5th grade… 1988. Basically, the first year, the events of which, my mind can recall with anything approaching vividness. In fact, the first year that I began to wax sentimental about how I wished I were young again (I was only ten in 1988 – eerie, if I didn’t know myself better).
The Mets were 100 and 62 that year. I attended quite a few games during the regular season. One day in October, as Halloween approached, my 5th grade teacher at Sawmill Mandracchia High School – a school within walking distance of my house – wanted to know something. A bunch of students started talking, interfering with Mrs. Smith’s lesson. Mrs. Smith, an exceedingly wise woman (she is the exception to the rule about what I believe – know – about teachers – the exception that proves the rule), instead of trying to quiet us down, tried a different approach. “What is it all of you are talking about?” she asked, matter of factly. “What’s going on outside of school that you’re talking about?” “Halloween,” one student said. “The Mets,” replied another. You see, the evening before, the Mets had won the first game of the NLCS against the Dodgers, eking out the win with a Gary Carter single at Dodger Stadium. The good times were rolling again, I thought, given how the Mets invincibly plowed their way to becoming World Series Champions in 1986.
And so my class thought as well. A couple of people “seconded” the student who said “the Mets.” 1988 was, after all, to be the Mets’ year again – after their devastating – and devastatingly close – attempt to clinch the NL East. (One word: Terry Pendleton. More later). The Mets not only finished the regular season well ahead of the Dodgers, they had the Dodgers’ number that year, having beaten them 10-1 in the regular season (back then, NL East teams played NL west teams twelve times a year. The Mets played a complete season – 162 games – yet somehow did not play that twelfth game against the Dodgers. A mystery, that’s for sure – one that I’m sure I could solve if I looked hard enough). The Dodgers had barely made the playoffs.
After Carter’s magic night, though, the magic began to shift elsewhere. The Mets lost game 2 at Dodger Stadium. They then were back on their home field – for three games as in 1986, and hopes were high that the Mets could win 3/3 at Shea and advance to the World Series again. And yet….. the Mets won game 3, but lost game 4 – devastatingly, thanks to a Mike Scioscia (pronounced SO-sha) home run. Game 5 thus became critical. That game aired – astonishingly – in the afternoon. I remember sitting in the house watching the game in my pajamas. I believe the game was on a day in which we had a school holiday (but which one? What holiday is in late October? I could find out the answer to this question too, and will. What’s the fun of trying to fill in all of the details in a blog entry when your real goal is to just recount a memory?) I was getting restless – the Mets were being shut out, and badly. Then, I perked up. Lenny Dykstra smacked a three-run home run in the middle of the game. The Mets suddenly were only 4 runs behind. And yet, no more home runs that day… Suddenly, the unthinkable presented itself – that the Mets would lose this series. That they had to play game 6 away from home enhanced the alien-ness of the situation. I did not watch that game – at least not all of it – because I did not learn the Mets had won it until the following morning. What a relief, I thought. So, it would all come down to game 7. The last game 7 in the playoffs the Mets played was game 6 of the 1986 World Series, and the Mets seemed to conjure a win from that game out of the ether. Surely, the magic would work, one more time.
But Orel Hershiser, the Dodgers’ ace in 1988, had other ideas, when he shut the Mets out in game 7, thus banishing them from the playoffs. I was devastated – the first time I ever was really devastated by a favorite team’s loss of a game. I remember being quite sad for at least a couple of days, and I remember that during those days, there were reports of other fans “being depressed.”
Things didn’t get better from there. The Dodgers then went on to face the A’s in the World Series that year. The A’s were expected to win. Again, though, the Dodgers played in blissful ignorance – defiance – of that fact. Yet it was hard for me to hear the first roar of defiance, belted out in game 1. That night, I was in Hecksher State Park, camping out (I was a Webelo then). The tent in which I was trying to sleep was being pounded by the rain. My father just told me to hang tight in the tent as the storm spent itself out. He gave me a radio, and told me to listen to the World Series. And so, to keep my mind off the thought that the tent might blow away, I turned the radio on and found the channel broadcasting the game. By this point, it was rather late at night. The game was hard to hear, what with all of the noise of Scout leaders moving about, the rain pounding, and the crummy earpiece. Yet I remember something – very clearly – that I knew even at the time was quite special – happening. Kirk Gibson, limping to the plate, late in the game, saddled by injury, smacked a home run off A’s reliever Dennis Eckersly (hey, I just remembered this last fact right now!). As Gibson limped his way around the basis, an immortal announcer utterance filled the TV airwaves (but not my radiowaves – which themselves were tingling with the roar of the Dodger Stadium crowd and the announcers’ shock at what had happened): “I cannot believe…. what I just saw.”
Nor could pretty much anyone who was following these teams. The Dodgers later dispatched the A’s to become 1988 World Champions – and history remembers this team as the “Cinderella Story” Dodgers (Los Angeles ones, anyway).
Of course, to me, the team was more akin to Cinderella having been given an unfair extra amount of time to keep her glass slippers. I developed an intense hate of the Dodgers in years to come. In 1999 and 2000, I didn’t get to orchestrate this hate, because although those were the first times after 1988 in which the Mets made the playoffs, the Dodgers did not. As the 2006 baseball season came to a close, a terrific surprise unfurled: the Dodgers, who won the last seven regular season games, would be the NL Wild-card winner. Since that team faces the best team in the NL in the division series, the Mets would FINALLY – 18 years later – get their rematch. No players from either team, as far as I know, are even still playing baseball, let alone ON the same team. Yet I was reminded of how the need for revenge occurs against a backdrop of continuity when I saw, sitting in the stands, Tommy Lasorda, the 1988 Dodgers manager. God, I wanted the Mets to win this series. Again, the Mets were the favorites and had the better head-to-head record. Wags were reminding television audiences of what happened in 1988. Would history repeat itself?
No, wonderfully no. This year, the Mets swept the Dodgers – completing the sweep tonight – to advance to the next round of the playoffs. 4 Mets had recently been traded from the Dodgers in a move that suggested the Dodgers wanted to shoot themselves in the foot, and one of them, Shawn Green, made the game-ending catch.
This win was 18 years in the making. In 1999, I remember winning a $50 bet over the 1988 World Series. Two Mets fans at the law office at which I worked that summer – fans much more knowledgeable than I about the Mets – insisted, in a casual discussion that was about – what else? – how the Mets might make the playoffs for the first time in 11 years – that the Mets lost the 1988 series in 6 games. I’ve never bet on a sports game in the way such betting is normally done – i.e. I’ll bet you two dollars that the Mets will win tonight. Yet I made this bet on and about history. I knew I was right. My memories of anguish finally produced something positive – $50 – as I collected $25 from the two fans. The $50 was sweet (especially considering one of the people who gave me the money was beyond an asshole, and mewled, “I’m offended!” after he didn’t pay up for over four days). But revenge is sweeter.