Knight forever in Mets lore after heroics in 1986 title run

November 2nd, 2023

NEW YORK -- Former Major League third baseman Ray Knight played two-plus seasons for the Mets from 1984-86. But it was his final season in New York that made him a legendary figure.

“I like it because we were World [Series] champions,” Knight said. “My most memorable event was the World Series, playing well and us winning it.”

Knight was an integral part of the 1986 Mets team that defeated the Red Sox in the Fall Classic. It was Games 6 and 7, in which he went a combined 5-for-8 with one homer and three RBIs, that earned him MVP honors.

It was Oct. 25. Boston was already up, 3-2, in the series and needed one more victory to win its first World Series title since 1918. At first, it looked like Knight was going to be one of the goats of Game 6. His throwing error in the seventh inning helped Boston score one of its five runs.

But baseball is a game of redeeming features. It was the 10th inning. The Mets were down, 5-3, and one out away from losing the series. But New York had its own core four -- Knight, Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell and Mookie Wilson -- who had other ideas.

With closer Calvin Schiraldi on the mound for Boston, Carter kept the inning alive with a single to left field. Mitchell, who came in as a pinch-hitter for right-hander Rick Aguilera, followed and singled to center field to put runners on first and second.

Knight followed, but before he stepped into the batter’s box, he looked up into the stands and noticed that his then-wife, golf legend Nancy Lopez, was crying. She obviously thought there was a possibility that Knight was going to make the final out of the series.

“It looked like she was scared to death, and I put my hand up and I said, ‘I’m OK. I got it. I’m all right,’” Knight said. “... Not to lessen the situation, I was calm. I wanted an at-bat. That’s what it was about with me. I loved the challenge.”

Knight was behind in the count, 0-2, but he blooped a single to center field, scoring Carter to make it a one-run game and moving Mitchell to third. Red Sox manager John McNamara made a pitching change and gave the ball to Bob Stanley, who proved to be no better than Schiraldi.

Wilson was in the batter’s box when Mitchell scored on a wild pitch to tie the score at 5. Wilson was the sixth hitter in the inning. He worked the count full and then hit a slow roller that went through Bill Buckner’s legs at first base, allowing Knight to score the winning run and tie the series at 3.

As his team piled on him after scoring the winning run, Knight felt a shocking sensation in his lower back, and it appeared he was about to collapse once he sat down in the dugout.

“I thought I messed something up,” Knight said. “When they grabbed me at home plate and had me contorted in so many different ways, I was hurting. So I made it to the bench, and I’m slumping down, and [then third-base coach] Buddy Harrelson came to me and asked, ‘Buddy, what’s wrong?’ I said, ‘Buddy, I messed my back up.'"

Knight’s back turned out to be OK by Game 7 two days later. New York won the game, 8-5, and the title with Knight highlighting the scoring with a homer that gave New York a 4-3 lead in the seventh inning.

After taking a curtain call, Knight then blew a kiss to Lopez. He credits Lopez for his success in 1986. According to Knight, Lopez always brought a positive attitude to the table. He was coming off his worst season in the big leagues in 1985, hitting .218, and found himself platooning at third base with Howard Johnson.

“Nancy was a great professional, winner and very positive,” Knight said. “We talked and supported each other during our marriage. We had a talk that night [before the season] and she said to me, ‘You make this season whatever it is. You worked hard.’ She saw how hard I worked for that winter.”

The platoon between Knight and Johnson was over by April 25. By then, Knight had a .394 batting average with six home runs. Manager Davey Johnson told him he would be the everyday third baseman. By the time the season ended, Knight had compiled a .298 average with 11 home runs and 76 RBIs.

“I wasn’t going to end my career with two bad years in New York City. I was going to win that job from Howard Johnson. I had to think that way,” Knight said.

Knight was also known as one of the tough guys on the team. His most famous brawl came against the Reds on July 22 at Riverfront Stadium. Cincinnati outfielder Eric Davis was pinch-running for Pete Rose in the 10th inning. With Eddie Milner at the plate, Davis stole third base and bumped into Knight.

After a few shoves, Knight punched Davis in the face and both benches emptied.

Thirty-seven years later, Knight has regret in his voice. It should be noted that Knight and Davis later became friends, with Knight managing Davis when both were with the Reds 10 years later.

“I thought the world of Eric Davis,” Knight said. “[The fight in ‘86] was a weird deal that night. He called me a name. It wasn’t the contact, because it wasn’t that much contact. He felt that I was leaning on him. I don’t know. It was just the course of the game.

“I took it as if he was mad at me or something and he said these words to me. I look him in the eye, and I’ve been in enough tussles that you feel like you know when somebody is going to unload on you. So, I unloaded on him first.

"I regretted it. I don't want to fight and do all of that. But I will -- probably not anymore. It was never a thought process; it was just a reaction. I talked to my father [Charlie] about it. He told me it was all about my competitiveness and my desire to win. Certainly, to stand my ground.”

After the World Series ended, Knight wanted to retire as a member of the Mets, but he was offered a one-year deal with a $5,000 raise. Instead, he became a free agent and signed with the Orioles.

Knight’s playing career ended after the 1988 season. It was a 13-year career that included stints with the Reds, Astros, Orioles and Tigers. He later became a coach and manager with the Reds and worked in broadcasting with ESPN and the Nationals.

Knight is now retired and living in Georgia. But it’s his time with the Mets that made him an unforgettable figure with the fans.

"There are no fans greater [than New York]. They really recognize their players,” Knight said. “You can walk into any restaurant in downtown Manhattan and they know who you are. They feel like they are a part of you. They come up and they talk to you. They show great respect.”