DXMachina (dxmachina) wrote,
DXMachina
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Scapegoat

I spent October 25th, 1986, in the basement of the First Ward Hose Company in Morristown, NJ, the volunteer fire company of which my brother was captain at the time. We were there for his bachelor party. It was a pretty low key party, basically just a bunch of guys playing cards, shooting pool, and swigging beer, all with the TV over in the corner tuned to the sixth game of the '86 Series between the Mets and Red Sox.

I didn't pay close attention to the game that night, at least not until the late innings, so tonight's NESN rerun of the game was really the first time I'd seen it in it's entirety. Well, except for the Mets' at bats that NESN chose not to broadcast. So much is made of the error at the end of the game, that it's kind of surprising to discover that most of the runs in the game were also the results of errors.

One thing that's interesting about this game (and the earlier games in the series) is watching some of the players, and realizing how fleeting glory is. Bill Buckner is, of course, a prime example of the phenomenon, a good player who is forever linked to a bad outcome, but so is Bob Ojeda, who started the game for the Mets. That game was probably the pinnacle of his career. Although he had several good seasons after '86, he was also involved in two bizarre accidents. After missing most of 1987 because of elbow surgery, he came back strong in 1988 until he managed to cut off the tip of the middle finger of his pitching hand while trimming hedges at his home. If that wasn't freakish enough, the surgeons deliberately reattached the finger tip at an angle, designed so as to help him throw a better curve ball. And it worked, at least for a couple of years. Then, on an off-day during Spring Training of 1993, Ojeda, Tim Crews, and Steve Olin (all then with the Indians), were involved in a terrible accident. The three managed to drive the motor boat they were using into a dock on the lake where they were fishing. It was twilight, and they never saw it coming. Ojeda, sitting lower in the boat, was scalped, but survived. Crews and Olin weren't as lucky. Both were killed. Ojeda tried to come back after he recovered from his injuries, but he wasn't the same pitcher. He retired the following April.

Another thing I didn't notice that night in '86 was that NBC lost the announcers audio feed for most of the top of the seventh inning. All the rest of the sound was there, especially the crowd noise, but there was no commentary at all until the very end of the inning. It was weird and neat at the same time, like being at the ball game.

And then there was the tenth inning. The Mets should've won the game in the ninth, but rather than play for the one run that would win the game, Davey Johnson decided to go for a big inning. He had men on first and second, no outs, and he only needed one run, yet he had Howard Johnson swing for the fences rather than try to bunt them over. It made absolutely no sense. It was like Casey at the Bat when HoJo struck out. Then Dave Henderson hit a rocket in the top of the tenth to put the Sox up, and Wade Boggs scored an insurance run. As Vin Scully said, "It's so quiet in New York, you can almost hear Boston."

Down in the fire house basement in New Jersey, a lone Red Sox fan was taunting everyone else at the bachelor party, and the rest of us who were rooting for the Mets just had to sit there, drink our beer, and take the abuse. Wally Backman flied out to Jim Rice, then Keith Hernandez lined out to Henderson, and the Mets were down to their final out. It looked like a foregone conclusion. I remember that Scully announced that Bruce Hurst had been voted series MVP, although I didn't see that tonight. Hernandez has said that he left the dugout in disgust after his at bat, went into the clubhouse, cracked open a beer, lit a cigarette, and sat down in front of the TV in the manager's office expecting to watch the final out. In other words, even the captain of the opposing team had conceded the Series to the Sox.

But Gary Carter got a hit, and so did Kevin Mitchell, and so did Ray Knight, scoring Carter. The lone Red Sox rooter in the basement started taking on the look of a deer in the headlights. Bob Stanley came in to pitch to Mookie Wilson. Lost in everything else that happened is that Mookie had one hell of an at bat, fouling off six pitches before finally hitting his little roller to Billy Buck. In the middle of it was Stanley's wild pitch (which really should have been a passed ball charged to Rich Gedman), which allowed Mitchell to score, tying the game.
"Little roller up along first... Behind the bag... It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight, and the Mets win it!"
In an instant, the guy who had been the Sox' '86 equivalent to Curt Schilling, their inpirational leader, became the biggest goat in Sox history. John McNamara became the second biggest goat for not bringing in Dave Stapleton as a defensive replacement for the hobbling Buckner, as he had in so many previous games. I've often wondered about that, and in the post game NESN commentary Lou Gorman sort of confirmed a suspicion I've long held. McNamara left Buckner in the game so that the guy who got him there could be on the field when the Sox won. I can't fault him for that. I've even done it a couple of times myself as a coach. It was a nice gesture on Johnny Mac's part. Unfortunately, it blew up in his face. The thing is, it didn't lose the series. The Sox still had another shot to win, just as the Reds did after they lost a heartbreaking game six in 1975.
Tags: baseball, reminiscence
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