Now this, you see, would be a real World Series, a classic dustup between the game's old-guard Eastern Establishment cities, Boston and New York, the Athens and Sparta of baseball. It would be a traditionalists' delight—two teams shuttling up and down a historic shoreline, calling up memories of a bygone time when there were only 16 big league teams and St. Louis was considered the last outpost of the Western frontier. These games would be classics, for certain. Just contemplate what the alternative could have been. If both the Red Sox and the Mets had not rallied from impending disaster in the league playoffs, this World Series would have been played indoors in one Western town and virtually on the premises of Disneyland in the other Western town. But no, now for the first time since 1912, teams named New York and Boston would be settling up the world championship.
That's the way the big picture looked, anyway. In actual fact, the first two games last weekend, both of which went to the Red Sox, scarcely qualified as classics. The first was won on an egregious error and the second was a flat-out 9-3 rout. And the atmosphere in Shea Stadium, far from recalling simpler times, made the games played in Anaheim and in the Astrodome seem models of good taste and forbearance in comparison. Shea, though it does have elements of prefabricated antiquity (narrow passageways, bad views) is, at age 22, scarcely a relic from the Golden Age of ballparks, as Fenway Park, the Red Sox' home, assuredly is.
Shea's obtrusive message board is a case in point. Assuming the ignorance or insensitivity of Mets spectators, it reminds them to clap hands (electronic hands appear in demonstration) and entertains them with cartoons, advertisements and public-service messages—"Don't use alcohol as an excuse to be a jerk." And when things are really heating up on the field it suggests in bold letters splashed across a fiery background, HOW 'BOUT SOME NOISE. In the event some innocent from the hinterlands should be uncertain of his whereabouts, the sound system between innings will set him straight by thundering every tune ever written with the words "New York, New York" in them.
On the field itself, the Mets themselves exhibited obvious signs of the wear and tear the heartstopping playoff series with Houston visited upon them. On Tuesday, they survived a two-hit, 12-strikeout masterwork by Nolan Ryan for nine innings and then beat the old strikeout king's successor, Charlie Kerfeld, on Gary Carter's run-scoring single in the 12th. Final score: 2-1. That was a throbber, all right, but it was tame beside Wednesday's pennant clincher, in which the Mets rallied for three runs in the ninth to tie the score 3-3, and then labored on to win it 7-6 in a hectic 16th inning. This was the longest of all postseason games—4 hours, 42 minutes—and possibly the most exciting, surpassing even the twin thrillers played by the Angels and Sox the previous weekend.
The Red Sox, for their part, fairly sailed into the Series on Tuesday and Wednesday with 10-4 and 8-1 wins. And yet, trailing California three games to one, they were only one out from extinction in Game 5 before they rallied in the ninth on a homer by Dave Henderson and won it in the 11th on a Henderson sacrifice fly. That game, in an amazing playoff week, proved cathartic and, coupled with the easy wins in the last two games, gave the Sox a decided psychological edge when the Series began. "Right now this team is playing looser than it has played all season," said Boston's gritty second baseman, Marty Barrett. "It all goes back to that Game 5. We should've been outta there, but that one put us on the gravy train and we've been on it since. We just weren't afraid of what could happen after that game. Now our attitude is 'Let's just go out there and have some fun.' "
But the Mets may have started Series play emotionally drained. There was a "letdown," admitted sometime third baseman Howard Johnson. "That was just an emotional series. We're still trying to recharge." The Red Sox also had the added incentive of being a decided underdog—11 to 5 were the odds in some quarters, said to be the highest price since the 1950 Phillie Whiz Kids faced the Yankees. In batting practice before Game 1, Spike Owen chattered away to Wade Boggs as the Red Sox took their cuts. "Trouble in paradise, baby," said shortstop Owen, "trouble in Metland."
