The Mets' Second Miracle

Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series
Written by: Matt Kelly

The television crews were in the visitors’ dugout, tiptoeing around champagne buckets to plug in their cameras. Players on the home side had begun planning flights for the offseason. A Most Valuable Player had been named.

The late Hall of Famer Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” but a champion appeared to be crowned on the night of Oct. 25, 1986.

Of course, utter that date now to any die-hard Red Sox fan and his or her grimace will tell the story. Because what happened in the bottom half of the 10th inning in that game – Game 6 of the World Series – produced one of the most unpredictably joyous moments for New York Mets fans, and perhaps the most visceral moment of pain during the long-standing “Curse of the Bambino” for the Boston faithful.

The Mets’ famous comeback is just one of many iconic postseason moments from the last 45 years that will be featured in Whole New Ballgame, the Museum’s newest exhibit that is set to debut on the second floor timeline Nov. 7. True to the vision carried throughout Whole New Ballgame, the moment will be brought back to life through a combination of video, ephemera and some of the artifacts seen below.

All but over

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The first five games of the 1986 World Series featured a wild series of back-and-forth skirmishes. What looked to be a marquee matchup in Game 2 between the Mets’ Dwight Gooden (the NL Rookie of the Year from 1984 and the NL Cy Young Award winner from 1985) and Red Sox’ Roger Clemens (the new phenom du jour after winning the 1986 AL Cy Young Award) fizzled out in the early innings. After the road team won the first four games, Boston seemed to finally wrangle control when it defeated Gooden again in Game 5 at Fenway Park to set up a potential clincher at Shea Stadium.

Destiny seemed even more imminent for the Red Sox in the bottom of the eighth in Game 6, when manager John McNamara called upon his closer, Calvin Schiraldi to get a two-inning save with a 3-2 lead. But Lee Mazzilli singled and Lenny Dykstra reached on a bunt attempt. Then, Wally Backman successfully bunted the runners over and Schiraldi intentionally walked slugger Keith Hernandez to load the bases. Catcher Gary Carter strode up to the plate.

As one of the emotional leaders of the Mets, Carter had already played hero in the NLCS when his 12th inning walk-off RBI single in Game 5 gave New York the series lead against the Houston Astros. This time, Carter worked Schiraldi to a 3-0 count before lining a sacrifice fly to left field to score Mazzilli. Schiradli evaded further trouble, but as he walked off the mound the damage was done: The save was blown and the game was tied 3-3 going into the ninth.

Again on the brink

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Each team made defensive errors in their side of the ninth to put runners on, but home plate remained clean and the game headed to extra innings. The Red Sox, seeking their first championship in 68 years, needed just one more push to bring it home – and it appeared they did just that when Dave Henderson homered and Wade Boggs doubled and later scored on an RBI single by Marty Barrett. Going into the bottom of the 10th, Boston carried a 5-3 lead.

As the two clubs exchanged sides, a flurry of activity was already occurring behind the scenes. Workers began setting up the commissioner’s trophy in the Red Sox clubhouse, while NBC’s Bob Costas prepared for the presentation. Media members took a vote and selected Boston pitcher Bruce Hurst as Series MVP. Mets rookie utility man Kevin Mitchell went down to the clubhouse to begin booking flights home over the phone.

Nothing seemed premature yet after Schiraldi, back on the mound for his third inning, retired Backman and Hernandez on fly balls. After 68 torturous years, Red Sox fans were ready to celebrate. All they needed was one more out.

The Mets refuse to go down

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But the Mets had different ideas, and again it started with their leader Carter, who stroked a two-out single to left. Mitchell was quickly dragged out of the clubhouse and into the game to bat for pitcher Rick Aguilera, and he promptly responded with a hit. Then Ray Knight, down to his final strike, lofted a jam shot just past second base to score Carter from second.

“The Mets refuse to go down quietly,” said Ford C. Frick Award winner Vin Scully on the NBC broadcast, “and here comes John McNamara to the mound.”

The Shea Stadium crowd, deflated after Henderson’s homer in the top of the frame, was alive and on its feet once again. McNamara replaced Schiraldi with reliever Bob Stanley, but the bleeding could not be stopped. Stanley tossed a wild pitch to the backstop, plating Mitchell to tie the game at five.

“And it’s going to go to the backstop,” said Scully, his voice rising, “here comes Mitchell to score the tying run! And Ray Knight is at second base!”

Then, on the 11th pitch of his at-bat, Mookie Wilson tapped a grounder toward first base to set one of baseball’s most famous plays in motion.

Then silence – at least from the broadcast booth. Scully remained speechless for more than three minutes, letting the images of pandemonium tell the story. At one point, Costas, now scrambling to the Mets clubhouse, could be overheard on the telecast admitting, “I don’t think I’m going to be able to get anybody (to talk to).”

“If one picture is worth a thousand words,” Scully finally resumed. “You have seen about a million words.”

More than that, the play created millions of memories – both sweet and bitter, depending on your allegiances – that illustrate the volatile beauty of postseason baseball. And those memories will live on in the Whole New Ballgame exhibit in Cooperstown.

“To this day, if I saw it I’d be startled,” Scully said of the Buckner play in a 2011 interview, “It’s what makes this game so great. You just can’t take anything for granted."

Matt Kelly is the communications specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series