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Curse makes dramatic return

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 26, 1999


One more out and the Curse of the Bambino would be just another myth. One more strike and the Boston Red Sox would be World Series champions.

But to those who never believed in the curse, born when Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees -- if Enos Slaughter and Bob Gibson of the Cardinals, Ed Armbrister of the Reds and, of course, Bucky Dent of the Yankees weren't sufficiently persuasive -- then Mookie Wilson and Bill Buckner surely conspired to convert even the most cynical of baseball fans.

Wilson's slow roller that skipped through Buckner's legs behind first base, ended the greatest back-from-the-brink rally in World Series history.

To Boston's fatalistic fans, a Game 7 loss and another year of frustration was merely a formality.

Slaughter's mad dash home in 1946, Gibson's three complete games in 1967, and Armbrister's uncalled interference with catcher Carlton Fisk in 1975 had derailed Red Sox runs to world championships. Dent's unlikely three-run homer off Mike Torrez in a 1978 playoff game caused as painful a loss as Boston had experienced in any post-season.

But this was Oct. 25, 1986, the Red Sox led the New York Mets three games two and owned a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the 10th inning in Game 6.

Wally Backman flied out.

Plastic sheets were in place in the Boston clubhouse to protect the players' lockers from the sprayed champagne stacked within easy reach.

Keith Hernandez flied out.

Banks of lights were in place in the Boston clubhouse to enable network television cameras to record a moment that last had happened three years before the first baseball game on radio.

For the first time since 1918, when the Babe pitched for Boston, the Red Sox were going to win the World Series.

Gary Carter singled.

So did pinch-hitter Kevin Mitchell.

Calvin Schiraldi slipped two strikes past Ray Knight. Boston was one strike away.

Knight singled. Carter scored. Mitchell went to third.

The Red Sox lead was 5-4.

Bob Stanley relieved Schiraldi.

What ensued was a 10-pitch melodrama in two acts.

Wilson fouled off a 2-and-1 pitch. Again the Red Sox were one strike from glory. Wilson fouled off the next pitch, and the pitch after that.

Stanley's seventh pitch was way inside. Had it hit Wilson, Boston's one-run lead would have remained intact, albeit with the bases loaded. But Wilson leaped, twisted and floated for an instant as the wild pitch sailed past him and deflected off catcher Rich Gedman's glove.

Mitchell came home with the tying run. Knight went to second.

Clubhouse attendants were already tearing the plastic sheets off the Boston lockers. TV crews were frantically clearing out of the Red Sox clubhouse.

Wilson fouled the eighth pitch back, and the ninth past third base, and slapped the 10th along the first-base line.

During the season, Boston manager John McNamara routinely put Dave Stapleton in as a late-inning defensive replacement for Buckner, who had played much of the season on painfully damaged legs.

Not this time. McNamara, in a sentimental gesture, wanted his veteran first baseman to enjoy being on the field when the Red Sox won the World Series. So what happened next was as much McNamara's blunder as it was Buckner's.

Wilson's grounder eluded Buckner. "I knew it was going to be a close play at first," the first baseman said, "because the guy runs so well. The ball went skip, skip, skip and didn't come up. It just missed my glove."

Knight, who had run to third, came home with the Mets' winning run.

"They ought to call the Series right now," Stapleton said in the gloom of the Boston locker room. "I don't think either team should have to lose."

Unfortunately, one did -- the Red Sox. The Mets won the World Series, rallying from Boston's early 3-0 lead to win the seventh game 8-5. Buckner, so vilified by Red Sox fans and the butt of countless jokes, eventually felt compelled to move from Boston.


-- Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

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