It had been longer than that since Knight had been able to work out in the off-season, partly because of all the injuries he had suffered but also because he had chosen to go on tour with Lopez instead. "I used to be in the batting cage in the wintertime, but for three years I spent January and February in Florida on the golf tour with Nancy," he says. "I get a major kick out of watching her play. But this year she was pregnant and didn't go, so I went on a diet and rebuilt my batting cage in Georgia and Nancy fed the pitching machine while I hit."
"I think it had to be especially hard for him because I was having such a great year and he wasn't," says Lopez, who won $416,472 in five tournaments in 1985. "But he never stopped backing me. I think my golf game gave him something to be part of, helped keep him hanging in there. But he kind of let his baseball slide to support me, and I felt like Ray really had to get himself back into what he was doing. We had a big talk in spring training, and I told him he had to get his concentration on the game. When I came to watch games he would always look for me in the stands from the on-deck circle, and I told him I didn't want him to do that anymore, that he should be concentrating on the pitcher."
Mets hitting coach Bill Robinson felt Knight's stance caused most of his problems, but he waited until Knight had bottomed out before approaching him. "He was virtually finished," Robinson says, "maybe on the verge of being released."
Robinson suggested Knight make better use of his strong hands. "We were playing a night game in Miami, and Ray hit five of the weakest ground balls to shortstop I've ever seen," he says. "You could have taken the ball and thrown it harder than he hit it. He had a very unorthodox stance and I told him the way he was hitting, the bat was jumping off the ball, rather than the ball jumping off the bat." When Knight altered his stance, the results were apparent almost immediately. "He was crushing the ball," Robinson says. "The very next day in Orlando he hit a tremendous home run into the wind that he could not have even thought about hitting two days before."
Knight had a league-leading six home runs in April and briefly led the league in hitting in June. Most of the time, he has batted eighth for the Mets, but when the manager decided to rest Darryl Strawberry and Gary Carter on the same day in June, he batted his everyday third baseman in the cleanup position. Knight responded by hitting his first home run in over a month. "I tried to get cute with Knight and sneak a fastball by him in his third at bat," San Francisco pitcher Mike Krukow said later, "and he almost killed somebody in the upper deck."
That marked the end of a week that had begun with the birth of his second daughter on Monday and continued with a bench-clearing brawl with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday—a scene that was repeated last week when Knight slugged the Cincinnati Reds' Eric Davis in a scuffle at third base (page 45)—an RBI single Wednesday in a win over the Dodgers, an RBI double to beat Fernando Valenzuela on Thursday and a sacrifice fly against the Giants on Friday to tie the game with the bases loaded in the 10th inning. Knight had flown to Albany to be with Lopez for the birth of their child, but by the time the baby—9-pound, 12-ounce Erinn Shea (not for the stadium)—was delivered shortly after noon on May 26, Lopez had already endured such a long night "she was actually snoring between contractions," according to the bemused father, whose own litany of suffering obviously never included 12 straight hours of searing cramps.
Lopez was back on the golf course four weeks after giving birth and expects to be back in competition on Aug. 7. She and Knight will play a few rounds together to shake the rust off her game, and then they will softly purr suggestions into one another's ear. He will call her "baby" and "honey," and jokingly tell her she couldn't chip her way off a rusty boat. She will offer one of those extended replies "where you just yell and scream at each other all the way down the fairway." It has always been that way. "Every time we play," Lopez says, "we're playing for blood." That's why marriage is such a wonderful game.