Book Report: Ron Darling’s “Game 7, 1986”

I don’t read half as much as I’d like to or as much as I think I should. Books anyway. I mean, as a population, we probably do more reading now than ever before because of the internet, but we’ve also become uninterested with anything that can’t be done within a few minutes.

So, recently, I’ve kind of made more of an effort to read more actual books and started with “Game 7, 1986: Failure And Triumph In The Biggest Game Of My Life” by Ron Darling (with Daniel Paisner).

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It took me longer to get to this book than it really should have because the book’s target audience is essentially me, but once I finally made the decision to read this, I was able to fly through it in just a few sessions. I had read Darling’s earlier book, “The Complete Game” a few years before after winning a copy in a contest on MetsMerized and came into this book with a built-in appreciation for Darling’s thoughtfulness as he tends to dig a little deeper than normal sports cliches and give the reader (as he does his listeners on SNY and TBS during the season) a deeper and better understanding of what is happening and why.

Darling was the starting pitcher for the Mets on Monday, October 27, 1986 when the Mets last clinched a World Series title in a game that has become mostly forgotten about due to the extraordinary circumstances that surrounded the classic Game 6 of the series just two days before.

He acknowledges that fact early-on and proceeds to take you on a roller coaster ride inside the head of a young athlete getting ready to have the seminal moment of his career. From late in Game 6 where pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre tells him to head home to get a good night’s rest for the next day’s deciding game (which was subsequently postponed because of rain) you have a front row seat for the whirlwind of thoughts, preperation, worries and dreams that fill a man’s head when the success of a team and a city are all put on his right arm.

But, whereas you normally get the Disney ending with these types of stories, Darling wasn’t up to the challenge on this night and was pulled from the game early while putting his team at a three-run disadvantage.

You never get the feeling that moment was too big for him, but just that the Red Sox were well-prepared and had made adjustments as this was Darling’s third start in the series. It’s the setting every kid has dreamed about. He’s front and center during the deciding game of the World Series, but there would be no walk-off homer or 9th inning strikeout as the dream collapses around him.

I found this to be new and fresh and – to a point – almost awkward in that you’re eavesdropping on Darling’s private moment as he admits his failing and what he was going through on the mound as he realizes that things are caving in around him. It’s a game that even in victory has haunted him for 30 years as he (and everybody else back then) just assumed he would get another chance; that the Mets would be returning to the World Series every year, but that never came to pass. A combination of trades, drugs and injuries clipped the mid-80s Mets dynasty after just one glorious season and while the team that night in 1986 did come back to win, Darling was left with a giant “what if” that he was never able to properly vanquish throughout the remainder of his career.

I loved this book as it provided some incredible detail into one of the most significant games in Mets history along with a ribbon of hindsight after 30 years that will make you want to re-watch Game 7 almost immediately after completing the book. Yes, I did re-watch the game and yes, putting the context of the book with the body language and facial expressions given off by Darling until he was pulled in the 4th inning.

Recommended highly for Mets and baseball fans, but also for all sports fans who want to get a feel of what it’s like to be on the biggest stage in a profession and how one of the athletes at the center of the focus dealt with the pressures and expectations.

No Move May Be Right Move For Mets

David Wright is done for at least the remainder of 2016, Lucas Duda is waiting for his back to regenerate into one piece again, Travis d’Arnaud always seems a strong gust of wind away from another extended stay on the DL, Neil Walker has battled back spasms, Michael Conforto is nursing a tender wrist, Juan Lagares has hit the DL because of a bum thumb and Wilmer Flores just took an up-and-in fastball off his hand and wrist and is day to day.

The Mets are and have been dropping like flies except flies seem to have a longer life-expectancy these days.

Following up a World Series appearance, the Mets were expected to once again compete for the National League crown and now find themselves in a state of limbo, not knowing who will flush out a lineup or in what position they’ll do it in.

While there’s always a need to have quality depth players on your bench, it is simply impossible to stock the quantity of depth needed due to the volume of injuries the team has suffered. Maybe you think Sandy Alderson and company should have had a better feel for just how affected David Wright would be by his spinal stenosis and should have had a better fallback option, but truth be told, there’s not a team in all of baseball that would have sufficient stock in the cupboard to replace all the of the names listed and not miss a beat.

Fans and media alike have clammored for the team to make a trade, but not just any trade. They want the same type of impact deal that brought Yoenis Cespedes here from the Tigers last year. The cost was a steep, but fair price of a couple of prospects headlined by Michael Fulmer who – now in the Detroit rotation – is currently turning in one of the strongest rookie campaigns in the league, but it’s hard to get upset over a trade that, essentially, got you to the World Series.

So, it’s easy then, right? Make a few calls, get a brand new superstar to Queens and get back to the World Series. Not quite.

