Game 6: Reconsidered, by Christopher John Campion

I remember some of the pregame chatter driving to Shea Stadium from Huntington, Long Island, on the night of Oct. 25, 1986. It was me and my dad, one of my best buds and his dad, all riding in together. Being neighbors it made sense to car-pool, plus this would give us a chance to collectively rev up, theorize, geek out with stats, and predict the in-game moves of both managers. 

“It usually comes down to how the pitching is handled,” I recall my dad saying. The game we were headed to was the one we Mets fans refer to only as Game 6, no need for any further exposition. Just say “Game 6” and everyone knows what that means. 

The series versus Boston had been a mighty struggle up to that point, the Mets down 3-2 in games with the Red Sox having their ace, the barrel-chested chin-music-maestro Roger Clemens, going for them. This was an elimination game, lose and it’s over. For the first time that whole season we all felt truly vulnerable because, let’s face it, we rooted for a bully of a team, almost the baseball version of the ’77 Raiders. 

Much has been written about that aspect of the team, so I don’t have to do it here, but it’s important to remember that these ne’er-do-wells, despite their infamous behavior, also won 108 ballgames, kicked everyone’s ass all season long, and, in our minds, were supposed to win it all. The Red Sox had other ideas.

With both our dads being age-old Brooklyn Dodgers fans, the conversation on the L.I.E. soon veered to the heartbreak that goes along with losing a World Series. “I remember a lotta long and bitter winters as a kid, right, Jack?” my dad said to my friend’s dad, who was driving. 

“Oh yeah, most of the time at the hands of the Yankees, which made it even more bitter,” Jack concurred, “but the worst one didn’t even happen in the World Series.” My friend John, knowing our fathers, then interjected, “Think we’re gonna get a ‘shot heard round the world’ story here.”

“Everyone remembers where they were for that one. Remember where you were for the Thomson home run, Bob?” he innocently asked my dad. 

“Do I? One of the worst nights of my life. I was in the Navy, on watch duty, laying in a hammock listening to the game on Armed Forces Radio. The groan I let out made half the whales in the Atlantic surface.” 

Jack laughed, “Yeah, you’ll never see anything like that again.” As we know now the night was young . . .

They kept riffing about different series losses, and finally I said, “You won it all in ’55, beating the Yankees, even. How come I never hear any of you guys talking about that?” 

They answered at the same time, “It wasn’t enough.” 

I think that’s how most Mets fans of a certain age feel about the ’86 team, that they should’ve gone on to win more championships, maybe even successively as the star-studded Oakland A’s, the Cincinnati Reds Big Red Machine, or the Yankees Bronx Zoo teams of the 1970s had done. But even without multiple rings to their résumé, the story of Game 6 enshrines them in the annals of postseason baseball history, mostly because of the high drama unfurled in that rollicking 10th inning.

One could almost persuade oneself with the argument of “quality over quantity,” but I think most of us wanted a few more parades. We know Doc Gooden did. What, a couple of his teammates couldn’t have propped him up and “Weekend at Bernie’s”-ed him up through the Canyon of Heroes? C’mon, no “I” in team, fellas.

We pulled in a few minutes before the first pitch, and there’s always that excitement you get when you first see the ballpark spring up out of nowhere and into full view. No matter how old you get it never goes away, almost like it’s the first time you’ve ever laid eyes on it. 

On that night I remember all of us looking at that beautifully ugly, metallic, dark blue eyesore of a stadium, with the cheesy ’80s Lite-Brite configuration of a baseball player across the facade, and my dad saying, “There it is, gentlemen, Shea Stadium, the only ballpark in the majors in close enough proximity to be accessed by all modes of transportation: plane, train, automobile, or boat.” 

About 15 minutes later, in the top of the first inning, some nutbag parachuted in with a huge “Go Mets!” sign streaming behind him, landing just to the left of Bobby Ojeda on the pitcher’s mound. I turned to everyone and said, “Guess we can add parachute to that list.” 

If that happened today people would run screaming for the exits, setting off a stadiumwide panic. That night on the news we’d hear terms like “Homeland security breach,” everyone demanding an answer to the question “How could this happen in a metro area?” 

The way we handled it then was to chug beers out of big green Harry M. Stevens cups and have a giant laugh about it. I remember drinking really fast after that, but not out of any excitement for the moment. You had to down your beer quick with those cheap cups. If you didn’t finish it in five minutes or less the wax bottom would fall out, the cup would disintegrate in your hand, and you’d be wearing it in your lap. These were the problems we had to contend with at the ballpark back in 1986, kids, not terrorism. Didn’t have sushi either. What can I say? It was a simpler time.

A few minutes later Red Sox outfielder Dwight Evans singled in a run, helping the Red Sox jump out to an early lead. My nerves were already beginning to fray when I met the fiery nemesis that would hound me for the next 10 arduous innings.

Seated directly in front of me was this cherubic little Chucky-like demon child wearing a Clemens jersey and a Red Sox hat. Just as Boston plated that run he wheeled around with a centrifugal force, his malamute eyes ignited, his punchable, freckled little Irish face flush with a bloodlust to torment (or he might’ve had food allergies — I watched the little glutton put away three hot dogs; we didn’t know much about it then). He pointed his mustard-crusted finger at me and yelled in his thick Boston accent, “Oh yeah, Dewey! Get ready to loooooze loozas!”

