BOSTON — He grew up hoping that one day he would play the left-field wall like Yaz.
He grew up knowing no other major league arena except Fenway Park, most often joining Little League teammates in the center-field bleachers.
In fact, when Ron Darling went out to pitch for the first time in Fenway Park Wednesday night, he couldn't help but remember that almost 11 years to the day earlier, when he was 15, he had sat in those bleachers and watched one of the memorable games in World Series history.
That was the sixth game of the 1975 Series, the game in which Boston defeated Cincinnati, 7-6, on a towering home run by Carlton Fisk in the 11th inning. Darling remembered leaping almost as high as Fisk, watching the ball romance the foul line.
And now, in returning to Fenway Park to pitch Game 4 of the 1986 World Series for the New York Mets, all the memories mingled with the knowledge of how much he wanted this win--for his team and for himself, of course, and for his parents and 40 former high school pals from nearby Worcester and Millbury, where Darling grew up.
"I wanted to give 'em a good show and I almost turned it into a nightmare," Darling said later, after having pitched seven shutout innings as the Mets defeated the Red Sox, 6-2, to even the Series at two games apiece.
Some nightmare. Darling allowed only four hits in improving on his Game 1 performance, when he scattered seven hits over seven innings only to lose on an unearned run, 1-0.
He walked three and struck out eight in that game. He walked six and struck out four in this one. Six walks in Fenway is generally akin to suicide, but Darling forced the Red Sox to strand 10.
At no time did he allow them to hit a ball off the left-field wall he had once loved so much.
"It seemed like I was in trouble almost every inning either because of their hits or my walks," he said, "and that stemmed from the fact I was trying too be too fine, trying harder than I've every tried before, trying to be even better than perfect.
"Here I was pitching in my own backyard, with my parents and 40 high school friends watching. I may never have that chance again. I wanted it so badly that it almost came back to haunt me. I was overthrowing. I mean, my ball was moving so much I couldn't keep it in the strike zone."
A one-out double by Marty Barrett and a pair of two-out walks to Jim Rice and Don Baylor enabled the Red Sox to load the bases in the first inning. Dwight Evans then grounded into a force play.
Darling yielded a leadoff double to Rich Gedman in the second, then retired 10 in a row before forcing the Red Sox to strand two runners in each of the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.
"I've never been afraid of having people on base," Darling said. "I've always felt I could get out of any jam, and fortunately, I was able to do that tonight. I got ahead of the hitters when I was in trouble and I think that was the difference."
Darling had thrown 115 pitches by the end of the seventh inning. Roger McDowell was summoned to pitch the eighth.
"I could have gone on," Darling said, "but with a 5-0 lead and the chance that I might have to come back in the seventh game, I think Davey (Manager Johnson) made the right decision. I was fine physically, but I was drained emotionally."
Darling watched the last two innings from the dugout. It wasn't easy. Jesse Orosco had to bail McDowell out of a jam in the eighth, when the Red Sox scored twice. A 1-2-3 ninth left Darling with the win he wanted so badly.
"I know it's a cliche," he said, "but I don't think it's sunk in yet. I know that I've never been so nervous during the last two innings of a game.
"I'm sure that when I get home and think about winning a World Series game in this park, with so many people who mean so much to me watching, I'll have to consider it my greatest thrill."
There was more to it, of course, than the personal satisfaction.
Now, the Series is tied, with Dwight Gooden set to face Bruce Hurst tonight. Now, there will definitely be a sixth game back on the Mets' turf Saturday night.
"There was a lot of talk from the Red Sox that they were going to sweep us," Darling said. "Now we've shut them down two nights in a row. We can't gloat, but now we have a chance to go back to our own ballpark with a 3-2 lead (in the Series)."
And Darling, 15-6 with a 2.81 earned-run average during the regular season and boasting a 0.00 ERA after 14 innings of the World Series, may ultimately have to dish up that tantalizing forkball again in Game 7, making a second straight start on three days' rest.
"No problem," he said. "I can't throw 100 m.p.h. every five days, but I can throw 85 to 90 every three or four.
"Hopefully, if I have to pitch Game 7, I can harness the movement I had tonight and combine it with the velocity I had in Game 1. I didn't pitch as well tonight, but that's the way baseball is.
"You pitch well and get a loss, then you don't pitch quite as well and get a win."
If it had to be that way, Ron Darling was thrilled that the win came at the time and place it did. It was almost as good as being Carl Yastrzemski and playing a carom off the wall.