Disclaimer: the current reviewer is a long suffering (emphasis on
“suffering!”) fan of the New York Mets, so this review may not be entirely
objective. Even the casual baseball fan of a certain age can recall the ball
going through first baseman Bill Buckner’s legs to break the hearts of millions
of New Englanders as their Boston Red Sox seemingly let slip yet another shot at
glory. What most people may not recall is that what happened to Buckner took
place in game 6 of the 1986 world series. There was a game 7 to be played
between the Red Sox and the New York Mets to decide the champion. The Red Sox
could still win that elusive World Series if they could score runs against the
Mets’ game 7 pitcher–Ron Darling. Suffice to say that Darling imploded
definitively and early. He gave up three runs in the first three innings and
left with a runner on base in the fourth. That the Mets came back to win (yeah!)
is New York legend and New England cautionary tale (of celebrating too early).
The Yale-educated Ron Darling takes us through his (pitching) mind in his
description of his ill-fated start in that game.
Perhaps it is catharsis, perhaps it is his mea culpa to Mets fans, or perhaps it is simply a case of an athlete who now has the confidence and maturity to go back and clinically revisit a difficult moment of his life. The outcome is an erudite, dispassionate, and illuminating book about what it is to be in the spotlight and come up short.
Interestingly, Darling wasn’t even in the stadium when the dramatics of game 6 unfolded before a delirious Shea audience. He was driving home, unable to bear what to him was the bitter denouement to a wonderful season. He thought his season was over. When the Mets won game 6, Darling realized that he was the starting pitcher in game 7 – the real life happening of every young baseball fan’s backyard enactment. He takes us through his ambivalent feelings of both joy and trepidation. He was not helped by the postponement of the game due to a rainout. The heart of the book is what happens during those first three innings of game seven. It is a batter by batter, pitch by candid pitch, of how Darling’s putative day in the sun unraveled in a hurry. The chronicle is a judicious interplay of the mental and the physical act of pitching, and Darling (and his collaborator, Paisner) narrates in fine detail, not holding anything back.
The pitcher is the loneliest player in any team sport. He stands on the mound and almost singlehandedly takes on the opposing batters. Given that wins and losses are officially attributed to pitchers, it is a vital role. Ron Darling provides an intelligent and interesting description of a pitcher plying his trade and failing on a grand scale. While the book may perhaps be too painful to fans in certain part of the United States, it is a solid addition to the game’s extant literary base.