Physically, the Mets were better off than the Sox. Tom Seaver, the future Hall of Famer, could not pitch and Bill Buckner, who drove in 102 runs this season, had a strained Achilles tendon. He started the Series wearing specially made hightop shoes that were reminiscent of footwear once favored by the likes of Johnny Unitas and William Howard Taft. Buckner played the first two games hobbling across the Shea infield as if barefoot on a bed of hot coals. Don Baylor, the Bosox' spiritual leader and slugging designated hitter (31 home runs), missed both New York games, not because of injury but on technical grounds. The DH this year can play only in the American League park, yet another peculiar accommodation the commissioner's office has made with the dilemma of different rules in the two leagues. Baylor sat on the bench in both games, although there were opportunities for him to pinch-hit. Sox manager Johnny McNamara elected, however, to use in Baylor's stead the lefthanded-hitting rookie, Mike Greenwell, decisions that could easily have redounded to Mac's disfavor.
What this Series did figure to be was a pitcher's Series, and that it definitely was in Game 1, when the Mets' Ron Darling and Red Sox lefty Bruce Hurst hooked up. Darling, though he won 15 games during the season, was nevertheless a hard-luck pitcher, which is not an easy thing to be on a ballclub that wins 108 games. He had 13 no-decisions, and from mid-September until the end of the season, he was involved in two 1-0 games, both of which New York lost. That's exactly what he lost by on Saturday in the Series opener. Darling, who pitched masterfully, was finally undone when Tim Teufel, who plays second base for New York against lefthanders, let Rich Gedman's ground ball roll between his legs into rightfield in the seventh inning, allowing Jim Rice to score from second base. Darling had walked Rice and then wild-pitched him to second, from where Rice easily beat Darryl Strawberry's throw home for the game's only run.
Nevertheless, there was a collision at the plate, not between runner and catcher this time, but between Darling, rushing to back up his catcher, Gary Carter, and Henderson, the on-deck hitter, who was hurrying with equal purpose to give Rice the signal to slide. It was one of the most bizarre accidents in Series history, involving as it did two merely peripheral participants in a play at the plate. And nobody but Darling and Henderson seemed to have seen it. Fortunately, neither player was hurt much beyond personal embarrassment.
Teufel's error reminded Mets fans of the similar gaffe second baseman Felix Millan made in the opening game of the 1973 World Series against Oakland. That error, also between Millan's legs, gave the A's a 2-1 victory in a Series they went on to win. After Saturday's game, Teufel fielded questions about the ball that went through his legs much better than the ball itself. "The focal point in this game is the error," said Teufel. "I feel bad for Ron Darling. He's from the Boston area, and if I could take the loss for him, I would. I'm going to take a nice, long, 35-minute ride home and let it settle. I don't think my new little son is going to disown me." Neither did Teufel's manager, Davey Johnson. "The error didn't beat us," said Johnson. "What beat us was not scoring any runs."
Hurst held the Mets, who batted only .189 in the Houston playoffs, to just four hits and struck out eight in his eight innings. He set Strawberry down on three straight curveballs in the sixth with nobody out and two runners on, the Mets' slugger standing there transfixed with his bat on his shoulder, a posture he would resume the following night with two men aboard in the fifth inning against Sox reliever Steve Crawford. Hurst, an unassuming man mistakenly thought by some in the Boston hierarchy to be too timid for the rigors of big league pitching, revealed after this signal triumph that he is yet another disciple of the split-fingered fastball guru, Roger Craig. Another of his pupils, Houston's Mike Scott, bedeviled the Mets in the NLCS. The irony is that Craig is an original Met.
Hurst, curiously enough, learned the pitch from Craig in 1984 when the present San Francisco manager was still employed in the American League as the Detroit pitching coach—unprecedented generosity to an opponent. The split-finger, or forkball, as Hurst prefers to call it, gave the Boston pitcher a third pitch to go with his good fastball and sweeping curve. And his split-finger has been especially effective against righthanders. Six times this past season, opposing AL teams have loaded their batting order with nine righthanders, and six times the Sox won, Hurst gaining credit for four of the wins.
Hurst is also a player with a sense of history. When he was asked after his World Series-opening win if he knew who the last Red Sox pitcher was to throw a 1-0 shutout in the first game of a Series (in 1918), he replied without pause, "Babe Ruth. He holds all of our Series records." Presumably, Hurst also knew that 1918 was the last year the Sox won a Series. The 1-0 game was the 20th such score in Series history, the fifth to open a Series and the first since Jack Billingham of Cincinnati beat the A's in 1972.
Hurst didn't get a complete-game shutout only because McNamara lifted him in the top of the ninth for Greenwell with the bases loaded. Greenwell is a low-ball hitter and Mets reliever Roger McDowell is a sinkerball pitcher, McNamara explained, and besides, Hurst had thrown 133 pitches and, batting for the first time in Lord knows when, he had thrice struck out in the game. "I knew where my neck was," said McNamara. "And my body might have been in the Charles River." Greenwell flied out to end the inning, so that part of the gamble failed. But Calvin Schiraldi, Boston's late-inning stopper since the middle of July, closed out the ninth inning, although he needed a fine force play on a sacrifice attempt by first baseman Dave Stapleton to bail him out after Strawberry walked. The save came at the right time for Schiraldi, who was one of the players traded by the Mets to the Sox last winter for Bob Ojeda, an 18-game winner this year. "I knew," said Schiraldi, "that eventually the trade would be good for the Red Sox." Like Hurst, Schiraldi was once accused of lacking intestinal fortitude.
Schiraldi also got some help in the ninth from Owen, his old Texas Long-horn teammate. After he walked Strawberry, Owen went to the mound and told the pitcher, "You've been here before, Nibbler. Just go get it." The nickname Nibbler dates back to Schiraldi's days as a starter, when he tried to be too fine with his pitches. Now that he's the short man, Schiraldi just rears back and fires, and the results have been sensational.
Owen and Schiraldi and Roger Clemens go back a ways. Four years ago they all played for Texas in the College World Series; Owen was a junior who had just been drafted in the first round by Seattle, while the two pitchers were sophomores. Right after the Longhorns were eliminated, Schiraldi and Clemens were saying goodbye to Owen in the parking lot of Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha. "We knew we had played our last game with Spike," Clemens recalls. "I had tears in my eyes because he was our leader and we thought we would never play together again." The next year Texas did win the College World Series behind Clemens and Schiraldi, and the two were drafted by Boston and New York, respectively. It took some strange twists of fate, the trade with the Mets last November and a trade with Seattle in August, to bring them back together for the World Series.
A minicontroversy arose in the ninth inning of Game 1 when Dwight Evans was thrown out at the plate by leftfielder Kevin Mitchell. Evans was trying to score from second on a Henderson single past third baseman Ray Knight, but later he said he was tripped rounding third by Knight, who was lying on the ground after diving for the ball. "I stepped on his leg and lost a step," said Evans. "It so happened Mitchell threw the ball well. I was frustrated by Knight, but the umpire didn't see it. There was nothing I could do. I don't know if it was an ethical play, but it worked and nobody saw it so it was a smart play. I'd do the same thing in his spot." Knight said, "If I did trip him, it was unintentional. I thought I felt him step on my leg, but I didn't do anything like that on purpose. I'm not that smart."
Darling versus Hurst had been a proper duel, but Sunday's "dream" matchup between wonder pitchers Dwight Gooden of New York and Clemens of Boston promised to be one of the best in World Series history. Instead, it was one of the worst. "We thought after last night, this would really be a low-scoring game," said Boston's Wade Boggs, who hit two doubles and made three brilliant fielding plays in the game, "but we got 18 hits, so I guess we blew that theory." Clemens, a 24-game winner, did not last the fifth inning, having given up three runs on five hits and four walks. Gooden, the inimitable Dr. K, was gone by the sixth, after allowing six runs and eight hits. Gooden, who had a 1.06 ERA in the playoffs, probably shouldn't have been out there that long, but Johnson let him hit in the fourth inning, with the Mets trailing 4-2 and with two runners on base. In the fifth, Gooden gave up a titanic two-run homer to Evans, onto the awning above the auxiliary press box in the leftfield bleachers, that iced the game for Boston.
