We have to play ball like we can,” said Dave Proskin, 25, an accountant from the Bronx, as he hunkered down in Shea’s right-field stands, ready to battle the Red Sox in the World Series’ pivotal Game 6. “We have to make things happen,” agreed his Bronx buddy Charlie Friedman, 25, also an accountant with a more than passing passion for baseball.
Like all true fans, the two, dressed in Mets regalia down to their orange-and-blue socks, believed at heart that they were on the team. Now trailing three games to two, with Red Sox ace Roger Clemens on the mound, they knew they had their work cut out. “If we can win Game 6, we’ll win Game 7,” Charlie said hopefully.
No truer words were ever spoken, as we all now know. The Mets’ astounding comeback with two outs, two strikes and nobody on base in the 10th inning of Game 6 shattered the Red Sox’ vision of their first world championship since 1918.
Dave and Charlie helped. First, Dave drove to Shea Stadium. “We’re one win, six losses when Charlie drives,” he noted. And they switched seats with each other at the park, since their prior arrangement had resulted in Mets defeats in Games 1 and 2. You could say they’re superstitious, or you could say they believe in a seamless universe in which all events are so closely linked that an innocent act in a distant place can cause a run to score. In any case they weren’t leaving anything to chance. Fans are like that.
They were full of advice, some moral (Charlie to Len Dykstra, who was arguing a called Strike 3: “Stop whining and start hitting!”), some practical (Charlie to Wally Backman: “C’mon, Wally, punch it into left field, babe! A little blooper over the shortstop!”). They even exhorted the ball (Dave to a Darryl Strawberry pop-up: “Get out of play! Get out of play!”). In unison with the crowd, they strove to inspire their team (“Let’s go, Mets!”) and to rattle the opposition. The thunderous, mocking singsong “Cal-vin, Cal-vin!” seemed to unnerve Red Sox reliever Calvin Schiraldi.
During lulls in the action, Proskin and Friedman confided what they thought would happen next. Actually baseball consists of occasional action interrupting the lulls, giving fans so much time to reflect on the past and project the future that much of what happens, happens in the fans’ minds. They hope and fear that the game’s outcome may be determined by what they think.
Some of this psychic baseball consists of predicting a dire event to preempt it from happening, or to dull the pain if it does. “It’ll be called Strike 3,” muttered Charlie, as Strawberry awaited a 3-2 pitch. (He walked.) The rest of the mental game consists of invoking a wished-for happening that already exists in some future, although not necessarily the future of the particular world we live in. “Carter’s gonna hit a home run right now!” declared Dave. (He grounded out.)
As successive New York batters succumbed to Clemens’ fast ball, the crowd grew quiet. “You gotta believe!” Charlie exhorted his fellow fans, who had been strangers before the game and would be strangers after, but were now intimates, united by common purpose and common suffering. “I believe, too,” responded Dave, “but there’s only so much fantasy and so much reality. We got to start hitting.”
After the Red Sox scored twice in the 10th to go ahead 5-3, Charlie slumped in his seat, his life passing before his eyes. Dave, his lower lip quivering, struggled not to cry. A Red Sox fan behind them, moved to a momentary sympathy he would later regret, laid a comforting hand on their shoulders and said, “Hey, you guys aren’t out of it. You don’t know the Red Sox.”
Meanwhile, in Clinton, Mass., Phil Strickland, 39, sat before his TV in an excruciatingly straight-backed chair, because he had been sitting in that chair when the Red Sox won Game 5. His neighbor, Lee Perrine, 40, was lying on Strickland’s sofa with a sweater over her face, desperately trying to fall asleep, as the Sox had won a game this year during which she had nodded off. But sleep would not come to Lee, and as the Mets got their second single with two out in the 10th, Strickland felt the icy presence of the Red Sox’ tragic history. “This feeling has got to be wrong,” he told himself. “It’s just my own pessimism coming out.”
Back at Shea, Charlie caught a glimpse of victory’s sails on the horizon. “We ain’t dead yet!” he shouted, as much in amazement as joy.
There are no atheists in extra innings. Palms are pressed together and faces turned skyward, silently pleading, Please! Please! Please! Then, roaring out of the future as sure and real as the subway rumbling into the Shea Stadium station, came another single, and then—unbelievable!—a wild pitch. Finally a little ground ball squibbed off Mookie Wilson’s bat and twisted down the line toward Bill Buckner. The Sox first baseman stood transfixed as this suddenly strange white orb, this odd little white planet, slipped beneath his glove.
Joy! Joy! Joy! Rapture! Transports of ecstasy, in Shea. And in New England, grief, dread, dank depression.
“It’s a miracle!” exclaimed Charlie, shaking his head.
“Why do I do this to myself?” muttered Strickland.