Fantastic Summer [©
1988 The Eclectic Company] is the previously unpublished diary of what
turn out to be the first of six straight seasons of
covering the New York Mets as a beat reporter.
Thursday, 22 September 1988
I want to get this all down while the scent
of champagne still runs wild through my brain, before anyone else's impressions
have had the chance to override what I saw, thought, and felt tonight.
Tonight, for the fourth time in their amazing
27-season history, the New York Mets claimed the championship of the National
League's Eastern Division. After the poignant near-triumph in '85...the
unmitigated euphoria of '86...the injuries and revelations of '87...this
one takes on a character all its own. Not the effervescent Dom Perignon
of two autumns past, but a full-bodied burgundy whose very age lends a
special glow and satisfaction in a job well done. And in order to experience
that warmth, you first must have an appreciation for just how hard it is
to get there. The end justifies the means.
I'll remember this day for the rest of my
life, in details that shift into other details with the abandon of a kaleidoscope.
Sights: the determination that showed in every fibre of Ron Darling's
lithe form as he put his whole being into each pitch, and the uncharacteristic
pump of the fist as the dream of the final strikeout became a reality.
Sounds: the spontaneous roar that erupted with neither rhyme nor
reason as Gregg Jefferies came up to bat in the bottom of the fifth, an
affirmation of the crowd that this was a night to share that would not
be denied. Feelings: the chill in the autumn air, a reminder that
soon this baseball season of miracles found and dashed dreams would be
going the way of seasons past. And the presence of the wry spirit of Bobby
Ojeda filling in the gaps with an unheard joke, an unseen smile, an unfelt
The official record will show that the Mets
beat the Phillies, 3-1, in 2:33, before 45,274 fans, for the second-earliest
clinching in their history. That Ron Darling tossed a thrifty six-hitter
to win his 16th, tying a career high, and that Don Carman suffered a rare
loss to one of his favourite teams to pitch against. That no one hit a
home run, that there was no game-winning RBI, that Gary Carter tried to
steal a base, and Gregg Jefferies actually accomplished the feat.
But the official record won't
show Elsterís back-to-the-infield catch off Jeltz's ball in the fifth,
or his just-by-the-bag double down the left-field line in the bottom of
that inning. It won't point out Teufel's great pick in the sixth, or Von
Hayes' catch of Darling's last-gasp drive to the warning track in right-centre,
or Mookie's alert "steal" of home all the way from second on an infield
hit by Kevin McReynolds. And the official record can't show a New York
crowd vibrating to every pitch, culminating in a tidal wave of love as
Lance Parrish checked his swing on a 1-2 splitter, but didn't check it
quickly enough...and the mounties ringed the field, the infield set the
stage for a fusion any amoeba would envy, and the scoreboard screamed "YES!"
like an electronic Marv Albert.
Other images: Davey's locked door,
barring any intrusion...Edwin Nuñez, hiding in the corner behind
Gary Carter's locker, afraid to get his cast wet...being baptised by Barry
Lyons, doused by Dave Magadan, showered by Sasser, and soaked by Messrs
Mazzilli, Miller, and Teufel...a wave and a grin in the press box from
Raffy Santana, spending his night off with his former family and friends...a
quick hug from Gregg Jefferies, a part yet apart...Keith Hernandez savouring
the moment at his locker, like a true elder statesman...Mount Rushmore,
Kevin McReynolds, whose voice cracked with the emotion only those who don't
know him claim he doesn't have...
Roger McDowell, replete with wig and goggles,
bearing memories of Bobby O...birthday boy Wally Backman sneaking up on
Joe McIlvaine, while the latter was discussing the maintenance of one's
cool amid the madness...Sam Perlozzo, toasted beyond repair [did Sid
really tell me last Sunday that Sammy was the only serious guy on the team?]
hugging Bill Robinson while admiring the lace of my stockings...a baby
powder shower for Howie Rose, and the suggestion of a wet T-shirt contest
from a few soused southerners ...Tim McCarver holding court on a platform
And the voices:
"It was a tough summer. It seemed like we were destined to win, but...it
just wasn't exciting enough!"
