It is one of the iconic moments in World Series history. Down 5-3 with two outs in the bottom of the tenth inning to the Red Sox, the Mets staged a miracle comeback capped off by Bill Buckner's error on a Mookie Wilson dribbler. For almost twenty years Red Sox fans moaned that if only manager John McNamara had followed his usual pattern of bringing in Dave Stapleton as a defensive replacement for Buckner, the Sox would've won.
The problem is that you just never know. The reason for replacing Buckner was not that he couldn't catch the ball, but that his his aging and injured legs wouldn't let him get to it. Stapleton's virtue was his range, not necessarily his hands. In the event, there was never a question of Buckner getting to Wilson's grounder. It went right between his legs. The ball just picked the absolute worst moment to skip instead of hop. It happens...
I bring it up because of what happened yesterday in the World Baseball Classic. The Dominican Republic, considered one of the top two or three teams in the tournament, was playing the Netherlands, not considered one of the top two or three. Or five. Or maybe even ten. The Dominican roster is loaded with current major leaguers, many of them all-stars like David Ortiz and Jose Reyes. The Dutch have a couple of guys who used to play in the majors, most notably Sidney Ponson, better known for his brushes with the law than his baseball ability. It should have been a total mismatch. Eyebrows were raised then when the Dutch managed to upset the Dominicans last week, 3-2, the first time they met in the double elimination round. Much of the post-game commentary had more to do with the DR choking than anything positive to do with the Dutch.
The Dominicans went on to knock Panama out of the tournament while the Netherlands lost to Puerto Rico, setting up a rematch yesterday, with the loser of the game to be eliminated. It was a helluva game, 0-0 through ten innings. The DR finally managed to push across a run in the top of the eleventh, thus leaving it up to Carlos Marmol, whose day job is closer for a pretty good Cub team, to close out the Dutch in the bottom of the inning for the win. Carlos Marmol, meet Calvin Schiraldi. In a half inning eerily similar the that of the Mets bottom of the tenth in '86, the Dutch team scored twice to win. The winning run was scored by ex-major leaguer Gene Kingsale, who'd earlier in the inning driven home the tying run with a base hit. With Sharlon Schoop at the plate, Kingsale advanced from first to third when Marmol's attempted pick-off throw went down the right field line instead, recalling Bob Stanley's wild pitch* in '86 that tied the game and got Ray Knight into scoring position. Then Schoop hit a grounder to first, and the first baseman booted it. Kingsale scored, game over.
* Also known as Gedman's passed ball, in the opinion of practically everybody but the official scorer.
The ironic thing here is that Felipe Alou, the Dominican manager, had started David Ortiz at first. David Ortiz is a great hitter, but his best fielding position is sitting on the bench waiting for his turn in the line-up to come around. He hadn't played in the field for the Sox since 2007. Alou knows this, so in the late innings he did what McNamara didn't. He replaced Ortiz with Willy Aybar, a lesser hitter but much better defensive player. It was Aybar who booted the ball that scored the winning run. Ya just never know...
"Three-two pitch... Groundball... Off the glove of Aybar! They did it! They win it! The Netherlands is going to Miami! Down goes the Dominican!"