METS : Frustration Is Forgotten On Night of Celebration
Ray Knight was ready with more than congratulations.
He exchanged high fives with Daryl Strawberry and didn’t let go.
Strawberry had just opened the eighth inning of World Series Game 7 with a home run that extended the New York Mets lead over the Boston Red Sox to 7-5. Knight was the next hitter. They stood at home plate, their hands interlocked over their heads.
Later, in a clubhouse stained and smelling of champagne, the Mets having gone on to defeat the Red Sox, 8-5, and win the 83rd Series, Strawberry was asked what Knight had said to him during that long exchange.
“Ray has a lot more experience than I do,” Strawberry said. “He said to me, ‘OK, you’ve just shown what you can do again, now be a man and don’t rub it it, don’t say anything more. Go shake hands with Davey. Put it behind you.’ ”
Strawberry followed the advice.
Greeted on the dugout steps by Manager Davey Johnson, they exchanged high fives as if the hard feelings and harsh words of Saturday night hadn’t happened.
Johnson had removed Strawberry in the eighth inning of that game as part of a double switch. Strawberry later said he was embarrassed, hurt, frustrated. He had watched the Mets’ produce a stunning, 10th inning rally on the clubhouse television. He felt no elation. He said the manager obviously had no confidence in him.
“That’s all behind us. It’s all over with,” Strawberry said, continuing to follow Knight’s advice. Knight also had to leave frustration and unhappiness behind him but he emerged from this Series as the Most Valuable Player.
“As close as I came to my death in baseball, this is hard to believe,” Knight said.
“It’s not even a dream come true because it was too farfetched to even dream about.
“I mean, I was buried the last two years (1984 and ‘85). People ask me if I was ready to give up and I say, ‘No,’ but I definitely thought the Mets were ready to give up on me.
“This just shows what persistance and hard work can do.”
This was a Series’ batting average of .391 based on 9 hits in 23 at-bats. Knight drove in five runs in the seven games, delivering one of the three hits in the 10th inning in Game 6 and then unloading a seventh-inning homer that snapped a 3-3 tie in Game 7. It was a lead the Mets never relinquished.
Knight also followed Strawberry’s homer in the eighth with his third hit of the game, eventually scoring the eighth run.
The count was 2 and 1 when Knight jumped on a Calvin Schiraldi fastball and drilled it over the fence in left center for the pivotal homer.
“I’ve been trying to hit the ball up the middle or to the opposite field,” Knight said. “But in that situation, with the game tied and a pitcher who throws something of a straight fastball, I told myself ‘think aggressive.’ He got the fastball up where I was looking for it and I knew I hit it well enough to go out if it was high enough.”
It was, and so was Knight. He pumped his fists circling the bases and later said: “I can’t describe it. What you saw is the way I felt. It was a tremendous high. I was elated. I still am.”
Elated, of course, because this World Series performance, following a season in which he hit .298 and drove in 76 runs, is almost certain to get him the two- year contract with which he wants to close out his career here and save him from having to test the recently frigid waters of free agency.
Elated, too, because in 1984, his first year with the Mets, he played infrequently due to injuries, and last year, when he appeared in just 90 games, it was because third base had gone to Howard Johnson.
About the only person who believed that Ray Knight, at 33, could win back his position in spring training was his wife, golfer Nancy Lopez.
“She was definitely the only person who believed it,” Knight said. “She told me when I left for camp that if I got the chance I could do it. I told her that she had to be kidding, she had to be dreaming.
“I mean, it wasn’t that I didn’t think I could still play. I just didn’t think I’d get the chance. I thought HoJo would be the third baseman or that we would platoon at best. I have to thank Nancy for her faith and Davey for sticking with me and giving me the chance.”
A torrid spring put Knight in the lineup. A torrid start kept him there. He had much to motivate him aside from his own persistance and determination.
There was the newspaper that referred to him as “Ray Lopez” in its season opening thumbnails and said his teammates couldn’t believe he had made the club. There was the memory of how the fans had responded during his first two years and his own frustration at the thought of coming to the park.
“For two years I was booed off the sidewalks of New York,” he said. “The fans baited me. It was hard even coming to the park. I didn’t feel appreciated, I wasn’t comfortable in my role. It was devastating at times. I didn’t even feel part of the club.”
Does he now feel vindicated?
“I won’t ever forget, but I will forgive,” he said. “I don’t hold it against anyone. The key thing is that I was healthy all year and that was a first for me here. The other thing is that I always felt good about myself and the people who care for me felt good about me. Vindication? No. I’d say it’s more a matter of resiliency.”
Knight demonstrated it again this week in the way he came back from his Game 2 benching, which he openly questioned and described as one of the low points of his career.
Isn’t that what Daryl Strawberry was saying Saturday night? Isn’t that what Ray Knight was talking about with Daryl Strawberry as they held hands at home plate?
Handle it. Live with it. Put it behind you. Knight and Strawberry did. Now the Mets have, as well.
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