E-3

by

Lenny Levine

“This is unbelievable!”

Jerry Shapiro, resplendent in his Keith Hernandez jersey, couldn’t stop saying that to his girlfriend Debbie, as Paul Simon put the finishing touches to the national anthem and the sold-out Shea Stadium crowd around them roared in anxious anticipation.

Game Six of the 1986 World Series was about to begin.

Jerry could not believe he was here to see it. In a box seat right off first base, just six rows from the field!

His uncle Harry and aunt Jean, who’d had Met season tickets since the days of the Polo Grounds, were supposed to be in these seats, but their ill-timed, long-planned Caribbean cruise had become Jerry’s incredible fortune. Uncle Harry, he knew, must be eating his guts out right now in Aruba, or wherever the hell they were.

“This is unbelievable!” he said again.

There had almost been no Game Six to go to. The Mets lost the first two at Shea the week before, but then came back in Boston, winning two, tying up the Series, guaranteeing a sixth game. That’s when Uncle Harry, suitcases in the hallway and overcome by mixed feelings, had called him.

But then they lost Game Five, and all the steam went out of it. Now they were one game away from oblivion. Jerry would not see the Mets leaping all over each other as World Champs tonight, but there was a good chance he could watch them die.

But that wasn’t going to happen. Ojeda was going to pitch like he did up in Boston, and they’d find a way to beat Roger Clemens, as great as he was. After all, they’d hit him pretty hard in Game Two.

They were going to win, and it would force a Game Seven tomorrow night. The Red Sox would be left with no one to throw out there but Oil Can Boyd, their third-best pitcher, the guy the Mets had destroyed in Game Three.

If we win tonight, Jerry thought fiercely, we can win the whole damn thing!

He glanced around him for the umpteenth time and still had to pinch himself to prove it was real. Man, he absolutely loved it!

Debbie Weston, his girlfriend, was less enthusiastic.

For one thing, she’d been battling a sinus headache since this morning, and despite multiple infusions of Sinex, the crowd noise was killing her. For another thing, she didn’t much care for baseball.

Growing up in Cleveland with an alcoholic father and two older brothers who lived and died with the Indians, and treated Debbie and her helpless mother accordingly, was her only exposure to the national pastime. And the Indians seemed to lose every day.

She didn’t understand baseball. More than that, she didn’t understand why children’s games could make grown men into assholes.

She fervently hoped Jerry wouldn’t turn out to be like her father or her brothers. They’d been dating for six weeks now, and she was doing this because he’d asked her, because she really liked him, maybe even (dare she think it?) loved him. And she wanted this relationship to work.

The Mets sprang from the dugout, taking the field.

A mushrooming cry engulfed her, making her grimace, as Jerry and 55,000 others surged to their feet in tumultuous welcome.

“Let’s go, Bobby O!” Jerry shouted out to Ojeda, warming up on the mound. He put two fingers to his mouth and punctuated the exhortation with a piercing whistle.

It seemed to resonate in every one of Debbie’s sinuses.

“Could you please not do that again?” she asked him, blinking in pain.

“What?” He started to smile at her, then noticed her expression. “Oh, sorry,” he said sheepishly. “I forgot.”

He sat back down and looked out at the field, toward home plate where Wade Boggs, the first Red Sox hitter, was settling into the batter’s box.

“This guy,” he pointed out as he turned to her, “is probably the best hitter in baseball.”

She stared past him at Boggs, trying to see something that would indicate that, but couldn’t, so she didn’t know what to do with the information.

“Ah,” she said neutrally.

Ojeda’s first pitch was a fastball for a strike. The crowd erupted, her headache echoing it.

“What just happened?” she asked.

“It’s strike one,” he explained.

“Are they going to do that after every strike?”

“Only when it’s on a Boston hitter.” His eyes were riveted on Ojeda, who was starting to deliver the next pitch.

“Oh,” she murmured.

It was low and outside for a ball, and the crowd noise, for the first time, diminished. From her sightline, Debbie could not tell the difference between that pitch and the one before.

