Recalling Game 6 ~ Lots Of Them!
As I sit down to write this post tonight’s World Series Game 6 between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox is just getting underway. Boston pitcher John Lackey has retired the side in the top of the first without incident. Cardinals rookie Michael Wacha has taken the mound as the drama moved to the bottom half. I’m paying attention to this game, for sure, but I’m thinking back as well, recalling other Game 6 dramas I’ve witnessed. I’m thankful I’ve have seen a great many.
No discussion about “Game 6,” whether they be of the World Series or League Championship Series variety, is complete without delving into the gem from the 1975 Fall Classic that pitted the Cincinnati Reds against the Boston Red Sox. I was living in St. Louis then, a young adult just starting out. I called a small apartment in a complex filled with them home back then, and I remember going across the hall to watch the game with my neighbors, who were roughly the same age. As the game unfolded all were aware that we were seeing something special. The evening grew long and the game took numerous twists and turns. Even the non-baseball fans in attendance grew mesmerized by the action.
We realized anything could and would happen just as Bernie Carbo struck his pinch-hit, eighth-inning, three-run homer to tie the game at six runs apiece. Who ever expected that? The game had a mind of its own. It was a living, breathing organism that had us and a large portion of America holding its collective breath. Of course, even some casual fans are aware of Carlton Fisk’s home run in the bottom of the tweflth inning that won the game. What many people don’t remember is the superb catch that Red Sox right fielder Dwight Evans made on a screaming liner struck by Joe Morgan in the top of the eleventh to prevent the Reds from taking the lead. You can see that sterling play here:
I returned to this evening’s game and David Freese had just flied out with two runners on base. The TV color guy announced that Freese had stranded fifteen runners up to that point in the series, and didn’t have a RBI yet. Last time Freese was in the Fall Classic, back in 2011, he was the hero in the Redbird’s victory over the Texas Rangers. It’s funny how that works. I sure hope he isn’t singled out for blame or derision if the Cardinals lose tonight’s game, and hence the Series. People have funny memories. They’ll point a finger at a guy who doesn’t come through during a World Series while somehow forgetting that without his in-season production their team wouldn’t have gotten that far.
I imagine Bill Buckner knows all about that. His 1986 World Series Game 6 miscue that permitted the Mets to win that one lived in infamy for a few decades, until infamy,or something very close to it, came to an end after the BoSox won the 2004 and 2007 World Series titles. Then all was forgiven, and Buckner was welcomed back to Fenway to throw one of the ceremonial first pitches. He was greeted with a loud chorus of cheers. I’m happy for Buckner, too. He played 153 games in 1986, hitting 18 homers and knocking in 102 runs. Maybe without that production, it’s the New York Yankees or the California Angels tussling with the Mets. In the cosmic world of chance that is major league baseball, a lot of people will remember his miscue. I’m glad there are baseball cronies out there who will give him credit for an outstanding twenty-two year career that saw him collect 2,715 hits and compile a .289 career average. That may not be Hall of Fame material, but it sure is the Hall of Very Good, and that’s better than most.
Now it’s the bottom of the third and Shane Victorino is batting with two outs and the bases loaded. On a 2 and 1 count he lofted a deep fly that clanked off the Monster and the Red Sox grabbed a three-run lead. All of New England smiles while while the denizens of St. Louis sit on needles and pins. If this was the regular season, and I was watching a Cardinals game, I would be concerned, but not overly so. The Cardinals were a doubles machine this year, line driving their way to dominance over their National League compatriots. Three runs is nothing for these guys, or at least, it was. But this is the World Series, with all the marbles at stake, and the Cardinals no longer appear so resolute. I’m no longer certain they have three runs in them against these Red Sox, especially at Fenway. The game has taken an ominous turn for the Redbirds.
Sure enough, the top of the fourth unfolds and the Cards get two men on courtesy of a rare Dustin Pedroia miscue. Fate sends up David Freeze with two out, and true to this year’s form, those two runners are stranded when he strikes out looking. There goes another Cardinals scoring opportunity. Then before I return from the kitchen after grabbing a Coca Cola Zero, the bottom half of the fourth has begun with Red Sox shortstop Steven Drew raiseing the stakes with a solo blast off a Michael Wacha fastball; now it’s the Red Sox by four. Jacoby Ellsbury follows with a deep, right field double and right on time we’ve got the Cardinals pitching coach stepping out to the mound to either settle his y0ung hurler, stall for time while a reliever gets ready, or both. Then Dustin Pedroia steps in and on a 2 and 2 pitch flies out to deep right field, advancing Ellsbury to third. David Ortiz is walked.
Then we witness two walks, but not that kind of walk. These two feature Michael Wacha walking to the Cardinals bench after being taken out of the game, and Mike Napoli walking up to the plate to await the offerings of Cardinals reliever Lance Lynn. Napoli lofts what appears to be a failed slider and plunks a single to center, scoring Ellsbury. Five to nothing. Next Jonny Gomes hits with runners on first and second. The Cardinals don’t have slumped shoulders yet, but somehow the Red Sox are looking a lot taller. A Gomes walk paves the way for Victorino to hit with the bases loaded yet again, and the “Flying Hawaiian” doesn’t disappoint, hitting a line-drive single to left, scoring Ortiz. Six to nothing, and Lynn is out. In comes another Cardinal pitcher, and it doesn’t really matter who anymore. The next Red Sox batter strikes out and the Red Sox fourth comes to a merciful end. That’s two straight innings with the Sox scoring three runs apiece, and you can stick a fork in the Cardinals, because this one is over.
And while on the subject of over, let me tell you what it was like to be a New York Mets fan and have to endure Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS against the Houston Astros. What I thought was over, or certainly ending, during that sixteen-inning marathon, was my life, because I must have died dozens of times over the course of that affair. Every time my sister Susan’s New York Giants are in the Super Bowl, she doesn’t watch, and I understand why. She can’t stand the agony. Watching one’s team in a high-stakes shootout can be like falling down an endless cliff in slow motion. My heart was beating fast and I was pacing by the time the game had entered its final innings. By then the score had gone this way, that way and the other way. Somehow the Mets held the lead as it’s nearing the end, and if Jesse Orozco didn’t stop throwing fastballs I was going to scream. Finally Keith Hernandez, and we all know that only Keith can be Keith, uttered the right words to the curveball and slider specialist, and down went the Astros. Best of all, I only had to sweat through three t-shirts to see it through. This was one of the twenty games recently featured on the MLB Network in their acclaimed MLB’s 20 Greatest Games series. The photo on the left shows the two players from the rival teams who participated, Daryl Strawbery and Bob Knepper, and the two journalists, Tom Verducci and Bob Costas, who all joined in to discuss the game.
Tonight’s game will not be remembered as an exciting contest, and unless you’re a Red Sox fan, it won’t be in your top twenty, either. St. Louis didn’t hit when it had runners on, as in the top of the seventh, and had a case of “the sloppies” in the field. The Redbirds were underwhelming. I had picked them to win this World Series in six games, too. At least I got the number of games right. As to the team, well, I was wrong.
You have to hand it to these Red Sox, that’s for sure. They won the whole shebang this year after losing 93 games in 2012. They fired the unpopular Bobby Valentine, who mismanaged the team through that mess, hired their former pitching coach, John Ferrell, to manage in 2013, kept their core intact and brought in veteran, blue-collar types who wanted to be there. The mix jelled and there you have it, a World Series Championship, the Red Sox eighth of their history.
So congratulations to the 2013 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. Boston Strong, indeed!