July 13, 2000
BASEBALL: Remembering 1986
(Originally posted 7/13/00 on the Boston Sports Guy website; reposted here with a link to a Bill Simmons column on Bill Buckner)
WARNING: DO NOT CONTINUE IF A COLUMN BY A METS FAN ON THE 1986 WORLD SERIES WILL BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR PHYSICAL OR MENTAL HEALTH! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
In preparing for this week’s Mets-Red Sox matchup -- subtitled, "Who Wants To Be Knocked Out Of The Pennant Race In July?" -- I happened to mention that I could write a column on the 86 World Series in my sleep if Sports Guy Nation could handle it. Strangely, my host on this website actually encouraged this. I think he’s trying to get me killed. Still, knowing when to keep my mouth shut has never been one of my virtues.
One other note: Upon beginning this column, I promise not to mention B___ B_______. Here we go...
Top Ten Things People Forget About the 1986 World Series:
Everyone who watched at least part of the '86 Series remembers the basic sequence of events:
--1. Bruce Hurst’s brilliance;
--2. Tim Teufel’s error in Game One (ground ball rolling right between his legs, costing the Mets the game);
--3. Roger Clemens was mediocre, and Dwight Gooden stunk;
--4. The Mets’ home run barrage in Games 3-4;
--5. The Boston fans taunting Strawberry in Game 5, and Straw’s revenge in Game 7;
--6. One strike away, with NBC handing out the MVP Award and the Shea Stadium scoreboard congratulating the Sox;
--7. The wild pitch;
--8. The ground ball in the 10th inning of game 6.
A few other plays are remembered by one side or the other, like Evans’ clutch throw, Keith Hernandez’ botched throw on a Clemens bunt in Game 2 and the infamous rundown where Hernandez and Carter both got to the bag safely. There were some tremendous at-bats we don't remember, like one battle between Don Baylor and (if I remember right) Roger McDowell late in Game Four, and a few other big defensive plays. But there were a lot of other key moments, lowlights, laughs, tears and what-ifs lost in the 14 years since. So, without further fanfare, here are my Top Ten memories:
10. The Angels
Live by the sword, die by the sword; you could say the same about the grounder through Teufel’s legs. Don’t forget that the Red Sox were one lousy strike by Donnie Moore against Dave Henderson away from making it a Mets-Angels World Series (Reggie back in New York in October, Gene Mauch finally getting the monkey off his back, etc.). At least Calvin Schiraldi hasn’t shot himself, last I heard (insert sound of numerous Sox fans saying "Why not?").
9. Mazzilli’s foul ball
Bottom of the ninth, Game Six, tied 3-3, Schiraldi on the mound, Lee Mazzilli pinch hitting. Mazzilli crushed a ball into the right field seats, and it went just foul by a few feet. Not inches, not shoulda-been-called-a-homer close, but close enough to get you out of your seat. What if? If that ball stays fair, there is no tenth inning, no ground ball, no wild pitch - but the Mets still win. And Mazzilli, not Mookie, becomes the guy who symbolizes the Mets’ long journey from the helpless depths of the Joe Torre era to the pinnacle of a World Championship. Sometimes the strangest memories are the ones where nothing memorable happened.
8. Frank Cashen and Kevin Elster
The postgame celebration produced one of the great baseball quotes of all time: Mets GM Frank Cashen is being interviewed, and Kevin Elster (who was 5 for 30 in the regular season and 0 for 1 with a damaging error in Game Six in the Series) comes up from behind and douses him with champagne. Without missing a beat, as Elster walks away, Cashen turns to the interviewer and says, "You know, it's always the guys who contribute the least who spray the most champagne."
8. Rich Gedman stank like hot tar in August
I have mentioned Bob Stanley in passing before, in reference to the wild pitch, but the real goat of the series for the Sox was Gedman. Not only did he combine with the Boston pitching staff for a passed ball and three wild pitches, not only did he reach base just six times in 30 plate appearances while striking out ten times, but the Mets ran wild on Gedman, swiping seven bases in nine tries (the Sox stole none). Gedman really never recovered from the offensive and defensive tailspin that started when he couldn’t catch Charlie Hough in the All-Star Game.
7. Jesse Orosco's ribbie
Uncle Jessie had his big batting moment in Game Seven, which would be better remembered as a classic game if Game Six hadn't preceded it. Orosco has pitched in more games than any other pitcher in major league history. His RBI in Game Seven was the fifth and almost certainly last RBI of his major league career.
6. Mookie’s vertical leap
On the famous wild pitch, Mookie was airborne when it flew under him. I am hard pressed to think of anyone on either team who would have gotten out of the way of that pitch. He gets hit, it’s 5-4 Sox, bases loaded, two outs, and Howard Johnson at the plate. Again, a very different story.
5. El Sid
The really critical turning point in Game Seven was when the Mets brought in Sid Fernandez from the bullpen in the fourth. I have seen many better pitchers than Sid in my lifetime, but with the possible exception of Bruce Sutter, I have never seen anyone so unhittable when he was in a groove. I mean, guys didn’t just not hit Sid, they flailed around like blindfolded drunks chasing a pinata. Sid made Rice and Gedman, with their Walt Hriniak swings, look like the last kids taken on a Little League team (as he had done to Rice in the All-Star Game that year). Two and a third innings, no hits, four Ks, and one electrified Shea Stadium crowd later, the Mets were back in the game.
4. Clemens was burned out
Far be it from me to defend Roger Clemens at this point. This is off the topic, but remember two things about last week’s Piazza incident: Clemens put the ball exactly where he wanted to, and where he put the ball was where Piazza’s face had been. It was funny to see the same Yankee fans defending Clemens who had claimed just two years ago that he was a nose-bone-wearing, shrunken-head-carrying headhunter for throwing at Derek Jeter... the same Yankee fans who wanted Armando Benitez lynched for hitting a guy in the back. But I digress.