Ojeda delivered again.

Boggs sent a slicing line drive toward third. Ray Knight barely got a glove on it, as it caromed away toward shortstop where Rafael Santana picked it up, too late to make a throw. Infield single.

“Shit!” Jerry said and slapped his rolled up scorecard against his palm.

It did not seem like a good sign to her. The best hitter in baseball just got a hit and he was already starting to get mad.

Jerry barely noticed he’d done it. He still couldn’t get over these seats. There was Boggs, just a short distance away, taking a modest lead off first, as his man, Keith Hernandez, big as life, held him on.

Marty Barrett stepped in at the plate.

“Now this guy,” he explained, “has been killing us the whole series.”

“Okay,” she said gamely.

He knew he wasn’t getting it across, and it frustrated him. He really cared for her. She was beautiful and smart and they had great sex together, but she was so serious. Everything measured, everything with gravitas. The phrase “hey, lighten up,” often occurred to him, but he’d never said it to her. Not so far.

He could’ve given the second ticket to any number of friends who’d have been delirious about it, but instead he’d asked her to come. He wanted this game to be special for her, to be great.

Barrett hit a liner to center field, where Dykstra made the catch for the first out.

“All right!” he said, smiling at her and clapping, as she did the same back to him.

The next hitter was Bill Buckner, who took Ojeda’s first pitch low for a ball, as Debbie yelled, “Oh my God!”

Jerry turned to look at her and then, like everyone else, looked up.

Out of the night sky, a parachutist in a white jump suit was slowly descending. Attached to the parachute strings was a banner that read “Go Mets.”

He landed smoothly on the infield grass, scaring the hell out of second baseman Wally Backman, and trotted a couple of steps toward the Met dugout before he was grabbed by the stadium police. He cheerfully waved to the crowd as they hustled him off.

Jerry and Debbie stood staring at each other. Jerry’s face was radiant.

“Wow!” he said in a voice higher than she’d ever heard him use. “That guy’s a real Met fan!”

What could she say? To her, it was one of the most stupid things she’d ever witnessed.

She settled for “I guess.”

Everyone sat back down, buzzing, and the game resumed.

Buckner worked the count to three and two, then hit an easy fly to Dykstra for the second out. She noticed Buckner’s stiffness, almost a gimp, as he jogged back to the dugout.

“Why is he running like that?” she asked.

“He’s had a lot of ankle injuries. In fact, you’ll see when he comes out to play first base; he’s wearing high-topped orthopedic shoes.”

Now that was the first thing she’d heard that was actually sort of interesting.

“Why do they let him play?”

“Because he’s a great hitter. And here comes another one,” he announced, as Jim Rice strode to the plate.

She couldn’t help think that, so far, everyone was a great hitter.

Rice drew a walk. Now it was first and second, and the crowd began to get restive as Dwight Evans, the Boston right fielder, came up.

“C’mon, Bobby!” Jerry called out to Ojeda through cupped hands.

He sensed movement to his left, in the aisle next to him. A young woman with long, blonde hair preceded three guys who, like himself, looked to be in their mid 20s, as they walked down the steps and took their seats in the box opposite him. Two of the guys had Red Sox caps, the third one wore a Roger Clemens tee shirt. The woman had on a Gary Carter Mets jersey. She sat down in the seat across from Jerry.

“Hey, look, Liz,” one of the guys said to her over his shoulder, “we’ve got first and second.”

“I don’t want to hear anything from you jerks,” she said, opening her scorecard. “You idiots are the reason why we’re late.”

The three of them cracked up laughing.

Automatically, like any heterosexual male, Jerry registered the fact that she was extremely attractive. It was a reflex, an observation, and it meant nothing more. He turned to Debbie, who hadn’t been watching.

“How’s your headache?” he asked her.

She made a sour face. “Not so great, I guess.”

“Gosh, I’m sor…”

Dwight Evans swung and belted it into the gap between left and center. It rocketed off the base of the wall, as Boggs came around to score. Rice stopped at third and Evans pulled in at second with a double. One-nothing, Red Sox.

