There were two outs in the ninth inning Monday night, and the Mets were ahead for good, 8-5, in the seventh game of the 1986 World Series. The Shea Stadium fans, frenetic but orderly for a change, were on their feet crying for the final blow, and the mounted police were preparing a charge from the bullpen to barricade the field. Boston's Marty Barrett, who had tied a Series record in the second inning when he got his 13th hit, was standing at the plate in swirling mists, a ghost of Series past for all those Red Sox fans who have dutifully borne more than their share of suffering. And then someone tossed a red smoke bomb onto the grass in left centerfield. What cruel symbolism. There went a season of hope, an incredible escape from defeat in the playoffs and a World Series of such promise (two straight wins at the start) and maybe the last chance for New England fans to believe that it's possible for their team not to bomb in the big ones. There it all went, up in a puff of red smoke. When Shea functionaries finally defused the bomb, the determined Barrett resumed his stance at the plate—and struck out.
Actually, the season had gone up in smoke for the Sox two nights earlier in Game 6 when they came within one strike of their first world championship in 68 years. Even in this final game, they were breezing along with a 3-0 lead entering the bottom of the sixth, but as students of Red Sox history recall, they also led 3-0 in the seventh game of their last Series, in 1975 against the Reds.
It was in this Series' sixth inning that Boston's tiring starter, Bruce Hurst, manfully trying to win his third game of the Series, finally pooped out. Hurst had pitched 17 innings entering the seventh game and had allowed only two earned runs. He had held the Mets, swinging viciously, to one hit and no runs for the first five innings, but he was trying to pitch on only three days' rest, and after 74 pitches, his arm simply gave out.
Hurst was starting in place of Dennis (Oil Can) Boyd, the pitcher manager John McNamara had originally ticketed for the Series finale on Sunday. But Sunday was a day of rain, and McNamara decided to go on Monday with his proven winner. The manager informed a distraught Boyd that he would be the first one out of the bullpen should Hurst encounter trouble, but McNamara, as it turned out, would break his promise. Boyd was inconsolable both before and after the game. "I wanted the call," said the Can, sobbing in front of his locker after the loss, "but I didn't get the call." Hurst did, and he carried that 3-0 lead into the sixth, the result of a three-run, second-inning outburst against the Mets' starter, Ron Darling, who, like Hurst, was making his third Series start. But in the sixth, consecutive hits by pinch-hitter Lee Mazzilli and Mookie Wilson and a walk to Tim Teufel loaded the bases. Then Keith Hernandez hit a ball "up in my lips" to center to score two, and Gary Carter looped another ball to right that Dwight Evans almost caught. That tied the score, although Hernandez was thrown out on a rarely seen 9-6 fielder's choice.
The Mets' strategy throughout the Series had been to somehow get past Boston's effective starters and get to a bullpen that lacked depth and, especially, lefthanders. "I wouldn't have said this during the Series," Mets second baseman Wally Backman said after the big win, "but we knew that if we got to the bullpen, it would be no contest."
Hurst was gone after his sorrowful sixth, replaced by Calvin Schiraldi, a sad-faced righthander who had suffered the wrath of the Bosox gods two nights earlier. Schiraldi got to 2 and 1 on Ray Knight, leading off the seventh, then threw him a fastball that Knight lined into the drapery beyond the leftfield fence for the tie-breaking run. Knight, who had three hits in the game and was named the Most Valuable Player of the Series, bounced around the bases in obvious recognition that the game was now going New York's way. That's what Frank Sinatra's voice on the deafening loudspeaker system also seemed to be saying—"I want to be a part of it"—as Knight made his gleeful journey. "I proved I'm not Ray Lopez," he said later, in reference to his more celebrated wife, golfer Nancy Lopez. "I've told Davey [manager Johnson] that I'm a winner."
The Mets got two more runs in the inning off Schiraldi and Joe Sambito, a seldom-used lefty, and seemed to be winging. But the Sox were far from finished. In the eighth, they closed the gap to 6-5 on singles by Bill Buckner, the limping first baseman, and Jim Rice and a long double in the gap to right center by Evans, who had started the evening's scoring in the second with a leadoff homer completely over the leftfield pavilion. But in the eighth, McNamara, still passing over Oil Can, reached deeper into his bullpen and brought in Al Nipper, nominally a starter. Nipper threw two strikes to Darryl Strawberry, leading off the inning, and then another pitch, which Strawberry hammered over the fence in rightfield. Strawberry did a very slow turn around the bases to show up the Red Sox, and if these two teams meet again in the near future in the Series, or if baseball institutes interleague play anytime soon, the Mets' star can expect to hit the dirt.
Streamers were sailing from the stands now onto the field as the crowd readied itself for the big celebration. The Mets' last run was almost an insult, as Jesse Orosco, the ace lefthander of the New York bullpen, faked a bunt and bounced a single through the infield to score Knight from second. McNamara replaced Nipper with Steve Crawford, his sixth pitcher of the night. But the damage, the final damage, had been done.
The Mets were right. The secret was getting to the bullpen. In the last two games in New York, McNamara's relievers gave up 10 hits and 9 runs in 4⅔ innings. For the whole Series, the sorry numbers were 13 runs in 15⅓ innings. Pitching depth had won the Series. The Mets went with only three starters—Darling, Gooden and Ojeda—in the Series, but they got good bullpen mileage out of regular starters Sid Fernandez and Rick Aguilera, who joined the star relievers, Orosco and Roger McDowell. Orosco retired 16 of the 18 batters he faced, earning two saves without giving up a run. Fernandez, who relieved a tiring Darling in the fourth inning of the final game, shut down the Sox in the middle innings. "He was the unsung hero of the game," said Hernandez. Fernandez had wanted a start, but Johnson, reluctant to use lefthanders in Fenway Park, kept him in the pen, with salubrious results. Fernandez was disappointed that he didn't start, but in the glow of victory he could say, "Hell, we won. Just to pitch in a World Series means a lot. After all, it may never happen again."
Orosco was the mop-up man in this one, and he threw nothing but breaking balls, setting down the Sox in the ninth as he retired his 11th, 12th and 13th straight batters in the Series. "I had a good slider," he said, "and if you have a good pitch, you should stay with it." Orosco was also pitching with a mild case of strep throat, but he did manage a victory yelp when Barrett went down swinging for the final out. Orosco's teammates buried him in an avalanche of bodies.