I grew up thinking that Bill Buckner was the root of all my problems. It wasn’t Harry Frazee, the man responsible for No, No, Nannette and trading Babe Ruth to the Yankees. No, it was Buckner. Bill Buckner lost Game 6 in 1986, he’s the one who ruined this for all of us.
I’ve written a lot about Buckner in the past, and today on the anniversary of his fateful E3, I’d like to test that theory.
Did Bill Buckner lose Game 6 for the Boston Red Sox? Is one play to blame for the Red Sox loss?
First off, Game 6 of the 1986 World Series is such a spectacular time capsule of old school baseball. Seriously, whenever I want to feel nostalgic, I watch Game 6 of the 1986 series or Game 7 of 1991, the latter being one of the greatest World Series games of all time.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Roger Clemens, who finished the 1986 season with an actually insane 24-4 record, starts this game. Clemens is having what can arguably be described as the greatest season of his career, winning his first of seven Cy Young Awards, and winning the only MVP of his 24-year career. It should be noted that Clemens’ career was only 2 years longer than Buckner’s.
So Clemens pitches a great game, but gets pulled after pitching 7 solid innings. If this game swings the other way, Clemens is the hero and possibly doesn’t leave Boston and all that other stuff… Anyway, he strikes out 8 in his 7.0 innings, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits.
This is where the first mistake happens.
When Schiraldi enters the game, the Red Sox had a one-run lead. Should be easy to protect, right? WRONG. With one out, the Mets suddenly had the bases loaded thanks to a Lee Mazzilli single, a Lenny Dykstra fielder’s choice, and McNamara and Schiraldi intentionally walk Keith Hernandez.
Imagine a world where you’re walking Keith Hernandez to face Gary Carter, that’s how dire this situation was for the Red Sox. Carter’s sacrifice fly plates Mazzilli, tying the ballgame. Schiraldi then somehow manages to get Darryl Strawberry to fly out and end the inning because baseball doesn’t play by your rules, it’s a demon that runs it’s own world.
For some MAGICAL REASON BEYOND MY UNDERSTANDING, McNamara keeps Schiraldi in the game, heading into the bottom of the 9th inning, hoping to keep the game tied. This… rarely works out.
There’s an old baseball adage that goes something like, “when you’re at home, you play for the tie, but on the road, you play for the win.” This is why you’ll usually see a home team’s closer stay in the bullpen when a game is tied in the ninth.
McNamara doesn’t play for the win, he’s playing for the tie by keeping Schiraldi in the game. He’s hoping to use his “closer” for a nine out save. That’s nuts.
However, the gamble pays off and Dave Henderson hits a home run, and Marty Barrett drives in Wade Boggs to give the Red Sox a 5-3 lead heading into the bottom of the 10th, now just three outs away from winning a World Series for the city of Boston.
Are you paying attention? Have I mentioned Bill Buckner at any point so far? Has he even come close to making an impact on this game? Think about that.
After throwing 39 pitches, and with his team up by two runs, John McNamara ONCE AGAIN keeps Schiraldi on the mound, for a third inning, because there might not be a God. I’m serious. Schiraldi hasn’t gone more than two innings since September 26th, which is a LITERAL MONTH AGO AND THIS IS THE TIME THAT MCNAMARA WANTS TO PUSH HIM?! NOW OF ALL TIMES?
In fact, the last time that Schiraldi threw more than 35 pitches was in the ALCS against the California Angels. In that game, McNamara pushed him as far as he could go, and guess what happened? Schiraldi came into the game after Roger Clemens handed him a two-run lead, and the Angels walked off the Red Sox in the 11th.
So here’s Schiraldi, in extra innings, with a two-run lead, at 39 pitches… do you get what I’m trying to say here?
McNamara has two pitchers in his bullpen who could shut this game down in Joe Sambito and Bob Stanley. The 31-year-old Stanley has seen most of the mop-up duty this series, coming into Games 2, 3, and 4. At the top of the 10th, Stanley is sitting in the bullpen with his jacket on, his 16 regular season saves sitting in his pocket.
Schiraldi gets two quick fly-balls from Wally Backman and Hernandez. The Boston Red Sox are one out away from climbing the mountain, from being champions.
Instead, Schiraldi falls behind Carter, who punches a single to left. Pinch-hitter Kevin Mitchell singles to Center, followed by Ray Knight, who also singles to Center, bringing Carter in and moving Mitchell to third. The score is now 5-4, in favor of the Red Sox.
When the Red Sox began this inning they had a 92% Win Expectancy. At this point, up a run, with runners at the corners, the Sox still have an 81% chance to pull this one out. All they have to do is get a ground ball. That’s it.
Instead, after 55 pitches, McNamara decided this is the time to pull Schiraldi. With the tying run 90 feet away, McNamara finally takes the ball from Schiraldi and gives it to Bob Stanley, who has yet to allow a run in this World Series.
At the plate is Mookie Wilson, who is hitting an anemic .184 so far this World Series. Stanley wastes no time going after Mookie, but Mookie’s here to wait for his pitch. Spoiling pitches left and right, Mookie takes the count even at 2 balls, 2 strikes and that’s when it happens.
And then Bob Stanley loses control of a two-seam fastball and it gets past Rich Gedman, the Red Sox catcher, who really should have gotten in front of that ball. But you don’t hear his name all that much, do you?
Kevin Mitchell crosses the plate. Tie ballgame.
Remember that 92% Win Expectancy? It’s now sitting at 40% for the Red Sox. If you’re looking for a play that cost the Sox the World Series, that is it.
But then, of course, two pitches later…
A little roller…
Up along First…
Behind the bag…
At no point, until the 11th inning, does Bill Buckner even come close to impacting this game.
Fault Line: Bill Buckner lost Game 6 of the 1986 World Series for the Boston Red Sox.
Conclusion: The responsibility for the loss falls squarely on the shoulders of one man who failed to learn from his previous mistakes, and still put players into situations in which they couldn’t succeed.
After the game, when asked what happened McNamara threw Buckner under the bus. “We didn’t get that final out,” McNamara said to the Boston Globe. “That’s all I can say. We needed that one more out, and we didn’t get it… Yes, it’s disappointing, but at least we have another chance tomorrow.”
A shoddy workman blames his tools.
The worst part of all of this is that McNamara, IN THAT SAME INTERVIEW, added, “All I can associate it with is the feeling California had when we beat them out there.”
“The last time that Schiraldi threw more than 35 pitches was in the ALCS against the California Angels. In that game, McNamara pushed him as far as he could go, and guess what happened? Schiraldi came into the game after Roger Clemens handed him a two-run lead, and the Angels walked off the Red Sox in the 11th.”