Personally autographed by Ray Knight, 1986 World Series MVP, aka “Melon Head”
Last night, October 25, 2011, marked the 25 year anniversary of the greatest night of my life (except, of course, for my wedding day, birth of the kids, blah, blah, blah). On October 25, 1986, the New York Mets staged a comeback for the ages that some refer to as the Buckner Game. For me, and other fanatics like me, it’s just Game 6.
Ah, Game 6.
It is not often that scenes from the greatest night of your life are on television (occasionally on YouTube without your consent, but that’s another story), but ESPN Classic carried the game last night, edited down to a digestible 2 hours of vintage ‘80s baseball. I watched the entire drama unfolded again. It was not as good as the first time, but it was darn good reality TV.
There is so much that I have forgotten about the game over the years. Pre-Roid Rage Roger Clemens had a no hitter through the first 4 innings. Rubber armed outfielder Mookie Wilson threw out Jim Rice at the plate in the 7th inning to hold the Sox at 3 runs. The Mets battled back to tie the game with 2 runs in the 5th inning. They tied the game again with one run in the bottom of the 8th inning. They blew a perfect opportunity to finish the game in the 9th before the disaster of the top of the 10th led to the nirvana of the bottom of the 10th.
You all know the tale. Nobody on base, two runs down, two outs, two strikes on Carter, then lightning. Base hit, base hit, base hit. One run. Wild pitch. Tie game. Through Buckner’s legs, there will be a 7th Game.
I am exactly the same, but all the characters in this hero’s tale had changed and moved on with their lives. Roger McDowell, the hard throwing sinkerballer/prankster who was the notorious second spitter from behind the bush on the gravelly road, is now pitching coach with Atlanta. Davey Johnson, the brash young dugout genius, is now the old seer managing the Nationals. Carter, Rice and Boggs are enshrined in Cooperstown. Strawberry and Gooden are cautionary tales on how not to handle stardom. Times have changed, but the feeling of that night remains the same for me. I love watching that game as much if not more than Red Sox fans hate being reminded of it.
While the emotional rescue provided by the Mets is unforgettable, some of the actual scenes I had forgotten. I was struck by a few images:
- All the players sporting the porn mustaches before they were known as porn mustaches (Hernandez, Backman, Buckner, Boggs, Johnson, Santana (Rafael, not Johann), Wilson, Evans, the drunkards in the Shea crowd bundled up in their Members Only jackets…).
- The turf at Shea was no better than my son’s little league field after surviving a game of tackle football in the rain. The technology of infield lawn care has evolved by leaps and bounds. I guess we have Carl Spackler and his hybrid research to thank for that.
- There was a noticeable lack of pitching changes. Tony LaRussa would have substituted 4 pitchers during the time that Calvin Schiraldi was allowed to remain in the game, long after he was clearly ineffective.
- I smiled when I saw the crazy lady rolling her arms in the front row just to the left of home plate. Her repetitive rolling motion placed a jinx on the Red Sox’ pitchers as they threw. Babe Ruth has nothing on this lady.
What made that night 25 years ago so perfect was the depth of despair I felt before rising suddenly to the peak of joy. You have to go through hell before you get to heaven, said Steve Miller, and he’s a rock star – he should know. The 1986 game offers a good life lesson for all of us, even the non-sports fans, although the non-fans probably didn’t make it as far as this paragraph. To experience winning, you have to know losing (paradoxical unity).
Sports are such an ideal metaphor for life. Everyone should have one sports memory that touches them the way this game touched me, and if you're lucky, Vin Scully does the commentary.
Maybe for you, my NY/NJ friends, it is this game: