Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Revisiting Game 6

For Vin Scully's last year, the Dodgers took an online poll and asked fans to rank his top 20 calls.  All the choices were Dodger-centric.   And, in my humble opinion, suspect because they left out one of his greatest calls of all time.   It didn't rate because there were no Dodgers involved.   But there were Mets and Red Sox.  

And me.  I didn't get to hear Vin's call of the play until much later.   Because I was there!   My number one greatest moment ever in a ballpark.

We just marked the 30th anniversary of that game this past week.   On the occasion of the 25th anniversary, I did this piece which I will share again.   Not only does it include my memory drawer of the game, but also that of several good friends of mine.   Yep, the moment was that important.

For Mets fans, there were really two Game 6s during the 1986 baseball post season.  There was the extra innings affair that propelled them to the World Series for the first time since 1973.  But, as invested as we all were in the outcome of that game, it happened miles away.  In an Astro-turfed mausoleum otherwise known as the Houston Astrodome.

But, it was Game 6 of the 1986 World Series that still resounds to this very day.  As long as I live and breathe and continue to be a baseball fan, there will never ever be another game that will be as important or exciting as that Saturday contest of Saturday, October 25 at Shea Stadium.  Indeed, since it didn't really end until after midnight, both October 25 and October 26 are two dates I will always remember for the rest of my life.

Fittingly, I was in Boston on the 25th anniversary of this hallmark moment in my life.  Looking around the streets of Beantown, I could only imagine the scene two and a half decades previously.  Boston Red Sox fans walking around like zombies.  A lifelong memory for them snatched away in a Brinks-like heist that will stay with them for complete different reasons.  Even after their subsequent World Series victories in 2004 and 2007, those buffoons of Fenway will likely never recover from being one strike away from a World Championship.  Not once, not twice, but multiple times.

In the winning wind tunnel to the south on Flushing Bay, it was all cherries on top 0f 56,000 hot fudge sundaes.

For me, it was a night like no others.

The images and details are etched forever.  Almost certain elimination.  A premature message on Diamondvision that saluted the Boston Red Sox as the 1986 World Champions.  Two quick mortifying outs in the bottom of the tenth inning.  A hit by Gary Carter.  A hit by Kevin Mitchell.  A hit by Ray Knight.  A wild pitch.  And then Mookie Wilson and Bill Buckner interlocking together for eternity.  The Mets rising from the dead.  Suddenly, to some of us, the story of Jesus and Lazarus was a little less impressive.

I am proud to say I was there.  I can still feel the concrete floor of the loge level of Shea Stadium move.  We were all lifted up and down perhaps a half inch.  The arena was clearly in play.  The construction folks who built the place in the early 60s had done their work admirably.  While Shea held together that night, I doubt the building crew had counted on the old lady having to endure October 25/26.

For Met fans, this was our V-E day.

That Saturday morning had opened to dreary skies.  It befit the mood of this Met fan.  After a glorious year of one victory after another, the Amazins were one loss away from losing the World Series.  I went about my weekend errands, although my stomach was in knots.

There was even more drama to deal with...

My mother's television set had gone on the fritz.

Mystically, my mom had become a huge Met fan.  I don't know how or why she started to watch the team's games on Channel 9, but she got sucked in primarily because she loved then-Met announcer Tim McCarver.  Within weeks, she had drank the Kool-Aid.  And now, with the most pivotal game of the season at hand, her television had blown a gasket.

So, my pre-game Saturday afternoon was devoted to taking her to one of those Rent-A-Centers so she could lease a TV for the week.

Back then, as had been the case for years that passed and even more years to come, I had been a Saturday ticket plan holder with the New York Metropolitans.  That, however, didn't secure entrance to every post season baseball game.  And, if it did, I certainly didn't get my usual Loge seats in Section 7, Row E.  Nope, you would be sent to the heavens, a Delta jet flight path, or, most likely, the upper deck of Shea Stadium.

Game 6 of the World Series was not one of the games I was provided with that year.  As a matter of fact, during a pre-game walk around the level, I saw that my regular Saturday seats were occupied by none other than NBC's 1986 World Series pre-game host Bob Costas.  What a come-down for my Saturday seat.  There was a different ass in it.  Literally and figuratively.

But, at least, I was in the park myself.  Luckily, I had the good sense to be best friends with my college roommate, who had the even better sense to become a sportswriter with the New York Times.  He had already scored me ducats for Game 3 which happened to be my one and only visit to the overrated dump that is Fenway Park.  But, my good fortune had continued at home as he also got me a Loge seat down the left field line for Game 6.

