spot in the order and Aguilera bat fifth, in Strawberry's position. Johnson's reasoning was that Strawberry had made the last out in the eighth and his spot would not come up again soon. But it did in the 10th, and Johnson had to use the rookie Mitchell—a righthanded hitter, at that—in that critical position. Deprived of a chance to participate in the last glorious, gutwrenching rally, the biggest ever produced by a World Series team in extra innings, Strawberry was enraged. "The manager didn't show confidence in me," he said, overlooking for the moment the fact that he had not had a Series RBI and that, therefore, such a lack of confidence might have been justified. "I don't like the idea that it happened in a World Series. I was shocked. Of course, it was embarrassing. I'll never forget this. I have nothing to say to [Johnson].... He can go his way and I'll go mine."

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