It's when so many big World Series moments have occurred
By Richard Justice
KANSAS CITY -- It's the game that has given us so many of our iconic images and unforgettable memories. It gave us Reggie Jackson's finest hour. It gave us defining moments for the Angels and Cardinals, among others. Carlton Fisk used it to leap joyously into history, forever young.
Through the years, Game 6 of the World Series has had an almost mystical ability to thrill us and chill us and etch itself into our hearts and minds. Now we've got another, coming up tonight at Kauffman Stadium (FOX, 7:30 p.m. ET air time/8:07 game time).
Somehow it feels right that a baseball season that has already given us so much could be about to deliver again. The Giants are one victory from winning their third World Series in five years. Meanwhile, the Royals will fight and scratch and claw to stay alive.
With so much on the line, with the Giants leading 3-2 and the Royals back in front of their roaring crowd, it's a moment for heroes to be born, hearts broken, careers validated, franchises celebrated. All in a single game.
By its nature, Game 6 is built around tension and expectation, and it tests players in ways they're seldom tested in the course of a season that usually carries the promise of tomorrow.
Before the Royals and Giants get it going again, let's pause to remember some of those Game 6's that live on.
Let's begin with a little something for the Royals -- Game 6 of the 1985 World Series.
That one returned to Kansas City with the St. Louis Cardinals, like the Giants of 2014, needing one victory. Before the craziness at the end, there was pitching, great pitching.
Danny Cox of the Cardinals and Charlie Leibrandt of the Royals threw zeroes on the scoreboard for seven innings. Leibrandt retired 15 straight Cardinals to open the game and entered the eighth having allowed just two singles.
Cox matched him inning for inning. Finally, in the top of the eighth inning, the Cardinals broke through with a single by Brian Harper that scored Terry Pendleton.
When the Royals came to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Cardinals were three outs away from winning the World Series. And then, the moment happened that fans of both franchises will remember. In St. Louis, it will forever be known simply as "Denkinger."
That would be umpire Don Denkinger, who missed a call that opened the floodgates for the Royals. It happened when Jorge Orta bounced a roller toward first base, and Jack Clark fielded the ball and tossed it to Cardinals closer Todd Worrell.
Replays showed Orta was out by a foot. Denkinger ruled him safe.
Now some context.
In the years since that play, Cardinals fans have conveniently remembered it as the one that cost them the World Series. That simply isn't true.
Orta represented one baserunner, and while he was the tying run, he could not have won the World Series.
Less remembered is that the Cardinals came undone. Clark was unable to catch a foul pop in front of the first-base dugout. A passed ball scooted away from Cardinals catcher Darrell Porter. And the Royals delivered.
With the bases loaded and one out, Dane Iorg's single to right scored two runs and gave the Royals a 2-1 victory. The Cardinals barely showed up for Game 7, losing 11-0.
And that's just one year.
Ten years earlier, in 1975, the Reds and Red Sox played a Game 6 for the ages, a game that lasted for 12 innings and went 4 hours, 1 minute.
It was a heavyweight fight. The Red Sox, one game from elimination, led 3-0. The Reds led 6-3. The Red Sox tied it in the eighth on a three-run pinch homer by Bernie Carbo to force extra innings.
When Pete Rose stepped to the plate in the 11th inning, he leaned over to Fisk and said, "This is some game, isn't it?"
Even then, he knew.
Finally, in the bottom of the 12th, it ended with Fisk hitting a fly ball down the left-field line, a ball that hooked teasingly toward the foul pole at Fenway Park.
Fisk started out of the batter's box and then turned to watch the ball. As it curved toward the foul pole, he began to leap and wave, urging it to stay fair.
And the Red Sox had won, 7-6.
Upstairs, the Boston Globe's Peter Gammons typed words that 39 years later hang on the wall at Fenway Park:
And all of a sudden the ball was there, like the Mystic River Bridge, suspended out in the black of the morning.
When it finally crashed off the mesh attached to the left-field foul pole, one step after another the reaction unfurled: from Carlton Fisk's convulsive leap to John Kiley's booming of the "Hallelujah Chorus'' to the wearing off of numbness to the outcry that echoed across the cold New England morning.
At 12:34 a.m., in the 12th inning, Fisk's histrionic home run brought a 7-6 end to a game that will be the pride of historians in the year 2525, a game won and lost what seemed like a dozen times, and a game that brings back summertime one more day. For the seventh game of the World Series.
Takes your breath away, doesn't it?
Two years later, Game 6 delivered yet again when Reggie Jackson homered in the fourth, fifth and eighth innings to lead the Yankees to a clinching 8-4 Game 6 victory. His first one turned a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 lead. And then he kept going, getting one off Elias Sosa in the fifth and a third off Charlie Hough in the eighth. Thirty-seven years later, it sometimes seems as though three million Yankees fans were at that game.
Billy Buckner? Yeah, his moment of infamy occurred in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.
That ball getting beneath his glove helped the Mets rally to win Game 6, and then like the Cardinals in 1985, the Red Sox couldn't recover, losing Game 7, 8-5.
Twins fans have their own Game 6 moment. Kirby Puckett ended Game 6 of the 1991 World Series with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the 11th inning to set the stage for one of the great pitching performances ever -- a 10-inning, 126-pitch complete-game shutout of the Braves by Jack Morris in a 1-0 Game 7.
In 1993, the Phillies, trailing three games to two, had rallied from a 5-1 deficit to take a 6-5 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 6.
Joe Carter stepped to the plate with two runners on base and one out. And he launched the fifth pitch from reliever Mitch Williams toward left field, a breathtaking shot that ended the World Series and sent Carter sprinting and leaping and screaming around the bases. That image of Carter celebrating was displayed around Canada for years and still lives in the hearts of Blue Jays fans.
The Angels, one game from elimination, found some magic of their own in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series in rallying from a 5-0 deficit to win 6-5. For the Angels, the lingering memory will be of Giants manager Dusty Baker removing starter Russ Ortiz from the game in the seventh inning and handing him the ball as a keepsake.
The Angels saw what Baker had done. They were infuriated, thinking the Giants were beginning to line up souvenirs before it was time. They rallied to win that game, and then Game 7 as well, 4-1, the next night.
Josh Beckett's finest hour came in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series. He was 22 years old and had started just 25 regular-season games. And he stepped on the mound at Yankee Stadium and quieted the ghosts of Ruth and Gehrig with a magnificent five-hitter as the Marlins ended the World Series with a 2-0 victory. It was the last complete-game shutout any pitcher had thrown in a World Series until Madison Bumgarner in Sunday's Game 5.
Three years ago, the Cardinals were twice one strike away from losing the World Series to the Texas Rangers. They kept Game 6 alive with a run in the bottom of the ninth and rallied again in the bottom of the 10th. Finally, David Freese ended it with a leadoff homer in the 11th.
That 4-hour, 33-minute contest was such a powerful experience that Commissioner Bud Selig called an impromptu news conference before Game 7.
"I just want to say that I'm proud to be the Commissioner that can produce a game like that," he said.
There you go. Game 6 has done this kind of thing again and again through the years. So here we go -- another Game 6, perhaps another moment to remember.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.