The Red Sox are returning to Flushing

on Friday to begin a three-game series 29 years after the franchise's bitter loss to the Mets in the 1986 World Series.

In an unforgettable Series, only the Mets were left with pleasant memories. The Mets won in seven games, but as Mookie Wilson deftly said, "For all practical purposes, Game 6 was the last game."

This will be Boston's first visit to Citi Field for a regular-season game. Shea Stadium, where the teams last played in 2001, produced one of the most indelible moments in Series history. With the Red Sox poised to celebrate their first title since 1918, the Mets rallied in the 10th inning of Game 6 from two runs down -- and two outs and no one on base -- for a 6-5 victory that forced a seventh game.

Game 6 culminated with Wilson hitting a 3-and-2 pitch toward first baseman Bill Buckner. Irrepressible Mets radio broadcaster Bob Murphy painted the word picture of what came next: "And a ground ball trickling . . . It's a fair ball. It gets by Buckner! Rounding third is [Ray] Knight . . . The Mets will win the ballgame . . . They win! They win!"

Two nights later, Jesse Orosco saved Game 7 as the Mets won their second World Series. Orosco threw his glove in the air and was smothered near the mound, or as Murphy said of the pitcher, "he's somewhere at the bottom of the pile."

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Orosco, savoring that moment all these years later, said of his teammates, "It felt like they were lightweights. I didn't feel a thing. It's a memory you can't forget."

Fans will receive an Orosco bobblehead Saturday and he will sign autographs at the Mets memorabilia stand on the concourse level.

Orosco pointed out that the Mets, who were 108-54 in the regular season that year, "Were the most successful team out there that almost didn't win."

Buckner stays in the field

What erupted amid the franchise-wide pain for the Red Sox after Game 6 was a loud controversy that has persisted through the years. Should Buckner, a three-time Gold Glove winner in his career but at 36 reportedly playing with bad knees and sore ankles, have been replaced on defense by Dave Stapleton?

Mets videos

Red Sox manager John McNamara inserted Stapleton as a late-inning replacement for Buckner in Games 1, 2 and 5.

"Right now I'd do the same thing," the 83-year-old McNamara said of leaving Buckner in the game. Still, he laments the result.

"For it to be that close and see it get away, it's something I'll never forget," he said. "In this game it's never over until the final out and that proved it."

Buckner's wife, Jody, who grew up in Westbury, essentially has become her husband's defensive replacement over the years.

"Bill doesn't want to talk to [reporters]," she said from the family's home in Idaho. "It's same, same old, there's nothing left to say, we're beating a dead horse. Let it go. Just say the Buckners are alive and well. There's just nothing left to say about it. It was just a baseball game, an error in a baseball game. Life went on for the Buckners and it went on very nicely."

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Before the series, in an interview with Boston media., Buckner eerily foreshadowed the events to come.

"Dreams are that you're going to have a great series and win," he said, "and the nightmares are that you're gonna let the winning run score on a ground ball through your legs. You know, those things happen, you know, I think a lot of it is just fate."

Buckner ultimately turned his gaffe into a financial windfall, making public appearances and signing pictures of his error at autograph shows in joint appearances with Wilson.

"Well, I've taken a lot of heat over this," he told ESPN at the 25th anniversary of the '86 Series. "I might as well get something out of it. I had no idea that I'd put all my kids through college just by signing the picture."

Wilson said, "I think it was hard for Bill early on being put on the spot. It is hard for him to explain that to people who didn't want to know any better. He's made the most of it. He's weathered the storm."

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Still disappointed

Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs, who would win a World Series with the Yankees in 1996, still hasn't let go of the one that got away.

"I wanted to win a World Series in Boston," he said. "We had the team to do it. Sometimes scars heal, sometimes they don't. We were one strike away three times and then that play happened."

Tim Teufel, the Mets' current third-base coach, is the only member of the '86 Mets still in a big-league uniform with the team. His error at second base in Game 1 led to the only run in a 1-0 Red Sox victory.

"I know exactly how he feels," Teufel said of Buckner. "I know exactly what he went through. I'm sure he's moved on but it always nags at you. We've been living the other side of things, the joy of it all. For them, it's more of a splinter."

The area where Wilson's ball went under Buckner's glove is now parking lot D, located on the west side of Citi Field.

"It would be putting it mildly to say I said 'darn it,' when I first hit the ball," Wilson said. "Halfway down the line, it goes by him and you say something else. You just don't expect it to happen that way."

Game over? not quite

When Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez started the 10th inning with outs, Wilson said everyone thought the Series was over. "I remember thinking, 'We blew it,' '' he said. "They're getting ready to celebrate on our field. When you look back at the video, there was despair in the [Mets] dugout. Anybody tells you different, they're not being up front. Then Boston let us back in. And once that door was opened . . . "

Shortly after making the second out, Hernandez, saying he was angry and disappointed, retreated to the office of Davey Johnson, where he sat in the manager's chair to watch the rest on television. When the Mets started to rally, the superstitious Hernandez stayed frozen.

"I'm going to stay right here, this seat has hits on it," he said. Hernandez could hear what was going on outside. "The stadium was like a rock concert, it was rumbling like an earthquake . . . You could play that game a thousand times and the Red Sox probably are going to win 999 of them. They had a lot of history and it was right there in their grasp."

In Game 7, the Red Sox couldn't hold a 3-0 lead as the Mets came back with three runs in the sixth and seventh inning and won 8-5.

"In Game 6 we took Boston's heart," Dwight Gooden said. "I don't think they were comfortable with a 3-0 lead. We knew it was just a matter of time before we won that game. Boston was done because of what we did in Game 6."

Red Sox Game 7 starter Bruce Hurst said, "Statistically I liked our odds," after going up 2-0 in the Series. Then he grew stern, saying, "It's nauseating at this point in my life to have to relive this. It's done. It's time to graduate and move on."

If only they could. "Emptiness and great disappointment," said Joe Sambito, who played at Bethpage High School and was a Red Sox relief pitcher in '86. "The fact that I grew up in New York was just coincidental. I wasn't happy for the Mets, I was probably more sad for us."

Those who had no affiliation with the '86 Red Sox appear removed from the angst. Also, Boston won three Series since that defeat.

"A lot has changed since then," said Red Sox publicist Kevin Gregg, whose late father, Eric, was a major league umpire.

Teufel said seeing the Red Sox for three games over the weekend "makes you realize how long ago it was and how we need another one.

"We need to bring another world championship to the Mets organization."