“Jesus Christ!” Jerry emphasized it with another smack of the rolled up program, making Debbie wince.

Across the aisle, the three guys celebrated, while the woman silently entered it on her scorecard.

Jerry sat there and fumed. This was not how it was supposed to happen.

Debbie was wondering if she was going to be in for a long night. And if she was, then what?

At that moment, Rich Gedman, the Boston catcher and next hitter, stepped in and did them a favor. He swung at the first pitch and lofted it to right field, where Darryl Strawberry glided under it and ended the inning.

“Okay,” said Jerry, giving Debbie a look of relief as the Mets came off the field and the Red Sox ran onto it. “Just one run; nothing to worry about. Now it’s our turn.”

“Our turn” turned out to be very brief. Clemens looked untouchable, as Dykstra and Backman each stared powerlessly at strike three and Keith Hernandez hit a lazy fly to center field.

In the top of the second, the Red Sox picked up right where they left off. Ojeda surrendered three more hits and another run, and Jerry stopped explaining things. He seemed to get more and more withdrawn as the inning went on, his mouth tightening as he made small, hieroglyphic-like entries on his scorecard. Debbie did not dare ask him what he was doing for fear of getting him even more angry. She’d never seen him like this. And over what?

There was a bit of hope in the bottom of the second, as Strawberry drew a walk with one out, then stole second. But Clemens struck out Ray Knight and Mookie Wilson, and that was that.

In the third, thankfully, Ojeda settled down and found his rhythm. He struck out two hitters while retiring the Red Sox in order.

Clemens matched him in the bottom of the inning, also striking out two, as the Mets went down passively.

To Debbie, things were starting to move along now, and she was beginning to relax a little. She asked Jerry about his scorecard and listened to a long explanation of how the players were numbered one through nine, starting with the pitcher as “one.” How the catcher was “two,” the first baseman was “three,” and so on; how the corners of each box on the page represented the bases; how “w” meant “walk,” “sb” meant “stolen base,” “e” meant “error,” etc. Mostly, she was just glad his mood had lifted, as she half paid attention.

As the top of the fifth was ending, there had been little drama. Boston presented mild threats that were easily subdued, and the Mets still hadn’t gotten a hit off Clemens.

Debbie realized she was hungry and figured some food might help her headache. The only vendors they’d seen so far were selling beer and soda.

“I think I’m going to see what they have at the refreshment stand,” she said. “Want to come?”

He gave a quick, desperate glance toward the field, looking so stricken, she had to smile.

“That’s okay; I know you don’t want to miss anything. What can I get you?”

“A hot dog with mustard and relish would be great,” he said, with a look of gratitude that was really sweet. He took out his wallet and gave her a 20. “If it’s more than that, let me know.”

“Will do.”

She slid by him, out of the box, and moved up the aisle toward the exit ramp.

Darryl Strawberry stood near the plate, as Clemens threw his final warm-up pitches to Gedman.

“Excuse me…”

It was the blonde-haired woman. She was leaning across the aisle toward him.

“Could you tell me how the Red Sox had first and second with two out in the first inning? I got here late.”

He checked his scorecard. “Boggs singled, there were two fly outs to center, and then Rice walked.”

“Thanks,” she said, noting it on her scorecard. “Nice Keith Hernandez jersey, by the way.”

“Thanks,” he said. “Nice Gary Carter.”

“I’m sure they both love us for it,” she said with a quick smile, before turning back toward the field and hollering, “Come on, Straw!” at Strawberry.

The three Red Sox guys broke into a chant of “Let’s go Roger!”

As far as Jerry could tell, she wasn’t with the guy next to her or either of the others, though they all seemed to know each other.

With the count one and one, Strawberry took two high fastballs that barely missed being strikes.

“Good eye,” she said. She looked at him from across the aisle. “We’ve been swinging at those all night.”

“Hard to lay off high fastballs,” he said. “They’re so tempting.”

“Tempting is what they are.”