Clemens has had a number of postseason disasters, sometimes intentionally of his own making. And maybe he should have shown more toughness in wanting to stay in the game. But the charge that Clemens should have pitched better, or longer, in Game Six is unreasonable.
Roger Clemens was 23 years old in 1986. Prior to that season, he had never thrown as many as 140 innings in a major league season; I don’t have his minor league numbers, but I’d be shocked if he had ever thrown 190 innings in a year at any level. In 1985, his season was ended prematurely (after 15 starts) by an arm injury. Coming off surgery, Clemens had his 20-K game (a complete game) in late April, and McNamara rode him hard, finishing nearly a third of his starts. To the credit of Clemens’ strong arm, he held up remarkably well, way, way past his career high to that point in innings, until he was hit on the elbow by a line drive in September.
It was obvious in the playoffs that Clemens was not the same pitcher. He looked tired. His pitched lacked any movement. By the time he got to Game Six, Clemens had (counting the All-Star Game) started 38 games -- completing 10 -- and thrown 284 innings. A 23-year-old coming off surgery, remember, who had been running on fumes for more than three weeks. When he started the game like a house on fire, my brothers and I - who had been discussing Clemens’ struggles and anticipating that it would come to this - patiently waited for the Mets to wear him down. Get to the bullpen; any Mets fan who remembered 1985’s 26-7 Phiasco in Philly wanted to see Schiraldi or Sambito out there.
And, come the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, the Mets’ veterans started fouling off and fouling off and fouling off pitches. They didn’t get much off him at first, but they knew they would get to see the bullpen. I wish I had the pitch counts for those innings; as Bill points out in a related column, Clemens threw 135 pitches that night in seven innings, even though he was barely touched in the early going. 39 starts, 291 innings, 135 pitches. He was completely out of gas, and the Mets had a lot to do with it; proof that even a strikeout can be a valuable at-bat. If he stayed in the game, it never would have reached the tenth inning.
3. The rainout.
If it hadn't rained the day after Game 6, the Sox would have been back on the field at Shea 21 hours after the Game Six fiasco, emotionally distraught . . . with Oil Can Boyd on the mound. Remember Game Seven in 1985? Joaquin Andujar? John Tudor punching an electric fan? It could have been like that. With an extra day, the Sox composed themselves; even the fans at Giants Stadium for the Monday Night game against the Redskins were glued to the game on their transistor radios.
2. Seaver’s injury.
The Sox had three good starters for most of the season, granting that Oil Can Boyd was suffering from a wounded mojo by October. Trading for Tom Seaver, in the last year of his legendary career, made it four. Seaver had been a real good pitcher in 1985, going 16-11 with a good 3.17 ERA; with the Sox he pitched respectably, with a 3.80 ERA (the league ERA was 4.19), and better than his 5-7 record shows, although he couldn’t finish games anymore. If Seaver hadn’t missed the postseason with an injury, he would have started Game Four over the execrable Al Nipper. Seaver would also have been available and probably would have been the first guy out of the pen at Shea in Game Seven. Wow.
1. The Mets were a better team
Not to brag, not to talk smack, just the facts: the Mets won their division by 21.5 games; only two teams since 1910 have won more games in a non-expansion season than the 1986 Mets. They were an outstanding team for four straight years from 1985 to 1988. The Red Sox had a very good team, but to qualify for the Choke Hall of Fame, you have to be the better team and lose. Like the 1960 Yankees, for instance; my dad, who was - gasp! - a Yankee fan before marrying into a Brooklyn Dodger family, still swears that he knew Ralph Terry would give up a home run when Casey brought him in. The '88 Mets, the '54 Indians and the '88 A's are three other great examples.
1986, like 1975, was a lost opportunity for Boston to beat one of the great teams of all-time. The Sox missed it, and as ugly as the end was, it should be remembered in the same vein as 1975: what might have been, not what should have been.
As a postscript, I will close with a mental image: Channel 5, WNEW-TV in New York, for many years had a well-known film/theater critic named Stewart Klein. The now-deceased Klein was dry, fussy, sophisticated and had a droll and bitingly sarcastic wit; the quintessential New York theater critic. Apparently Klein lost some sort of a bet when the Mets won the Series, and he came on the next night and performed a boisterous, if not enthusiastic, rendition of "The Mookie Wilson Song," to the tune of the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah:
Keeeeeith Hernandez! Siiiiiiiiid Fernandez! Mookie Wilson! Mookie Wilson! Hallelujah! Daaaavey Johnson! Hoooooward Johnson! Mookie Wilson! Mookie Wilson! Hallelujah!
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"It’s like living with a family all year and getting thrown out of the house on Christmas Eve." Ed Lynch, veteran of many bad Mets teams, after being traded to the Cubs in July 1986.
. Frank Cashen and Kevin Elster
The postgame celebration produced one of the great baseball quotes of all time: Mets GM Frank Cashen is being interviewed, and Kevin Elster (who was 5 for 30 in the regular season and 0 for 1 with a damaging error in Game Six in the Series) comes up from behind and douses him with champagne. Without missing a beat, as Elster walks away, Cashen turns to the interviewer and says, "You know, it's always the guys who contribute the least who spray the most champagne." You got the wrong person, it was Randy Nieman!
Greg Cashen is correct. It was Randy Nieman, who actually did less than Elster did for the season.
Great Site. Maybe you can help me. I am looking for the audio on that bottom of the 10th inning of the 6th game of the 1986 World series. At one point, it was free on a particular website, but when I went to retrieve it - it was gone. Do you know of any place that would have it? Thx.