Cover of Ron Darling’s new book.
This was what winning the 1986 World Series was like for Ron Darling: 48 hours of euphoria and unadulterated joy, followed by years of doubt and painful questions.
After the championship parade, after his parents had gone back home, Darling sat in his New York apartment, his head swirling, his emotions raw. Buried under the ticker tape, at least for Darling, was this: Why had he failed so badly in the start every kid dreams of making – a deciding Game 7 of the World Series?
“The Mets won, but I didn’t come through,” Darling says in a telephone interview. Darling was pulled in the fourth inning and allowed three runs and six hits. When he left, the Mets were behind, 3-0, though they came back to beat Boston, 8-5, to win the second championship in club history.
“I really wanted to know – I’ve been painstakingly thinking about this for 30 years. Why didn’t I come through? I’ve been carrying this and the only way to think about it was to make it more painful and write about it.”
So Darling, to paraphrase the old saying about writing, opened up a vein. Maybe two – one from his pitching arm and one from his pitcher’s brain. Darling, 55, wrote “Game 7, 1986: Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life,” with Daniel Paisner as a way to sort through his baggage, and, perhaps, remind fans how good those Red Sox were and that there was something to that series after that grounder squirted through Bill Buckner’s legs.
The book, which is out Tuesday, is a departure from the typical sports narrative. You know – hero overcomes long odds, shines in big moment and the world swoons.
Instead, this one is born from a smart guy having a bad night. Darling gave up back-to-back homers to Dwight Evans and Rich Gedman to start the second inning. A rocking Shea fell quiet.
“My memory of it, I was on the mound for about five minutes,” recalls Darling. In the book, he remembers the final moments of the outing with a soundtrack, too: The Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden” and the lyric that ends, “Put me out of misery.”
By the time Jesse Orosco tossed his glove high into the Queens sky, one of the iconic images of that title, Darling was caught up in the celebration, however fleeting it was for him.
But in preparing the book, which delves, at points, pitch-by-pitch into a Game 7 that history maybe has overlooked, Darling started to find his answers.
“During my career, I was always accused of thinking too much and as much as I fought all of those thoughts and assumptions, I came to the realization that might be true,” says Darling, the Yale man who is now an analyst for SNY, TBS and MLB Network. “The paralysis-by-analysis I put into Game 7 probably left me with no strength there by the time the game came.”
Maybe, Darling thought, it stemmed from “a lack of confidence in my pitching skills,” even though he’d enjoyed success. He always thought he’d be a position player — “I had the DNA of a player and later found out I’d be a pitcher,” he says. He never doubted himself until his real baseball skills led him to the mound.
“It was a cathartic experience to find answers I hadn’t had for 30 years,” Darling says.
To those who think he’s too hard on himself, he says, “My place in the Mets’ history is what it is, for others to judge. But what if the Mets don’t come back and the only championship is 1969?
“I think my place would be much less secure. I’m still the same person, still the same competitor. But one event, it could really change everything that was thought of me.
“So I wanted to get to the brass tacks, this game, how did it get away? And why?
“It seems narcissistic. But when something sticks in your craw, it sticks in your craw. I wouldn’t say I always wanted to write about it. I hoped the answers would come more organically. But writing really helped. I feel like I put it to bed. It’s nice to put down a burden.
“It was a good thing for me. I hope it is for the reader.”