The book: “Game 7, 1986: Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life”
The author: Ron Darling, with Daniel Paisner
The vital statistics: St. Martin’s Press, 256 pages, $25.95. Released April 5
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at the publishers website.
The pitch: We written before about the various visits we’ve had with the former Mets All-Star and current SNY and TBS analyst about games he’s pitched.
For the longest time, we were led to believe his crushing Game 7 loss in the 1988 NLCS against the Dodgers was the one that he could never shake.
“It was my total and utter disaster,” he once told us. “I’m haunted by that seven game to this day.”
Darling only made it through 10 batters. He left the contest trailing 3-0 in the bottom of the second with the bases loaded and no one out. Doc Gooden came in and couldn’t help. Darling was charged with six runs (four earned) as Orel Hershiser went on to a complete-game five-hit 6-0 triumph that put the Dodgers in the World Series.
Now, Darling admits that isn’t that only thing that keeps him up at night.
In this book, he’s tearing his heart out with a self-examination about all that transpired during the deciding game of the 1986 World Series, two Octobers earlier.
Maybe it wasn’t so painful because, as the readers know going into this book, Darling wasn’t on the losing end. No spoiler alert: The Mets won the series, the Boston Red Sox lost again.
Darling started Game 7 and gave up three earned runs in the top of the second. Just 18 batters faced in 3 2/3 innings. Two homers allowed. No strikeouts. It was up to relievers Sid Fernandez, Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco try to clean things up long enough for the Mets’ offense to wake up.
“My piss-poor performance,” Darling calls it on page 149.
Since this one delivers a much happier ending, Darling finds it a little more palatable to recount, about how he approached it, what he remembers and doesn’t remember, and lessons learned.
Lessons apparently not applied.
As a gob of Mets-related books emerge this spring to commemorate (or cash in) on the 30th anniversary of that 1986 championship – as well as ride the wave of last year’s World Series appearance – Darling submits his own title, seven years removed from his first book about how pitchers work and think called “The Complete Game: Reflections on Baseball, Pitching and Life on the Mound,” which made our 2009 review list.
“Like a lot of ex-athletes, especially those who did their thing in the middle of the pack, the only games I really remember, the only games I agonize over, are the bad games,” he writes here. “The false starts, the missteps and missed opportunities. I can semi-remember the good games, but they have become a blur over time. The details are lost to me. It’s the bad games that have stayed with me, and this one is stuck to the bottom of my shoe – again, like I’d stepped in a steaming pile of shit.”
After recounting the game’s ebb and flow, how he started, wondering what went wrong, hearing the voices in his head, then having it smothered by the comeback win, Darling also gives some personal observations about that ’86 Mets team, known for partying hard and hardly caring. Some of the media in New Yorkville has taken those accounts as the “real” juice of the book and ran with it, like little kids who just found a stack of Hustler magazines under their uncle’s bed.
Darling says he never saw drug use by players, but he knew it was going on even though he called himself a “wet blanket” when it came to joining in, which he didn’t partake.
Let’s focus here on that Game 7 performance.
“It’s been thirty years and I can still taste the acrid frustration” of coming out, he writes.
And what has he kept with him all this time?
“I’ve learned that it doesn’t much matter if I’d done anything differently,” he writes. “We won – that’s what counts, right? And besides, what could I have done differently?”
Pitched better? Had a better game plan? Challenged hitters more?
Surely, a Yale grad born in Honolulu to a Hawaiian Chinese mom and French Canadian dad would find the words to explain this.
Or, maybe he’s already reconciled everything by the time he gets to the last chapter.
“Would my life have gone differently if we’d lost Game 7? Would my career have gone differently? Would I have known happiness in quite the same way? Maybe, maybe not …”
Hmmm. That’s heavy stuff.
So, about all that drug use again … Anything newsworthy?
More to know:
== RonKaplansBaseballBookshelf.com notes that Darling’s name on the cover is much larger than the book title. For a reason?
== Among the other Mets-related books coming out that harp on the ‘86 World Series on the heels of the ’15 Mets’ surge:
=“Amazin’ Again: How the 2015 New York Mets Brought the Magic Back to Queens,” by Greg W. Prince
=“One-Year Dynasty: Inside the Rise and Fall of the 1986 Mets, Baseball’s Impossible One-and-Done Champions,” by Matthew Silverman
=“Kings of Queens: Life Beyond Baseball with ’86 Mets,” by Eric Sherman (and this interview with Ron Kaplan)
=“Down on the Korner: Ralph Kiner and Kiner’s Korner,” by Mark Rosenman