Hopefully, you’ve looked up the details of Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS. In case you haven’t, a brief summary.
The Astros got an early lead on the Mets, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first. The score remained Astros 3, Mets 0 through eight whole innings. Then, we come to the top of the 9th. Astros starting pitcher Bob Knepper (whose wife we see beaming confidently in the stands) prepares to deliver the final shutout inning. He blew a 4-0 Astros lead in game 3 (the Mets won this game on Len Dykstra’s home run; I was in Whalen’s drug store when the game was won, next to Grand Union shopping center, in Commack, NY where I grew up; a TV had been brought into the drugstore so that shoppers could watch the series), but all he needed in THIS game was three more outs.
Dykstra was unlikely to provide the final blow-if there were to be one – as he was up first. He smashed a pitch off Knepper into left field, delivering a triple. Mookie Wilson then drove him home. 3-1. The Mets then scrapped together another run after Knepper retired another Met. 3-2. Knepper was taken out of the game. Finally, the Mets got a third run, tying the game. No more runs for the Mets that inning, but no more were needed to send the game into extra innings, provided the Mets could keep the Astros scoreless in the bottom of the 9th, which they did.
So, the game went into extra innings. No runs were scored by either team in innings 10, 11, 12 or 13, although the Astros came awfully close several times. Had any one of these efforts been successful, Scotty Tomorrow.
In the top of the 14th, the deadlock was broken. The Mets punch in a run. Victory is in sight. We go to the bottom of the 14th. The Astros’ Billy Hatcher, a man who was responsible for some of the extra-inning close calls, hits one deep to left field. The ball hits the foul pole, JUST on the fair side. Home run. Solo home run, thank god, but home run bad. Game is tied again.
Top of the 16th – Mets blow the game wide open, scoring three runs. Surely, they figure, this must be it. Both teams have basically used up their rosters. To get three runs this late into the game is to get quite lucky. How could the Astros possibly answer THAT? So we go to the bottom of the 16th. Realize what has happened in this game so far. The game, which as far as both teams are concerned, determines who will go to the World Series (later that night, by the way, in the AL, the Bosox will play the Angels to determine who will be the Mets/Astros opponent; as of the bottom of the 16th, the Bosox series was tied, 3-3; the Angels, two games earlier, were ONE strike away from winning the series 4-1; Angels pitcher Donnie Moore blew the game by giving up a home run. Moore, devastatingly, killed himself a few years later, it is thought, because of his role in the loss of this game). The Astros, as of 1986, have never made it to the World Series. The Mets have not made it since 1973. Both teams came up together as expansion teams in 1962 and were looking to cap a glorious year by adding a league championship title to their accomplishments; the Astros, their first ever, the Mets, one that would adorn a regular season record defined by winning two games out of three – a record that completed a process of turning around the worst team in baseball to one that won its division in 1986 by 21 1/2 games. The stakes could not have been higher if God him/her/itself had raised them.
So, into the bottom of the 16th, 7-4. Improbably, the Astros score two runs. It’s now 7-6. The crowd (whose loudness the whole night just seems to grow and grow and grow given that the game is played under a roof) is literally going berserk. The game, at this point, has reached the status of legend, regardless of who wins. But wait. There’s actually more. The Astros have two runners on base – on first and second. Astros hitter Kevin Bass strides to the plate, with two outs, facing off against Mets reliever Jesse Orosco. Orosco was the only Met in 1986 who was a Met six years earlier; he alone had seen firsthand the team’s development into greatness (he also continued to play in the majors after ’86 longer than any other Met, albeit in his final days with another team). Orosco works the count up to 3 and 2. 3 balls, two strikes. Runners on first and second. The winning run on second. The pitch. Strike 3!!!! Game over. Mets win! Even some Astros fans respectfully clap on their way out, as they realize, although their team has suffered a devastating defeat, it has played one of the greatest games in history.
The Mets’ next challenge is to win the World series against the winner of the Bosox/Angels matchup. The story of who wins that series is for another entry. All I will say about it is that as of the date of this writing, the Mets, the Red Sox, and the Angels, have all won at least one World Series since the 1980’s.
Post-Script (or the past is prologue script). The Mets, this year, have the best record in the NL, 71-45. The last time the Mets won 71 games this quickly was…. in 1986. Now, there are three divisions in the NL (in 1986, there was just east and west; there is now east, central and west). Each division winner automatically gets a playoff berth; the team in the NL with the best record exclusive of those three teams gets the wild card berth. And wouldn’t you know, the Astros are just two games behind in the race for the wild card? And remember how the Mets beat the second-place Phillies in the east by 21 1/2 games in 1986? The team in the NL East with the second-best record now is… Philadelphia, 14 games behind the Mets.
No more Scotty tomorrow, but perhaps Plenty in Twenty…