Saturday, May 16, 2009

The real goat in 1986 - it was in the 8th

It got me thinking.

I'm only bringing this up now because I saw an episode on The Best Damn Sports Show counting down the 50 Greatest Plays in Baseball. Keith Foukle underhanding the ball to Doug Mientkiewicz was #50.

You're not going to list all 50, are you?

No, no. We get into the top ten and there is, predictably, a lot of Yankee stuff. Don Larsen's perfect game, Bucky Bleeping Dent and Aaron Boone ruining seasons for long-suffering Red Sox fans, etc. #4 is Carlton Fiske's most famous moment. Then we get to #3. Bill Buckner's error. That same clip showed up on another episode where they had the 50 Most Famous Bloopers in Sports. That show included things like a Portguese Water Dog pooping right in front of the judges at the Westminster Dog Show. Buckner made #2 on that countdown.

Where does the buck really stop?

Bill, of course, was often unjustly blamed for the Red Sox losing that 1986 World Series.
Sure, he made an error, but had he fielded that Mookie Wilson grounder cleanly the game would have simply gone to the 11th inning, tied 5-5. It was an elimination game for New York, but not for Boston.

It was also not Bob Stanley's fault. The "wild pitch" to Mookie that allowed the tying run to score was actually a passed ball. Mookie did a little acting that made it look more inside than it really was. Catcher Rich Gedman missed it. Stanley's job was to throw a sinker and get a ground ball, which is exactly what he did.

The other guy who got a lot of the blame was Manager John McNamara. Many blamed Mac for not replacing the hobbling Buckner at 1st base with Dave Stapleton in the 10th inning for defensive purposes. Mac wanted his buddy Bill Buckner to be in the "finally we won" shot that didn't actually happen for another 18 years.

On that night back in 1986 I was in Syracuse, NY. I was Program Director of Y94FM and had a living room full of people who were Red Sox fans - or willing to pretend they were for the night. I had rented a big-screen TV and was taping the game on my VCR for posterity.

Fast forward to June 2006.

The Mets come to Boston for Interleague play. Pedro Martinez, returning to Fenway for the first time as an enemy pitcher, is so overcome with emotion he leaves after two very ineffective innings. Not surprisingly, there were many Mets fans in the stands, and a few were wearing Mets shirts with "Buckner...6" on the back. Obnoxious. (Billy Bucks wore #22 with the Dodgers, Cubs and in his second stint with the Red Sox in 1990, but in 1986 he was wearing the now-retired #6.)

Fast forward a little more.

September 2007. The NAB Radio Show convention was in Charlotte, NC and there was a guy from Cedar Rapids named Mike McNamara who won a Marconi Award for Best Talk Show. In his acceptance speech Mike said, "Anyone here from Boston?" Greater Media had a couple of tables right up front and those of us from Boston chimed in with a "Yeah!" Mike McNamara then looked at us and said, "You can all go to hell!" WTF?? Turns out that he's the son of John McNamara and still bitter about his father getting the blame for the 1986 Sox choke.

And again.

December 2007. Time Magazine listed the top 25 inventions of the year, with the iPhone coming in at #1. Arbitron's PPM was also on the list, as was the Panasonic DMR-EZ4TV that will digitize your old VHS tapes so you can convert them to DVD format. Kathy gave me one for Christmas, and I began digitizing like crazy. After I finished doing a zillion family videos I moved on to other old VHS tapes, and eventually ran across my unwatched tape of Game 6 in 1986.

CSI Shea.

Let's do some forensics and examine what really happened. Much has been written about the 10th inning collapse, and the shot of the ball going through Buckner's legs and Vin Scully yelling, "...Knight scores and the Mets win!" has been way overplayed. So I'm here to say that the real goat was neither McNamara nor Buckner nor Bob Stanley. It was Calvin Shiraldi. And not for giving up three straight hits in the 10th.

It was the 8th, stupid.

Nobody ever talks about the 8th. Roger Clemens had a 3-2 lead after 7 when he got a blister or something and either asked out or was taken out. Whatever. Calvin Schiraldi, a former Met who already had one save and one blown save and a loss in the ALCS, and wound up with a blown save and two losses in the World Series, came on to pitch the 8th.

Maybe Schiraldi was less effective against lefties. The inning began with four consecutive lefties. Lee Mazzilli leads off with a single to right on a 1-2 count. Lenny Dykstra bunts on the first pitch. The bunt goes right back to Schiraldi, who could easily throw to first for the out, but decides to try for the lead runner. Bad decision. His throw to 2nd gets there on time, but it's a bad throw that pulls Marty Barrett well off the base. Safe all around, Mazzilli on 2nd, Dykstra on 1st. Next up, Wally Backman. On a 3-1 pitch. he also bunts. This time, Schiraldi throws to 1st to get the out. One down, runners on 2nd and 3rd. Keith Hernandez gets an intentional walk to load the bases. Gary Carter, the first righty batter of the inning, gets the green light on 3-0 (10 of the last 11 pitches have been balls) and Schiraldi grooves one right down the middle of the plate. It's a fly ball to left field, caught by Jim Rice for the second out, but Mazzilli tags up and scores the tying run. It's 3-3. Darryl Strawberry flies to center to end the the 8th, but the damage is done.

And then...

Nothing across for Boston in th 9th. Dewey reaches on an error, but is erased on a Gedman 4-6-3 double-play. Schiraldi is equally scary in the bottom of the 9th, with with a lead-off walk followed by a bunt single. Winning run for the Mets in scoring position, nobody out. They could have bunted and had runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out, but didn't. Schiraldi gets out of it with a K and two F-7's. On to the awful 10th.

In the top of the 10th Boston came up with two runs on a Dave Henderson homer, a Wade Boggs double and a Marty Barrett RBI single. Two K's later, Buckner was hit by a pitch. In the leg. Did that slow him down just a skosh in the bottom of the 10th?

Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury...

In summation, it was Schiraldi in the 8th who blew the game. If everything happened exactly the same way, and Schiraldi had thrown to 1st on the Dystra bunt, Mazzilli still would have been at 2nd, but with one out. Backman's bunt would have gotten Mazzilli to 3rd, but with two outs instead of one. (Okay, Backman probably wouldn't have bunted in that situation, but anything short of a Backman extra-base hit would have produced the same result.) The Carter fly to left would have been the 3rd out, we would have gone to the 9th with a 3-2 Red Sox lead, and 68 years of misery would have ended that night when Dykstra flied to Jim Rice to end the 9th. That 10th inning would never have happened and we would never have seen that old lady Met fan sitting behind the plate rolling her hands and throwing toilet paper on the field.

Your witness....

It doesn't matter anymore, but just for the record, the bleating was by Calvin Schiraldi, not Buckner or Stanley or MacNamara.

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