The most lasting impression about the 1986 World Series is the way nothing seemed to happen the way it was supposed to. Unlikely heroes, disappointing performances by big stars, and surprise twists are always part of the fall classic, of course, but this year's confrontation between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets produced even more than the usual quota of such occurrences.
Who could ever have predicted, for example, that superstars Roger Clemens and Dwight Gooden would combine for four starts and fail to record a single victory between them? That batting champion Wade Boggs would dazzle observers with his glove more than with his stick? Or that left-handed pitchers would win two of the three games in Fenway Park, where no southpaw had accomplished the feat in World Series play since 1918?
And these were just a few of the incongruous happenings as the teams battled back and forth, making this the 30th World Series to go the full seven games.
Probably the most surprising thing overall was the way the Mets -- whatever the eventual outcome -- never did really live up to their billing as a great team.
Through the first six games, the New Yorkers looked very shaky on defense, with every position in the infield culpable at one time or another. Second baseman Tim Teufel let a ground ball go through his legs to hand the Red Sox a 1-0 opening game win. Perennial Gold Glove first baseman Keith Hernandez botched a routine play in Game 2, opening the gates for a big inning en route to Boston's 9-3 victory. Shortstop Rafael Santana bobbled a grounder in Game 5, setting up a key run in another Red Sox triumph. And third baseman Ray Knight's wild throw in the seventh inning of Game 6 led to the unearned run that looked like the coup de gr^ace until the Boston defense returned the favor in the 10th, enabling the Mets to pull it out, 6-5, and force a seventh game.
Meanwhile the Boston defense, though it did lapse at the most crucial of all moments, looked sharper overall. The Red Sox made fewer errors through the first six games and came up with several big plays. One of the leaders in this regard was Boggs, who struggled with the bat until his stroke came around in the fifth and sixth games, but who made up for it with a Brooks Robinson impersonation at third base in the earlier contests.
The Mets did improve on the pitiful .189 team batting average they compiled in squeaking past Houston in the playoffs, but their .264 World Series average through six games was well under Boston's .279 mark.
Boston second baseman Marty Barrett, a former ``unsung hero'' who came into his own in the playoffs when he won Most Valuable Player honors, kept it up in the Series, hitting an incredible .485 through the first six games. Teammate Dave Henderson, another playoff hero, was pounding the ball at a .435 clip, including the 10th-inning home run in Game 6 that looked like the probable Series winner until the Mets came back in their half. Normally light-hitting shortstop Spike Owen was also a big problem for the Mets, hitting .353, while longtime star Jim Rice was a solid .304.
The Mets didn't have anybody as hot as Barrett or Henderson, but Wally Backman, Gary Carter, and Ray Knight were all hitting over .300. And as usual there were some big hitters on both sides who picked the wrong time to fall into slumps, including Darryl Strawberry and Keith Hernandez of New York and Bill Buckner and Rich Gedman of Boston, all of whom were hitting in the low .200s or worse.
Pitching, of course, was New York's strongest suit all year, and the Met staff did do its job overall in the Series. Even here, though, the reality failed to live up to expectations -- especially in the case of Gooden. ``Dr. K'' turned out to be little more than batting practice to the Red Sox hitters, who blasted him for 17 hits and 10 runs in 9 innings and saddled him with two losses.
Clemens, the certain American League Cy Young Award winner this year on the strength of his 24-4 regular-season record, was also ineffective in his first start, lasting only 4 innings with no decision in Boston's Game 2 victory. Rapid Roger was more himself in Game 6, holding the Mets to four hits and two runs (one earned) and striking out eight batters before leaving for a pinch-hitter after seven innings. He looked like the winning pitcher of the Series-winning game when he left, but the Met rally changed all that, and he wound up with no decision in this one, too.
With the big men thus unable to win, it was left to various lesser lights to take up the slack. Both teams have plenty of quality pitching, however, so it was not surprising that each one found its heroes in this situation.
For Boston, of course, it was veteran left-hander Bruce Hurst, who pitched eight masterful innings in which he allowed only four hits in winning the 1-0 opener, then came back to hurl a complete-game 4-2 victory in Game 5 at Fenway Park.
Ron Darling pitched two outstanding games for the Mets, losing that 1-0 opener on an unearned run, then coming back to win the key fourth game in Boston that evened the Series 2-2 at that point. Former Red Sox left-hander Bob Ojeda also turned in a pair of good efforts, beating his ex-teammates in Fenway Park in Game 3 and holding them to two runs in six innings in Game 6.