Game 7, 1986: Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life

Game 7, 1986: Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life

by Ron Darling, Daniel Paisner


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New York Times Bestseller

Every little kid who's ever taken the mound in Little League dreams of someday getting the ball for Game Seven of the World Series. Ron Darling got to live that dream - only it didn't go exactly as planned. In New York Times bestselling Game 7, 1986, the award-winning baseball analyst looks back at what might have been a signature moment in his career, and reflects on the ways professional athletes must sometimes shoulder a personal disappointment as their teams find a way to win. Published to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the 1986 New York Mets championship season, Darling's book will break down one of baseball's great "forgotten" games - a game that stands as a thrilling, telling, and tantalizing exclamation point to one of the best-remembered seasons in Major League Baseball history. Working once again with New York Times best-selling collaborator Daniel Paisner, who teamed with the former All-Star pitcher on his acclaimed 2009 memoir, "The Complete Game," Darling offers a book for the thinking baseball fan, a chance to reflect on what it means to compete at the game's highest level, with everything on the line.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250118745
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 04/04/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 155,985
Product dimensions: 5.55(w) x 8.18(h) x 0.73(d)

About the Author

Ron Darling is the New York Times bestselling author of Game 7, 1986 and The Complete Game as well as an Emmy Award-winning baseball analyst for TBS, the MLB Network, SNY, and WPIX-TV. He was a starting pitcher for the New York Mets from 1983 to 1991 and the first Mets pitcher to be awarded a Gold Glove.

Daniel Paisner has collaborated with dozens of athletes and public figures on their autobiographies and memoirs, including I Feel Like Going On, with NFL great Ray Lewis; and, Chasing Perfect, with Hall of Fame basketball coach Bob Hurley.

Read an Excerpt

Game 7, 1986

Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of my Life

By Ron Darling

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2016 Ron Darling
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-7810-5



After a thrilling, sick-glorious, back-from-the-dead win like the one we'd managed in Game 6, you want to come right out and do it again the next day. You're juiced, jacked, jumping to get back out on the field, and you know the other guys are probably so derailed by their loss they won't have time to focus. They'll want to turn tail, lick their wounds, block the game from memory.

Poker players have a term for how an opponent might play after a particularly bad beat; they'll say he's "on tilt," and here we could only imagine that Bill Buckner and his Red Sox teammates were tilted and slanted so far over they might as well have been floored. Absolutely, Boston was on its heels, and we were on our toes, and it was in our interests to finish off the series as swiftly as possible.

Anyway, I wanted to get on with it. We all wanted to get on with it, I think. If it were up to me, we would have played Game 7 on Saturday night, right then and there, as soon as the ruckus died down after Game 6 and we could put that adrenaline shot of victory to good and immediate use, but that's not how the schedule was drawn. This was no sandlot affair, with the prize going to the last guys standing. No, this was the World Series — our national pastime on full and glorious display. We had to wait until the following evening to build on all that good momentum, only it started to look like the weather wouldn't cooperate and we'd have to wait longer still. Rain was in the air, in the forecast, all around. This alone wasn't a worry; as a ballplayer, rainouts and rain delays are an occupational hazard. What concerned me was how to fill the time between what just happened and what would happen next — how to get to the top of the first if the top of the first was a long way away.

We were thoroughbreds, itching to be let out of the gate, and the starting gun couldn't come soon enough. It left me thinking of that great Tom Petty line, "The waiting is the hardest part."

Looking back, and taking a solipsistic view, I have to think the waiting was especially hard on me. Admittedly, I was wired a little differently on this from every single one of my Mets teammates, from every single Mets fan, from anyone else who might have taken in all of that Game 6 excitement full-on. Me, I could only experience the dramatic ending of that game in a sidelong way. I wasn't even in the building for most of those extra innings, so I'd ridden those ups and downs at a distance. For a couple of beats in there, I was on the Grand Central Parkway, headed toward LaGuardia Airport — that's how out of touch I was with the emotions of this one game.

I suppose my absence during these late-inning heroics deserves an explanation. You see, in those days, with 50,032 fans shoehorned into Shea Stadium, it could take us up to two hours to get out of the parking lot after a close game. Our pitching coach, Mel Stottlemyre, was well aware of this and thought to use it to our advantage. Nowadays, teams might send a pitcher home early if he's due to start the next day, especially if the game is running long or headed to extra innings. On getaway days, they'll even send the next day's starter ahead before that day's game is under way. But back then this was something new — something radical, even — and on this night Mel became one of the earliest proponents of the practice when he found me with the score tied at the end of the eighth inning and told me to go home.

