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Didja Ever Notice: Where It All Began

I haven't written one of these essays, devoted to Game 6 of the 1986 World Series in quite some time, partly due to the many stories I've already penned on that game, and partly because I've found the conjuring of trivia quizzes to be more entertaining and less time-consuming.

I was in the midst of preparing another trivia quiz when I came upon a piece of information that just had to be shared. I'm a little puzzled that I hadn't previously read about it, so if someone is aware of a source for more information on this matter, please share it.

September 21, 1969, is a significant day in Mets history in a rather peripheral sort of way, far beyond the Mets recording a doubleheader sweep against the Pirates, three days before clinching the NL East. It marks the major-league debut of one William Joseph Buckner for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The action for that day took place in San Francisco, appropros for the moment since the teams of those two cities meet this week (albeit not in SF), and it even involves a fellow named Bonds, whose name apparently has been in the news recently for other reasons.

This was an important game for both teams because the NL West, as it is presently, was a 3-team race at the time, with the Giants and Braves battling for the top spot, while trying to nudge off the Dodgers. Los Angeles was one game off the pace in the loss column so this marked a pivotal contest in the divisional race.

Hall of Famers Jim Bunning (yes, he was a Dodger) and Gaylord Perry were the opposing moundsmen in this contest and the host Giants snatched a quick 2-0 lead by the end of the first. Willie McCovey brought home a run with a single and Bobby Bonds (perhaps with his son watching?) drove home another with a groundout.

The game became a pitchers duel with both men up to the challenge. The Dodgers scored once in the second, than neither team tallied again until the Dodgers got even in the 7th when Willie Crawford tripled, and scored on a bad relay throw by shortstop Hal Lanier (the future Astros manager).

This was the point at which the game turned into a see-saw. The Giants scored in the 7th on a wild pitch (one you'll appreciate more in a few paragraphs) to go ahead and then the Dodgers tied it in the 8th on a home run by Willie Davis.

Buckner's chance came in the top of the 9th, with the score still tied. Dodgers manager Walter Alston gave the rookie a chance to be a pinch-hitting hero with two on and one out, but Perry managed to induce Buckner into popping out to second, then escaped when Maury Wills grounded out. Buckner's day was done at that point, as there was no need to bring him into the game for defense or anything of that sort. His appearance was brief and he probably didn't realize then how the events of the day would foreshadow an important moment in his career (and no, we're not talking about his climb of the left field fence in pursuit of Hank Aaron's 715th home run, another topic we should touch on soon). It was Buckner's only appearance that 1969 season, one remembered by many as a magical campaign. He'd have to wait a bit for his career to take off.

This game went 10 innings and the ending is such that it leapt off the page and grabbed us. With two outs and nobody on base, McCovey came to the plate against reliever Pete Mikkelsen. McCovey was 4-for-4 already with a walk and Alston must have been quite fearful that the game could end with one swing, for he ordered an intentional walk (McCovey's 44th of the season).

That strategy did not work out well at all. Whatever control Mikkelsen had disappeared as he walked both Bonds and Ken Henderson. That meant, with the bases loaded and two outs, continuing the game came down to whether or not Mikkelesen could get Jim Davenport out.

Now consider all that has happened in this game that bears resemblance to October 25, 1986. Forget the odd managerial strategy, that it featured a Henderson, that a centerfield-playing teammate of Buckner's hit a home run, or that the Giants scored their next-to-last run on a wild pitch. That all pales in comparison to the way this contest concluded, in a manner that produced a rather devastating defeat . I excerpt from Bill Becker's story appearing in the New York Times the following day:

"The usually reliable Maury Wills let a grounder go through his legs..."

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