The Haunting of Game 6

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November 16, 2013 by NowhereButPop

By Andrew Doscas

Game seven of a baseball playoff series.  I needn’t say more.  It’s the culmination of the entire season; everything that happened prior to that game seven means absolutely nothing.  All that matters is what transpires over the next nine innings.

Game sevens have proved to be some of the most exciting games in MLB history; look no further than game seven of the 1960, 1991, 1997, and 2001 World Series.  You already know what makes game seven so interesting, so I needn’t elucidate.  But for some reason game sixes have always been the most exciting and inexplicable.  If game sevens are reserved for the magical moments like Mazeroski’s home run, or Jack Morris’ ten inning complete game shutout, then game six is reserved for the eerie and indefinable.  It’s in game six that you’ll find the “what the fuck” moment of a seven game series.

Since 2008, I’ve lived with the belief that game six is even more important than game seven.  My fascination with game sixes comes from the fact that game six is a naturally more desperate and pressure packed scenario than game seven is.  In the final game of the LCS or the World Series, both teams are tied, three games a piece.  The teams are on equal footing, where one play or one mistake will make the difference between championship or defeat.  There’s an equal amount placed on both teams to win because they have the exact same things to gain or to lose.

By contrast, game six is the last gamble by the team trailing in the series to even it up and force a winner take all final game.  The team leading the series is pressured to eliminate their opponent as soon as possible, while the team trailing is in a more desperate and precarious situation as they must win two games in a row instead of only one.  But for some reason, crazy shit’s happened in game six of a seven game series.  The 1985 World Series, the 1986 World Series, 2002 World Series, and 2011 World Series are all memorable for a specific moment that radically changed the course of the series.  And guess what?  They all happened in game six.

Game six of the 1985 World Series is the most famous example of a blown call by the umpire, because it was: a) a blatantly bad call, and b) it literally cost the Cardinals the World Series.  First base umpire Don Denkinger calls leadoff man, Jorge Orta, safe at first in the top of bottom of the ninth inning with the Royals down 1-0 in the game, and 3-2 in the series.  Replays from every angle possible shows that Orta was clearly out at first base, but Denkinger saw differently.  What exactly he saw I don’t know, but it wasn’t what everyone else had seen.  Sure enough, the Royals go on to win that game and the next one to win the series.[1]  All the momentum that the Royals would need came from that one blown call, and that one blown call that changed the fate of the series came in game six.

Fast forward one year, almost to the exact day of game six of the 1985 World Series, and something so tremendous and unfathomable happened in game six of the 1986 World Series between the Mets and the Red Sox, that it has become one of, if not the most indelible image of the World Series.  The culmination of that series came in the bottom of the 10th inning of game six when Red Sox first baseman, Bill Buckner, let a routine groundball roll right between his legs, allowing the winning run to cross the plate to set up a sudden death game seven.  What most people don’t realize though is that even if Buckner had made the play, all it would have done was send the game into the 11th inning; by that point the score was tied after Bob Stanley threw a wild pitch which allowed the tying run to score.  Sure enough, the Mets carry that momentum over to game seven two days later and win the World Series.

Down 5-0 with eight outs left until elimination, the Angels staged an uncanny and improbable comeback to force a game seven.  The rally monkey in conjunction with several bad pitching changes by Giants manager Dusty Baker allowed the Angels to take the lead with consecutive three run innings in the 7th and 8th innings.  I don’t know if the Angels unlikely comeback was because of timely clutch hitting or just a bullpen implosion at the worst possible moment.  But, in their quest to even the series up at three games a piece, the Angels broke the record for largest deficit overcome in an elimination game in the World Series.

Even recently, the mystique of game six lives on as the 2011 World Series has shown us.  I still can’t wrap my head around what exactly happened, even though I know exactly what happened.  With the Rangers up by two runs in the bottom of the 9th winning, and one strike away from their first world championship, David Freese comes out of nowhere and smashes a game tying triple to send the game into extra innings.  In the bottom of the 10th down by one, and down to their last strike Lance Berkman hit a game tying single to send the game into the 11th inning where David Freese comes up to bat and hits the game winning home run.  As you can guess, St. Louis goes on to win the seventh game as well.

From blown calls, to disastrous blunders, to improbable comebacks, to impossible resilience, these are just a few of the most memorable game six moments of the postseason.  Other examples include Carlton Fisk’s iconic game six home run in the 1975 World Series, Kirby Puckett’s home run in the 1991 World Series, and the Steve Bartman incident in the 2003 NLCS.  Across the board it seems that there’s something mystical about game six that can somehow change the course of a series so late in its development.  It’s strange that so many unforgettable moments in MLB postseason occurred at similar points.  This is either intrinsically connected or completely dissociative.

[1] Incidentally enough Denkinger served as home plate umpire in game seven and gave the Royals a very generous strike zone, en route to an 11-0 thrashing of the Cardinals.


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