Dwight Gooden is ready to pitch Game 7 of the National League championship series.
No, California smog breath, you mean Ron Darling is ready to pitch Game 7 of the National League championship series. No, you Big Apple worm, I mean exactly what I said.
Doc Gooden is volunteering to pitch for the Mets against the Dodgers tonight.
As in Orel (If You Need Me I’m As Close as Your Nearest Phone) Hershiser in relief? That’s exactly what I mean.
“I was ready to do it for this game, if they needed me,” Gooden said after New York’s 5-1 victory Tuesday night in Game 6. “Did you see me out there in the bullpen? If things got rough for Coney (David Cone), I was there.”
Hershiser in relief. Gooden in relief. What next--re-activate Koufax and Seaver?
“When’s the last time you worked in relief?” Gooden was asked.
“High school,” he said.
If anybody was wondering just how big Game 7 is, this is how big. Darling will pitch. Gooden will pitch if Darling gets into trouble. Even Cone probably will come to the park prepared to pitch. Let’s just hope he never refers to Gooden as a high school pitcher.
“I’ll be out there trying if they need me,” Gooden said. “Wish me luck.”
Luck, Doc. Los Angeles fans wish you one kind, New York fans another kind. No, on second thought, New York fans wish you the night off. If you come in to pitch, it means that (a) Darling has been chased early by the Dodgers; (b) it is the bottom of the ninth inning and the Mets need an out desperately, or (c) it is somewhere around the 15th inning and Davey Johnson has already used everybody on the bench except Bob Ojeda, whose hand is in a cast.
The Mets intend to do anything and everything necessary to score one more run than the Dodgers tonight, and they will have the extra added disadvantage of knowing that they will not be able to aim any grounders at Bill Buckner’s legs.
For starters, it’s all up to Darling and Hershiser. Since almost anything is possible in this wacky series, Hershiser probably will work 11 or 12 innings, finally agree to let Jay Howell relieve him, go out and play center field for a couple of innings and then come back to pitch the 15th.
“Now is not the time to play safe,” said Met first baseman Keith Hernandez. “It’s 9 innings now. Flip a coin. We feel good about having Ronnie out there just as they feel good about having Orel out there. I’m ready for anything.”
All the Mets are, and each is handling the anxiety of a big series in his own way. Following Tuesday’s game, for instance, second baseman Wally Backman lit a cigarette. Relief pitcher Roger McDowell lit a firecracker. It went bang right in the middle of the locker room, leaving an odor behind that was more unbearable than . . . than . . . well, than a locker room.
Rookie infielder Gregg Jefferies didn’t mind. He just laughed and went back to licking his ice cream cone.
Some Mets are loose, some are tight. But at least they still have something to feel loose or tight about. They still have a shot at another World Series. They haven’t been to a World Series in, oh, two years now, and you know how impatient these New Yorkers get.
“There’s no tomorrow,” right fielder Darryl Strawberry said.
Aw, sure there’s a tomorrow, Darryl. Game 7 is tomorrow. Unless you mean Game 7 is today, in which case you’re right, there is no tomorrow. But, seeing as how you said there was no tomorrow last night, you must have meant that there is no tomorrow after tomorrow. “Game 7 is the most important of all games,” Strawberry clarified. “There’s no tomorrow for the loser. One team gets to stay and one team has to go home, and I just hope we’re the team that gets to stay.”
Uh, no, Darryl, actually you have to go home tomorrow if you lose today, but you also have to go home tomorrow if you win today, because if you win today and decide to stay tomorrow, you will still be in Los Angeles when the World Series opens Saturday, and everybody else will be in New York. Oh, well. At least those who love the Mets are glad to see them still alive. Some people thought they were finished when they came to Dodger Stadium down 3 games to 2, but the Mets just looked on the bright side.
“We were not in a good position, but the way I look at it, there are 10 other teams in the National League who still would have been happy to be in our position,” outfielder Kevin McReynolds said.
The start of the game was a shaky one, with Cone throwing 7 straight balls to Dodger leadoff men Steve Sax and Mickey Hatcher before throwing a strike. Kirk Gibson bailed out the Mets by popping up a bunt, though.
“I was a little surprised to see that, after seeing Coney get off to such a rough start,” Strawberry said. “Turned out to be a blessing in disguise for us.”
Said Hernandez: “I know what he (Gibson) was trying to do. It was a team move. Cone was struggling, and he wanted to move the runners along, and I also think Gibson’s leg was bothering him when he was trying to swing. So, he made a team move, a move for the good of the team. I’m sure Tommy (Lasorda) would rather have seen him swing the bat, but it was just one of those things.”
After which, Cone was never in serious trouble again.
“What can I say?” Hernandez said. “He’s a man.”
Hernandez even went so far as to find Cone on the other side of the clubhouse, curl an arm around his shoulder and tell him so.
“Hey,” Hernandez told the pitcher, “you’re a man.”
So, there you have today’s headlines: “Gooden Might Pitch Relief in Game 7.” And: “Cone Is a Man.” Or maybe these are tomorrow’s headlines. We forget. Bring on Game 7.