Thursday, March 24, 2016

That Baseball Mood

Spring Training, at least for me, has been mostly a study in the mundane. I barely know what's going on with the Mets; I don't particularly care whether or not they win or lose, just so long as the players that need to play well do so and there are no significant injuries. The less there is to talk about, the better.

That being said, since it's now merely two weeks until Opening Day, I figure I ought to get back into the swing of things, and there's a spate of new literature for me to go through in preparation for the season. With apologies to Greg Prince, whose book was unavailable during a recent trip to The Strand (hardly a good excuse on my part), my current reading material is the latest offering from our own Ron Darling.

I've always been a fan of Darling's analytical abilities; perhaps I'm biased from having not only watched him in my youth but also having listened to him broadcast the Mets for the last decade. This of course comes forth in his writing, his first book offered up a study of specific games in his career as opposed to a particular memoir. This book is more of a memoir, but condensed into his life approaching, and during, Game 7 of the 1986 World Series.

You'll of course remember the result of the game. Most tend to forget that Darling started for the Mets but was long gone by time things were decided. He's the first to admit that under the harsh glare of the World Series spotlight, he didn't have a very good game, lasting only into the 4th inning and departing down by 3 runs.

But in reading this book (aside from learning the odd fact that Darling lived on 33rd and 3rd, while I, 7 years old at the time, resided at 36th and 3rd and on occasion frequented the same Italian restaurant on 34th Street owned by former Red Sox pitcher Jerry Casale) I kept drawing the parallel between Darling pitching in the 1986 World Series and the crazy ride that we followed the Mets through last season. Probably because I've been carrying it around with me all Winter. Not so much the ride to get to the World Series, but particularly the way it ended, and that final Sunday Night where the bottom fell out so quickly.

The end result is usually what's remembered more than the journey that gets you there, particularly when it comes down to a Championship series, and yes, perhaps even if the Mets had won that final game, they could have just as easily lost the next one and had their season end with the same result. Darling talks about being too much in his own head going into that 7th Game, and feeling out of rhythm, and out of sorts, and those such things can wreck a pitcher's night. It doesn't detract from the fact that he had a generally good career and is remembered fondly among Mets fans, although maybe if that 7th game had ended differently, that might not be the case.

And this is the sort of stuff I've been thinking about all winter, because consider that 5th Game against Kansas City and what ended up happening to Matt Harvey. The prevailing thought, what everyone remembers, is that Hotheaded Matt Harvey demanded to stay in the game for that 9th inning and blew it, and the Mets lost (and they suck and Harvey sucks).

I sometimes have a tendency to over-romanticize games like this but while most of the talk this Winter made a punchline of Harvey, I don't think what happened in that game up to the 9th inning should be overlooked. I've gone over many times about Harvey pitching angry, and how he's at his best when he has that look, and for 8 innings, he had that look. The Royals couldn't touch him. Harvey was pitching with smoke coming out of his ears. You know that's what's going on when he comes charging off the mound screaming at the end of a key inning. By contrast, when you consider the fragility of an athlete's psyche in a big spot, Darling allowed himself to be psyched out. Harvey had no such problems.

But in the end it's the final score that determines everyone's perception of the game. Mets 8, Red Sox 5, and Darling is a footnote. Royals 7, Mets 2 (12), but Harvey shit the bed.

Sometimes the perception of the players can bother you just as much as the end result. Particularly when you're on the losing end of things.

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