One thing he’d always loved about baseball was how total strangers could just start talking. And a total stranger who was as good looking as…

No. What was the matter with him? He was with Debbie. She was the one he cared about. He’d brought her here; it was supposed to be special. What kind of an asshole was he? He turned away and concentrated on Strawberry, who took the next pitch outside for ball four.

Strawberry trotted to first base, amid hopeful cheering from the faithful and restless stirring from the Red Sox guys.

Ray Knight stepped to the plate. He fouled one off just over their heads that a fan a few rows back made a nice grab of.

“Hey, Liz,” said the guy in the Clemens tee shirt, turning and looking back at her, “how come you didn’t catch that?”

She made a face at him, as Strawberry took off for second.

He made it. The ball popped out of Barrett’s glove and, for a second, lay on the infield dirt. The shortstop, Spike Owen, picked it up and tried to fake Strawberry that he didn’t know where it was, hoping he’d take a step toward third. Then Owen would tag him out.

But Strawberry didn’t budge.

“Hidden ball trick!” Liz shouted delightedly over the crowd noise. “Hidden ball trick! Did you see it?”

She was asking Jerry the question.

“Yes,” he hollered back. “Me and Darryl, both.”

They smiled at each other.

Everyone settled down, and Clemens turned his attention back to Knight, who lined the next pitch up the middle for a base hit. Strawberry, with long, graceful strides, came around to score and the Mets were back in it.

Waiting on line at the refreshment stand, Debbie could hear the crowd get louder and she was glad she wasn’t out there in the middle of it. It was actually kind of pleasant under the stands. A breeze was blowing in from outside, and the line at the counter wasn’t too bad. With any luck, the rest of this game would move right along.

And it was doing just that. Out on the field, Mookie Wilson swung and missed at a high fastball.

Everyone was now on their feet.

He swung and missed at an identical pitch.

“We’re swinging at those goddamn sucker pitches,” the blonde woman called over to Jerry.

“He’s overanxious,” he said.

Mookie let the next two go by. Then he fouled off two more.

“Stay in the at-bat, Mookie,” she yelled at him. “Wait for one you can drive.”

It came on the next pitch, a curve that Wilson lined solidly into right field for a base hit. Evans bobbled the ball momentarily, and Knight, who would have stopped at second, cruised into third. There were still no outs.

The crowd was delirious. They’d been waiting nearly five innings for the Mets to bust out, and now they were on the verge of doing it.

John McNamarra, the Red Sox manager, visited the mound and briefly conferred with Clemens, Gedman, and the infielders, as the p.a. announcer intoned that Danny Heep would be pinch hitting for Rafael Santana.

Heep, a left-handed batter, hit one hard on the ground, right at Marty Barrett, who flipped to Spike Owen, who gunned it to Buckner for the double play. But Knight had scored from third, and the Mets had tied it up.

“Not the best way to do it,” Jerry shouted to the woman over the tumult, “but we’ll take it.”

“A run’s a run,” she agreed.

Ojeda was coming to the plate. If the Mets hadn’t tied it up, he would’ve been pinch hit for, but now he was allowed to hit and stay in the game.

He got a nice round of applause, and, after he’d grounded out to second to end the inning, the Mets took the field again to a prolonged, raucous standing ovation.

Debbie made her way down the aisle as the crowd was taking their seats again. She was laden with hot dogs, french fries, a beer for Jerry, and a Pepsi for herself. Not spilling anything required every bit of her concentration. She glanced neither left nor right as she gingerly reached his location.

“Wow, this is great!” he said, relieving her of the food carrier and letting her by. “Thanks.”

“I heard all the shouting,” she said as she sat down. “What happened?”

“We tied it up,” he told her.

“Well, that’s terrific.”

They settled into eating and drinking as the game continued. From time to time he could hear Liz bantering with the three guys, but couldn’t make it out. He tried not to look at her, but she was in his peripheral vision when he faced home plate. She said not a word to him.

