Little things - good and bad - are often magnified in World Series
The World Series with its vast media coverage has a way of spotlighting things that might go overlooked in the regular season. A mediocre hitter or journeyman pitcher gets hot at the right time, and suddenly his name is added to the list of ``little guys'' who over the years have risen to the occasion. Conversely, an established player has one bad moment and is forever remembered as a World Series ``goat.'' Who, for example, can forget the sixth game of last year's World Series? In the last of the 10th inning with the score 5-5, two out, and a man on second, Mookie Wilson of the New York Mets hit a routine ground ball to Boston first baseman Bill Buckner. It went through his legs, the Mets won 6-5, and the next night they won again to become world champions.
Everything else about Buckner, including his 2,500-plus lifetime hits, has faded into the background like the colors in a $2 sport shirt.
Future Hall of Famer Johnny Bench of the Cincinnati Reds had his most embarrassing moment in the 1972 Series against Oakland.
Bench was batting with a 3-2 count when A's manager Dick Williams came to the mound for a conference with relief ace Rollie Fingers and catcher Gene Tenace. While Williams's gestures were indicating to the world that he wanted Bench walked intentionally, his mouth was telling Fingers and Tenace to fake it.
Tenace went to his position and called for an intentional ball, then jumped back behind the plate at the last instant. Fingers threw a strike, and Bench (often referred to as one of the smartest players in baseball at the time) froze and watched it go by.
Sometimes a would-be goat gets taken off the hook by a teammate. In Game 7 in 1960, with Pittsburgh leading 9-8 in the top of the ninth, one out, and runners on first and third, Yogi Berra hit a double play ball toward first base. But instead of throwing to second base to start what would have been a 3-6-3 twin killing, the Pirates' Rocky Nelson stepped on first. Mickey Mantle, the runner on first base, sensed his opportunity, reversed direction, and dived back to the bag safely. With Nelson still holding the ball, Gil McDougald scored from third with the run that tied the game.
Had the Yankees gone on to win the game and the Series, of course, Nelson's name would have been right up there on the list of ``goats.'' But since the Pirates won out via Bill Mazeroski's game-winning homer in the last of the ninth, Rocky's blunder is rarely mentioned.
Questionable umpiring decisions in World Series play have also come in for their share of scrutiny.
One oft-remembered call occurred in the sixth inning of Game 1 in 1970. With Baltimore leading 4-3 and Cincinnati's Bernie Carbo on third base, Ty Cline hit a high chopper in front of the plate. In leaving his ball-strike position to come out and see whether the ball was fair or foul, umpire Ken Burkhart turned his back to third base. Racing in from third at the same time, Carbo somehow slid around the surprised Burkhart, was tagged by catcher Elrod Hendricks, and was called out. But replays seemed to show Hendricks making the tag with his glove while holding the ball in his other hand.
The play was critical, too, for the Orioles won the game by that same 4-3 score and went on to take the Series. Burkhart, meanwhile, has always insisted that he saw the play the way it really happened: that Hendricks did indeed tag Carbo with the ball.
Managers also sometimes wear the goat's horns. One reason the St. Louis Cardinals won the 1926 World Series from the New York Yankees was that they decided to pitch around Babe Ruth, who was walked 11 times. But when the same teams met again in 1928, St. Louis Manager Bill McKechnie changed his strategy and had his pitchers challenge Ruth. The Bambino responded magnificently, leading the Yankees to victory with three home runs, three doubles, and four singles in 16 at-bats for a .623 average that is still a World Series record.