His old man was a nice, mild-mannered guy who gently spun him back around. “C’mon, son, watch the game. We came all this way, now watch.”

And for the rest of the game, that’s how it went. Every time something went right for the Sox or wrong for the Mets, that budding sociopath spawn of Satan would turn around and give me the business just like that. He was about 10 years old to my 20, so I resigned myself to having patience and rising above it, but the little bastard was under my skin for sure. 

The game was low-scoring and agonizing. They had a 2-0 lead till the fifth, then we tied it. Then in the seventh Ray Knight committed an error that scored them a run, and it lingered at 3-2 for another inning and a half until Gary Carter hit a sac fly in the bottom of the eighth to tie it up again. You could feel the entire stadium exhale. Neither club scored in the ninth, and the teams were now knotted at three as we headed into extra innings. 

Sox outfielder Dave Henderson led off the 10th with a solo bomb off Rick Aguilera, and, I’m telling you, I could feel all the energy leave my body, but I was quickly reanimated with white-hot rage when devil boy spiked his nine-inning-gnawed-upon pretzel at my feet. “Yes!” he shouted. 

They tacked on another run after that, and you could hear the swipes of the ump’s brush dusting off home plate during the changeover, that’s how quiet it got. 

The Mets made two quick outs to start their half of the inning. The demon seed in front of me helped us all with the math: “That’s one! That’s two!” My blood boiled. It was also so depressing. We all thought it was over. So much so that my brother Kevin, who was sitting elsewhere at the game, actually made for the exits in an effort to escape seeing them celebrate on our field. He got as far as the turnstiles and heard a smattering of hopeful applause, just enough volume to turn him around.

That was, of course, Gary Carter’s two-out single to start the rally. And we all know by heart the sequence that followed.

With all the excitement of base hits and men being on base, I was intensely focused on the game and had momentarily forgotten all about that little Boston brat in front of me. This was it, man, our shot! I’d just gotten a fresh Harry M. Stevens beer when Mookie Wilson, on a 2-2 count, a strike away from losing the series, waved in Kevin Mitchell on a wild pitch. Game tied!

Then in the heroic rest of the at-bat by Mookie, on a 3-2 count that saw him foul off I don’t how many balls, but it seemed like a million at the time, each pitch seeming to take a thousand years, he hit a slow but deep grounder to Bill Buckner that came off the bat with some weird spinning English on it, like a cue ball. “Will Mookie beat him to the bag?” we all wondered as we held our breath. Of course, we’ll never know the answer to that question because the ball squibbed through Buckner’s legs, Ray Knight jumped on home plate, the rest of the Mets charged out from the dugout to mob him, and we won the game!

The stadium erupted in a way I’d never seen before or since (at Shea or Citi Field) — a thunderous quake that shook the entire edifice to its core and us along with it for at least 10 minutes. The sheer force of it actually felt dangerous, but nobody cared. 

I still had that beer in my hand as the celebration continued, and I thrust my arms into the air, victoriously screaming thank you to the baseball gods for sparing us. When I did that I noticed that a little bit of beer came out from the top of the cup and a drop or two landed on the little Boston boy’s head in the seat below. 

I swear to God I’m a good person normally. I’m not vengeful by nature, but in that single instant my wrist sort of involuntarily tilted and down came the entire beer over this kid’s head, completely soaking him. To this day I don’t remember making the decision to do it. What I do remember is my friend’s dad, Jack, seeing it all from a few seats away and a smile curling up on his face as he watched me struggle to feign an apology to the kid and his father. “Umm, sorry, in my celebrating I got a little careless with that beer and uh . . . so sorry.” 

Jack took my secret to the grave with him. Anytime I ever saw him after that game he’d shoot me a knowing look, but we never spoke of it. To repay his loyalty I told the story at his memorial luncheon, freeing us both, and getting a few laughs along the way.

My dad is gone now too. He and Jack are shagging flies in the sky at some heaven-made mock-up of Ebbets Field with Pee Wee, Jackie, the Duke, and all the rest of their boyhood heroes. The truth is, the Mets were a logical conclusion for them, but they never had the same ache for the team that John and I and the rest of my contemporaries have. For those guys and their generation, that piece of them remained with the Dodgers in Brooklyn. To them the Mets were just a National League team in New York that they could enjoy and take their kids to see and that weren’t the Yankees.

The last thing I remember about that night 30 years ago was how surreal it was getting in the car to go home after the game. It was the usual logjam of cars and trucks inching their way out of the parking lot, drivers leaning heavily on their horns, only this was a different kind of honking. These weren’t aggravated New York driver beeps. These were sustained honks of joy with people in their cars still cheering from the game, banging on their steering wheels. 

We settled in and, well aware we’d just witnessed history, John said, “I wonder what they’ll end up calling this one — ‘the ground ball heard round the world’?” 

Nope. We all just call it Game 6. That works.

Christopher John Campion is a singer-songwriter and the author of “Escape From Bellevue: A Dive Bar Odyssey,” published by Penguin-Gotham.