The Red Sox threatened in the sixth, but didn’t score. The Mets threatened in their half, but also failed. Debbie noticed that the crowd noise had now become a loud, anxious hum, like juice flowing through high-tension wires.

Certainly, Jerry seemed tense enough. His right leg twitched as he nervously gnawed at a cuticle. That was another thing she’d never seen him do.

In the seventh, the Red Sox took the lead again. The run came on a sickening error by Ray Knight, as his routine throw from third sailed over Keith Hernandez’s outstretched glove. She thought Jerry would have a fit. He cursed and slapped at his scorecard. Mercifully, the inning ended with Mookie Wilson throwing out Jim Rice at the plate. But the damage was done.

Clemens handily disposed of the Mets in the bottom of the seventh, as the crowd started to grow uneasy.

The Red Sox had bases loaded in the eighth, but Buckner flied to center for the final out.

By the bottom of the eighth, Clemens had thrown a lot of pitches, and former Met Calvin Schiraldi, now a mainstay of the Red Sox bullpen, replaced him. Calvin, to his misfortune, helped out his ex-teammates. His throwing error set up a sacrifice fly by Gary Carter, and Lee Mazzilli came home with the tying run.

Jerry was yelling something at Debbie through all the clamor. She strained to make it out.

“Is this an incredible game or what?” he was shouting.

All she could do was nod, her face scrunched up from the noise.

Rick Aguilera was on the mound now for the Mets in the top of the ninth. He worked an easy inning, with only one glitch, an error at short that was immediately redeemed by a double play.

On to the bottom of the ninth. Now it was all in the hands of the Mets.

“Let’s win it right here,” Jerry proclaimed, as Schiraldi warmed up and Ray Knight took his practice swings near the batter’s box.

Debbie shared his desire. She too wanted the Mets to win it right here. Not only for him, but because it would mean the game would finally be over. And because if they didn’t, that would mean extra innings. She remembered how ecstatic Jerry was last week about a playoff game they won that went 16 innings. 16 innings! If something like that happened here she didn’t think she could stand it.

Knight led off by drawing a walk. Mookie laid down a sacrifice bunt that catcher Rich Gedman pounced on. He threw to second to get the lead runner, but the throw pulled Owen off the bag. At least it did according to the umpire. The Red Sox argued and pleaded desperately, but no dice. It was first and second, no out, and the decibels were rising.

Debbie held her ears, but the noise still inundated her sinuses. They felt like they were bursting.

Jerry was unaware of it, in total concentration mode. He stomped his feet and clapped his hands, exhorting pinch hitter Howard Johnson to do something.

Johnson struck out.

Then Mazzilli hit a fly ball to left, and Dykstra did the same, and it was on to extra innings.

“Jerry,” she said, as he slumped back in his seat, “would it be terrible of me to leave?”

“What?!” He couldn’t believe she’d said that.

“My headache is killing me, and this noise is sheer torture. If I left now, I could take the train home and it wouldn’t be crowded. I know you wanted me to enjoy this, but I can’t tonight. I’m really sorry.”

He was absolutely at a loss.

“It’s extra innings,” he stammered.

“I know, and it could just go on and on. Really, I’ll be fine. I can just read my book on the subway. We can come to another game sometime. I’ll make it up to you.”

This is all wrong, he thought, groping for what to do. I can’t just let her take the subway back by herself. But the idea of him leaving the game right now and driving her home was…inconceivable.

He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out his car keys. “Here,” he said. “If you really feel you have to go, then take my car. I can take the train.”

“Oh, no. I couldn’t make you…”

“Yes,” he insisted, pressing the keys into her hand. “I’d worry about you on the subway.”

“That’s sweet,” she said with a sad, little smile.

“All right, then,” he sighed. “I wish you didn’t have to leave.” He looked wistfully at her. “I’ll call you tomorrow and let you know what happened.”

“I’ll probably know already. In fact, I can listen on the car radio.” The idea had just occurred to her. But definitely at low volume. “Will you call me anyway?”

“Of course I will.”

She wanted to say she loved him, but couldn’t quite do it.

“Okay,” she said.