The only problem was that I didn't really know well the other folks I was sitting with.  Sure, my college roommate's wife was along, but who were those other two people?  One was a kid and this evening appeared to be not more than a time filler for him.  His ride was even coming to pick him up after the seventh inning.  I was an emotional mess and I was essentially alone.

Over the years, I had many good friends who were Met fans and would have been ideal companions for such a monumental game.  My best friend from high school?  At least, he was in the park but sitting with his cousin and her neighbors on the other end of the Loge.  But, where were my other Met cohorts?

Sadly, elsewhere.

Not that these folks weren't congenial.  It's just that they weren't Danny or the Bibster or Glenn or Bob or even my dad.  They would be in other locations, but ultimately sharing in the same memory.  For instance, here's what my buddy Bob writes:

We were living 15 minutes away from Shea in Astoria, watching Game 6 with my friends in their house. When Gary Carter was down 2 strikes with 2 out, my friend Dan grabbed a clothesline, tied it around his neck, stood on a chair, holding the rope above his head. He pronounced: "When Carter makes out kick out the chair from under me." Of course Carter then singles and the Mets rally and the rest is history.

My friend Dan never moved the rest of that inning, right through Buckner's error, holding the rope tied around his neck, standing on the chair, saying nothing while watching the Mets pull it out. We were convinced that it was Dan's actions that changed the Red Sox mojo and saved the Mets. Absolutely true story.My memories are not nearly as interesting, as no one near me made such a threat as Bob's friend did.

Another pal Glenn?  He remembers and writes...

Ah yes...I remember it like it was last night!

I was watching it from my co-op apartment on Garth Road in Scarsdale, a place not conducive to wild celebrations, or celebratory comments of any kind, lest you were reported for speaking above a whisper. My wife was fast asleep, and had complained of a headache intermittently from inning one through eight...a headache that has persisted, by the way, for the ensuing 25 years.

I remember being particularly annoyed the Mets didn't get more out a no-out, bases loaded situation in the eighth inning. The screaming Gary Carter liner sacrifice fly, I thought, should have, with any luck, been a bases clearing double. As the bottom of the 10th inning began, I was resigned to loss, but since the Islanders had recently won four consecutive Cups, I was not nearly as unnerved by that as I became in later years, not having rooted for a winning team since, well, the '86 Mets. After the game was tied, I yanked my sleeping three-year old son out of bed because I thought history might be made. He doesn't remember. I do. Unfortunately, so does my wife.

Despite the way it sounds, Glenn is still married to this day.

And what about those in the press box?  My college roommate and the source for my Game 6 tickets writes...

My most vivid memory is the complaining of Darryl Strawberry for being taken out in a late double switch. People in that clubhouse were giggling and hugging all around as if the governor had just called with a reprieve, and Darryl was complaining.

I defer to my friend Kenny Hand, who was covering the Series as a columnist for the Houston Post. He remembered the night as one of the worst of his career. Not because the Mets won, but because the chaos at such a late hour had turned his column into a mess.

Much later, he was standing outside the old Press Gate between Gates B and C, waiting for a shuttle bus that may or may not come to take him to the media hotel in Manhattan. Two guys were standing nearby. Kenny referred to them as Lenny and Squiggy.

Lenny saw a bumper sticker on Kenny's computer that said "Houston Post."

"Houston?" Lenny said. "We moidered those guys."

That's when Kenny snapped. He pointed out that he didn't root for the Astros, and frankly, there were some guys on that team that he did not like very much. But if Bob Knepper had taken care of business in the ninth inning of Game 6, Kenny said, Mike Scott would have finished the job the next day. Kenny described this in a way that he could not have printed in his newspaper. Think of a blunt object being placed in a small, dark place.

"And then, we're not standing here," Kenny told them.

"You know, " Squiggy said to Lenny, "I think he's right."

My good friend, the Bibster, was at home for Game 6 with his wife, Mrs. Bibster.  He also was a partial plan holder with the Mets, but he didn't have the inside ticket connections that I did.  Instead, he was sharing in the agony via the television.

It’s not very interesting, but as far as I can recall I was watching the game with Ellen in our living room (and by “With Ellen” I mean she was reading a magazine or two and getting up and down and doing things in the other room).

I remember a feeling of dread as the game went on.  The Red Sox jumped out to an early lead and the Mets tied it, also fairly early. Even the way they tied it, an unearned run scoring on a double play, made me nervous. The Red Sox took the led in the seventh and, if I remember correctly, Jim Rice was thrown out at home to end the inning, or it could have been 4-2 Red Sox.