I wasn't expecting this.

Logistically, it made a lot of sense: beat the traffic, avoid the hassle, create this one extra edge over your opponent who might not know the chaos awaiting them outside the stadium. Personally, it left me feeling out of sorts, like I was abandoning my teammates — even though there weren't a whole lot of foreseeable scenarios that would have put me in this game, unless one of our guys got hurt on the base path and we needed a pinch runner. Still, we were down 3-2 in the series, so there was the very real possibility we could let this adrenaline shot of momentum slip away and allow these Red Sox to end our season, and if that happened I'd want to be with my teammates.

Davey Johnson was on board with this strategy — only here, headed into the ninth, our season still very much on the line, it felt a little premature. We'd just come back to tie the game at 3–3, against a shaky Calvin Schiraldi, our former Mets teammate who seemed to want to be anywhere but out there on that Shea Stadium mound at such a critical moment. Rick Aguilera, who'd done a great job for us in the series against Houston and who'd started to show the stuff that would make him one of the game's dominant closers in seasons to come, was coming in to pitch — and, hopefully, shut things down until we could push across the winning run. At least, that was Mel's game plan. Granted, it was just Aggie's second year in the bigs, but we all had a lot of confidence in him. Mel was liking our chances. He liked Aggie's arm, the energy of the crowd ... the whole deal. It felt to him like we had the game in hand, and he said as much. He walked over to where I was sitting in the dugout and said, "Get your clothes on and go home. We're gonna win this ball game."

So I did as I was told — reluctantly, but dutifully. Like I said, a part of me felt like I was abandoning my teammates. But I was feeling it, same as Mel. I was feeling it, same as the 50,032 wholehearted Mets fans jumping up and down in the stadium, willing us toward the finish line. I hurried out of my uniform and into my street clothes in the time it took for Aggie to retire the side in the top of the ninth.

Rice, Evans, Gedman. Strikeout, swinging; E6; ground ball double play. Not exactly one-two-three, but close enough.

I was in my car — a sweet 1966 Mercedes 220, English-drive convertible — pulling away from the players' parking lot as my teammates returned to the dugout. I had the top down. It was eerily quiet outside the stadium as I drove off. It felt like a ghost town a little bit — with a swirl of hot dog and pretzel wrappers instead of tumbleweeds. Between innings, there had been all kinds of ambient stadium noises seeping through the iconic open-air ramps that used to frame that old building, but by the time I'd reached the Grand Central approach, there were only the still, sweet sounds of a late-October night. The roads were empty — because of course the rest of the city was fixed on the game. The car had no radio, so I could only imagine what was going on inside the stadium.

Then, just as I was leaving the grounds, the night grew quieter still. (As if such a thing was possible!) The stadium seemed to heave — or, better, to moan. (As if this, too, was a prospect.) There was a palpable, discernible, unknowable ... something. Tough to notice, but at the same time tough to miss. If you're a lifelong sports fan, you've undoubtedly experienced a similar phenomenon. You're on your way into or out of a stadium, an arena, an athletic facility of any size or stripe, and you can tell right away that something has happened. Something big. Something of moment. Something calling to you in some way. Something that has nothing at all to do with you just yet, and yet you want in on it just the same. In baseball, you don't have to hear the crack of the bat or the roar of the crowd to know the ebb and flow of a game has turned; you can hear it in a kind of communal sigh. You can feel it in your bones. You can sense it. In triumph, the lifting of 50,032 hearts, all at once, can change the air currents in a visceral way, an exhilarating way; in despair, the soft fall of those same 50,032 hearts can suck the air from the night sky.

Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes ... there's a vibe that flows in and out of these big old ballparks that tells us right away that something's going on — better believe it! — and here it found me as I rolled onto the on-ramp, headed back to Manhattan. Somehow, with no radio, no crack of the bat, no dialing down on the din of the crowd ... I knew. Somehow, with the top down, the windows all the way open, the roads fairly empty and the concrete jungle surrounding Shea Stadium all but silent ... I knew. I felt this cosmic tap on my shoulder that seemed to say, "Not so fast, Ronnie."

* * *

The game had turned.

