Images of the 2011 World Series are still fresh in baseball fans' minds. A seven-game tilt between the champion St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers has already been proclaimed as one of the best Fall Classics in recent memory.
Yet while baseball celebrated that electric matchup, the sport also remembered this past October as the 25th anniversary of perhaps the most memorable World Series in the modern history of the game: the 1986 showdown between the champion New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox.
On Wednesday night, MLB Network presented a two-hour look at the 1986 Series, featuring a panel of important faces from that Fall Classic: Red Sox starter Bruce Hurst, closer Calvin Schiraldi and manager John McNamara, with a quick appearance from Roger Clemens, plus Mets center fielder Mookie Wilson, first baseman Keith Hernandez and other cameos.
The guests outlined all of the twists and turns that made for such a compelling matchup, but they also revealed a few new details and opinions about pivotal moments that had previously been left in the tunnels of Shea Stadium.
The most significant detail focused on the longtime question and debate regarding why McNamara removed Clemens from Game 6. McNamara recalled that after the seventh inning, Clemens stepped into the dugout and told his skipper, "That's all I can pitch." McNamara asserted that Clemens, who had thrown 117 pitches to that point, was pulled from the game with a 3-2 lead because of a cut on his finger. Clemens, the 1986 American League Cy Young Award winner and AL Most Valuable Player, acknowledged a problem with his finger, but flatly denied the quote.
"I think I was getting ready to hit, and McNamara pinch-hit Mike Greenwell for me. I don't know why he would say something like that. My recollection was that I was at the bat rack, getting ready to go hit," Clemens told Bob Costas. "I've pitched 100-pitch games, 150-pitch games. I don't know where that came from. It was a little problem with my finger. There was blood on the baseballs, but it wasn't going to affect me to continue."
McNamara stood by his side of the story and rejected his former ace's version.
"I don't lie. ... Those words are indelibly imprinted in my mind, what he said," McNamara said. "He came off the mound in the bottom of the inning. We were waiting on the steps to congratulate him. He came down the steps, and he said, 'That's all I can pitch.'"
The conflicting story has long hung over in Red Sox history. Whoever's story is accurate, Hurst believed it created a rift between Clemens and McNamara.
"Something happened [in the dugout], and it severed a relationship," said Hurst.
Three innings later, the Mets staged their furious rally off Schiraldi and Bob Stanley. The comeback was carved into baseball lore when Wilson's ground ball rolled between Bill Buckner's legs, scoring Ray Knight, icing a 6-5 win for the Mets and forcing a Game 7.
History has attempted to judge McNamara for why he left the obviously hobbled Buckner in to play the field during a possible World Series-clinching scenario. McNamara coolly responded when asked about his choice of Buckner over his other option, Dave Stapleton.
"Buckner was the best first baseman I had," McNamara said. "Dave Stapleton has taken enough shots at me for why he didn't get into that ballgame. Stapleton's nickname was 'Shaky.' No, I didn't want him playing first base to end that game. It wasn't any sentimental thing for Billy Buck. He was the best first baseman I had."
However, once again, one of McNamara's former players rejected the manager's version of events.
"I never heard Stapleton was called 'Shaky.' ... He always did what he was asked to do," Hurst said.
It was in the 10th in Game 6 that Schiraldi and the Red Sox found themselves in a position the 2011 Rangers can relate to. Boston needed only one more out to clinch its first title since 1918. However, despite 16 pitches thrown with two outs in the bottom of the 10th, the final out never came. Singles from Kevin Mitchell, Gary Carter and Knight, Stanley's wild pitch and Buckner's infamous gaffe sealed the Red Sox's fate.
"I was up in the clubhouse [after his last at-bat in the 10th]," said Hernandez. "The reasoning was that I didn't want to see Boston celebrating on our field. Then all of a sudden, we're watching it on TV, and this stuff starts happening. I didn't get out of that chair."
"It was a shock. We were one out away, one strike away, and it was all gone in a flash," Hurst said. "It wasn't the end of the world for us, but we still had another game."
That final game arrived two days later on Oct. 27. The Red Sox raced to a 3-0 lead after a three-run second inning, before the Mets countered with three runs apiece in the sixth and seventh innings. Again, it was Schiraldi who was victimized in that seventh. The Red Sox cut their deficit to one run at 6-5 after 7 1/2 innings, but Darryl Strawberry's eighth-inning home run gave back the Mets their three-run cushion, ultimately leading to Jesse Orosco striking out Marty Barrett for an 8-5 victory, which clinched the Mets' second title in franchise history and ended a World Series for the ages.
"You can't come any closer to a World Series and lose than we did," Hurst said. "We were still picking the scabs from Game 6 the next spring, and it made for a real long spring in '87."
"I thought it was a phenomenal year for baseball," Wilson said. "That World Series was a big time, big stage for two teams that were struggling to regain an identity as franchises."
Jon Star is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Star. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.