October 26

This Day in History

Sports

Oct 26, 1986:

Buckner lets ground ball roll through his legs

In the wee hours of the morning on October 26, 1986, Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner lets an easy ground ball dribble between his legs and roll down the right-field line. It was just a routine fielding error, but it was a disaster for the Boston Red Sox: It was the 10th inning of the sixth game of the World Series; the game was tied; and, thanks to Buckner’s mistake, the runner on third had time to score, winning the game for the Mets and forcing a tiebreaking seventh—which, in the final innings, the Mets also won. Even though Game 6 was tied because Boston’s pitchers couldn’t hold a two-run, two-out lead, and even though the Sox managed to fritter away a three-run lead in Game 7, people still blame Buckner for losing the championship. "I can’t remember the last time I missed a ball like that," he said, "but I’ll remember this one."

Ever since team owner and Broadway producer Harry Frazee sold the great Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920, the Sox had been tragically unable to win the World Series. People said that the team was cursed. Before 1920, the Sox had won five championships; after the Babe left, Boston’s well ran dry. Over and over, the hapless Sox almost won—and over and over, they didn’t. In 1946, they were winning Game 7 with two outs in the eighth—until shortstop Johnny Pesky held onto a relay throw just long enough for Enos Slaughter to score the winning run (from first base). They lost in 1967 and 1975. Three years after that, in a one-game playoff for the AL championship, they lost when Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent, not exactly a reliable slugger, cranked one over the Green Monster with two men on base. The Bombers won the game and went on to win their 22nd World Series.

And then, just one out away from the championship in the sixth game of the 1986 series against the Mets, the Sox defense managed to bungle a series of easy plays so badly that they lost the game. At the bottom of the 10th, Boston had a 5-3 lead. Pitcher Calvin Schiraldi retired the first two Mets who came to the plate. But then Gary Carter hit a single; so did Kevin Mitchell; and then Ray Knight did, too. The score was 5-4. Bob Stanley came in from the Red Sox bullpen and immediately fired off a wild pitch. Mitchell scored, and the game was tied. Then outfielder Mookie Wilson stepped to the plate. On the 10th pitch of the at-bat, after he’d knocked six pitches foul, Wilson poked a ground ball right to Buckner at first. Buckner bent to field the ball, but it bounced right over his glove and kept rolling down the right-field line. Knight headed gleefully for home. The Mets had won.

Two nights later, the Sox weren’t any luckier: They were winning 3-0 until the sixth, when the Mets tied the game. In the seventh, New York scored three more runs. With that, the Mets were the champs. The Curse of the Bambino, it seemed, would never die.

Buckner tried to stay in Boston, but fans heaped so much abuse on him and his family that he decided to move to Idaho. The Sox, meanwhile, won the World Series in 2004 and again in 2007.

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