"I'm glad it's over--that's all I can say...It's great...Look at the people
here...I never saw this in San Diego when we clinched. This is awesome!...I
don't want to drink none of it; I hate wine. I'm gonna spray everybody
I can get close to!"
One down, two more to go. Baseball like it
oughta be. Letís go, Mets!
"I've had a bad cold, but colds don't exist on days like this...I think
I'm gonna have to have some chicken soup on the plane...noodles and champagne!"
Roger McDowell: "The
plane flight? I don't know if it's gonna stay in one piece or it's gonna
be that Hawaiian air thing, with the convertible top. We may blow the top
on that baby! I think we're all gonna don wings and see if we can just
get the air current and go from here..."
"To see the transitions, the fans coming back, and the fact that they hadn't
won in thirteen years and to bring it back to them--that'll always be a
treasured year for me."
"The fans were awesome tonight. They lived and died on every pitch. They
let it be known that they appreciated what we had done for them this year,
and I know I speak for the majority of the players--we appreciate the fans
being as vocal as they are...I think they deserve it as much as we do."
"The fans here just deserve everything they get. They're a great bunch
of people, and I'm glad we can win it for 'em."
know, those fans are awesome! The first inning, two strikes, they're up!
It's something that we've become accustomed to, and we love it--and hopefully,
it'll never change."
"As an executive, each day is a challenge. There's always crises, and we
have to maintain our composure through a lot of different things. This
is just another one...[after getting nailed by champagne] That's what we're
here for...thank you very much, Wally Backman!"
"I tell you what: if you can keep these guys intact for another four, five
years--I definitely feel you're gonna see another championship. If not
next year, the year after next...They're young veterans...I see a definite
dynasty here, and I'd like to be around for another couple of years to
can't project something like that; you can't look into the future...It's
never gonna be a cakewalk, ever again."
#1, it really is...I'm just glad I'm a little part of it...I've only been
here a month. They went through the grueling hours, the hot days
and the cold days. It's theirs...I'm just glad they let me in on it."
[Gregg Jefferies] my homie, he's my project...Lou Brock told me when I
was younger, 'Let the bat do the talkin' for you.'"
one better than you are, dude!"
"Like Keith said, Mookie was the big turning point for us...he just made
things happen for us."
struggled for two months, and we could have had our confidence shook, we
knew in our hearts--kept telling ourselves--cream would come to the top.
I just knew it would take one person to spark the offense. Mookie did it."
"We weren't playing very well. We weren't scoring runs, and then all of
a sudden I get a start, and we start to win. So whether it's true or not,
I've enjoyed the fact that we've won while I was on the field. I had three
escape routes...I was gonna climb the centrefield wall. If it was gonna
be a fly ball to right field, I was gonna run through the bullpen. If it
was gonna be a pop-up to the infield, I was gonna run to the infield. And
if it had been to me, centrefield wall. I had three options ready to go!
Oh, yeah--I'da got past the horses...no one would be out there anyway.
I just wanted to get out of there without getting my head cut off!"
pandemonium sets in--I really didn't have any thoughts. I just didn't want
Kid [Gary Carter] to jump on me too hard...he weighs a lot!"
God bless 'em. These young men really rose to the occasion this year. I
think the toughest thing is when they predict for you to win--and then
you go out and do it...Everyone did their part...In the last three weeks,
nobody could beat us. Even when we got a run down or so, we just knew that
we were gonna come back and beat a ballclub, beat a team."
"Once it got into September, that hunger...we weren't going to be denied.
And we wanted it really bad this year. You could feel it on the bench."
the eighth inning, talking to Mel Stottlemyre, when he went out to talk
to Ronnie, he said he'd never seen more of a competitive look than Ronnie
gave him, and he said, 'I can get this guy out.' And he went out, and the
next pitch, he threw a double-play, and we were out of the inning...Mel
said that he saw that killer instinct in Ronnie's eyes."
just want to go out there--I want to be known as someone who goes out there
every fifth day and leaves his heart out on the mound...Even if I don't
have my best stuff, I think that sometimes I can put the mirror behind
me, put those mirrors out there, and somehow try to fool 'em. I did a couple
times; not as many times as I wanted to, but...it doesn't matter.
It's a great year anyway 'cause we won...I think every pitcher wants to
be out there and get hugged by 24 guys."
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