Red Sox lore revolves around Game 6
Fisk's shot and Buckner's blunder dominate playoff highlights
BOSTON -- Great sports moments become embedded in your memory over time.
That's what Dick Stockton was saying on an off-day in Arizona at the start of this postseason, preparing at the time for a return to October broadcasting with TBS. With a gleam in his eye, he took himself like everyone else does to another place in time even as he was speaking, and you could practically hear the crowd.
"Calling Carlton Fisk's home run on NBC," Stockton said, when asked for his favorite postseason memory. "It was just a great moment."
He could feel the words coming out of his own mouth again for millions of TV viewers as No. 27 swung the bat in a series of frozen frames, and then kept waving those arms to the left while hopping down toward first base and then clapping with glee. He could close his eyes and hear Fenway Park's organist, John Kiley, playing "Hallelujah Chorus" again as Fisk pranced around the bases. He could even smell the rain of the Nor'easter that had soaked the Boston area, making the moment even more suspenseful.
There is something about baseball that does that to all of us -- those embedded moments that are (A) personal because you were there; (B) immortalized because you couldn't believe what you were seeing or hearing on a broadcast and then constantly reliving it through replays; and (C) storybook legends that were passed down from your elders and causing you to research and learn all about the game and its tradition.
That's the magic of baseball, and for some reason, it often seems to happen in a Game 6 involving the Boston Red Sox. Now comes the moment again, just waiting to unfold. The Indians have a 3-2 lead over the Red Sox in this American League Championship Series, but now the series comes back to Fenway at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday. It is following rain again, Curt Schilling is on the mound again, the Red Sox are trying to do the impossible again, everyone is watching again, and the yellow foul pole in left is calling one's name again, a first baseman is planning to stay down on a ground ball again, and a lifetime is left to tell the stories of what's about to happen.
"In those days, for a long time, NBC would bring in an announcer for each of the two participating teams, to go with their own announcers, Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek," recalled Stockton, the New Englander and a familiar sports voice to generations. "Marty Brennaman was the person from the Reds, and me with the Red Sox. All four of us rotated during the series, between TV and radio. They thought it would lend a flavor. That night of Game 6, it was Gowdy, Tony and me in the TV booth."
Then as now, an Ohio team was going to Boston holding a 3-2 series lead. It was Sparky Anderson's Big Red Machine from Cincinnati, and it would play in a game regarded by many people as the greatest ever played in the national pastime. Certainly it would be the most replayed one, the stuff of legends. By then, prime time sports in your living room was a fact of life, and with three TV "channels" and a public station from which to choose, it absolutely dominated American life. You had to watch.
"The meaning of it was, after several days of rain, the Reds had led, 3-2, then a Nor'easter came in, and we had to wait for days," Stockton said. "They played on a Tuesday -- October 21. I remember that. It's when I met my wife, Lesley Visser [of the Boston Globe], before that game. The weather cleared and we said, 'OK, enough of this, let's just play.'
"That was the irony. It was a game that people just wanted to get going at that point. It was: 'Let's finish this series.' It turned out to be one of the great boosting changes to baseball. The sport had been in a lull for some time. It was a reversal of fortune, that one game.
"There were so many amazing plays coming into the Fisk homer. Ed Armbrister and the interference at the plate as he tried to get out of the batter's box. Bernie Carbo's pinch-homer to force extras ... George Foster throwing out the runner at home.
"After all of that, Fisk just leads off the 12th and right away hits a shot. Line drive toward left field. It wasn't a 'back-back-back' thing. It's going to be fair or foul. If it's foul, it's a strike. If it's fair, we go to a Game 7. It hit the foul pole."
Tony Perez, the first baseman on that Big Red Machine, saw the ensuing hysteria, but all he remembers is that there was work left to be done.
"I just remember walking off the field and thinking, 'Let's get them tomorrow,'" Perez said. "Everyone remembers that game, but the next day we won the World Series, and then we won another one. There was just so much rain that series. Fisk hit the home run, but it wasn't more important than the game the next day."
Funny how things work. Dennis Eckersley was the AL Rookie Pitcher of the Year in that 1975 season, for the Indians. He was traded in 1978 to the Red Sox for four players, might have had a shot at a title that year if not for Bucky Dent, and in 1984 was shipped to the Cubs with Mike Brumley for Bill Buckner. The move helped the Cubs make their first postseason appearance that year since 1945; it brought Red Sox fans a player and a moment that would become a key part of club lore.
