It is fortunate for the citizens of Red Sox Nation that there is a day off between games 5 and 6 of the World Series. They can savor the moment and look ahead to Wednesday night with anticipation. They can also think about what it means to play game 6 in the World Series, and if they have memories, they can reflect.
As it stands now, the Red Sox hold a three-to-two-game advantage over the St. Louis Cardinals, which means that on Wednesday in game 6, they could win the World Series championship. This would come a year after one of the worst seasons in Red Sox history when they finished in last place amid an atmosphere of disappointment and ill feeling.
Now they are poised to cap a remarkable comeback with the ultimate prize. Poised, but not guaranteed. Memory plays a more important role in baseball than in any other sport. And as fans contemplate game 6 tonight, they may be contending in their memories with another game 6. It happened in 1986.
The magic of baseball is that anything can happen. This was a lesson that the Red Sox demonstrated again and again this year, as they did in game 2 of the playoffs against the Detroit Tigers when David Ortiz hit a grand slam against all odds to create a tie late in the game. That feat was matched in improbable fashion in game 6 of the playoffs when Shane Victorino (the Flyin’ Hawaiian) hit a grand slam to guarantee a win against a dispirited Tiger team (the Rhode Island college student who grabbed the ball in the Monster seats will auction it off for between $50,000 and $100,000).
The Series with St. Louis has been characterized by improbable events, such as the two games that the Red Sox lost after throwing the ball away at third base, including the play where third baseman Will Middlebrooks was called for obstruction. But the Cardinals made their own improbable mistakes, as when pinch runner Kolgen Wong (the non-Flyin’ Hawaiian) was picked off first with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to secure game 4 for the Red Sox.
Anything can happen, and now comes game 6, which is a unique pivot in the sequence of Series games. After five games, if the Series is not over, one team always has three wins and so is positioned to win it all in game 6. If said team blows it, the momentum may unstoppably shift to the other team for game 7. Thus, the sorry history of 1986 will shadow any game 6 that the Red Sox will ever play.
That was the game in which the Red Sox took a 5-3 lead over the Mets in the top of the 10th. In the bottom of the 10th, the Mets made two quick outs, then the following events unfolded with the inexorable logic of a timeless sports tragedy: a single by Gary Carter; a single by Kevin Mitchell; a single on an 0-2 count (the Sox one strike away from a World Series victory) by Ray Knight, scoring Carter, sending Mitchell to third; wild pitch thrown to Mookie Wilson by reliever Bob Stanley, who had replaced reliever Calvin Schiraldi, scoring Mitchell from third, sending Knight to second. Then on a 3-2 pitch, Mookie hit the ground ball that found its way between the legs of Bill Buckner, scoring Knight from second.
Thus, the Mets won game 6, and it seemed inevitable that the Red Sox would lose game 7, which they did. The game 6 loss had broken the heart of Red Sox Nation.
The joyous journey of the feel-good Sox of 2013 has not been accompanied by the angst and gnashing of teeth that prevailed in past seasons — the Curse has long been banished. But as Sox fans relish the improbable events of all those heroic homers and Koji strikeouts, they know deep in their hearts that victories gained are all the sweeter because, if anything is possible, that means bad things are possible, too.
This is the first World Series game 6 that the Red Sox have played since that other game 6. Bring it on.
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