BOSTON — It was out there, ugly, its green shoulders squared and tight, like a bully just daring the new kid to open his mouth. Hey, not even the locals were touching The Wall. For 12 World Series innings, it remained untopped. Oh, there were a few whacks off its side, a double, a long single, but The Wall spit those back like watermelon seeds.
Where were the home runs? Wasn’t all the talk about home runs? A pitcher’s nightmare? Heck. Even Bucky Dent hit a home run here. And now Jim Rice and Dwight Evans and Don Baylor and Darryl Strawberry and Keith Hernandez were swinging away in this World Series and nothing. Zip. The Wall was winning.
And then along came The Kid.
A funny nickname, really, considering Gary Carter’s age (32) and experience. Even funnier — perhaps cruel is the word — considering the talk about his choking in the clutch. Wasn’t he the guy the Mets pointed to during the season. Didn’t they say, “We may be young, but look at The Kid. He’s been around. All those All-Star years in Montreal. Yeah. He’s our experience.”
And yet for the first four games of the playoffs, Carter was deathly silent at the plate, and New York was in danger of being knocked off the rainbow before he spoke up.
And then . . .
Carter got the winning hit in the fifth game of the playoffs. He got two in the deciding sixth game. He knocked in three runs in the Mets’ first World series win, Game 3 here on Wednesday.
And now, he was at the plate, fourth inning of a scoreless Game 4, the pivotal game. And The Kid was taking aim at the Monster.
TAKE THAT! Carter smacked the first pitch from Al Nipper high, way high, and rising towards left-center, and for the briefest of moments you expected the wall to shimmy backward, keep its virtue intact. But then you realized, no, this one was really gone, and the ball deposited itself in the nets that top the Green Monster, up there where all the other legendary blasts had landed. The Thing In Left Field had been beaten — so, for all intents and purposes, had the Red Sox. The Mets went on to win, 6-2.
“What was the feeling?” someone would ask Carter afterwards.
“Like something I’ve been dreaming about since Little league,” he said. “I mean forever.”
But wait a second. For while most of the world will admire the sheer power of that home run, and the 2-0 lead it provided the Mets, let’s look at the setup. Just before Nipper pitched to Carter, he had a conference on the mound with his catcher, Rich Gedman. They were going over the signals. The signals? Shouldn’t a pitcher know that by now?
Yes. Of course. But Nipper had not pitched in 2 1/2 weeks. He was being used because Tom Seaver, the would-be fourth starter in this Series, was out with a knee injury. So OK. A rusty pitcher is on the mound, and this conference was taking a long time. Carter, an experienced catcher, knew what was going on.
When Gedman returned to the plate, and Nipper was about to pitch, Carter stepped out of the box, thus only further screwing up the pitcher’s rhythm.
Little things. Little raindrops of experience. By the time Carter stepped back in, Nipper was ready to jump out of his skin with the pitch. His rhythm was off, and he threw a ball he shouldn’t have — a fastball right where Carter wanted it. And smack! Over The Wall.
“Did you know what you were doing by stepping out?” someone would ask him.
“Welllll . . . ” Carter said.
Score one for The Kid.
AND SCORE another. In the eighth inning, with the Mets up 5-0, Carter came out to face Steve Crawford. A 1-2 pitch, and — smack! — goodby. This one was for history — the first time since Kirk Gibson, 1984, that a player had hit two home runs in one World Series game. And what a home run! It rose on a line and headed for the net and then, no, it went over the nets, and left-fielder Jim Rice, who has hit his share of those here, could only pose like a concrete statue.
Suddenly, Carter was 7-for-17 with seven RBIs in this World Series. Suddenly, Carter, the “collapse-in-the-clutch” guy, is a leading MVP candidate.
“He’s having the kind of games we all knew he’d have,” said his manager, Davey Johnson. “Even if he quit now, you’d have to say he’s had a great World Series.”
Great at the bat, and great behind the plate. Don’t think the nifty game-winner Ron Darling threw Wednesday night came about by accident. Carter is often considered the best man in baseball behind a mask and shin guards. He steered Darling home like a tugboat takes an ocean liner through the fog.
But this night was for home runs, and Carter’s did more than just improve his numbers. They helped even the Big Picture, bring the Mets from the worst of situations — being down, 3-1, with Boston’s top trio of pitchers coming up
— to the best they could hope for. Even up. Two games apiece.
There is only the present now. Best two-out-of-three. No past. No history. Carter helped take care of that with a few well-timed strokes of lumber. And he has brought this town, and the wooden barrier that symbolizes its baseball, back to square one.
“Do you ever wonder what it would be like to have a whole career here in Fenway?” he was asked.
“I’m having a pretty good career down in Shea,” he answered.
The Wall is mean. The Wall has been tamed.
Score one for smarts. Score one for power.
Score two for The Kid.