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Red Sox 1986 Rollercoaster: The 25th Anniversary of Bill Buckner's Game 6


Dave Henderson called timeout and stepped out of the batter’s box. He had just fouled off a fastball out over the plate. The Boston Red Sox center fielder grimaced.

“There’s a lot of thinking that goes into a timeout called with the pitcher on the rubber,” says Henderson, 53. “I knew that when you miss your pitch, you’re in big trouble.”

Out on the mound, California Angels closer Donnie Moore, with the count 2 and 2, was getting ready to throw his pitch, a hard-dropping forkball that knew no bottom. But Moore’s out pitch didn’t have the bite it had had the previous year, when he was sensational in relief for the Angels. Back injuries slowed Moore, and California catcher Bob Boone now primarily called for the pitch as a changeup.

One pitch. One strike. That’s all that separated California from its first-ever American League pennant in the franchise’s 26 years. The Angels were leading the 1986 American League Championship Series three games to one, and this was it. Henderson, acquired from Seattle less than two months before, eyed Moore, thinking back to a similar situation when he was with the Mariners and had faced the hurler in the ninth inning of a game. He’d homered then. It was a comforting thought as he stepped back into the box.

One strike away, thought Rich Gedman. The Red Sox catcher was on first base. He’d had a remarkable day, going 4-for-4, including an earlier home run, but had been hit by a pitch the moment before. He looked around. It was unsettling to see police on horseback beginning to rim the stadium’s perimeter in preparation for a celebration. That’s really strange, he thought. We’re not done yet!

Unplanned entrance

It was happenstance that Henderson was even in the game. Out of necessity, he had replaced Tony Armas, who exited in the middle innings after crashing into the left-center field wall chasing Doug DeCinces’ second-inning double.

What few remember is that Henderson was seriously hurting as well. “The night before, I got hit by a pitch in the knee off Doug Corbett and tore my cartilage,” he remembers of his unplanned entry into the game. “My knee was swollen, and I basically was out of the series. The doctor said I needed an operation. But when Armas got hurt, I volunteered to go out there. If you look at the tape, you can actually tell I’m limping — a lot!”

Which didn’t help Henderson when, with Boston on top 2–1 in the sixth, California’s Bobby Grich sent a deep fly to center.

“Normally that’s a ball I catch routinely at the top of the wall,” says Henderson. “But when you’re limping, the ball bounces (in your field of vision) a little bit and it hit the heel of my glove and went over for a home run.”

Gedman recalls that sudden downturn: “Every day was the last day we were going to play. It was 3-1 in games. The theme for the club was: Let’s win this and go back home. So, what a tremendous downer when the ball (Grich’s home run) goes over the fence. You’re going, Aw, damn! But that’s the will of the Angels as well. They were a tremendous team.”

And there may have been other unseen assistance on the play, according to the Angels’ Bob Boone. “During the day, there was a real jet stream to the two gaps,” recalls the four-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove catcher, now the assistant general manager of the Washington Nationals. “In fact, Grich’s homer really carried. Although, that really had nothing to do with Dave hitting the ball really good.”

That soon became apparent. Moore checked Gedman from the stretch position. One last pitch.

“The pitch I hit was a forkball, low and away, outside,” Henderson says. “A pitcher’s pitch. It was more of a fluke than the one that I fouled off.” Henderson’s two-run blast suddenly put Boston up, 6–5, although he was not done with the heroics.

“The big part of that is that we came right back in the bottom of the inning (to tie it),” says Boone, 63, of the Angels’ own comeback. “There was no quit in our team.”

In the top of the 11th, with Don Baylor on third, Henderson delivered the Game 5-winning sacrifice fly to plate the winning run. “The home run was probably the biggest,” Henderson says of the one-strike-away-from-elimination pitch by Moore in the ninth, “but the sac fly put a bow on everything.”

A World Series for the ages

The Red Sox dispatched California in the remaining two ALCS games in Boston, before heading into the most dramatic World Series in the last 25 years. On a roll, the Red Sox took the first two games against the Mets in New York. But the scrappy National League champions, who had weathered a blockbuster championship series of their own against Houston, took Games 3 and 4 in Boston. Behind Bruce Hurst, a brilliant 1–0 victor in Game 1, Boston took Game 5, heading back to New York needing just one win to claim its first World Series in 68 years.

The now-historic Game 6 was dramatically tied 3–3, when Henderson led off the 10th. With a repeat flair for the extraordinary, the Sox center fielder lofted another critical home run to give Boston the lead.

“People talk about the Donnie Moore home run,” says Henderson, “but I like the one in the 10th inning, Game 6, with the World Series on the line. From a baseball perspective, when you’re hitting .400 in the Series and it’s a tie ball game and you could win the Series, pitching coaches and pitchers don’t really want to mess with you. I hit a home run anyway.”

In the bottom half of the inning, just like the Angels in the ALCS, Boston was one out away from destiny. One out from burying The Curse of the Bambino drought that had crushed the team’s fortunes since 1918. But Red Sox reliever Calvin Schiraldi suddenly gave up three straight singles, and the Mets, shockingly, had the tying run on third. Bob Stanley was summoned to face the left-handed-hitting Mookie Wilson.

New York reliever Jesse Orosco, in the Mets’ clubhouse with five other players and the clubhouse manager, was having difficulty watching the TV.

“We kind of had our heads down, thinking that it’s all over,” says Orosco, 54, who won three games in the NLCS against Houston and did not allow an earned run in four appearances in the World Series. “Stanley was a hard sinkerball pitcher who usually keeps the ball down. He’s trying to induce Mookie into a ground ball and had thrown some nasty pitches down and in and away. Mookie fouled them off and battled him.”

But then Stanley unleashed a pitch that “just went all the way across,” according to Orosco. “I mean Mookie jumped up and it was literally underneath him.”

With the wild pitch, Kevin Mitchell scampered in from third with the tying run, Ray Knight moving to second. “First of all, I’m disappointed that I didn’t catch the ball,” says Gedman. “I actually got back to it very quickly, but I didn’t pick it up clean. If I pick the ball up clean, I think we have a play at the plate.”

Then, on a 3-2 pitch to Wilson, one of the most famous plays in World Series history took place. Wilson’s routine ground ball to first base went through the legs of Boston’s Bill Buckner, as Knight raced in from second with the winning run.

“It was just one of those fluke things that happen where there’s no explanation for it,” recalls Gedman, 52, now a batting instructor with the Lowell Spinners, Boston’s Short Season Single-A affiliate in the New York-Pennsylvania League. “I remember our team being stunned at the moment, but really kind of rallying around — ‘Hey, we have another chance. It’s not over! That opportunity slipped through our hands, but we still have a Game 7. We’re not done!’”

This time they were done, though not without a fight. Two nights later, after seeing their early 3–0 lead disappear as the Mets went up 6–3, Boston fought back valiantly, scoring two runs in the eighth. With two on and no outs, New York brought in Orosco, who got the last six outs to close it all out.

“From Game 1 all the way through, it was electric,” says Orosco, now semi-retired in California. “Both teams are champions, but only one can walk out of it. It could’ve gone either way.”

Henderson, now a part-time commentator for the Mariners, went on to play in three more World Series with Oakland, winning the Earthquake Series in ’89 against San Francisco.

“In baseball you lose games sometimes, but the Mets beat us,” he says. “There’s a difference. We feel like we lost Game 6. They beat us in Game 7. It’s a lot easier to live with a team beating you than by giving up the World Series. But the one in ’86? It seems like the ones you lose you remember a whole lot more.”

This article originally appeared in our Athlon Sports monthly, available in newspapers nationwide.