Fall Classic Friday returns! After a year off, we will be continuing our series of analyzing the best World Series of all time. We bring it back today to the legendary Series that has its 30th anniversary this fall, 1986.
Combatants: (AL) Boston Red Sox vs (NL) New York Mets
Dates: October 18th-27th 1986
Venues: BOS: Fenway Park, NYM: Shea Stadium
Managers: BOS: John McNamara, NYM: Davey Johnson
- Red Sox 1- Mets 0 @ New York
- Red Sox 9- Mets 3 @ New York
- Mets 7- Red Sox 1 @ Boston
- Mets 6- Red Sox 2 @ Boston
- Red Sox 4- Mets 2 @ Boston
- Mets 6- Red Sox 5/10 Innings @ New York
- Mets 8- Red Sox 5 @ New York
The Victor: New York 4 games to 3
MVP: Ray Knight (NYM)
The Curse of the Bambino. It’s a term that for 86 years was commonplace in Boston. Some people believed it was a serious superstitious matter, but many fans used it merely in a facetious manner. Regardless of this, it was a real thing to New Englanders. Red Sox fans for years really wondered if there was a curse on their team that started when Harry Frazee sold the Babe to the Yankees in 1919. The Red Sox had come oh so close but no cigar for years, 1946, 1967, 1975. But, in 1986 the planets seemed to align and fans were convinced that this was the year it was going to end. Everyone believed that after 68 years the Commissioner’s Trophy was finally coming back to Beantown. The New York Mets were the far better team than the Sox had been in the regular season that year; the Mets were 108-54 whilst Boston had been 95-66. The Mets beat the Philadelphia Phillies for the NL East by 21.5 games that season and beat the Houston Astros in the NLCS 4-2. The Red Sox beat the Yankees for the AL East by 5.5 games and grinded past the California Angels in the ALCS thanks to the guts and grit of the team’s veterans. It could be argued that Boston was deeper and more talented than New York, especially given the Mets clubhouse problems all season that caused Manager Davey Johnson a great deal of trouble. Though they were considered the underdog, the Red Sox and their fans remained cool and confident entering the 1986 Fall Classic, and it showed immediately.
To the surprise of the entire MLB, the Red Sox came out of the gates swinging against the Mets and jumped out to an early 2-0 series advantage, Game 1 1-0 and Game 2 9-3. But then again, the ’86 Mets win column was in triple digits at season’s end and the team decided to show everyone why, turning the tables limiting the Red Sox to just three runs over the next two games to tie the Series. In Game 5, the Red Sox once again showed resolve and edged the relentless Mets 4-2. As the Sox now had a 3-2 lead, all of New England agreed, it was time for the past to be put away. Game 6 wound up being one of the most legendary in the history of the World Series, but not in the way the Red Sox wanted it to be.
Dwight Evans and Marty Barrett struck in the 1st and 2nd respectively to put Boston up 2-0 in the blink of an eye. The Mets’ Ray Knight sparked a rally that tied the game in the 5th, but he later committed an error in the 7th that gave Boston the lead back, 3-2. The wolf was at the door for New York in the 8th with Dave Henderson on second with only one out and Roger Clemens at the plate. However, a very controversial decision by Red Sox manager John McNamara pulled Clemens from the game, despite the gem that The Rocket was in the midst of. Pinch-hitter Mike Greenwell struck out and Clemens was done. McNamara explained his actions by stating that Clemens asked to be removed due to a blister on his right hand, but Clemens vehemently denied this and stated that McNamara pulled him despite his pleas to remain in. Boston’s skipper then decided to go to his closer, Calvin Schiraldi, for a six-out save, but Schiraldi allowed the Mets to rally and a Gary Carter sac-fly tied the game at 3. It went to the top of the 10th.
New York had managed to dodge bullets throughout the contest, but Rick Aguilera gave up a solo shot to Dave Henderson and an RBI double to Wade Boggs to give Boston the lead once again, 5-3. This set up the inning that will be frozen in time forever in MLB history. Similar to 1967, many critics and fans considered the Red Sox march to the Series in 1986 to be a miracle run, with the team defying all odds along the way and pulling out win after win by never saying die. In the bottom of the 10th of Game 6, it all ended.
Schiraldi came out for an unprecedented third straight inning and sound defensive first baseman Bill Buckner also remained in the game. Schiraldi retired the first two men he faced on consecutive fly outs. The Sox were one out away. It was at this time that beloved Sox OF Dwight Evans admitted to seeing the message “Congratulations to the 1986 World Champion Red Sox” flash quickly across an outfield scoreboard. Evans said he didn’t think anything of it (at the time).
Gary Carter then singled. Rookie Kevin Mitchell came through with a pinch-hit base hit, and Ray Knight followed with one of his own after being down to his last strike. His last strike. This moved scored Carter to make it 5-4 and moved Mitchell, the tying run, to 90 feet away. Out of nowhere, the Sox appeared to be unraveling and McNamara went to Bob Stanley, a move that didn’t exactly scream victory. Speedy Mets CF Mookie Wilson came to the plate. Stanley had had success against Wilson in the past and tied him up with fastballs for a 2-2 count. On the next pitch, Stanley lost control of one that Wilson barely dodged, allowing Mitchell to score the tying run, 5-5. On Stanley’s next pitch, Wilson hit a grounder off the end of the bat. Bill Buckner, aware of Wilson’s speed, rushed into position to field it, but he didn’t open his glove wide enough and the ball passed through his legs. A delirious Ray Knight came to the plate to force Game 7 and send Shea Stadium into a fracas. They were a strike away, how did the Sox blow it?
Boston was on the cusp of victory again in Game 7 with a 3-0 lead, but gave up the lead (again in the late innings) and wound up losing 8-5. Mets closer Jesse Orosco struck out Marty Barrett for the final out and the Mets rushed the mound in celebration of the franchise’s second World Series championship. The Red Sox could only walk away, wondering how they blew it. New York’s Ray Knight was named MVP of the Series after batting .391 and hitting the series-winning home run in game 7. Did the Mets snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? Or did the Red Sox snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? Was this yet another manifestation of the Curse of the Bambino?
The legacy of this World Series is obvious. The Red Sox were a strike away from winning the World Series and ending what was at that point a 68 year drought. One strike! Instead, the Red Sox and their tortured fans would have to wait 18 more years for that to happen. It’s funny to note that the Curse of the Bambino was 68 years old in 1986. When the Red Sox finally ended it in 2004, it was a swapped 86 years old.
Life for Bill Buckner did not get better after and he became the textbook definition of a scapegoat after the Series. Fans all over Boston and the MLB blamed him solely for the loss, even though Bob Stanely’s wild pitch was what tied the game and the Sox blew a 3-0 in Game 7 . Certainly within reason, Buckner dodged the spotlight for years and years and didn’t publicly return to Fenway Park after he retired until Opening Day 2008, when the Red Sox celebrated their 2007 World Championship. It was clear then that all was forgiven, as a teary-eyed Buckner received a standing ovation from the crowd and threw out the first pitch to his friend and teammate Dwight Evans.
Though for Red Sox fans it evokes nothing but memories of heartbreak and anguish, the legendary occurrences and totally unexpected outcome of this Series helped make this Fall Classic one of the best of all time. It’s been 30 years since, but regardless of being a Mets, Sox, or any kind of baseball fan, no one has ever forgotten the 1986 World Series.