While fans are salivating over the possibilities, the Mets are hamstrung but a combination of roster construction, contracts, availability and a thin amount of desired minor league prospects due to the dual-barrel end game of major-league promotions and trades over the last 12 months.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at New York Mets
Kelly Johnson: the super-utility player the team hoped Wilmer Flores could be. Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Truth be told, the Mets may have to settle for another player cut from the Kelly Johnson cloth in lieu of the superstar the fans want to see. Johnson isn’t the sexy, game changer you necessarily want, he’s a solid major leaguer, familiar with the team after last season and provides flexibility of being able to play multiple positions while swinging a left-handed bat.

Let’s go over some of the options being bandied about to see which, if any, make sense for the Mets:

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Jonathan Lucroy, C Milwaukee Brewers

With Travis d’Arnaud looking more fragile every minute and Kevin Plawecki being unable to hit or throw at the big league level, the case for Lucroy has gone from “not even a thought” in March to “you know, that would be a nice upgrade” now. The problem is that Lucroy would be a huge upgrade for a lot of teams and is signed through the end of next year at a very reasonable dollar figure. The Brewers are going to want a huge return on him and it would start with the names “Syndergaard” or “Matz” and not “Wheeler” as a lot of people seem to think. The Mets are out of this before it even begins.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays
Longoria is the face of franchise no matter how unstable.

Evan Longoria, 3B Tampa Bay Rays

Longoria is basically the only homegrown player in Rays history that hasn’t been traded before hitting his arbitration years which makes him the all-time greatest Ray ever. After down years because of injuries and declining power numbers, Longoria has had a bit of a resurgence this year. Longoria’s quiet, confident demeanor, bat and plus glove would be a perfect replacement for recently-deceased David Wright. Except for a few things: Wright isn’t dead, Longoria has already shown signs of decline, the Rays would expect a hefty haul back and Longoria begins a contract extension next season that has him signed through 2023 at a cool $100m. With Wright sure to attempt to return next season added to the cost in players and dollars, Longoria is a certain pass.

bruce

Jay Bruce, RF Cincinnati Reds

Whereas the slugging outfielder made a lot of sense of the Mets when they were supposedly close to landing him last year, the same cannot be said for him now. Bruce has had a terrific 2016 thus far, but with Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto and Juan Lagares (now injured, but we’ll wait to see if he’ll need surgery as well) already in the fold, the Mets don’t have an obvious spot for Bruce to play. The Reds will most likely move Bruce this season and his value hasn’t been this high in a while. Another case where the cost would be prohibitive for the Mets with a thinning farm system.

reyes

Jose Reyes, SS Colorado Rockies (only in name, will be a free agent in a few days)

Look, I get it. We all used to love Jose Reyes. Remember we all did that “Jose, Jose, Jose” chant? So good. Remember when Professor Reyes taught us Spanish between innings? AZUCAR! That is not Jose Reyes anymore. As much as we would all like to think we’d be getting that fun loving, top of the order sparkplug from yesteryear back, Reyes is a slowed, flawed player at this point who probably shouldn’t be playing shortstop any longer. Oh, and there’s that whole beating up his wife thing hanging over him now too. So, no. No, no, no, no, no, no. No.

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Mike Trout, OF Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

We get Trout for a package of like Eric Campbell, TJ Rivera and Eric Goeddel. Who says no?

But seriously, the point of this is that the Mets are lot more likely to see a deal for a Luis Valbuena or Yangervis Solarte than they are a game changer. Even then, are those the types of players worth deal prospects for? In my opinion, we may be better off playing the cards already dealt and hoping the team can just stay close while guys work their way back.

I’ve emphasized all season about how important it is to stay close and beat the teams you’re expected to beat because of the huge discrepancy between good and bad in the NL. Last year, the Mets had a chance to pull away in a weak division and the front office went out and got Cespedes who single-handedly carried us through the remainder of the regular season and turned it into a race we won by quite a few strides.

I’m not protesting against a deal, merely stating that the costs may be prohibitive against making one. Either way, with Sandy’s history and track record, I do believe that if there is a deal out there to be made, he’ll do it. He understands the pulse and sees that the Nationals can’t just be expected to fall apart this year. Right now the team has done a pretty impressive job of keeping their heads above water despite the weak lineup they’re sending out on most nights and it’s a wonder that they ever thought they’d be able to have a chance this year without Cespedes in the middle of the order.

Hopefully, they can keep that up until Lucas Duda returns and then make a good evalution of where things stand going into the deadline. The window for the Mets to be a top-level team is open now and they need to capitalize while they can. But they shouldn’t empty out what’s left of their farm system to plug a square peg into a round hole.

 

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