On Oct. 26 at Shea Stadium, the Red Sox had Roger Clemens on the mound to try and clinch their first World Series championship for the club since 1918. He was becoming known as "The Rocket" that year, striking out a record 20 in April, ultimately winning the AL MVP and Cy Young Awards, as well as a baby and a book. Leading Boston to the promised land in this game only seemed natural, but he was facing a Mets club that had won a team-record 108 games during the season.
Clemens had to be lifted in the seventh inning for Calvin Schiraldi. The Mets scored once in the bottom of the eighth, and the game went into extras. It still seemed like fate that Boston would finally win it all, once the Sox scored a pair off Rick Aguilera in the top of the 10th. But Boston unraveled in the bottom of the inning, and just as Fisk's moment is embedded in the memory, so, too, is Mookie Wilson's grounder that dribbled right through Buckner's legs at first, allowing Ray Knight to score the game-winner. New York would clinch the title a day later.
In fairness to Buckner, it must be noted that he finished his career with 2,715 hits and had the kind of Major League career any critics only could have dreamed about. And in fairness to legend, it must be noted that the "Buckner Ball" auctioned for $93,000.
"He deserves better," said Wilson, who became friends with Buckner afterwards. "He was a tremendous ballplayer who played his guts out every night. He played with injures that would have put most players on the DL. It's one of those crazy things in life that you can't explain -- a guy having a tremendously successful career, and the one bad play he makes is the one that he's remembered for."
It was a time unlike any other for many Red Sox fans. Schilling was reminded of it when he spoke with media Friday on the eve of his next big Game 6.
"One of the things I was thinking about this morning was people -- a lot of people -- were going to try to draw parallels to the things that happened in 2004, and to some degree maybe you can," Schilling said. "To each individual player, I think there's a different impact.
"What it does for me and what it did for me this morning ... I thought, 'Listen, I went out against a team, the Yankee lineup in '04, [which] was as good as offense as I've ever faced. I was basically pitching on a broken foot with a lot less stuff than I have now, and I gave up one run over seven innings. There's no excuse for me not to be able to go out tomorrow with what I have now, and if I can execute perfectly, I can pitch as good, if not better.'
"It really made it very clear, I've done a lot better in a lot worse circumstances with a lot worse stuff. So [Saturday] is going to be all about execution."
That was execution and determination back then. Of the 25 previous teams that had trailed a best-of-seven playoff series, 3-0, none ever had come back to tie it at 3-3. Boston did it that night, behind Schilling's gutsy performance. At a time when the Boston bullpen was spent -- a time of nightly five-hour thrillers into the wee hours -- the veteran righty gave the Sox seven clutch innings (four hits, one run, no walks, four strikeouts) and pitched with a bloody right sock because of sutures in his ankle.
Because of a dislocated tendon in the ankle -- which would require surgery after the postseason -- Schilling had met with Boston team doctors and had undergone a unique suturing process in which the skin around the tendon was cut and stitched tighter.
That's what you remember from that night at Yankee Stadium. That and the fact that the Red Sox won the following night to complete the greatest comeback in baseball history and ultimately sweep St. Louis to reverse the curse.
"It's probably unfair," Sox manager Terry Francona said of his confidence in Schilling. "I mean, even dating back to the sock, and remember the soap opera watching him throw in the bullpen and having the doctors and the trainers out there, and he really shouldn't have pitched. And I can't remember one moment ever thinking he wouldn't pitch, and not only that, but that he wouldn't win. And it probably wasn't fair. So I guess that kind of sums up how I feel about Schill."
This is the seventh time that the Red Sox have dropped three of the first five games in a best-of-seven or best-of-nine postseason series. In the six previous occasions, Boston is 6-0 in Game 6. Of the six series in which Boston has trailed, 3-2, the Red Sox have gone on to win three of those series. Most notably, that last one.
When Game 6 is played at home, Boston is 4-0, with victories in the 1918, 1967 and 1975 World Series as well as the 1986 ALCS against the Angels.
When you think of Game 6, maybe you think of a Red Sox game in the past. Maybe you heard about how Babe Ruth and the Red Sox won Game 6 at home in 1918, clinching a World Series that would be the team's last in almost forever.
Francona knows how big Game 6s here have been, and how big it is now.
"We need to win Game 6. We really need to win Game 6. I haven't been accused by you guys very often of being very, very intelligent, but I do know to get to Game 7, we need to win Game 6," he said amid laughter. "I will go that far."
A memory is waiting.
They might even play Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" again.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.