Anita Bonita

Fantastic Summer [© 1988 The Eclectic Company] is the previously unpublished diary of what would
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 touch.

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 centre-stage...

And the voices:

One down, two more to go. Baseball like it oughta be. Letís go, Mets!

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