Thirty-four years ago, one of the most talked about errors of all time happened in Game 6 of the World Series between the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox. From that moment on, the name Bill Buckner would be synonymous with that easy ground ball down the first base line that went between his legs and turned the tide for what would be a World Series victory for the New York Mets.
On Saturday night, the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Los Angeles Dodgers with a ninth inning that was the 2020 version of the ‘Buckner.’
After the game, someone said: “If 2020 was an inning, that was the one.” The Dodgers won Game 5 on Sunday and lead the best-of-seven series, 3-2, going into Tuesday’s sixth game. The Dodgers are one victory away from their first World Series title since 1988.
Bill Buckner died on May 27, 2019, of Lewy body dementia.
Sunday, OCTOBER 26, 1986, SPORTS
Copyright 1986/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
Ripley Wrote the Script for World Series
I don’t believe this.
But, then, I don’t believe any of October. It must be sun spots or something. Maybe it’s Kadafi.
Baseball used to be this nice formful sport where 3 strikes, you’re out, 4 balls you walk, take 2 and hit to right, you bunt the pitcher.
You take a two-run lead into the bottom of the 10th, you win.
You hit this little trickle ground ball down the first-base line with two out and it’s three out.
Baseball as we know it and love it has taken a sabbatical this year of Our Lord. The quote I’ll remember from this year of the grand old game is that of New York Mets’ pitcher Ron Darling, who said earlier in the week, “It just goes to show you baseball makes no sense at all.”
The picture I’ll always remember of the 1986 World Series is that of Billy Buckner, Boston Red Sox first baseman, making a long, drudging walk through cordons of screaming fans, helmeted policemen and stunned teammates to face the horror of a night seeing a routine third-out ground ball trickling through his legs for one of the most historic boots in baseball.
Billy Buck was already a tragic figure of this tournament, hobbling out to his position night after night in these grotesque high boots to protect feet too deformed by injury to permit him to walk right, never mind run. It gave Bill the appearance of scurrying along the ground like some modern Quasimodo. He looked out of place not swinging from a bell in Notre Dame Cathedral.
Billy belonged in a walker, not a ball game. One more twisted ankle and he could qualify as a poster boy for the March of Dimes.
He makes a Pantheon of non-heroes now, like Fred Snodgrass, who dropped a routine fly ball in a World Series finale once; Mickey Owen, who let a third strike for a third out slide by him in the catcher’s box; Ernie Lombardi, who lay in a swoon at home plate while Yankee after Yankee raced by him to touch that plate and score for a World Series victory, and Willie Davis, who filled the outfield with dropped fly balls in the last World Series game Sandy Koufax would ever pitch.
You can only imagine the indescribable feeling that must have gone through Billy Buck’s mind when the horrible thought struck him that the ball was not going to hop in his glove but run under it like a little white rat while a game-winning run scored from second.
Major league ballplayers can never even permit themselves to picture this kind of thing happening. Otherwise, they’d never make a play. It isn’t supposed to happen.
As a manager would say, “Billy Buckner makes that play in his sleep.” It may be some time before Billy Buck is able to sleep after Saturday night.
It cost the Red Sox a game they had won three times up to that point. They won it first when they took a quick 2-0 lead in this sixth game. In this Series, the team that scored first had won every time.
The Red Sox were sailing along with baseball’s best pitcher, certifiably, Roger Clemens. The Mets were able to tie the score on a walk, a stolen base, a hit-and a double-play ball. Hardly, the stuff of baseball legend.
In the seventh inning, the Red Sox won the game again on a walk, an error and a double-play ball that turned out to be a one-out (at first) play when the front end of the twin outs misfired.
Their ace pitcher retired the Mets in order in the bottom of the seventh, but his manager, unaccountably, decided to remove him for a pinch-hitter in the eighth.
It was not the most felicitous decision in the world. His replacement, Calvin Schiraldi, had more trouble picking up bunts than a one-armed street-sweeper, and the Mets managed to tie the score in the last of the eighth.
The 10th inning goes right into Ripley. Or Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Straight to Disneyland. It came from Alice’s Wonderland.
The Red Sox, as was their wont on this raw, chilly night, won it again in the 10th when their super sub, Dave Henderson, who has turned into the real Mr. October, hit another apparent game-winning home run. The Sox added another run.
The bottom of the 10th I can only tell you happened. As Marconi once said of radio, “We know how it happens. We don’t know why it happens.”
There were two out and nobody on and the score 5-3 when Baseball 1986, the most perverse genie in the universe, went to work.
Gary Carter got a hit. The people pouring out of the ballpark scarcely looked up. Kevin Mitchell got a hit. Ray Knight got a hit, scoring Carter. Well, everyone thought, the Mets are going down with flags flying, guns out and boots on.
With Mitchell on third and Knight on first, a new pitcher, Bob Stanley, uncorked a wild pitch. The game was tied. Seconds later, Mookie Wilson hit the most fieldable little 3-to-1 ground ball down the first-base line you ever saw.
Billy Buck will see that little trickler the rest of his life. In his dreams he will pick it up, flip it to the pitcher coming over and make the out.
But only in his dreams. He never even touched it. The 1986 world championship may have gone right through his wracked ankles and odd little orthopedic shoes. It’s a treachery that never should have happened to a fine major league ballplayer. But this is 1986, the year of baseball’s lunar holiday.
Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times
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