Just how it had turned, I had no idea — except it was a safe bet it hadn't turned in our favor. If it had, the few drivers on the road would have started honking, flashing their brights, rolling down their windows and hooting and hollering. If it had, the joyous rumble from the stadium would have found its way to me. I would have felt a tap on my shoulder of an entirely different kind. Understand, at just this moment I was already driving away from the stadium on one of those one-way entrance ramps, so there was no turning back without hopping the curb. (Not about to happen in such a classic ride!) I had no choice but to ease on to the Grand Central Parkway and double-back at the first opportunity. Mercifully, fantastically, it only took a few minutes on these deserted roads, but as I was driving it felt like the longest few minutes in recorded human history. I was desperate to know what had happened to let the air out of the stadium as I pulled away, what was happening still.

There was no radio in that sweet old car — this was back in the prehistoric information age, before smartphones. I was riding blind. Was it just that Aggie had given up a hit? Or were we now down another run (or, worse, another bunch of runs) and facing elimination? How was I to know?

What had happened, I'd soon learn, was that in the top of the tenth inning, Boston center fielder Dave Henderson led off with a home run down the left-field line. That was the first nail in the Mets' coffin. But then Rick Aguilera managed to settle, striking out shortstop Spike Owen and pitcher Calvin Schiraldi, who hit for himself despite having just pitched two tough innings.

(Looking back at this game, from the perspective of a baseball analyst, I've always wondered about this decision by Boston manager John McNamara. You'd think a guy like this, a spot like this, the percentage move would have been to hit for the pitcher and throw out a fresh arm in the bottom of the inning.)

Next, Wade Boggs stroked a double to left-center and came around to score on a single by the hot-hitting Marty Barrett, the Red Sox second baseman. Another nail, and we were as good as done.

But I didn't know any of this at the time. I only knew that my teammates were up against it — and I only knew that because of all that heaving and moaning coming from Shea. Within minutes, I had pulled around on the opposite side of the stadium from the players' entrance, in front of the old Diamond Club. I left the car at the curb with one of the security guys and dashed inside, like a scene out of a bad romantic comedy where the guy races to the airport to catch the girl before she boards her flight. Through the Diamond Club entrance, there was a back door to the clubhouse. It wasn't our usual route; you had to walk through a grand entryway dotted with framed photos and team memorabilia, and then through another waiting area where club officials often met with visiting league executives and other dignitaries. Then you'd walk through another door past the trainer's room, the doctor's room, and the clubhouse attendant's room.

In those days, our clubhouse attendant was a guy named Charlie Samuels, and he was surprised to see me, just then, out of uniform. I wouldn't say he was happy to see me, just surprised.

Mets fans will recognize Charlie's name, of course — he was with the team for over thirty years, but he left the organization in 2010 with his head hung low. He ended up pleading guilty to stealing bats, balls, bases, jerseys, and other memorabilia said to be worth millions of dollars, all told — and as part of his plea deal he was banned from Mets games for life. But back in 1986 we just knew him as part of our extended Mets family. He was about the same age as a lot of the younger players, and a fixture in and around our clubhouse, and when I raced past his office that night he was watching the game on a small nine-inch television screen.

In those days, we all called Charlie "The Fig" after the pear-shaped actor in a Fig Newton commercial that was popular at the time. The Fig looked up from the set as I crossed the threshold of his office and said, "R.J., they scored two in the tenth." Like he was telling me there'd been a death in the family.

My heart sank. I'd expected the worst — and here it was, the worst. I couldn't think what to say, so I just said, "Fuck!" To myself. To Charlie. To the baseball gods that had apparently let us down.

I leaned in close to get a good look at the screen. Just as Charlie was filling me in, I heard a door slam on the other side of the locker room. I heard what sounded like a chair being kicked over. Then I heard the unmistakable voice of Keith Hernandez, who also couldn't think what to say: "Fuck!"

Keith had just flied out to deep center field for the second out of the inning, and had stormed from the dugout in a fit of resignation and frustration, settling into Davey Johnson's office with Darrell Johnson, a baseball lifer who was now a roving scout for the Mets. Check out these loose threads from a life in the game: Darrell Johnson was the Boston manager in 1975 when those Red Sox came back to win a dramatic Game 6 against the Reds, only to lose in Game 7, and here it seemed his new team was about to take him on the same sad roller coaster.

By now I'd put two and two together. We were trailing by those two backbreaking, heartbreaking runs. Bottom of the tenth. Two men out. Down to our last swings of what was supposed to have been "our" season. We'd been strutting and swaggering through these games since spring training as if a world championship was our birthright, and here we were about to be denied.