“Okay.”

They kissed, briefly and tenderly. Then she moved out past him, turned up the aisle, and headed for the exit.

Dave Henderson, the Red Sox center fielder, stepped to the plate to start the top of the tenth. Aguilera delivered, and he swung and missed.

Aguilera delivered again, and he crushed it.

It was obviously gone. As it rose in a majestic arc toward the left field wall and beyond, it seemed to suck the air out of 55,000 pairs of lungs. You could almost hear it clang off the façade behind the fence, that’s how quiet Shea Stadium suddenly became.

Jerry felt like he’d been punched in the solar plexus. Looking across the field, he could see the Red Sox celebrating in their dugout as Henderson toured the bases. The three guys in the other box were practically jumping all over each other.

His eyes found Liz. She was ignoring them, looking straight back at him. Her beautiful face was in shock.

“Hey, Liz! Hey, Liz!” they kept yelling at her, trying to get her attention so they could really let her have it.

She never glanced at them. “Did your friend leave?” she asked Jerry.

“Yeah,” he said, still in a daze.

“You mind if I move next to you? If I have to deal with these morons I might kill them.”

The guys reacted like it was the funniest thing they ever heard.

“Sure,” Jerry said, moving into Debbie’s empty seat. “Come on over.”

“Thanks.”

She slid across the aisle and slipped in next to him.

“It’s only one run,” she said, although it sounded half hearted.

“Hey, we’ve been coming back all night,” he said.

Then they were silent.

Aguilera struck out Spike Owen for the first out and Calvin Schiraldi for the second.

“How do you know those guys?” Jerry asked while this was going on.

“They work for me. I’m a produce manager at Fairmart, and it’s the company’s box. We rotate who gets to use it, and tonight it was my turn; me and the Three Stooges. My name’s Liz, by the way, if you haven’t been listening to them.”

“Hi, I’m Jerry,” he said.

“Pleased to meet you, Jerry. How come your friend left?”

“She had a bad headache. And I don’t think she’s really into baseball.”

“Some people are like that.”

Wade Boggs laced a line drive to left field that went over Mookie’s head and one-hopped the wall. He pulled into second with a double.

“God, I can’t stand it,” she said, covering her eyes.

The three guys guffawed and pounded each other on the back.

Marty Barrett stepped in.

“Come on, Rick!” Jerry yelled to Aguilera.

“Keep it to one,” she exhorted him. “Give us a chance.”

Barrett lined a single to center. Boggs came around to score and, for good measure, Dykstra’s throw sailed over everyone, allowing Barrett to take second.

“The wheels are coming off,” Liz moaned. Jerry moaned along with her.

To make it worse, Aguilera then hit Buckner with a pitch. Finally, Rice ended the agony with a fly ball to right.

But the Mets were dead men walking. Two runs down and three outs away.

The bottom of the tenth began under a cloud of funk. It was like a gray mist of depression had descended upon the stadium and soaked up all the energy.

Except for the Red Sox. They were in the field, bouncing up and down on their toes and ready. Jerry could see the players in their dugout moving about and glad-handing each other. He felt numb.

Small pockets of fans tried to cheer the Mets on but gained no traction.

Wally Backman hit a harmless fly to Rice in left field.

Keith Hernandez, Jerry’s man who’d done very little tonight, followed with an equally tepid fly ball to center.

One out was all that remained.

Gary Carter stepped in, and that seemed to wake Liz up a bit.

“Come on, Gary!” she shouted to her jersey’s namesake. “He’s not going to make the last out in this World Series,” she said, her voice steely. “He’s not!”

He didn’t. He lined one into left field for a base hit.

“All right! All right!” Jerry said, starting to revive now as well. Kevin Mitchell was announced as the pinch hitter. He took a few vicious practice cuts and then stepped into the batter’s box.

“He hits one out and we’re tied,” Jerry said.

“I don’t dare hope,” she muttered.

“Hope,” he told her. “Hope as hard as you can. Send out positive vibes.”

“Okay, I hope. I hope.”

