"We were a bunch of guys who were determined to try to bring a World Series to the great city of Boston," said Wade Boggs, who won the third of his five batting titles in '86, and will have his No. 26 retired at Fenway on Thursday.
In the end, determination gave way to some breakdowns in execution, and a resilient Mets' team pulled off one of the great comebacks in sports history.
"We had the feeling. One out or one strike away, whatever you want to call it," said Roger Clemens, who won the American League's Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards in '86. "We had a championship season. It was a lot of fun. It's always exciting playing when the lights are the brightest. It's very exciting as an athlete. You work hard to get to those moments of your career."
Nearly 30 players and coaches put on their white Red Sox jerseys for Wednesday's ceremony, including Clemens, Boggs, Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, Marty Barrett, Rich Gedman and Bill Buckner.
If there was one bittersweet aspect to the event, it was the fact that Dave Henderson -- who had the biggest hit of all for the '86 Red Sox in Game 5 of the ALCS at Anaheim -- died at the age of 57 in December.
Henderson's widow Nancy capped the ceremony by throwing the ceremonial first pitch to current Red Sox legend David Ortiz.
To encapsulate what a roller-coaster October '86 was for the Red Sox, consider that Henderson's homer came with the Red Sox one strike away from elimination in the ALCS in five games. And just 13 days later, Henderson went deep again in the 10th inning to put Boston on the brink of winning the World Series.
But the Mets, down by two runs with two outs and nobody on base in the bottom of the 10th inning, turned the tables on the Red Sox, who were one strike away from winning.
If Buckner's error to end Game 6 of that World Series is viewed as a symbol of infamy by some, that isn't the way any member of the 1986 Red Sox views that play or the man who made it.
"That's not one thing that you put in the time capsule. You have to throw that out of the time capsule of '86," said Boggs. "The year Billy Buck had that year, he had over 100 RBIs. If he didn't have the year he did, we would have never even made the playoffs that year."
The fans at Fenway Park gave Buckner a long and loud ovation when he returned to Boston to throw out the first pitch prior to the 2008 home opener. And on Wednesday, Buckner was in good spirits, secure with a legacy that included 2,715 career hits and plenty of respect from teammates who appreciated his ability to play hurt throughout his time in Boston.
"I think that year, beating the Angels in Game 5, that was the most exciting game I've ever been in," Buckner said. "Hendu hitting the home run, that was the magic moment of my career. It was a lot of fun. A lot of good memories."
A lot of people could learn a lesson from Buckner's perspective.
"We had a great year and came close," said Buckner. "It didn't quite happen. In sports, you've got to give credit to the other team. They hung in there. I felt like we had a good shot to win. I was as competitive as anyone as far as trying to win ballgames. I had a great September. I helped us win a lot of games to get there. That's just the way it goes."
"You can't look back and say that was a disappointing season," said Clemens. "Everybody in this room worked their tail off to try to get to that point."
Perhaps Boggs put it best.
"Thank God for 2004," he said.