I was very nervous again. Then the Mets were down to their last five outs and they tied it in the eighth. I was STILL nervous…the Mets had the bases loaded with one out in the 8th and Carter and Strawberry coming up, and they only scored the one run. It seemed that all season long they had been busting out in that situation, scoring at least a couple. And then when the Mets had runners at first and second with nobody out in the bottom of the ninth and didn’t score, I was sure they had wasted too many late inning opportunities in the game.

In the tenth, Henderson’s homer sent a complete feeling of numbness over me, so much so that I had to look up the game to remember how the Red Sox got their fifth run. I wouldn’t have remembered if my life depended on it. (For the record, after Henderson’s homer, Aguilera struck out Owen and Schiraldi, but then gave up a double to Boggs, a single to Barrett, and hit Buckner with a pitch before Rice flied out. I swear to you I don’t remember ANY of that.)

In the bottom of the tenth, I had regained a slight bit of confidence, having lived through many innings that year where the Backman/Hernandez/Carter trio leading off an inning had led to boatloads of runs. But Backman couldn’t get around on Schiraldi, and Keith hit the ball about as hard as he could, but it died in the outfield. At this point I was resigned to the loss and felt like the season was a waste (You know, kind of like Yankee fans feel every time they don’t win the World Series). My next thought was “too bad Carter is going to make the last out.”

We all know how the rest of the game went….and all I can say is that Ellen will tell you that I let out a blood-curdling scream when the ball went through Buckner’s legs. I don’t remember it at all because I think all the blood had drained from my head by then, but I assume it was a noise similar to the last sound Muammar Qaddafi made. Anyway, the next thing I knew I was running through the house at full speed, jumping up and down, you know the drill.

It was definitely the lowest low I’ve ever felt in sports followed just minutes later by the highest high. It was also amazing how my mood changed because in game seven even when the Mets were down 3-0 in the sixth inning I knew they would win.

As the Bibster writes, the entire season was like this and the post season games had given us more than a couple of reasons to celebrate wildly.  Indeed, for the Bibster and Ellen, their son was born exactly nine months after the Mets' 1986 October.  We've always wondered just which Met win that month had precipitated their own "personal" celebration.

But, I digress....

Meanwhile, in the bottom of the tenth in my Loge section, I had the same thought as the Bibster.  And uttered it over and over and over.  I didn't care if I sounded like a babbling fool.  After all, it wasn't like I had a lot of close friends around me.

"Please don't let Gary Carter make the last out."

That worked somehow.

I carried it over, although I didn't have the same affinity for Kevin Mitchell as I did for Carter.

"Please don't let Kevin Mitchell make the last out."

And that worked, too.  I didn't mess with a good thing.

"Please don't let Ray Knight make the last out.  Please don't let Ray Knight make the last out.  PLEASE DON'T LET RAY KNIGHT MAKE THE LAST OUT."

I sounded like one of those lunatics in Bellevue.  Slumped over in a fetal position and reciting over and over the lyrics to "A Spoonful of Sugar."

Knight also did not make the last out.

Okay, now I was on a mission.  Despite the fact there were 56,000 people (and countless others at home) around me with the same goal, I became convinced that I was single handedly spearheading this miraculous comeback.  I couldn't go off the standard operating procedure now.  Plus I was worried about my high school best friend Danny who was over in the Loge around third base.  What must he be thinking?  His very favorite New York Met was at the plate to hit next.


To this very day, nobody really made the last out that night.

I was numb for the first few moments after the game.  The human body is not equipped to handle two wildly diverse emotions in the same ten minute period.  When my mind finally "woke up,"  I immediately had to share this emotion with a good friend...and a Met fan.  I didn't realize that my buddy Danny on the other end of the loge had the same sensation.  From the right field corner, I scampered down to the loge corridor and started running toward his end.  He did the same.  We converged around Section 1 behind home plate. 

And two grown men hugged for about five minutes.

I look back on that evening and postseason and I remember now what the Mets did for me in October 0f 1986.  The month before, I had broken off a relationship.  Well, I broke it off.  She essentially dumped me.  Not that this was the great love of my life.  But, still, the residual aches of a guy with inner turmoil and self-doubt had lingered.

The pain all dulled and virtually erased by the New York Mets.  Yes, it all evaporated in almost a blink of the eye.

"Behind the bag, it gets through Buckner..."

Don't be surprised if I remind you of all of this again on the 35th anniversary.

Dinner last night:  Pizza with pepperoni and kalamata olives from Maria's.

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