When Keith Hernandez lined out to center field for the second out of the tenth inning, I was sure it was over. I was sitting down the left field line in Shea Stadium in Queens, New York for game 6 of the 1986 World Series between the Mets and the Red Sox 26 years ago today.
Starters Bob Ojeda and Roger Clemens were long gone. In the top of the tenth, Dave Henderson led-off with a home run against Rick Aguilera to break a 3-3 tie. Boston increased its lead to 5-3 when Wade Boggs doubled and Marty Barrett singled him home. Sox reliever (and former Met) Calvin Schiraldi (who had yielded the tying run in the eighth) retired the Mets’ first two batters in the tenth. Gary Carter prolonged the game with a clutch single and Kevin Mitchell followed with another base hit. On a no-ball, two-strike pitch to Ray Knight (Vin Scully: “one strike away”), the third baseman drove home Carter and moved Mitchell to third.
Bob Stanley was called in and battled Mookie Wilson in a ten-pitch duel that was incredibly tense. Stanley’s seventh pitch went wild, and Mitchell raced home with the game-tying run while Knight advanced to second. With a full count of 3-2, Wilson finally put the ball in play, sending a soft bouncer up the first base line toward Bill Buckner. Our disappointment quickly turned to shock and disbelief as the ball somehow slipped under Buckner’s glove and continued to roll. As Knight danced home for the 6-5 victory, we in the crowd at Shea erupted in a frenzy while Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” blared over the stadium sound system.
Even though a deciding seventh game still needed to be played and even though the Red Sox led 3-0 in that game, the Series was o-v-e-r when the baseball trickled through Bill Buckner’s legs. It was the greatest sports moment I’ve ever seen in person. My full list follows.
What’s the best sports moment you’ve ever seen “in person”?
1. Game 6, 1986 World Series; Mets v. Red Sox. October 25, 1986; Shea Stadium. Yup, the “gets by Buckner” game, where the Red Sox were one strike away from a championship and end up losing the game and eventually the Series.
2. Dave Righetti’s No-Hitter v. Red Sox. July 4, 1983; Yankee Stadium. Righetti struck out Wade Boggs to complete the gem.
3. The 7-0 game; Duke v. Carolina. February 4, 1979; Cameron Indoor Stadium. This is the game that went a long ways toward bringing the shot clock to college basketball. It was Jim Spanarkel’s final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Both teams were highly ranked, and Dean Smith spent the entire first half running the Four Corners. Carolina took two first half shots — both airballs by Rich Yonaker (the “airball” chant was created that day), and trailed 7-0 at the half. The Heels came out running after halftime but lost by that same 7-point margin, 47-40.
4. 1999 Women’s World Cup Final, USA v. China. July 10, 1999; Rose Bowl. Michelle Akers was awesome and the USA won it all when Brandi Chastain drove home the penalty and doffed her jersey. I distinctly remember thinking that the crowd, while loud and vociferous, sounded distinctly different. I eventually realized that it was because, unlike most sporting events, the screamers were largely young and female, producing a quite different atmosphere.
5. Trevor Hoffman’s 500th Save, Padres v. Dodgers. June 6, 2007; Petco Park. The all-time saves leader and future Hall-of-Famer entered the game in the 9th, as usual, to Hell’s Bells and shut down the Dodgers and preserve the win for another future HOFer, Greg Maddux.
6. Coach K’s First Duke v. Carolina Home Game. February 28, 1981; Cameron Indoor Stadium. In the final home game for Kenny Dennard and Gene Banks, the Blue Devils upset a Tar Heels team that would reach the national championship game. Banks’ fallaway 22-footer over Sam Perkins at the buzzer sent the game to OT, where Duke pulled it out. Coach K’s first game (and first win) at Duke was also memorable — largely in retrospect due to what he has accomplished since.
7. Starks Posterizes Jordan and Grant. May 25, 1993; Madison Square Garden. John Starks broke through a trap on the baseline, drove to the hoop, and threw down a thunderous left-handed dunk over Michael Jordan and Horace Grant during the last-minute as the Knicks beat the Bulls, 96-91, in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Honorable Mention: Spurs over Suns, Game 3, 2007; Manchester United over Celtic at Old Trafford (ooh, ah, Cantona), Ryan Giggs Testimonial; LT sets the TD record at the Q, 2006; Mike Piazza’s 400th HR, Petco Park 2006; getting to see Tony Gwynn and Carl Yastrzemski hit; Wake Forest storms back to upset Auburn in football, 1978; Rangers v. Islanders, Stanley Cup play-offs, multiple games, 1980s; 1993 U.S. Open, Baltusrol; watching O.J. Simpson run for the Bills (and not away from the law); various NCAA tournament games (Duke beats Temple and Mark Macon; Laettner buzzer-beater tops UConn; Navy and Robinson abandon ship and lose to Dawkins and Duke in 1986; etc.); seeing Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino in their primes; watching Harry Carson trudge to mid-field as sole captain of the New York Football Giants, circa 1986; watching Gilbert Perreault and the Buffalo Sabres during the 1970s; seeing Mickey Mantle homer; the great Roberto Clemente grabbing the ball at the wall in right and gunning down a runner at third on the fly; watching Tiger Woods win the U.S. Open here in San Diego in 2008 in a play-off over Rocco Mediate; seeing the Chargers in the play-offs; seeing the Bolts intercept Peyton Manning four times; various 1994 World Cup matches; and seeing my son’s first college football game — a win over Michigan State.
Source: Baseball Almanac