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Didja ever notice: The Most Amazing Walk-Off of 1986

Continuing our series of essays tying in various aspects related to Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

We've talked in the past about the signs indicating that its your year and how so many events foreshadowed the end result for the 1986 New York Mets, but those same mysterious powers were at work for a couple of other baseball teams that season. That's what I like so much about that particular season. My fellow bloggers over at Faith and Fear in Flushing are relating, on a weekly basis, their favorite thoughts about that campaign and I encourage you to indulge them every Friday. I don't know what their topic of choice is this week, but I'm going to write about one of my favorite 1986 games, one that I've never even seen, other than in boxscore form. If you thought the Mets comeback on October 25, 1986 was improbable, fasten your seatbelts, as a wise man once said, for one that surpasses it in terms of amazingness and includes a couple of Metsian blasts from the past.

I'm referring to the 128th game of the season for the California Angels, which took place on August 29, against the Detroit Tigers and ended probably long after most New Yorkers went to bed. It took Detroit all of four batters to start what appeared to be a rout of Angels starter Kirk McCaskill. Johnny Grubb hit a three-run home run in the top of the first to give starter Frank Tanana a nice cushion. The Tigers extended what was a 3-1 edge to 5-1 when Darrell Evans went deep off McCaskill in the third.

Chuck Finley replaced McCaskill for the middle three innings and he too got rocked, allowing three runs in the fifth. The Angels got two back to make it 8-3, but Detroit responded in the seventh, as Chet Lemon hit a three-run homer off Vern Ruhle. With an 11-3 lead, Tigers manager Sparky Anderson pulled Tanana after six innings for Randy O'Neal and the Angels scored what appeared to be two meaningless runs in their half of the seventh to make it an 11-5 game. Alan Trammell homered in the top of the eighth to make it 12-5 and the score stayed that way until the last of the ninth.

Angels skipper Gene Mauch made a substitution in the top of the final inning, pulling out his best hitter, third baseman Doug Decinces (apparently eager to leave early both to rest his bad back, celebrate his birthday, and muster up enough strength to hit a walk-off home run the next day) for second-year man Jack Howell, indicating that Mauch was basically conceding at that point.

If I'm attending a game as a fan, I always approach a blowout game like this with the same thought process. Let's just get to the point where the other manager has to think about using his closer. It's a way of providing hope for the hopeless and gives me something to do while those around me are contemplating the bleakness of an ugly defeat. Most people don't like that approach, but I find it entertaining.

Dick Schofield reached on an infield single off O'Neal to start the last of the ninth. Rick Burleson lined out, but a walk and single loaded the bases with one out for Howell, who came through in timely fashion with a two-out double to right. That cut the lead to 12-7 and made Anderson nervous enough that he felt the need to bring in his closer, southpaw Willie Hernandez, who two seasons prior was so dominant that he won both the Cy Young and MVP, and was on the mound for the final out of the World Series.

On this night, Hernandez, pitching after two days of rest, was not at his finest. George Hendrick plated a run with a single to left and Bobby Grich followed with one as well, cutting the lead to 12-9 and bringing the tying run to the plate with only one out. Speedy Gary Pettis grounded into a force play for the second out. That brought up backup catcher Jerry Narron, and having already used Bob Boone, Mauch was basically stuck. If he pinch-hit for Narron, he'd have no one to catch should the game go 10 innings. However, if he let Narron bat, the chance that he'd strike out on three pitches was pretty high. So Mauch took a shot and sent up lefty Rupert Jones, even though Jones didn't hit southpaws particularly well. Remarkably, Hernandez walked Jones, loading the bases and bringing up Schofield.

Dick Schofield was the Mets starting shortstop in 1992 and to be blunt, he was a pretty pathetic batsman that season. Sure he led NL shortstops in fielding percentage, but I really can't think of any redeeming quality about him from his one Flushing campaign. If I were to rank all-time Mets shortstops, Schofield would settle in somewhere in Ross Jones territory.

Hernandez's first pitch was a strike. His second pitch was a strike. The third pitch to Schofield was a strike as well except that Schofield crushed it to left field. The ball carried and carried and carried until it was over the fence for a game-winning home run. The hit rendered Schofield practically speechless afterwards. Mauch simply told reporters they had just witnessed an all-timer of a comeback. In Japan, they call such a hit a Sayonara Slam. Here in the states, we simply say, as a wise man once did: "Amazing, amazing, amazing, amazing."

True Metfields know...Sparky Anderson was the color commentator for play-by-play man Jack Buck on the national radio broadcast of the 1986 World Series and thus was at Shea Stadium for Game 6.

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