Former Mets pitcher Ron Darling documents bittersweet 1986 World Series in new book
By KARA YORIO STAFF WRITER | The Record
For Mets fans, Oct. 27, 1986, is a date to remember — the day they beat the Red Sox in Game 7 to win the World Series. But for Ron Darling, who was the starting pitcher for the Mets that night, a subpar performance made the evening's memories bittersweet, to say the least.
"It's been stuck in my craw for 30 years," said the former Mets pitcher, now an analyst for the team's games on SNY. "I tried to talk about it. I tried to commiserate about it. It didn't work."
Other professional athletes should understand his pain, but attempts at discussions in the past, even with teammates, only made it worse.
"I've been placated for 30 years," he said. "Any time I've tried to have a conversation about it, it's like people just go dead in their eyes. Whenever it's kind of brought up, it's like 'Ronnie, what are you talking about? We won. We've got rings. Everybody's famous. They're going to celebrate the 30th anniversary.'
"That deadness in their eyes bothered me because it was fresh in mine. So yeah, I had no help from anyone about it."
So he helped himself.
"I figured I'd try to put it down and write about it," said Darling, who will be signing his new book, "Game 7, 1986: Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life" in Ridgewood on Thursday.
The book tells stories about the fun, personalities and troubles of that notoriously wild Mets team as well, but focuses on that one game.
"It was cathartic for me," Darling said. "With the book coming out, I feel like I've put it to rest, which is a good thing for any 55-year-old guy."
Thirty years later, he can remember nearly every detail from the late innings of Game 6 through the rainout of Game 7 to his walk off the mound after 3 2/3 innings, having given up six hits, including two homers, and leaving with the Mets trailing 3-0. They came back to win 8-5.
In the book, Darling reveals his thinking and disrupted routine.
"The mental part of it for me made me mental," he said. "The 48 hours with the rainout to think about the process of fulfilling a lifelong dream. I think there was definitely some paralysis by analysis on my part when I look back on it. It happens."
Understanding that it does happen, even to the best, is what Darling wants people to take away from "Game 7."
"I want fans to read the book and understand that not all professional athletes are walking around with their shoulders high and chests puffed out and feeling great about what they did," he said. "A lot of us think a lot about things that we have done or not done in our career. It's not all wine and roses. Sometimes you go through real professional heartbreak that takes a long time to get through.
"I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me. It's not about that. Fans ask me all the time – 'How could he play like that in that game?' This is how."
Darling believes his entire Mets legacy was saved when his teammates came back and won the game and title.
"In a weird way my entire life could have changed on that night if the Mets didn't come back," he said. "If they did not come back, I certainly would have been remembered as the man who pitched Game 7 and lost it. …
"I just find it ironic that one of the worst games I ever pitched in the biggest moment is completely washed away and my place in Mets history and lore is secure despite my every attempt to kill it."
When Darling watches an athlete fail in a big moment, he gets that same sick feeling he had as he walked off the mound that night in October 30 years ago. He always hopes that player's team comes back for them, as his team did for him. Despite his experience — or, more accurately, because of it — Darling did not talk to Mets pitcher Matt Harvey last year after Harvey gave up the tying runs against the Royals in the 9th inning of Game 5 and Kansas City went on to win the World Series in extra innings.
"I don't think you say anything to an athlete that's gone through that, that's part of the learning curve, the learning process," he said. "If you look at it from Kansas City way, you look at what they did that night against Matt and you say – 'Boy, gamers, great job,' all that kind of stuff – but I know what's going through Matt's head. I know exactly how it feels."
Darling has felt it for 30 years.