Gary Carter stepped to the plate, kicked the dirt from his cleats. The Shea faithful stood in a stunned, desperate vigil — biting their shirts, their jackets, their lips. "The Kid," our future Hall of Fame catcher, had fairly struggled this series (despite a Game 4 for the ages!), but there weren't too many guys you'd rather see up in this spot. He was keyed in, determined. And sure enough, he jumped on a 2-1 Schiraldi fastball and ripped a line drive single into short left field.

A heartbeat!

I had thought of crossing the clubhouse to take in these final moments with Keith, one of my closest friends on the team, but there's a tradition in baseball that you don't mess with a good thing. When the stars align and smile on your efforts, you do what you can to keep those stars in place, so as soon as Carter got his hit Keith wasn't moving, and I wasn't moving. There might have been some hits in our seats. Whatever happened next, I'd watch it from that tiny television screen in Charlie Samuels's office. You had to really lean in to that sucker to see what was going on, but I was staying put.

So that's how I took in those wild-ride moments in the bottom of the tenth inning.

Kevin Mitchell, pinch-hitting for Rick Aguilera, pushing Gary Carter to second with a single to center.

Ray Knight, scoring Carter from second with a line drive single to right-center.

Bob Stanley finally coming in for the overmatched, overwhelmed Schiraldi, allowing Mitchell to score the tying run from third on a wild pitch as Knight advanced to second.

Mookie Wilson, hitting that now-famous dribbler down the first-base line that managed to skip between Bill Buckner's legs and into right field, as Ray Knight bounded around third and came home to score, his arms flapping the whole way, like he was about to take flight.

And me, the whole time, leaned in super-close to the screen, shoulder to shoulder with Charlie Samuels, afraid to move a muscle for fear I'd upend whatever mojo my teammates had working out there on the field, in the dugout, wherever.

* * *

There was a lot of jumping up and down after that, as you might imagine. In Charlie's office. In Davey Johnson's office. The guys were carried into the clubhouse on a wave of bedlam. I never had a chance to set foot outside, but I could feel every thump and creak and rattle in those old Shea bones. I've been through a couple of earthquakes in my time, and this was right up there. You could actually feel the stadium swaying, see the cement moving on the clubhouse ceiling, choke on the puffs of dust spitting from the popcorn tiles. It was madness, just madness. It really felt for a few moments like that whole place could come tumbling down, and the weird thing about it was that this was not a particularly terrifying thought. I don't recall feeling afraid, or thinking maybe we should get out of there before things got too crazy. No, my only thought was that if you had to go, if this was our time, it was a helluva way to go.

We were untouchable, invincible, after all.

For all of Mel Stottlemyre's concern about getting me home at a decent hour, we didn't get out of that clubhouse until about one o'clock in the morning. I went home to a full house at about two. I had my family staying with me for this run of games, so things were crazy-hectic in my apartment. My brother Brian lived in the building, so he was in his own apartment, but everyone else was staying with me. I had a small two-bedroom, and the rooms were tiny. The closets were tiny, the kitchen was tiny ... it's like the whole place was done in miniature. My youngest brother Charlie had to sleep on the couch, that's how jammed in we were.

Everyone was wired from the way the game had ended. It felt a little like we'd been given an eleventh-hour reprieve by the governor. We weren't exactly celebrating, because there was nothing to celebrate just yet, but there was a lot of excitement. We were punch-drunk, giddy, and way too pumped to settle down just yet, so it took awhile for my apartment to quiet. There was a lot of unwinding, decompressing, fresh reminiscing we had to get past. At about three-thirty, my father finally took me aside and told me he thought I should try to get some sleep, reminded me that I had a big game the next day, same way he used to see that I got my rest back in Little League.


Excerpted from Game 7, 1986 by Ron Darling. Copyright © 2016 Ron Darling. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction: Be Careful What You Wish For 1

1 Who'll Stop the Rain? 15

2 The Impossible Dream 39

3 Scouting Report 51

4 Rinse and Repeat 67

5 Strutting Our Stuff 85

6 Things Fall Apart 105

7 Put Me Out, Put Me Out, Put Me Out of Misery 127

8 Middle Innings 143

9 Game on the Line 165

10 Redemption, of a Kind 189

11 The Morning After 205

Index 227

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