“Good. Keep saying it.”

They said it together, as Mitchell checked his swing and fouled off the first pitch into the seats a few sections away.

“I hope. I hope.”

Mitchell lined the next pitch into center field for a single. Carter stopped at second.

Now it was up to Ray Knight, whose error in the seventh had led to a Red Sox run.

“I hope. I hope. I hope.” It became like a chant between them as they huddled next to each other.

Knight took a fastball for a strike.

Then he chopped one down the third-base line that Boggs let roll into foul territory for strike two, and the Mets were at the edge of the abyss.

They desperately kept repeating the newfound mantra. Somewhere in there, they’d joined hands. Jerry didn’t remember it happening, only that her hand was now in his.

Knight swung at the next pitch and blooped it into short center field. Dave Henderson charged in. Would he catch it? Would it drop in front of him?

It dropped in! Carter scored. Mitchell stopped at third. The tying run was only 90 feet away. The winning run was on first.

The stadium was going nuts. John McNamarra strode out of the Boston dugout and made his way to the mound to replace Schiraldi, as Jerry could feel the floor beneath him shake.

They both were on their feet now, no longer holding hands. They’d let go in the excitement, as they stood up. He didn’t know if she was even aware they’d been doing it.

“Oh, boy,” she said. “Oh, boy.”

“Couldn’t put it any better myself.”

Calvin Schiraldi departed, and Bob Stanley came in to replace him. Mookie Wilson waited in the on-deck circle.

Through the warm-up pitches, the crowd noise did not diminish an iota. It had taken on a life of its own.

Mookie stepped in.

Jerry and Liz sat down and reassumed their positions. She had, as it happened, been aware they’d been holding hands because she reached over and took his again.

“Don’t want to change anything,” she said.

Mookie fouled off the first pitch.

“I hope. I hope.”

He took the next pitch outside for a ball.

They chanted it again and again, softly and determinedly. Her three companions kept trying to get her attention but she was zoning them out.

Mookie took another pitch high for ball two.

“I hope. I hope.”

He beat the next one foul in the dirt. Strike two and, again, on the brink.

Stanley checked both runners. He swung into his motion and delivered.

A fastball that Mookie just barely caught a piece of, to foul off and stay alive.

The tension was almost too much to bear. Jerry stared at the number 1 on Mookie’s back, as he held Liz’s hand and repeated the magic words over and over. It was all he could do. Mookie waggled the bat hypnotically as he waited for the next pitch.

Stanley delivered again. Mookie fouled off yet another one.

The frenzy in the stands was approaching critical mass.

Stanley took a deep breath and composed himself. He looked in for the sign from Gedman, then made his seventh pitch of the at-bat.

It almost hit Mookie in the ribs. He jackknifed out of the way somehow, as Gedman tried to reach it, but couldn’t. The ball shot past him, all the way to the backstop, as Kevin Mitchell dashed for the plate.

He made it!

The Mets, for the third time, had come back to tie the game. Knight had taken second on the play and was now standing there as the potential winning run.

People were jumping up and down now, hysterical, shrieking at the top of their voices. It was impossible to hear. Jerry and Liz had gotten up too, and now they stood together, their hands again finding each other, as Stanley tried to steady himself on the mound.

“I hope. I hope.”

Mookie fouled off the next pitch to the right of the plate.

“I hope. I hope.”

He fouled off another down the third base line.

It was like some hellish time loop that might never end. Pitch—foul. Pitch—foul.

Stanley checked Knight yet again at second. Then he delivered to the plate.

Mookie swung and sent a dribbler down the first base line. It was all right there before them, just a few yards away; the ball bouncing toward Buckner, Mookie sprinting down the line, Stanley just beginning to come off the mound to cover first.

What happened then has, of course, been seen by millions and will doubtless be seen by millions more. The ball trickling under Buckner’s glove, his instinctive turn toward it as it rolled onto the right-field grass, his shoulders sagging.

