BOSTON — Borrowing a brown-edged page from the Boston Red Sox's not-too-rich World Series heritage, Manager John McNamars bravely sent Al Nipper to the mound Wednesday night with the hope that his pitcher had some Gary Waslewski in him.
Waslewski's niche in Red Sox history was made in Game 6 of the 1967 World Series when Boston Manager Dick Williams, out of rested starting pitchers, thrust journeyman Waslewski into the fray. Waslewski stunned favored St. Louis by keeping the Red Sox close through the early innings--close enough for an eventual Boston victory that forced a seventh game.
Nineteen years later, McNamara took a similar risk with Nipper, a 10-12 pitcher with a 5.38 earned-run average who was last seen on the mound Oct. 4.
Nipper, too, kept it close--punching in with a creditable six innings, allowing the New York Mets seven hits and three runs.
But he couldn't get the Red Sox a win.
Three runs were enough--but not all--for Ron Darling and the Mets, who won Game 4 of the 1986 World Series, 6-2, before a Fenway Park crowd of 33,920.
Darling pitched seven more shutout innings, Gary Carter hit two home runs and Len Dykstra hit his second homer in two visits to Fenway--this one skipping in and out of the glove of Dwight Evans in an incredible simulation of Dave Henderson's memorable dunk in Game 5 of the American League playoffs.
It all went against the Red Sox, and it all added up to the fourth straight victory by the visiting team in this World Series.
After winning the first two games at Shea Stadium, the Red Sox returned to Boston talking about a sweep. Now, they're talking about a split and another ride on the Boston-New York shuttle. The Mets have rallied to even the best-of-seven series at two games apiece, have guaranteed at least one more game at Shea and have taken all that Red Sox thunder and reduced it to the sound of one hand clapping.
"It's just another sign why baseball makes no sense," Darling said. "We're supposed to feel comfortable at Shea--and we lose two straight. Then, (the Red Sox) come home--and they lose the next two.
"I didn't pitch all that well; I'm just happy to get us back to 2-2. The main thing is, we've broken out and hit the way we're supposed to hit."
Some will say McNamara allowed the Mets that chance. Had McNamara stayed with his three-man rotation, Game 4 would have featured a rematch between Darling and Bruce Hurst. Hurst won the first meeting, 1-0.
With a chance to bury the Mets in Boston--going for a 3-1 series lead with Hurst in Game 5 and going for the crusher with Roger Clemens in Game 6--McNamara instead, essentially, played for the tie. He held back Hurst and Clemens so they would both have four days off before their next starts.
By gambling with Nipper, McNamara sacrificed Wednesday night's game for uncertain results down the line.
"We now have it the way we set it up," McNamara said. "Hurst pitched (Game 5) of the league championship series on three days' rest and was tired. Clemens went on three days' rest Sunday (a 9-3 Boston win) and did not have a Roger Clemens performance.
"Now, both will have their full complement of rest. (The Mets) are going to see our two best pitchers, fully rested. We won't have any excuses."
It was an intriguing test of stamina and endurance. The Mets were bringing back Darling on three days' rest. The Red Sox were bringing back Nipper on three weeks' rest.
For good reason, McNamara had kept Nipper in the depths of the bullpen and out of trouble during the American League championship series. In his last 10 starts of the regular season, Nipper's earned-run average was 6.97. One Red Sox writer described Nipper as "the loudest pitcher in the league. When he pitches, all you hear is--CRACK! CRACK! CRACK!"
When McNamara handed Nipper the ball amid the World Series glare, most of Boston's citizenry cringed and plugged their fingers into their ears. They prayed . . . .and waited for the inevitable.
It came in the fourth inning.
Nipper had matched Darling with three scoreless innings, but the first hitter he faced in the fourth, Wally Backman, singled. One out later, Carter delivered his first home run, depositing the ball into the screen atop the left-center-field wall.
Then, Darryl Strawberry arose from his October hibernation just long enough to line a double to left, his first extra-base hit of the Series. Ray Knight followed with an RBI single, and Nipper was down, 3-0.
He left the game after the sixth inning in the same condition, although it took a double play by Jim Rice to keep it that way. With Carter on third base and one out, Knight hit a line drive to Rice in left. Rice ran in, caught the ball and then fired a mighty throw to home plate. Catcher Rich Gedman took the relay and had the tag waiting for Carter, wiping out the sacrifice fly and the Mets' scoring opportunity.
"Nipper did the job I expected," McNamara said. "He kept us in the ballgame."