The Mets’ Five Most Memorable Games
October 25, 1986: Through the Legs of Billy Buckshoes
From the very first pitch of the season, the 1986 Mets appeared to be a team of destiny: Talented, incredibly confident (if not just downright cocky), brash and, in Game Six of the World Series, lucky to boot.
The challenging Boston Red Sox entered Game Six with a 3-2 series lead and a chance to win it all for the first time in 68 years. The Sox’ starting pitcher: The dominant Roger Clemens, owner of a 24-4 record during the regular season. For seven innings, the Rocket didn’t disappoint—allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits and two walks while striking out eight. After trailing early 2-0, the Mets tied it in the fifth but lost it back to Boston in the seventh on an unearned run created by a Ray Knight error. An inning later, the Red Sox had a great chance to break it open, loading the bases with two outs; with aging left-handed hitter Bill Buckner, teetering on a bad Achilles tendon, due up, the Mets brought in left-handed reliever Jesse Orosco to counter. Boston manager John McNamara, given a golden opportunity to remove Buckner (hitless in four earlier trips, already stranding five men on base) at the plate with right-handed power-hitting veteran Don Baylor—then replacing Buckner at first base with his late-inning defensive replacement, Dave Stapleton—did nothing. Buckner flied out and stayed in the game, and the Mets tied it a half-inning later when Gary Carter hit a sac fly to score Lee Mazzilli off reliever Calvin Schilardi, who replaced Clemens after a blister forced him out after seven innings.
The two teams failed to score in the ninth and extra innings ensued; the Red Sox quickly took advantage in the 10th when Dave Henderson, who had rescued the Red Sox in the ALCS against California, looked to be the hero again with a leadoff, go-ahead homer; Boston added insurance on a Marty Barrett single that brought home Wade Boggs. To the bottom of the 10th the Mets went, looking for two runs; McNamara, meanwhile, kept Buckner at first and Stapleton on the bench—because he wanted Buckner on the field to celebrate the final out.
After the first two Mets were retired, destiny appeared to dry up. The Red Sox sensed a long-awaited championship at any second; plastic wrap and champagne were being set up in the Red Sox’ clubhouse, and the Shea Stadium scoreboard prematurely put up a message congratulating the Red Sox on their championship.
Gary Carter singled. Kevin Mitchell, undressing in the Mets’ clubhouse, was told to put his pants back on and pinch-hit; he singled as well. Knight followed with another single, scoring Carter and bringing Mitchell, the tying run, to third. Veteran reliever Bob Stanley replaced a younger, stunned Schiraldi, but he immediately threw a wild pitch past Mookie Wilson, scoring Mitchell; The game now tied, Wilson bounced a grounder to first that Buckner backed up on, reached down for—and came up empty, as the ball, the game and the series went right through his legs. Knight, jumping for joy, scored and ended one of baseball’s most memorable games. Although the Mets still had Game Seven to win, the Game Six loss emotionally put away the Red Sox, who would not recover from the debacle and lost the decisive matchup two days later, 8-5.
October 15, 1969: Tom Terrific and the Amazin’ Swoboda
The Amazin’ Mets—who won 100 regular season games on the heels of seven straight years of abysmal losing out of the expansion gate—didn’t wrap up the World Series in Game Four against Baltimore, but it became clear through stout pitching and an electrifying moment on defense that the Mets’ 2-1, 10-inning win left the clinching of the world title, once an impossible notion for fans of the loveable losers, as near certainty.
A marquee duel of aces featured the Mets’ Tom Seaver (25-7) against the Orioles’ Mike Cuellar (23-11), and they lived up to the attraction. Cuellar’s lone mistake over seven innings was a leadoff home run in the second inning to the Mets’ Donn Clendenon, while Seaver sailed all the way through to the overtime finish. Ironically, one of the greatest catches in World Series history ended Seaver’s shot at a nine-inning shutout—but also kept Baltimore from taking the lead; Ron Swoboda’s fully extended swan dive of a catch in right-center field would be scored a sacrifice fly for Brooks Robinson, who drove in Frank Robinson on the drive, but Boog Powell returned to first rather than move to third—if not further.
After Seaver withstood another rally in the 10th without allowing a run, the Mets capitalized on several Oriole defensive gaffes to win it in the 10th. Jerry Grote’s one-out fly ball fell for a double when Don Buford lost it in the sun; with Ron Gaspar pinch-running, J.C. Martin bunted to move him to third—but Gaspar scored when pitcher Pete Richert’s throw to first glanced off Martin and towards right field.
