In a now infamous play, 1B Bill Buckner lets Mookie Wilson's ground ball pass under his legs. Buckner's error capped an improbable comeback by the Mets that took Sox fans from the brink of euphoria to star-crossed misery. (Globe Staff File Photo)
NEW YORK -- Ghostbusting is risky business. Just when the Red Sox thought the lingering demons of history had been exorcised, the New York Mets gave them a haunting reminder of past failures.
The Sox' collapse in Game 6 of the World Series Saturday night -- when they turned an apparent world championship into a 6-5, 10-inning Mets victory that forced a seventh and deciding game tonight -- was of such epic proportions that it might have rendered Bucky Dent a footnote in Boston baseball history.
This may have been the cruelest downfall of all. One out and eventually merely one strike from the crown, the Sox watched in horror as the Mets mounted a three-run rally in the bottom of the 10th, culminating in Bill Buckner's error on a routine grounder to first that brought in the winning run and kept the Sox waiting for their first World Series title in 68 years.
The Sox had become acquainted with this sort of disaster, but from the comeback side. One strike from being eliminated in the American League Championship Series, they rallied to win Game 5 against the Angels in Anaheim, Calif., and went on to claim the pennant.
"We needed one more out," said Sox manager John McNamara, "and we didn't get it. I guess I can associate it to what went on in California, when we came back to win. Yes, it's disappointing. But at least we've got a chance to come back (tonight)."
McNamara's club wouldn't have needed to come back if it hadn't unraveled.
But then came the bedeviling climax.
"In the 10th, everybody on the bench was still fired up," said the Mets' Mookie Wilson, who emerged as a strange hero in the bizarre ending. "You don't die until there are three outs. It's not luck. We've been doing it all year."
But it seemed unlikely the Mets would do it in this situation, because Sox reliever Calvin Schiraldi, who had already blown a 3-2 Roger Clemens lead in the eighth inning, retired Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez on fly balls to open the bottom of the 10th. Then he gave up three straight singles to Gary Carter, pinch hitter Kevin Mitchell and Ray Knight, cutting the Mets' deficit to 5-4.
Exit Schiraldi, enter Bob Stanley.
The No. 1 target of Red Sox critics promptly reached his nadir. With runners at second and third, he threw a wild pitch on a 2-and-2 count to Wilson. Mitchell scored, and the game was tied. Stanley then got Wilson to hit the innocent grounder that sealed the Sox' demise. Buckner, the hobbling first baseman, watched in horror as the ball went through his legs, while Knight raced home exultantly with the tying run.
"I kept telling myself that I didn't want to make the last out," said Mitchell, one of four Mets who had that opportunity.
Wilson, who did produce what appeared to be the last out of the inning, instead wound up delivering the tying and winning runs on an at-bat in which he went hitless. In fact, he almost got hit. But at the last instant, he pulled away from an inside Stanley fastball as the pitch glanced off catcher Rich Gedman's glove, skipped toward the backstop and allowed Mitchell to come home with the tying run.
"I concentrate more when there is pressure on me," said Wilson. "I suppose I could have let Stanley's pitch hit me. But instincts took over. I just got out of the way."
Then Wilson's grounder got away from Buckner, whose misplay was merely the final indignity in a nightmare that will be replayed for years.
"I was playing back about 5 feet deeper," said Buckner, "and it might have been a tough play anyway because Mookie is so fast. But I should have picked up the ball. It was rolling right at me, and when I put the glove down, it just didn't come up.
"The ball hit something, but you can't blame it on the field, even if it is soft. It's the same for both teams. I'm just glad we've got a chance to go back and get them."
Buckner wasn't the only culprit. The run-scoring wild pitch was just as deflating, and mystifying. All Stanley knew was that something went wrong, and his batterymate could only agree. "I still don't know what happened," said Gedman. "I missed it. I shouldn't have in a situation like that. But I did.
"What happened in the 10th inning wasn't what beat us. It was leaving runners on base earlier in the game. It should have been a blowout."
But it wasn't, and now it will take a seventh game to decide the champion.
"It's unbelievable," said Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez. "But then, that's our club. We've done it all year. This is it right here. It's the ultimate."
"We came through tonight," said Wilson. "How did we do it? Magic? Charms? Prayers? It doesn't matter. We won the ballgame."
Boston apparently had the ballgame won, despite the fact that a good night by Clemens had gone for naught.
Working on five days' rest, the best pitcher in baseball this season had a no-hitter and a 2-0 lead through four innings. Dwight Evans' RBI double in the first and an RBI single by Barrett (3 for 4) in the second had given the Sox the advantage against Mets starter Bobby Ojeda.
The Mets tied the game and snapped Clemens' no-hit spell with a pair of runs in the fifth on a walk and stolen base by Darryl Strawberry, an RBI single by Knight and a run-prouducing double-play ball by pinch hitter Danny Heep.
But the Sox regained the lead with an unearned run in the seventh.
Roger McDowell, who had replaced Ojeda to start the inning, walked leadoff man Barrett, who moved to second on a groundout by Buckner. He took third as Knight manhandled a Jim Rice grounder to third, throwing high to first and putting runners at first and third. Evans followed with a potential double- play ball to second, but Rice beat the force attempt at second, allowing Barrett to score the go-ahead run.
But Clemens, who had developed a blister on his pitching hand and had thrown 135 pitches, was lifted for a pinch hitter in the top of the eighth, and the lead soon departed as well.
Schiraldi took over and promptly gave up the tying run in the bottom of the inning. Pinch hitter Lee Mazzilli led off with a single and moved to second when the Sox reliever's throw to second on a sacrifice bunt by Len Dykstra was late and in the dirt. Backman sacrificed the runners to second and third before Hernandez was intentionally walked, loading the bases. Then Carter hit a sacrifice fly on a 3-and-0 pitch.
Still, it seemed the Sox were going to recover, and that Henderson was going to be the Miracle Worker for the second time in two weeks.
Facing Mets reliever Rick Aguilera, the hero of ALCS Game 5 deposited an 0- and-1 pitch over the the left-field fence for a 4-3 lead. When Wade Boggs doubled with two out and Barrett brought him in with a single, the lead was 5-3, and the champagne that had been chilling for 68 years was ready to be uncorked.
Until the festivities fizzled in shocking fashion.
"I don't know anything about history," said McNamara in the numbing aftermath. "And I don't want to hear anything about choking or that kind of crap."