Ray Knight galloping around third, holding his hands to his head in joy and disbelief, jubilantly being pursued by third-base-coach Buddy Harrelson as he jumped onto home plate with both feet and was swallowed up by a mob of teammates.

Jerry and Liz released their hands and threw their arms around each other. He stood there holding her, his eyes closed, smelling her perfume, feeling the softness of her hair, her body against his. If he’d ever been happier in his life, he couldn’t remember it.

“We did it,” she whispered in his ear. He didn’t know if she meant the Mets or the two of them. Maybe it was both.

Their eyes met. His lips sought hers.

She pulled away.

“No,” she said, letting go of him.

All around was bedlam, people laughing, shouting, bits of paper fluttering through the air, flashbulbs popping.

“Why?” he asked her.

“Because you’re a guy.”

His mouth fell open and he blinked in surprise.

“Believe me,” she said, smiling self consciously at his astonishment, “if I were attracted to men you’d be right up near the top of my list. But I’m not.”

“Oh.” It was all he could say.

For a moment they were an island of silence in a sea of celebration.

“Hey, come on,” she said, slapping his arm. “What’s the difference? Just look at all this!”

He did. There were the Mets, still on the field, hugging each other, not wanting to leave. An elderly couple in matching Mets jackets, sitting in the box to his right, wept for joy. All around them, the party was raging.

She was right. This moment trumped everything.

He thought of Debbie in the car, listening to the radio. Did she understand what just happened, what this meant? Oh, man, she had to!

***

As she inched through the post-game traffic on the Grand Central Parkway, Debbie fought back tears, trying not to be overwhelmed by them. After leaving, she’d walked under the stands almost all the way around the stadium to the left-field gate she remembered as being closest to the car. As she did, the sound of the crowd seemed to subside. She didn’t know what that meant, but by the time she got to the gate she was having second thoughts.

Why am I acting like such a pill? she said to herself. She’d spent the whole evening just thinking of her own welfare, never giving him a chance. She was taking him to a Mozart concert next week. She certainly wouldn’t want him to leave in the middle of it like she was doing. So she had a sinus headache. She’d had them before; she’d have them again.

She turned and started back, as the crowd noise began to intensify. It didn’t matter. She was not a selfish bitch. She would show him she really cared.

The noise had become near excruciating by the time she reached their section. She stepped out of the tunnel and into the maelstrom.

Everyone was standing and yelling as she walked down the steps. Something was happening on the field, but that’s not where her eye took her. She was staring down the aisle at Jerry’s back, with the Keith Hernandez number 17 on it. Incredibly, he was standing with a blonde in a similar jersey that had number 8. They were very close together. Were they holding hands? Ohmygod, they were!

Suddenly the noise exploded. It assaulted her eardrums. Jerry and the blonde were turning toward each other and, as she watched in sheer, astonished revulsion, they were embracing!

They stayed that way. It seemed to go on for an eternity, the two of them clinging to each other like long lost lovers.

She thought she was going to be sick. She turned and plunged blindly up the aisle, the image burned into her mind. She vaguely remembered fighting her way through mobs of people, somehow making it to the parking lot.

Now, as the traffic crawled toward the Triboro Bridge, she wondered how she was going to get the keys back to him and let him know where to find the car without actually having to do it in person.

She never wanted to see him, or a baseball game, ever again.

***

By the time the train reached Queens Plaza, it had emptied out enough for Jerry to find a seat. He opened his scorecard and began to leisurely relive it all, detail by detail.

Tomorrow night, he and Debbie would watch Game Seven at his apartment, quietly and intimately. They’d share a bottle of wine, and he’d carefully explain the things he couldn’t tell her tonight in all the hubbub. Her headache would be gone. She’d see how wonderful baseball really is.

He noticed that, in all the excitement, he hadn’t made the final notation on his scorecard, so he took out a pencil and did it. In the box for Mookie Wilson’s last at bat he wrote “E-3,” baseball shorthand for “error on the first baseman.”

E-3. Could any letter-number combination be more glorious tonight?

Life was beyond good. Life was damn near perfect.

THE END

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