Gooden seemed so uncertain to Barrett that "he was almost like a hitter who steps out of the box, trying to think what to do next." The Red Sox may have unnerved Gooden a little in the second inning when they asked umpire Jim Evans to examine his glove hand. It seems that he had a bandage on his middle finger because of a cut, and the Red Sox thought Dr. K was doctoring the ball when he rubbed it up with both hands. But Evans found no sandpaper or foreign substance, although Gooden did have to remove the tape.
Clemens, said his catcher, Gedman, "was just a little run-down. He pitched a lot of innings [22⅖ in the playoffs] in a short time." Said Clemens, "I still felt I could get people out, but I'm not going to jeopardize a lead." Teammate Evans observed, "It takes so much to get here, that by the time you do, you have some tired arms—on both sides."
The Mets seemed to be wielding some awfully tired bats, as well. In an effort to resuscitate his lineup, Johnson had started lefthanded hitter Danny Heep in left in place of Mookie Wilson and switch-hitter Howard Johnson at third instead of Knight. The lineup changes irked Knight, to say the least. "I don't think I'm the cause of our not hitting," said Knight, "and I don't think I'm the one who should sit." Heep and Johnson were a combined 0 for 6, although they both hit what might have been home runs had it not been for the swirling winds in right that dropped the balls in Evans's glove. Evans had a busy night in right, and he made a sensational diving catch in the fifth on Lenny Dykstra's leadoff drive in the right centerfield gap that might possibly have changed the whole character of the game.
If the pitching was a surprise, so was the play peerless first baseman Keith Hernandez made in the third inning to open the door for the Red Sox. Owen had walked to lead off the inning, bringing Clemens to the plate for the first time in his major league career. He laid down a bunt toward first and Hernandez hopped on it. But he rushed the throw to second for the force, and the ball landed far short of the bag, bouncing off shortstop Rafael Santana's leg. "I got to the ball all right, but it stuck in my glove," said Hernandez. "Then I threw a palmball to Rafael as good as the one [Bob] Stanley threw to me later in the game. There was no way he could handle it."
Boggs then hit a double inside the left-field line, and Barrett and Buckner followed with run-scoring singles. Henderson, emerging as a postseason star for his hitting and centerfielding, hit a solo homer in the fourth. Then in the fifth, after Rice led off with a single, Evans jumped on Gooden's first pitch for the two-run homer that put the game away. "You know what?" said Evans. "That ball is a single at Fenway. It hits the wall and bounces off." The Red Sox, who eased the traffic congestion at Shea Stadium by sending thousands of fans home early, got their 18 hits off five Mets pitchers.
Then there was Boggs's Brooks Robinson imitation. Boggs, who once had the reputation of being a mediocre third baseman, has worked hard over the years to improve his fielding and the payoff came in the third inning of Game 2. He made a nice play on a bunt by Dykstra for the first out, fielded a hard grounder off the leg of Clemens by Hernandez for the second out and then dived for a shot by Carter between short and third, coming up with the ball and throwing him out for out No. 3. Later, in the sixth, Boggs went to his right and backhanded the ball on a short hop to rob Santana of an extra-base hit. "I haven't been hitting the ball well," said Boggs, "so I have to contribute in other ways. The way I can do that is with the glove."
Before the Series started, Carter said that the Mets were hoping to force Boston to use its middle relief, generally regarded as less than middling. But Crawford, who got the win, and Stanley shut the Mets out after the fifth. In the eighth, Stanley fooled Hernandez badly with his palmball and struck out Carter looking—and then swearing at umpire Evans—with a slider on the outside corner. Stanley, a whipping boy all season for Boston fans, could look forward to a few cheers upon his return.
The Red Sox, buoyant to begin with, left town feeling heady but wary. Kansas City lost the first two games at home last year and still won the Series, the first team ever to overcome that formidable handicap. The Mets, spent though they appeared and hitting nothing, were oddly undiscouraged. "We play better when we're mad," said second baseman Wally Backman, "and now we're really bleeped off." Maybe the Green Monster at old Fenway would revive those tired bats. One thing, as Knight sagely observed, was certain, no matter how you looked at it: "Our backs are to the wall."