Mets Time Machine: October 15, 1986

For me, Game 6 of the 1986 National League Championship Series against the Houston Astros is at the top of the list as the most exciting Mets game in the franchise's history. Yes, even better than the miraculous World Series Game 6 triumph which would follow just 10 days later, or 1999's 15-inning classic against the Braves which ended with the "Grand-Slam Single" by Robin Ventura.

Going into Game 6 at the Astrodome, the Mets held a 3 games to 2 series lead thanks to a pair of one-run victories in the 3 games just played at Shea Stadium. Both those wins came in the Mets final time at bat and were typical of the series thus far, where 4 of the 5 games were decided by 2 runs or less. The Mets realized they could clinch the pennant with a victory in Game 6, but what turned up the pressure even higher was the realization that they had to win it on this day or they were as good as dead. That's because Houston's ace, Mike Scott, was scheduled to start a seventh and deciding game if his team could only get the series that far. Scott had already registered complete game wins in the 2 games that the Astros had taken, allowing just 1 run and 8 hits in 18 innings. The umpires were ignoring the Mets' protests about Scott and the "scuffed baseballs" that New York contended he used, to devastating effect. Whether Scott's pitches were in fact illegal or not became a moot issue. The Mets batters could scarcely touch him, Scott's mound antics were clearly inside their head, and anyone with a betting interest would give the Mets very long odds to win a deciding game against him.

For Game 6, the mound opponents were lefties Bob Knepper for Houston and Bob Ojeda for the Mets. Not only had Ojeda pitched brilliantly in his one other series start, a complete-game 5-1 win in Game 2, he had done it in the Astrodome, a tough place for the Mets to win, and was coming back with 5 full days of rest. Knepper, on the other hand, was pitching with only 3 days rest and had been no-decisioned in his previous start, a 6-5 Mets come-from-behind win. But as soon as the game began, it was Ojeda who looked tired and Knepper who was relaxed and in command. Houston struck in the very first inning for 3 runs, and Ojeda was on the ropes. However, he settled down after that and pitched scoreless ball for the next 4 innings before giving way to reliever Rick Aguilera. Knepper, though, was mowing down the Mets and stringing up goose eggs for 8 innings. Game 7 and Mike Scott were only an inning away from reality.

In the top of the ninth, with the score still at 3-0 and Knepper still on the mound, the Mets caught a big break. Lenny Dykstra led off as a pinch hitter and lofted a long, very high fly to center field that should have been the first out. Only center fielder Billy Hatcher couldn't find the ball in the lights, and by the time it bounced off the warning track and was thrown in, Dykstra was on third with a stand-up triple. Mookie Wilson then was jammed with an inside pitch but managed to send a flare just beyond the outstretched glove of second baseman Bill Doran, scoring Dykstra. Two batters and one pitching change later, the always-clutch Keith Hernandez drilled an opposite-field double off the wall, scoring Wilson and closing the gap to 3-2. Then, with one out and Hernandez on third, Ray Knight came through with a long fly ball to right which allowed Hernandez to tag up and score the tying run. After 8 fruitless innings, the Mets had somehow come back and forced extra innings in their last chance.

In the extra session, Mets bullpen specialist Roger McDowell provided outstanding long relief for 5 innings, holding Houston scoreless while the Mets offense tried and failed to break through against reliever Larry Andersen. Then, in the top of the 14th, Wally Backman singled home the go-ahead run, making the score 4-3 Mets. Jesse Orosco came in to close out the Astros in the bottom half of the inning, but Billy Hatcher negated that with a golf shot down the left field line that struck high off the screen attached to the foul pole. Home run. 4-4 game.

On to the 16th went the marathon. In their half of the inning, the Mets raked reliever Aurelio Lopez for 3 runs and a commanding 7-4 lead. With Orosco still on the mound, the Astros would not go quietly in the bottom half. They scored two to close to 7-6 and had the tying and winning runs on base with 2 out. With all of New York on the edge of its seat, Orosco then struck out Kevin Bass to send the Mets on to their first World Series in 13 years.

Over the ensuing years, I've talked to many people who recall this game. Most notable, however, are those who said they were not baseball fans yet couldn't tear themselves away from this one. For my part, I can't recall any images of the game because I never saw it. The game was played on a Wednesday afternoon, and like many thousands of other fans, I was stuck at work. Just as I was set to leave for the day, and knowing that the Mets were about to lose, they staged their incredible 9th inning rally. A colleague with a radio invited me to listen to the comeback, and there we sat for the next 2-1/2 hours, not daring to leave as day turned into night and Bob Murphy and Gary Thorne held me captive right up until Kevin Bass swung and missed.

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