BOSTON — The team that does least is now the team that does the most. The best preparation is now no preparation at all. The key to this World Series is the key to the hotel room, where you can enjoy a nice long nap.
The secret is out.
The secret is to take the day off.
“What do you think?” someone will ask Boston’s Wade Boggs, as he sits in his street clothes before Game 6. “Will the Red Sox win?”
“Oh, yeah,” he will say. “I slept 14 hours yesterday. Had breakfast in bed, then watched cartoons. Never looked at a bat. I’m confident.”
“What do you think?” someone will ask Gary Carter, when he arrives at the park 15 minutes before game time. “Do the Mets have a chance?”
“It’s in the bag,” he will say. “My wife fed me lunch through a straw. I never even got up. I slept in the cab ride over. In fact, I’m going to the dugout now to catch a nap with the guys. Wake us up for the national anthem, will ya?”
Suddenly, tradition has been spun on its ear. Suddenly, all those athletic cliches about “practice, practice, practice” seem rather dated, like swinging three bats in the on-deck circle.
THE NEW YORK Mets dragged their weary tails into Boston Monday morning, trailing 2-0 in the Series and facing three straight games at Fenway Park. Did they rush over to scout the infield? Did they stay past dark taking line drives off The Wall? Did they build a campfire around home plate and talk strategy deep into the night?
No. They did none of this. What they did was go straight to the hotel and crash.
What they did was take the day off. And they won the next two games.
And Boston quickly decided to take today off.
What special magic had the Mets done on this very special day off? Sleep? Eat? Sleep and sleep and eat?
“I went bowling,” Wally Backman had said. “Did pretty good, too.”
Bowling? Did he really say bowling? In the World Series? Yet the Mets came back and clobbered the Red Sox twice. “The day off was the difference,” Carter said. “It revitalized us.”
How many hits in Game 3? Thirteen? How many in Game 4? Twelve? The Mets’ bats woke up once the players went to sleep. The concentration rose once they gave it a break.
A DAY OFF. The secret is out. All that matters now is which team takes off better.
“What do you think?” someone will ask Dave Johnson, the Mets’ manager, during batting practice Saturday. “Are your men ready?”
“I think they are,” he will say. “I know Keith spent his day off around the house, doing some gardening. And Wally and Ray went to Burger King. I’m going to call Bobby Ojeda now and wake him up. Or maybe I’ll wait a few more minutes.”
Who knew this was coming? Did anyone see this coming? The Red Sox should have seen it back in August, on a Sunday afternoon against the Tigers. Rich Gedman took the day off from catching, and then, in the eighth inning, came in as a pinch hitter and hit a grand slam that won it, 9-6. The Tigers never really threatened again, and the Sox rolled on to the pennant.
A day off. This is the year for it, isn’t it? Ferris Bueller took a day off and made a bundle. Bobby Ewing took a day off — actually he took a year off
— and he gets to come back and marry Victoria Principal again. And now, the World Series. Yes. This is in vogue. This is the Year of The Day Off.
“WHAT DO you think will be the deciding factor tonight?” Vin Scully will ask Joe Garagiola as the cameras hum on Saturday night.
“Well, I saw Jim Rice yesterday playing catch,” he will answer. “That could hurt Boston.”
There is something to be said for being ready, poised, full of facts and figures and tendencies. There is also something to be said for bowling.
What if Boston takes today off, then wins the Series? Will the Celtics start showing up just for the opening tip? And if the Mets win? Will the Jets and Giants drop those silly midweek practices?
The projector could become an antique. There could be new slogans. New cheers. “Practice makes pansies” would be one. “We’re late; we’re great!” would be another.
Soon we could see The Day Off Workout, and The Day Off Diet, when, preparing not to eat, you go to Baskin-Robbins and try each flavor.
It could be coming. It could all be coming. The Mets and Red Sox may have stumbled onto something here. Less is more. More is less. And as to which team will win this World Series — in other words, which will take off better — you need only check this space tomorrow.
Make that the day after tomorrow.