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 untoppled. 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 hits in the deciding sixth game. He knocked in three runs in the Mets’ first World series win, Game 3 here on Tuesday.
And now, he was at the plate, fourth inning of a scoreless Game 4 Wednesday, a 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 toward left-center, and for the briefest of moments you expected The Wall to shimmy backward, to 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.
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 in the 6-2 victory, 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 an 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.
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. It rose on a line and headed for the nets and then, no, it went over the nets and into the parking lot, and left fielder Rice, who has hit his share of those here, could only pose like a concrete statue.
The standing joke on Carter goes that, after one particularly good game, he was so eager to do his interviews, a teammate had to turn and say, “Hey, Gary. At least wait till they come over here.”
But all during his down-time in the playoffs, he refused to pout. Refused to sulk. “The hits will come,” he said, although with Carter, that was taken as standard optimism, a glass half- full approach.
The hits came. They came big, and when most needed Wednesday night. The Wall is mean. The Wall is ugly. The Wall has been tamed.
Score two for The Kid.