Save the best for last? Not exactly.
With the exceptions of its inaugural edition in 1903 and a three-year stretch from 1919-21, when it was a nine-game battle, the World Series has been a best-of-seven affair. Yet, it hasn't necessarily been the winner-take-all seventh game that has provided the most lasting thrills over the years. Very often, it has been the penultimate contest that has delivered the most thrilling, controversial and heartbreaking moments in baseball history.
Perhaps the allure of the sixth game of the World Series is that in many cases the victorious team does not earn a champagne soaked celebration. They earn survival, a stay of execution. As most fans watching the Fall Classic are not tied by province or profession to either of the teams involved, the eventual celebration of the title is where we exit. But an underdog avoiding elimination? That is something that resonates with everyone -- except, of course, fans of the team holding that 3-games-to-2 lead entering Game 6.
When comparing Kirby Puckett's joyful jaunt around the bases after carrying the Minnesota Twins to a seventh game in 1991 with Joe Carter's raucous, leaping circuit in Toronto the following year when he wrapped up the Series, it's hard to tell if actually winning is any less cathartic than avoiding defeat. Certainly, the immediate reactions of the Mets after Game 7 of the 1986 World Series were hardly more visceral than the way they reacted when Ray Knight scored to cap their stunning comeback in Game 6. And, is there any doubt that the defining moment of the '75 Series is Carlton Fisk waving that ball fair in Game 6? That the Reds eventually defeated Fisk's Red Sox in Game 7 seems somewhat of a footnote.
Perhaps the drama of the Game 6 is partially derived from the different stakes for each side: One team has a mangy desperation about them while the other has champagne on ice in the clubhouse. If a Series lasts seven games then both sides are experiencing the same tension, and, no matter what happens, the evening will end with a trophy presentation. Game 6 brings the thrill of not knowing. It always bears the potential for a comeback as well as a fall from grace.
As the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers get set for Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, we can look back 25 years to arguably the most famous Game 6 in the history of the World Series. It's the silver anniversary of the gold standard for baseball blunders.
Twenty-five years ago, that ball got by Buckner and the Mets won Game 6 of that '86 World Series at Shea Stadium. The veteran first baseman had been unable to make a play that he had made countless times and the Mets scored a walk-off win. Moments earlier, the Red Sox had been one out from a celebration long in the making.
For Buckner, the error erased so many accomplishments. He had won a batting title and received MVP votes at the conclusion of several seasons. He was likely never a Hall of Famer but he'd been good enough for long enough that he'd garner a few votes and maybe hang around on the ballot for a few years. But after that E3, it seemed that Vin Scully's iconic call of that play provided the soundtrack to every ensuing scene in Buckner's life. Nevermind that there is a very, very compelling case to be made that the turning point to the game had already taken place when Bob Stanley's errant pitch -- somehow avoided by Mookie Wilson -- got by the Boston backstop, enabling the tying run to score. The lead had been squandered and the game was tied.
"When that wild pitch almost hit Mookie and the tying run scored? It was over, recalls Mets manager Davey Johnson. "That was the game right there, no doubt in anybody's mind in a Met uniform."
Of course, fans throughout New England didn't hold the battery of Stanley and Rich Gedman responsible for the loss. Nor was it pitcher Calvin Schiradli, who allowed three straight hits before Stanley came in to face Wilson.
It was Buckner. It was Game 6.
From that ball that got by Buckner and Puckett's Series-extending homer for the Twins in 1991 to Fisk's arm-waving fair ball at Fenway in 1975, here are some of the most memorable Game 6s in the venerable history of the Fall Classic.