In a spring without baseball, it was once again the bottom of the 10th of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series for Keith Hernandez on Wednesday morning. The Red Sox led the Mets, who’d won 108 games during the regular season, 3-2 in the Fall Classic, and they were ahead 5-3 in the 10th at Shea Stadium when Hernandez, the leader of his team, made the second out on a fly ball to center that looked a lot more promising when it came off his bat.
“Didn’t hit it great. Good, but not on the fat. Knew as soon as I hit it that I didn’t get it,” Hernandez said. “And then I did something I never do. I’d always trot off the field, no matter what the situation. I hated to walk off. But this time I walked. I was pissed because I hadn’t gotten a hit. And more pissed that because of some glitch, they’d just flashed ‘Congratulations Boston Red Sox, 1986 World Champs’ on the scoreboard.
“I’ve always wondered, if some computer at the time had thrown up some odds on us winning that game at that moment, down two runs and down to our last out, what the odds actually would have been. They would have been infinitesimal, I’ll tell you that. But that’s the beauty of baseball.
“I decided as I was walking off that I didn’t want to see Boston have their fun on our field.”
Hernandez walked down the runway and into the Mets' clubhouse. Manager Davey Johnson’s office was just to the left as you came through the clubhouse door. Then you walked maybe 20 or 30 feet and Hernandez’s locker was the first on your left. He sat down. There was always a cold beer in a bucket waiting for Hernandez when the game ended. He opened a beer and lit a cigarette.
“All I could think was that we’d won 108 and we were about to go home,” Hernandez said.
Kevin Mitchell was at his locker, too, when Hernandez got down there, with Gary Carter at the plate.
“Urban legend had it that Kevin didn’t have his uniform pants on. Not true,” Hernandez said. “Then suddenly they were yelling for him to get out there, because he was pinch-hitting if Gary got on, which Gary was about to do. Hell, when I think back, Kevin was as big a story that night as anybody. Run back to the dugout, grab a bat, grab his helmet and boom, get a hit.”
Hernandez got up then, beer in hand, and walked back up to Davey's office. Darrell Johnson, a former Red Sox manager who was the Mets' No. 1 advance scout at the time, was already in there, watching the game on television. So was Jay Horwitz, the Mets' public relations man. Hernandez sat down in a chair across from Davey’s desk and looked at the screen in the corner.
“Now Ray [Knight] gets a hit and knocks in Gary, and it’s a one-run game,” Hernandez said. “Where we are is right underneath the box seats on the first-base side. And if Shea was ever put to a test structurally, that was the time. We could feel the place shaking, like an earthquake. Little did we know we hadn’t heard, or felt, anything yet.
“Then came the wild pitch from Bob Stanley to Mookie [Wilson] that was like a gift from God. And just like that, the game was tied. The three of us in Davey’s office are jumping up and down like we’re on the pitcher’s mound and we’ve just won the World Series, even though all we’ve done is tie the game.
“Then I made Darrell sit back down in his chair and I sat down in mine, and I told Jay to go back to where he was standing next to Davey’s desk. I couldn’t speak for the rest of them, but by now I was convinced there were hits in my chair.”
Then Hernandez was talking about Mookie Wilson, and remembering a time after the 1983 season when there started to be some talk the Mets might trade the outfielder. Hernandez, who’d only just been traded to the Mets on June 15, 1983, came out in the papers and said the club couldn’t trade Wilson.
“When I was with the Cardinals, he was someone on the Mets we admired and respected, because even when the Mets were lousy, even when they were 20 games out, he was playing his ass off,” Hernandez said. “And I’ve said this for over 30 years and will say it again: If anybody else on our team had hit that ball to [Bill] Buckner, I believe we would have gone to extra innings, and who knows what happens? But it was Mookie, and he busted it out of the blocks. And I will always believe that he put the pressure on Bill Buckner because of his hustle. It looked like a routine ball when he hit it. But he made it something else. But that was who he was.”
The Mets had pulled off what Hernandez called, “the greatest single-game comeback in World Series history.” The bottom of the 10th of Game 6 became one of the iconic moments in New York and baseball history. There would be a rainout the next night, then they would win the World Series on Monday night.
“I could’ve ran back up the runway and out on the field to celebrate,” Hernandez said. “But in that moment, I feel as if I didn’t deserve it. All this time later it’s something I’m not proud of, going back to the clubhouse. I should’ve been on the bench.”
There was a pause and then Hernandez said, “But to this day, I still think that chair had hits in it.”