Gary Carter sparked Game 6 rally in 1986
The Red Sox were three outs from winning the World Series as they took a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the 10th inning. Wally Backman popped out to left, then Keith Hernandez flied out to center. Two outs, none on. The angst was palatable in the Shea Stadium crowd. The 108 regular-season victories and comeback from losing the first two games of the Series only added to the gut-wrenching generational feeling of this being the Same Old Mets.
But Mets starting pitcher Bobby Ojeda noticed something as Carter left the on-deck circle as the third batter of the inning. He saw it in person and on screen many times since.
"If you watch the video with Gary walking to the plate, you see that sense of determination,'' Ojeda said recently. "I mean determination!
"When Gary went up to the plate, there was a determination in his step, in his swing. When Gary strode to that plate, he was not going to make that out. You can see in his face, Gary was like 'No, I'm not making an out. That's not happening.' "
Carter's 10 years with the Montreal Expos may have been personally satisfying, but they did not result in championships.
And The Kid loved to talk, always finding something positive to say. Hernandez, the Mets' other co-captain, wasn't the rah-rah type, operating more in the cheer-down mode. Even after their playing days were long over, Hernandez publicly scolded Carter when it appeared Carter was campaigning to replace then-Mets manager Willie Randolph. Carter apologized profusely, assuring there was no malicious intent.
It was only Kid being Kid.
"They were oil and vinegar as far as personalities,'' Ojeda said of Hernandez and Carter, "but as far as conviction for winning, they were one and the same.''
And that October night, Carter put his positivity to the ultimate test. Batting against Calvin Schiraldi, Carter fouled off the first pitch, then took the next two for balls. Carter's legacy as a Met, already established with many big hits since his arrival in 1984, would become cemented with this one line drive to left that fell for a single.
"That was the spark we needed,'' Ojeda said. "The other guys fed off it, I'll guarantee you that. You saw it in that at-bat that Gary sparked that fabulous comeback.''
Kevin Mitchell followed with a pinch-hit single. On an 0-and-2 pitch, Ray Knight singled to drive in Carter, making it 5-4 and sending Mitchell to third with the tying run. Schiraldi was replaced by Bob Stanley, who threw a wild pitch with Mookie Wilson at the plate. The score was tied.
As the baseball world knows, Wilson then hit a slow grounder to first that went between Buckner's legs. Knight scored to give the Mets the victory in Game 6, and went on to win the Series.
"Gary was the start of one of the greatest moments in baseball history,'' Backman said. "I know the determination he had in that at-bat. He was the start of something that will never be forgotten.''
Backman had affection for Carter as both followed the path of trying to become a big-league manager. "Gary had so much knowledge and wanted to give back to the game,'' Backman said. "I think he would have been a great manager."
Carter, who passed away Thursday at 57 after a 10-month battle with brain cancer, had everyday importance to the Mets, and not only with his bat. "He was a great defensive catcher," Johnson said. "He kept a book on every hitter -- in both leagues. He demanded a lot from my young pitchers and accelerated their growth. The only time he ever had a cross word was a day game after a night game and I rested him. He tried to get in the lineup. He was 'never say die, never lose hope.'
"It was very typical when he got that hit with two outs. That kind of personified Carter. What he had rubbed off on everybody else.''