Twenty-Five Years Ago Today: One Of The Greatest Days (And Nights) Of Baseball

Catcher Gary Carter of the New York Mets with his helmet on during a 1986 season game. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

A fan remembers an epic day and night of baseball on October 15, 1986.

I remember exactly where I was. I was in the student government offices in the campus center, around lunchtime. My friend and fellow student-government geek Jeff approached. "My dad just gave me two tickets to Game 7 tonight. I can't think of anyone who'd appreciate going to a Game 7 more than you. Do you want to go?"

The Game 7 at issue was Game 7 of the 1986 American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and California Angels at Fenway Park. A Game 7 made possible by the Red Sox comeback win in Game 5 in Anaheim. A Game 5 in which the Red Sox trailed 5-2 heading into the ninth inning, with the Angels ahead in the series three games to one. A ninth inning in which the Red Sox hit two two-run home runs to take an improbable 6-5 lead. A lead the Red Sox then lost in the bottom of the ninth but regained in the top of the 11th and preserved in the bottom of the 11th. 

I had watched Game 5 at home in New York. It was a Sunday afternoon. I was home from college that weekend because Monday was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, and for some reason I cannot now explain, I preferred to attend services at my home synagogue rather than at the college Hillel. That and the fact that in those days, you could fly easily and inexpensively between New York and Boston so why not go home, eat a good meal (especially before the fast) and see some friends.

Oh, that's right. There was one more reason I wanted to be in New York that weekend. My (then) beloved New York Mets were playing in the National League Championship Series against the Houston Astros. Games 3, 4 and 5 of the series were to be played at Shea Stadium and although I had no chance of scoring tickets, I wanted to watch the games with friends and family in New York. Well, at least Game 3, which was played on Saturday afternoon, October 11. Game 4 was a Sunday night affair, when many Jews (and Mets fans) would be in synagogue to start the Yom Kippur observance. 

When I headed back to Boston Tuesday morning, October 14, the Mets and Astros were tied at two games apiece. Game 5 had been rained out on Monday and would be played that afternoon at Shea. The Angels led the ALCS 3-2 with the series shifting back to Boston for Games 6 and 7.

When I woke up Wednesday morning, October 15, the Mets were back in Houston with a 3-2 lead, having beaten the Astros in 12 innings the day before, and preparing for Game 6 at the Astrodome. The start time was 3 p.m. Boston time, 2 p.m. Houston time. The Red Sox were in Boston, all tied up with the Angels at three games each, thanks to 10-4 victory over the Angels in Game 6 behind starter Oil Can Boyd. Game 7 was that night starting at 8 p.m.

By noon my day was set. Watch the Mets try to close out the NLCS on ABC and then head to Fenway with my friend Jeff for Game 7 of the ALCS. It would be one super, fantastic baseball day for this baseball-crazed fan. 

The Mets and Astros had other ideas.

I sat on the couch in the living room of my off-campus flat. My less-baseball-obsessed roommates shuffled in and out, occasionally stopping to say hello and check on the score.  

The Astros scored three quick runs off Mets starter Bobby Ojeda in the bottom of the first. And that was it for a long while. Bob Knepper had the Mets off balance through eight innings. Heading to the ninth, the Astros were up 3-0 and three outs away from Game 7, with their ace Mike Scott on the mound.

Lenny Dykstra led off the ninth with a pinch-hit triple on a fly ball just beyond the leaping grab of Astros center fielder Billy Hatcher. Mookie Wilson drove Dykstra in with a looping liner just out of the second baseman's reach. 3-1. Kevin Mitchell grounded out to third, moving Wilson to second. Keith Hernandez doubled into the gap, forcing Hatcher to make another long but fruitless run on the outfield astroturf. Wilson scored. 3-2.

Astros manager called for help from the bullpen and in came Dave Smith. His specialty pitch? The forkball.

Walk to Gary Carter.

Walk to Darryl Strawberry, pushing Carter to second and Hernandez to third.

Ray Knight with a fly ball to center. As Billy Hatcher squared up to make the catch and throw home, Kevin Bass came streaking across the outfield, cut in front of Hatcher, made the catch and threw home. Hernandez was safe and the game was tied.

No scoring in the tenth. No scoring in the eleventh. No scoring in the twelfth or thirteenth. 

My memory's a blur after that.

I've watched a replay of the game many times, including as recently as yesterday. I just don't remember exactly when I left to catch the T to Fenway. All I remember is that the game was tied at 3. I got up off the couch, turned off the TV, met my friend Jeff and 45 minutes later I was on Yawkey Way. No radio. No cell phone. No way of keeping track of the game.

We heard the news of the Mets' 16-inning, 7-6 victory from someone in the crowd outside Fenway. The Mets were going to the World Series. I was deliriously happy the Mets had won but sad that I missed watching the end of the game. But who had time for sadness? I was at Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park.

Fenway was madness. One of the loudest places I'd ever been. Roger Clemens pitched like an ace, the Red Sox scored early runs and much of the night was spent high-fiving Sox fans who said, repeatedly, "Oh my gawd. I can't believe we're going to the World Series." Yes, even in my Mets cap, I got high-fives from the Fenway Faithful.

When I finally got home after midnight, the living room was empty, much like I'd left it hours earlier. My roommates were asleep. The house was quiet. I curled up on the couch and watched highlights of the Mets-Astros game on ESPN until I could barely keep my eyes open. 

I saw the Mets take the lead in the top of the 14th inning on an RBI single by Wally Backman, scoring Darryl Strawberry from second when Kevin Bass airmailed the throw home. I saw Billy Hatcher tie the score in the bottom of the 14th on a solo home run off Jesse Orosco that hit the net on the foul pole. I saw Darryl Strawberry lead off the the 16th with a bloop that bounced off the Astroturf and over Billy Hatcher's head for a double. I saw Strawberry score the go-ahead run off a Ray Knight single. I saw the Mets score two more runs to pad their lead to 7-4. I saw Jesse Orosco give up two runs in the bottom of the 16th to make it a one-run game. I saw Jesse Orosco strike out Kevin Bass to end the game and send the Mets to the World Series against the Red Sox.

When my roommates woke up Thursday morning, they found me sleeping on the couch in the living room, in the clothes I wore to Fenway Wednesday night. The TV was on and still tuned to ESPN.

I had a huge smile on my face.

Wendy also writes about baseball at HangingSliders, and Fangraphs. You can follow Wendy on Twitter @hangingsliders.

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