NEW YORK — It was the simplest of plays, the simplest of errors. Tim Teufel did not get his glove down far enough on Rich Gedman’s ground ball and it went between his legs and into right field. And Jim Rice headed home from second base with the first run of Saturday night’s game, the only run of the game, the run that would decide who took the lead in this 1986 World Series. An unearned run. An error on the second baseman. Red Sox win, 1-0. Mets lose.
The simplest of plays.
“Was it a really strange bounce?” Teufel was asked afterward by a reporter in a crowd of reporters trying to come up with an answer.
“It wasn’t that strange a bounce,” Teufel said, softly.
“Did Rice’s running distract you? Was that it?” asked someone else.
“He didn’t have anything to do with it,” Teufel said. “It’s my responsibility to make the play. I just didn’t.”
“Was it . . . ?” someone else would suggest.
“No it wasn’t . . . ” Teufel would say.
It was the simplest of plays. But there are no simple plays. Not here. Not anymore. Not with a few thousand notepads and tape recorders and a few million TV viewers watching. No simple plays.
Who knew Teufel’s error would decide this thing? Who had any idea? The Red Sox and Angels had games with three and four errors in their playoff to get here. Nobody even remembers. The Red Sox had not won a game yet this season, 1-0. Nobody even remembers. Who could figure? Who knew?
No one knew. But in this first game of the Mets-Red Sox series, with Bruce Hurst and Ron Darling shutting down each other’s hitters, there was little room for error, and Teufel made room, and that made him the goat, and the nation’s media came running.
No simple plays.
Is it more frustrating because you probably won’t get to play tomorrow?” another reporter asked.
“We’re a good club,” Teufel answered, trying to be polite, “we’re not going to keep getting shut out.”
“Do you feel bad for Darling, who pitched so well?” asked someone else.
“Of course I do,” Teufel said. “I mean, it was my fault. I’m trying to be patient. . . . “
It was hard to be patient. Teufel, 28, is just a part-time player — he shares the second base chores with Wally Backman — and a part-time player does not want to be remembered for the part time he spent messing up a play that led to the only run of a 1-0 loss. In another game it would be a forgotten mistake, something to chuckle over and forget about, and had Darling not walked Rice in the first place, it might never had mattered.
Instead there was a crowd around Teufel’s locker, and he stood there alone, dressed only in a T-shirt and a blue towel wrapped around his waist, answering questions about regret.
“Is this the worst you’ve ever felt after a game . . . ?” someone began.
Across the room, Darling sat in front of his locker, also talking quietly. Quiet. So quiet. It was a marked contrast to the noise-a-minute atmosphere that had started this game at Shea Stadium. Could you hear? Could you even be heard? The cheering and the music and the non-stop loudspeakers made this game a festival of noise, a celebration of throbbing eardrums, a collage of rock-videos and commercials and announcements and a national anthem by an actress and rap-rap-rap songs.
And then slowly, the noise vaporized, slipped away, as the Mets went one and two and five and six innings without a run, without a serious rally. Seven, eight and nine. The game ended with a strikeout by Danny Heep.
Mets lose, the mighty Mets, in their home ballpark, 1-0. On an error. An unearned run. Where was Tim Teufel? What did he have to say? 1-0? Could it be that simple?
You got up the next inning,” a reporter recounted. “And you threw your helmet. Was that out of frustration?”
“I’ve been throwing my helmet that way all year,” he answered.
He ran a fist through his hair. This is not what should be, so much fuss, so simple an error, but this is what it’s like when a game features little excitement, little highlights, and there are a few thousand reporters looking for a story. This is what it’s like from here on in.
“Do I feel terrible?” Teufel finally asked himself out loud, realizing that this interrogation might just as well include himself.
“Yes,” he answered, “I feel terrible.”
The reporters scribbled that down.
No simple plays. Not anymore. Tim Teufel, feeling terrible, took his towel and T-shirt and walked off toward the shower, knowing the sudden white heat of the World Series, and not so sure he cared for it.