A World Series classic: 1986’s Game 6 one for the history books

NEW YORK, October 25, 2012 — From Babe Ruth calling his “shot” in 1932 to Jackie Robinson’s stealing home in 1955 to Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956, the World Series is filled with memorable moments and clutch hits.

But, in this Mets fan’s humble — and unbiased — opinion, no World Series moment is more exciting than the sixth game of the 1986 World Series.

Down two runs in the bottom of the 10th inning with two outs, Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter stood at the plate. With one strike against him, everyone, it seemed, knew the New York Mets’ season was over.

That included the crew at Shea Stadium. A message of congratulations to the Boston Red Sox flashed on the stadium scoreboard.

A single from Carter. Then, one from Kevin Mitchell. Ray Knight followed with a third consecutive single — a hit that scored Carter and cut the lead to one. With Mitchell on third base, Mookie Wilson stepped into the box to square off against Red Sox pitcher Bob Stanley.

“When I got to home plate, we were down by a run and I’m up there, for a lack of a better term, to save face,” Wilson was quoted as saying in Mike Sowell’s 1995 book “One Pitch Away.” “I just don’t want to embarrass myself. I’m up there to make contact.”

“What happened next was compelled, created, by Mookie’s cleverness and speed — a hitless at-bat that had wizardry in it,” Carter wrote in his 1987 memoir, “A Dream Season.” Stanley threw a pitch inside. Wilson “jackknifed out of the way,” Carter recalled, and the pitch escaped Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman.

Mitchell scored from third base. Somehow, the Mets had tied the game at 5. The pitch, scored as a wild pitch, could just as easily have been considered a passed ball.

The next play is seared into the collective memories of baseball fans. Wilson hit a slow ground ball toward the aging first baseman Bill Buckner. Somehow, it took a bad or unexpected hop and scooted past Buckner and into the history books.

A moment later, the ball was in right field and Knight was crossing home plate. The Mets had won, 6-5. They had completed one of the most improbable comebacks in baseball history, a comeback of legendary proportions.

The comeback was made possible by Buckner’s error. Or was it?

Perhaps, the credit should go to Wilson, who avoided being hit by Stanley’s pitch. “Now think about it: if the pitch had hit Mookie, he would have gone to first, a meaningless runner, Ray being the winner,” Carter wrote. “The pitch was sailing; Mookie had to know it might get away from Gedman. Dodging that ball was crucial.”

If the pitch hit Wilson, it would have been Howard Johnson stepping up to the plate with the bases loaded, two outs and his team down a run. That never happened. Consider Carter’s point. Maybe we shouldn’t instantly think, “Buckner’s error” when someone says “1986 World Series.” Maybe, we should think, “Stanley’s wild pitch.”

In the years since the 1986 World Series, Dave Stapleton often said he should have been sent in as a defensive sub for Buckner. Maybe he would have fielded Wilson’s grounder cleanly and made the third out. Either way, Stapleton wouldn’t have stopped Stanley’s wild pitch.

As a Mets fan, I’m glad Buckner didn’t win the World Series in 1986. But, as a sports fan, no one should wish the level of ill will Buckner has received over the past 26 years. Consider the facts. The game was already tied when Buckner made the error. Even if he cleanly fielded the ball, would he beat Wilson to first?

If he did, the game would have been tied at the end of the 10th inning. What would happen in the 11th inning?