Now this, you see, would be a real World Series, a classic dustup between the game's old-guard Eastern Establishment cities, Boston and New York, the Athens and Sparta of baseball. It would be a traditionalists' delight—two teams shuttling up and down a historic shoreline, calling up memories of a bygone time when there were only 16 big league teams and St. Louis was considered the last outpost of the Western frontier. These games would be classics, for certain. Just contemplate what the alternative could have been. If both the Red Sox and the Mets had not rallied from impending disaster in the league playoffs, this World Series would have been played indoors in one Western town and virtually on the premises of Disneyland in the other Western town. But no, now for the first time since 1912, teams named New York and Boston would be settling up the world championship.
That's the way the big picture looked, anyway. In actual fact, the first two games last weekend, both of which went to the Red Sox, scarcely qualified as classics. The first was won on an egregious error and the second was a flat-out 9-3 rout. And the atmosphere in Shea Stadium, far from recalling simpler times, made the games played in Anaheim and in the Astrodome seem models of good taste and forbearance in comparison. Shea, though it does have elements of prefabricated antiquity (narrow passageways, bad views) is, at age 22, scarcely a relic from the Golden Age of ballparks, as Fenway Park, the Red Sox' home, assuredly is.
Shea's obtrusive message board is a case in point. Assuming the ignorance or insensitivity of Mets spectators, it reminds them to clap hands (electronic hands appear in demonstration) and entertains them with cartoons, advertisements and public-service messages—"Don't use alcohol as an excuse to be a jerk." And when things are really heating up on the field it suggests in bold letters splashed across a fiery background, HOW 'BOUT SOME NOISE. In the event some innocent from the hinterlands should be uncertain of his whereabouts, the sound system between innings will set him straight by thundering every tune ever written with the words " New York, New York" in them.
On the field itself, the Mets themselves exhibited obvious signs of the wear and tear the heartstopping playoff series with Houston visited upon them. On Tuesday, they survived a two-hit, 12-strikeout masterwork by Nolan Ryan for nine innings and then beat the old strikeout king's successor, Charlie Kerfeld, on Gary Carter's run-scoring single in the 12th. Final score: 2-1. That was a throbber, all right, but it was tame beside Wednesday's pennant clincher, in which the Mets rallied for three runs in the ninth to tie the score 3-3, and then labored on to win it 7-6 in a hectic 16th inning. This was the longest of all postseason games—4 hours, 42 minutes—and possibly the most exciting, surpassing even the twin thrillers played by the Angels and Sox the previous weekend.
The Red Sox, for their part, fairly sailed into the Series on Tuesday and Wednesday with 10-4 and 8-1 wins. And yet, trailing California three games to one, they were only one out from extinction in Game 5 before they rallied in the ninth on a homer by Dave Henderson and won it in the 11th on a Henderson sacrifice fly. That game, in an amazing playoff week, proved cathartic and, coupled with the easy wins in the last two games, gave the Sox a decided psychological edge when the Series began. "Right now this team is playing looser than it has played all season," said Boston's gritty second baseman, Marty Barrett. "It all goes back to that Game 5. We should've been outta there, but that one put us on the gravy train and we've been on it since. We just weren't afraid of what could happen after that game. Now our attitude is 'Let's just go out there and have some fun.' "
But the Mets may have started Series play emotionally drained. There was a "letdown," admitted sometime third baseman Howard Johnson. "That was just an emotional series. We're still trying to recharge." The Red Sox also had the added incentive of being a decided underdog—11 to 5 were the odds in some quarters, said to be the highest price since the 1950 Phillie Whiz Kids faced the Yankees. In batting practice before Game 1, Spike Owen chattered away to Wade Boggs as the Red Sox took their cuts. "Trouble in paradise, baby," said shortstop Owen, "trouble in Metland."
Physically, the Mets were better off than the Sox. Tom Seaver, the future Hall of Famer, could not pitch and Bill Buckner, who drove in 102 runs this season, had a strained Achilles tendon. He started the Series wearing specially made hightop shoes that were reminiscent of footwear once favored by the likes of Johnny Unitas and William Howard Taft. Buckner played the first two games hobbling across the Shea infield as if barefoot on a bed of hot coals. Don Baylor, the Bosox' spiritual leader and slugging designated hitter (31 home runs), missed both New York games, not because of injury but on technical grounds. The DH this year can play only in the American League park, yet another peculiar accommodation the commissioner's office has made with the dilemma of different rules in the two leagues. Baylor sat on the bench in both games, although there were opportunities for him to pinch-hit. Sox manager Johnny McNamara elected, however, to use in Baylor's stead the lefthanded-hitting rookie, Mike Greenwell, decisions that could easily have redounded to Mac's disfavor.
What this Series did figure to be was a pitcher's Series, and that it definitely was in Game 1, when the Mets' Ron Darling and Red Sox lefty Bruce Hurst hooked up. Darling, though he won 15 games during the season, was nevertheless a hard-luck pitcher, which is not an easy thing to be on a ballclub that wins 108 games. He had 13 no-decisions, and from mid-September until the end of the season, he was involved in two 1-0 games, both of which New York lost. That's exactly what he lost by on Saturday in the Series opener. Darling, who pitched masterfully, was finally undone when Tim Teufel, who plays second base for New York against lefthanders, let Rich Gedman's ground ball roll between his legs into rightfield in the seventh inning, allowing Jim Rice to score from second base. Darling had walked Rice and then wild-pitched him to second, from where Rice easily beat Darryl Strawberry's throw home for the game's only run.
Nevertheless, there was a collision at the plate, not between runner and catcher this time, but between Darling, rushing to back up his catcher, Gary Carter, and Henderson, the on-deck hitter, who was hurrying with equal purpose to give Rice the signal to slide. It was one of the most bizarre accidents in Series history, involving as it did two merely peripheral participants in a play at the plate. And nobody but Darling and Henderson seemed to have seen it. Fortunately, neither player was hurt much beyond personal embarrassment.
Teufel's error reminded Mets fans of the similar gaffe second baseman Felix Millan made in the opening game of the 1973 World Series against Oakland. That error, also between Millan's legs, gave the A's a 2-1 victory in a Series they went on to win. After Saturday's game, Teufel fielded questions about the ball that went through his legs much better than the ball itself. "The focal point in this game is the error," said Teufel. "I feel bad for Ron Darling. He's from the Boston area, and if I could take the loss for him, I would. I'm going to take a nice, long, 35-minute ride home and let it settle. I don't think my new little son is going to disown me." Neither did Teufel's manager, Davey Johnson. "The error didn't beat us," said Johnson. "What beat us was not scoring any runs."