NEW YORK — The ball rose high over the outfield, farther and farther, and every New York fan swallowed his chewing gum waiting for the ball to reach its destiny. “GET OUT OF HERE YOU SON OF A–
“YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” Forget it. Forget it all, Boston. The only thing missing in this very long, very late, very strange World Series had finally come to pass. Home runs for the home team. Ray Knight had hit one in the seventh inning. And now, here in the bottom of the eighth, as sure as an omen from the gods, Darryl Strawberry — who had suffered indignity like no other Met in this series — was watching his ball fall innocently over the right-center field wall, hearing the Sinatra music explode over the loudspeakers (“START SPREADING THE NEWS . . . “) and as the fans in Shea Stadium blew their skulls open with noise, trotting slowly around the base paths as if he knew it all along, the end, the inevitable. . . .
The Mets were going to win the World Series, four games to three.
Glory, glory, glory.
That’s right. The Mets. The one-strike-away-from-elimination Mets, who had come back to win in spectacular fashion in Game 6 Saturday, turned around and did it again Monday night, winning, 8-5, taking every tendency, every warning signal, every negative sign and tossing it in the East River.
“When you were down 3-0 in the sixth, weren’t you worried?” someone would ask Keith Hernandez, whose bases-loaded single in the sixth knocked in the Mets’ first two runs.
“You know, I never was,” he would say, champagne dripping from his hair. “I had this feeling all night. . . . ” He pointed to his heart. “I had a feeling right here.”
Right there. Where else?
Hadn’t Boston’s Bruce Hurst looked unbeatable against these Mets for the first five innings? “Forget Bruce Hurst,” the Mets seemed to say. Hadn’t Dave Henderson — always-the-hero Dave Henderson — come to bat with the tying run on base in the eighth? “Forget Dave Henderson,” the Mets seemed to say. Hadn’t Ron Darling, their own handsome hero, let them down in the second inning, surrendering three early runs to Boston, including two homers? “Forget that,” the Mets seemed to say. “Darling? He’s OK.”
In classic New York fashion, the Mets arrived fashionably late for their own championship, their bats not showing up until the sixth inning. But oh, how they showed up! With all the aplomb of Bruce Springsteen bounding onstage, of Sinatra taking over Carnegie Hall.
“Just a matter of time,” Strawberry would say afterward, and surely few words were ever as sweet coming out.
Every Met got a key hit. Didn’t it seem that way? Hernandez and Mookie Wilson and Knight, who would win the Series MVP award, and . . . hell, before it was over, even Jesse Orosco, the relief pitcher, would drive in a run.
And finally, when Orosco put that last pitch past Marty Barrett — ironically the best hitter in this Series — and struck him out swinging, and the earth moved, and the skies opened, and Orosco leaped halfway to the lights, lifting his legs, never wanting to come down . . .
Well, if it’s one thing you needn’t tell New York, it’s how to celebrate.
“METS! METS! METS! . . . ” This was a show of strength in a city where only the strong survive. How many people figured it was over when Boston took a 3-0 lead into the final three innings? Well, perhaps not that many. Certainly not those who had watched this Series from the start. Both of these teams had been one out away from winter vacations at some point in the last few weeks. And at times, both seemed destined to win — and to lose.
In the end, sadly, it was Boston that lived up to its history.
Oh my, yes. Boston. The Red Sox had gone 180 degrees, from one end of the earth to the other. In the playoffs, they had been one strike away from going home losers and on Saturday night they were one strike away from going home winners, World Series winners, and now . . .
“Can you describe how you feel?” someone asked Barrett afterward.
“Well,” he said, sighing, “what goes around comes around, I suppose.”
He grinned, but it was a sad grin. “I just didn’t think it would come around this fast.”
How tough is this for Boston — the team and the city? Very tough. Very, very tough. In baseball championships, the Red Sox are the kid at the end of the lunch line who waits until everybody else has gone, only to reach the front and see them all ahead of him again. How long had the Red Sox been without winning the World Series? Sixty-eight years?
They are at the end of the line again. Their dugout in that final inning was a study in agony. Calvin Schiraldi — who let the game get away — burying his head in a towel. Jim Rice — whose most consistent quote was “I’ve waited a long time for this” — staring at the ground. Dwight Evans — with Rice, the only man left from the 1975 team that lost Boston’s last Seventh Game — staring at the sky, perhaps trying to figure out why his team seems so cursed.
How else could it end for Boston? Tragedy seems to follow the Red Sox like a loyal dog. Didn’t they have the tying run at second in the eighth inning with nobody out? Didn’t they have Rich Gedman and Henderson and Don Baylor at the plate? Didn’t they have the better starting pitcher? Didn’t they grab the early lead? Weren’t they supposed to benefit from the rain delay? And didn’t they lose anyhow?
Yes. Yes. Yes.
Let John McNamara call it “crap.” If the Red Sox aren’t jinxed, then the New York subways are safe at midnight.
And what of New York? Madness! The last glimpse of Shea saw four of the Mets sitting on the pitcher’s mound, spraying champagne as the crowd chanted,
“WE’RE NO. 1!”
Where do you begin? They had heroes all over their lineup Monday night. Strawberry coming back at last with the demoralizing home run, just minutes after Boston had closed the gap to one run. And Knight, with his seventh-inning home run. And Hernandez, and oh — what of pitcher Sid Fernandez?
Fernandez? Yes. “The unsung hero of this game,” Gary Carter would yell. He was the second Hawaiian-born pitcher to take the mound for the Mets this night, but his 2 1/3-inning, no-hit, four-strikeout performance in relief of Darling simply inspired his team to victory.
“SID!” someone screamed at him in the frenzied, soaking clubhouse afterward. “YOU’RE BIGGER THAN MAUI!”
And the Mets — favorites from Day 1 in this baseball season that is finally, finally over — are at long last, bigger than their expectations.
Moments after they won Game 6 Saturday night, Wilson ran into the clubhouse and encountered Strawberry with his hand held high.
“Miracles always happen!” Strawberry yelled, slapping Wilson’s palm.
“Miracles always happen!”
They have happened once again.
Mets. Mets. Mets.
The World Series is theirs.