As part of the Astros' 50th anniversary, the weekly "Game to Remember" series features a former Astros/Colt .45s great discussing his favorite game while playing for the Houston franchise. This week: Billy Hatcher.
Billy Hatcher could have wound up bunting, which meant one of the most memorable home runs in Astros history almost never happened. The Astrodome almost didn't rock that October afternoon, and Hatcher almost didn't go down in Houston baseball lore.
The Astros were trailing the Mets by one run in the 14th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 National League Championship Series and were three outs from elimination. Bill Doran was leading off the bottom of the inning against Jesse Orosco, and Astros manager Hal Lanier told Hatcher -- who was on deck -- to be prepared to bunt if Doran reached.
Doran struck out, leaving Hatcher to swing away. As he strolled to the plate, with tension filling the air, Hatcher heard a voice.
Game to Remember
Billy Hatcher: Facts and Figures
1. Full name: William Augustus Hatcher.
2. Game to Remember: Oct. 15, 1986 (Mets 7, Astros 6).
3. Nickname: None.
4. Jersey number: 22.
5. Primary Position: CF.
6. Bats/Throws: Right/Right.
7. Born: Oct. 4, 1960.
8. Birthplace: Williams, Ariz.
9. Major League debut: Sept. 10, 1984.
10. Years in Major Leagues: 12.
11. Years with Houston: 4 (1986-89).
12. Other teams: Cubs (1984-85), Pirates (1989), Reds (1990-92), Red Sox (1992-94), Phillies (1994), Rangers (1995).
14. Claim to fame: His game-tying homer in the 14th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS was one of the biggest homers in Astros history.
15. Did you know? Hatcher hit .750 (9-for-12) in the 1990 World Series for the Reds in a sweep over the A's.
16. What's he doing now? Hatcher is the first-base coach for the Reds.
"Right beside the dugout, there was this lady that with was a little girl," Hatcher said. "I can't remember how old she was, but she said, 'It's all right, Billy's going to hit a home run.'
"I remember her saying that, and then when I hit the home run, I was running around the bases saying, 'She knew this was going to happen before it happened.' It was unreal. It was an out-of-body experience."
Hatcher, of course, hit a towering fly ball down the left-field line that struck the foul pole, tying the game and sending a crowd of 45,718 fans on Oct. 15, 1986, into a frenzy. It was probably the biggest homer in Astros history before the team's runs through the playoffs in 2004 and '05.
"It was unreal," Hatcher said. "Looking back on it, I was running around the bases and it was so loud you couldn't hear yourself think. It was that loud. I don't think my feet hit the ground. It was a special moment."
The Astros were back in the game, though not for long. The Mets scored three times in the 16th to take a 7-4 lead and held off the Astros in the bottom of the inning -- Hatcher had an RBI single -- to win, 7-6, and advance to the World Series.
The game capped what was considered one of the greatest playoff series in history, one in which eventual NL Cy Young Award winner Mike Scott was named Most Valuable Player after beating the Mets twice. He was scheduled to go in Game 7.
"We should have won [Game 6]," Hatcher said. "It wasn't just that one game; I think it was the whole series. That was probably one of the best series in baseball, ever. Both teams left everything they had out on the field. There was no second-guessing anything that you did because you left everything you had out there on the field. I was two good teams going at each other, and they ended up being World [Series] champions."
Hatcher arrived in Houston the previous offseason and hadn't done much to gain recognition. He had plenty of speed and a little pop, and wound up wriggling his way into the starting lineup for much of the second half of the year. He batted .258 with six homers, 36 RBIs and 38 steals that season.
But his dramatic homer made him a household name in Houston.
"I had stolen some bases [three] in that series," Hatcher said. "They couldn't throw me out. I was trying to get on base [in the 14th], and Jesse Orosco threw me a pitch inside, where I like the ball, and I hit it pretty good. I never tried to hit a home run. Whether it was a base hit or a double, I was trying to hit the ball hard and run."
The clip of Hatcher's home run was featured in a video montage played at Minute Maid Park this season in honor of the team's 50th anniversary, and Hatcher said it's not uncommon for people to still ask him about the home more than 25 years later.
"It's a cool thing," he said. "That was a special time for me, a special moment. When I start thinking about that '86 team, I'm still friends with a lot of those guys. I won a World Series with Cincinnati in 1990 when I got traded, and that was special for me. But I never played with a group of players that went out every single day and played hard liked that. It was every day.
"That was a great bunch of guys. They gave their all every single day. You could come into our clubhouse on any given day and not know if we won or lost because we were so even-keeled. We were the same all the time."
Except that one moment in the 14th inning, when Hatcher was on top of the world.