BOSTON — Yeah, yeah, yeah. Talk all you want. The Mets are slumping, the Red Sox are grooving. The Mets have lefties. The Sox have righties. You can study your box score, you can study your scorecard, you can study your scouting report of this 83d World Series. There is only one truth. I will tell you the truth.
The hats will decide everything.
“The hats?” you say.
“The hats,” I repeat.
The hats. The Red Sox hats. Haven’t they determined this whole series up to now? Sure they have. The miracle of the hats. Remember Game 5 of the Red Sox-Angels playoff, Boston on the brink of elimination, ninth inning, Dave Henderson up, two outs, two strikes, two balls?
Two, two, two?
“Hats!” yelled a Boston pitcher.
Instantly the Red Sox bullpen took off their hats and held them out, like a line of beggars hoping for a donation. Two strikes, two balls, two outs. It has been this way all year. Two, two, two. Hold out the hats.
“It’s like begging for a hit or a walk,” Calvin Schiraldi said. “Or something.”
Or something. Henderson hit the next pitch for a home run. Boston went on to win the pennant.
“It worked,” Tim Lollar said.
The hats. They forgot once — ouch! It has been working ever since. In fact, the Red Sox have not lost one game since the miracle of the hats. They lead this World Series with the Mets, 2-0, going into tonight’s game, and the hats were,
according to bullpen sources, a perfect 3-for-3 in Game 1 and 3-for-4 in Game 2.
“Sunday night, we forgot once,” reliever Sammy Stewart said. “Spike Owen was up, and it was 2-2 with two outs, and someone said real quick, ‘Hats!’ But it was too late.”
“What happened?” Stewart was asked.
“Spike struck out,” he said.
Why two, two, two? Nobody knows. Why not three-and-two? Nobody knows. Who are they begging to? Nobody knows. This is the way it is with the hats. It is eerie. It is queer. Too strange to be true, and too true to be strange.
“What happens if a guy fouls one off, and the count stays the same?” Bob Stanley was asked.
“Then you put your hat back on, reload, and take it off again,” he said.
“Reload?” someone repeated.
“Hey,” Stanley said. “It’s worked about 80 percent this year, right, Lol?”
“At least,”‘ Lollar said. “Eighty percent.”
Well. Can you argue with that? Can you argue 80 percent? Is any Met hitting 80 percent? Is any Boston pitcher throwing 80 percent strikes? Call it superstition. Call it blind luck. The miracle of the hats. Eighty percent.
“That’s not the only thing our bullpen does,” Lollar said. “We also have The Calls. If you think a guy’s going to hit a home run, you yell ‘First call!’ If he hits one, you get your call back plus a free call. If he doesn’t, you use up your call.”
“I called Henderson’s home run in Game 5. And Don Baylor’s home run right before it. (Al) Nipper called (Dwight) Evans’ home run Sunday night. We keep track. One of us usually gets it right.”
“Do you ever do The Call or the hats for the other team?” someone asked.
“Of course not!” Stanley said. “You don’t want to give them any extra help.”
Of course not. It’s all in little game The hats. The calls. These are not completely new. Bullpens have been playing little games inside the big games since baseball began. But the Boston bullpen is like backstage at “A Chorus Line.” There is the game where you cross your left leg for a left-handed batter, and your right leg for a right-handed batter. “And when we rub our knees to try and start a rally,” Lollar said.
Rub knees. Cross legs. Take off hats. Put on hats. Do the hokey-pokey and you turn yourself around, that’s what . . . well, you get the idea.
“It started out as a way to pass the time,” Stewart said. ”But it’s working so well, it helps everyone pull for everyone else. It’s funny. But it’s given us a lot of spirit. It’s helped bring us together.”
Suddenly, the pastime is magic, as if they’d flipped a coin and it kept coming up heads. As if they’d dealt themselves blackjack over and over.
I can see it now. The Red Sox sweep. The next morning, all around Boston, fans are lined up, holding out hats, rubbing their knees, crossing their legs. A new dance craze will start. A new song. A new video. By Men Without Hats. I can see it. It could happen.
The little games and the big games have finally met, crashed head-on here at the Series. Strategy is meaningless. Planning is meaningless. The truth is the truth. The hats will decide everything.