October 15, 1986: Though I Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Mike Scott…
For the Mets, Game Six of the 1986 NLCS against Houston was, in essence, their Game Seven; a loss would have left them as unquestionable underdogs in the decisive matchup against unstoppable Astro ace Mike Scott. Sixteen innings later, the Mets emerged exhausted—and victorious.
For much of the way, the specter of Scott in Game Seven loomed large. The Astros quickly dunked on New York starter Bob Ojeda for a 3-0 lead that would hold from the bottom of the first all the way to the top of the ninth. That’s when the Mets’ offense finally charged into action, fighting off 0-2 counts while being aided with questionable balls-and-strikes calls to build a three-run rally and tie the game. The battle raged on well into extra innings; in the 14th, the Mets finally took the lead on a Wally Backman single, but crucially left the bases loaded—and the Astros wiped the short lead away with a single stroke when light-hitting Billy Hatcher smacked a home run off the left-field foul pole. Moving further into overtime, the Mets retook the lead and saw to it that it earned insurance as well, scoring three times in the 16th and looking locked in for a trip to the World Series. But nothing came easy in what would be the longest game to date in postseason history; the Astros rallied anew, scoring twice and placing runners on first and second base for the dangerous Kevin Bass—who struck out against reliever Jesse Orosco to finally end it.
October 8, 1973: Harrelson vs. Rose
The Mets had slipped into the postseason with an underwhelming 82-79 record and were overwhelming underdogs against the juggernaut Big Red Machine of Cincinnati in the NLCS, but after stifling New York pitching neutered the Reds and forged a split of the first two games at Cincinnati, Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson laughingly compared the Reds’ anemic hitting to that of his own. Though intended as an intentional self-inflicted putdown, the Reds saw little humor in Harrelson’s comment, believing it was a pure public insult. The Machine was ready to rage for Game Three at Shea Stadium.
Already in a vindictive mood, the Reds’ demeanor only grew more vicious when the Mets’ offense unexpectedly opened up on Cincinnati starter Ross Grimsley, taking a 9-2 lead after just four innings. Pete Rose, who harbored the most intense, unforgiveable anger against Harrelson’s comments, reached first on a fifth-inning single—and when Joe Morgan next grounded a double play ball to the right side, Rose slid late and hard into Harrelson, who quickly (and profanely) protested. Within seconds, all hell broke loose; Rose and Harrelson wrestled on the ground as players from both sides rushed to break it up, all the while igniting a few spinoff duels (most notably when Cincinnati reliever Pedro Borbon threw a from-behind cheap shot at Buzz Capra’s head). Astonishingly, neither Rose nor Harrelson was ejected—and when Rose returned to left field, he became the target of every piece of debris from the wild sellout throng, including an empty whiskey bottle that barely missed his head. Under the threat of forfeit if the commotion continued, a delegation of star Mets players—including Willie Mays and Tom Seaver—went out to left and pleaded with the fans to cool it.
Rose’s rant failed to spark a Red comeback on the day, as the score stuck at 9-2 to the finish with Jerry Koosman going the distance for the Mets—and giving New York a critical 2-1 game lead on its way to a major upset of the Reds and their second NL pennant.
May 14, 1972: Willie Comes Home
Willie Mays, 40 years old, was off to an awful start for the San Francisco Giants in 1972; he was hitting .184 with no power attached, and the spiraling decline led him to something he had seen very little of over the past 20 years: The bench. Throughout the early part of the year, he had nudged San Francisco for a long-term deal that included retirement (or coaching) salary, but the financially sinking Giants were in even worse shape than he. On May 11, the Giants alienated a good chunk of what fan base it had left by shipping away the popular Mays; but there was absolute joy on the receiving end, as the Say Hey Kid was coming home to New York, where he starred in his early years for the Giants before their move west.
Mays didn’t play in his first two games—ironically, against the Giants—in a New York Mets uniform to the seething consternation of the Shea Stadium faithful that had suddenly increased in numbers hoping to see him. But in the third game of the series on Mother’s Day, another large crowd of 35,000 was finally rewarded as Mays drew the leadoff spot in the lineup. Against fireballing starter Sam McDowell, Mays walked in his first at-bat, the first of three straight bases on balls that preceded Rusty Staub’s grand slam to give the Mets the quick 4-0 lead. The Giants quickly fought back to tie the game, and after Mays struck out in the third inning, he led off again in the fifth against reliever Bill Carruthers—and majestically parked a long ball over the wall for his 647th career home run. It would be the deciding blow; the Mets held on to defeat the Giants, 5-4, and Mays made believers of Gotham’s baseball fanatics all over again, even if he had little left in the tank.
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