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Magical '86 one of baseball's best
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07/09/2004 12:00 PM ET
Magical '86 one of baseball's best
From start to finish, 1986 is year fans will not forget
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Dwight Gooden was electric in 1986, helping the Mets win a classic World Series. (AP)

Eighteen years have passed since Houston last hosted an All-Star Game, but the passage of time hasn't dimmed the memory of what a fantastic year 1986 was for baseball fans everywhere.

We've already seen signs that this year, like 1986, could be a magical year for the game. Division races are tight, fan interest is up and outstanding individual performances and milestone achievements have highlighted the first half of the 2004 season. Indeed it is hard to overlook the numerous parallels between 1986 and 2004:

  • The New York Mets won a division title in '86, and they are in contention for the NL East crown in 2004.
  • The Houston Astros had a Cy Young Award winner in '86 in Mike Scott, and might get another one in 2004 in Roger Clemens.
  • Dave Righetti set a saves record in '86, while Eric Gagne saw his end in 2004. Meanwhile, Danny Graves and Mariano Rivera quietly inch closer to their own possible saves records.
  • The Angels won the AL West in '86, and they have been on top or near the top of the division much of this season.
  • The Texas Rangers finished a surprising second in '86, and they have stunned the league by holding down first place much of 2004.
  • In 1986, Pete Rose, baseball's all-time hits leader, played his final game and retired with 4,256 hits. This season baseball has seen Clemens unretire and pass Steve Carlton for second place on the all-time strikeouts list and Ken Griffey Jr. hit his 500th career home run.
  • Clemens, who struck out 20 Seattle Mariners in a game in 1986, was an All-Star and the MVP of the game played in Houston that year. The six-time Cy Young Award winner is an All-Star this year as well.
  • Don Sutton recorded his 300th career victory in 1986. Greg Maddux is closing in on his in 2004.

    In 1986, there were many memorable once-in-a-lifetime performances, like Bob Horner's four-homer game on July 6.

    This year baseball fans saw Randy Johnson's perfect game on May 19, 2004.

    Could a truly memorable playoffs, like the ones baseball fans witnessed in 1986, be on deck for 2004?

    "That was a bittersweet playoffs for teams like (the Astros) and Boston, but it was one of those that a lot of people whose teams weren't on the heartbreak side still talk about," Houston's Hall of Fame broadcaster Milo Hamilton said of the 1986 playoffs.

    All three postseason series essentially came down to one pitch.

    "It was an incredible series, a very tough loss to swallow," said Alan Ashby, the starting catcher on the Houston team which fell in six games to the Mets in the National League Championship Series. "To get so close and to have it slip away, that was very tough to take."

    The Astros came as close as they ever have to reaching the World Series. Scott fanned 14 Mets in a 1-0 victory over Dwight Gooden in Game 1 at Houston. The Mets took the next two games, including Game 3 when Lenny Dykstra hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to win it.

    Scott won Game 4 to even the series and set the stage for two of the greatest playoff games in history.

    The two teams were tied until Gary Carter's RBI single in the 12th inning decided Game 5, 2-1, in favor of the Mets. The two teams returned to the Astrodome for Game 6.

    "Even though we were (facing elimination), we knew if we could win at home we'd have Scotty going in Game 7," Astros coach Jose Cruz, an outfielder on the '86 team, recalled. "You had to feel good about (having Scott at home in a deciding game)."

    Scott was the best pitcher in baseball that year and had used his split-finger fastball to no-hit the San Francisco Giants a few weeks earlier. The Mets could do nothing against the hard-throwing right-hander in the early part of the series. But his prowess would be wasted if Houston couldn't win Game 6.

    The Astros scored three times in the first inning and, with lefty Bob Knepper holding the New Yorkers scoreless on two hits through eight innings, the sellout crowd of 45,718 was buzzing as the ninth began.

    The Mets pushed across three runs in the ninth to tie it and there it stayed until the 14th inning when the Mets took a 4-3 lead. The Astros weren't done, however, as Billy Hatcher belted a solo home run just inside the left-field foul pole to tie the game again.

    The Mets went ahead 7-4 in the 16th inning. Houston came back with two runs in their half of the frame before Jesse Orosco struck out Kevin Bass with two on to end the game, the longest postseason game in baseball history, and the NLCS.

    The ALCS between the Angels and the Red Sox was just as incredible. The Angels led three games to one and led 5-2 in the ninth inning of Game 5. Just one out away from the World Series, things began to unravel for California.

    Boston's Don Baylor hit a two-run homer off Mike Witt to cut the lead to 5-4. Reliever Gary Lucas hit Rich Gedman with a pitch and Angels manager Gene Mauch summoned Donnie Moore from the bullpen to face Dave Henderson.

    Henderson slammed a 2-2 pitch from Moore into the seats in left for a 6-5 Boston lead. The Angels rallied to tie the game in the bottom of the inning before Boston went on to win 7-6 in 11 innings.

    Boston rolled past the Angels in Games 6 and 7 to advance to the World Series against the Mets for a Fall Classic no one who witnessed it will soon forget.

    The visiting team won each of the first four games and Boston, behind Bruce Hurst's shutout, won Game 5 at Fenway Park to take a 3-2 lead as the series returned to Shea Stadium.

    The champagne was on ice and ready to flow in the Boston clubhouse when the Red Sox took a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the tenth inning in Game 6. Boston reliever Calvin Schiraldi retired the first two Mets to bring Boston within an out of its first World Series title in 68 years.

    But then Gary Carter singled. So did Kevin Mitchell. Ray Knight followed with another base hit to plate Carter. Suddenly it was Boston 5, New York 4, with the tying run on third base.

    Bob Stanley was brought on in place of Schiraldi. Stanley's wild pitch allowed Mitchell to score the tying run. Stanley worked Mookie Wilson to a full count. Wilson then hit a roller towards first base and it looked like extra innings -- until the ball went through Bill Buckner's legs -- allowing Knight to race home with the winning run.

    "It was one of the most shocking things in my career. It felt like I wasn't even walking on the ground," Knight said. "My teammates were all over me and I felt like I was walking in heaven."

    The Mets came from behind to win Game 7, and the 1986 World Series.

    That season, from the start through the Fall Classic, proved to be one for the ages.

    Perhaps history is about to repeat itself.

    Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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