Fate, drama played out on scoreboard

September 17, 1990|By Harvey Araton | Harvey Araton,New York Daily News

Bud Harrelson was sitting on the top step of the dugout Friday evening, the New York Mets having just finished batting practice. It was a just few minutes before six, the sun was still overhead, but already the huge Shea Stadium scoreboard in right-center field was reporting from Montreal.

"I see [Bob] Walk's going," Harrelson said, glancing over his left shoulder. He was referring to the No. 17 in the pitching column for Pittsburgh. The Pitt-Mon game was second in the National League setup on the right side of the scoreboard, directly underneath Phil and NY. In direct order of importance, of course.

"It's that time of the season," Harrelson said. He meant that time when everyone's head develops this unavoidable twitch, when the scoreboard becomes a magnet to the eyes.

The Mets and Pirates, having exhausted each other with five confrontations in nine days, do not play until Oct. 1 in Pittsburgh. But they are going to feel each other's presence, in a visceral way, every night, until they meet again.

"Here, it's not so bad," Harrelson was saying, "because at least you have the scores up there all the time. You take a quick look up, that's it. Some of other places, where they flash the scores, you'll keep looking for it and wind up missing something in your own game."

Doesn't matter. Human nature will prevail. The Pirates' score must be known.

"Anybody on this bench who says he doesn't watch the scoreboard is full of bleep," said Lee Mazzilli, a dugout visitor during BP. "Don't let anyone tell you 'we just take care of our own business' crap."

Gregg Jefferies said, "I don't know about the other guys, but I look up once an inning, at least."

Tommy Herr said: "Oh, you gotta look. You tell yourself not to keep looking, but it's inevitable. It demands your attention. I probably will look up there after every out."

From his fondly recalled days in St. Louis, Herr not only remembers the inning-by-inning updates of Mets games from their races in 1985 and '87, but the surge of power and satisfaction created by the knowledge that news of any run produced, any victory secured, would immediately be dispatched to wherever the hated Mets were.

"I remember in '85 we were playing an afternoon game against Montreal in St. Louis, and I hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning to win it," he said. "Now we were usually playing in another time zone, and because they started an hour earlier than us, they'd be done before us. So I'm circling the bases, and I'm thinking the Mets are watching this in the clubhouse, and it's like you can almost feel their eyes on you."

Both games Friday were in the Eastern zone, scheduled for 7:30 starts, though with Sid Fernandez falling behind 3-1 on almost every hitter, the Pirates and Expos were quickly an inning ahead of the Mets and the Phillies.

By 9:04, when Lenny Dykstra blooped a single to put the Phillies ahead 2-1 in the visitors' fifth, the Pirates were leading 2-1 and batting in the top of the sixth.

But by 9:43, the Mets, now trailing 3-1, were coming up in the home seventh, which, according to the scoreboard, was where things stood in Montreal. For more than 15 minutes, in fact, the electronic red dot denoting the Expos' turn at bat had not moved.

"You stare at that dot long enough," Dwight Gooden said, "and you'll go crazy."

Or, as in Gooden's case when he's not pitching, straight to the clubhouse, to find out for himself via the miracle of the satellite dish.

"It was still 2-1," Gooden said. Sure enough, the dot moved back to Pitt, now hitting in the eighth, at 9:47.

"Sometimes, the scoreboard can really affect a team," Mazzilli had said earlier in the dugout. Now working as a broadcaster, Mazzilli was in Houston with the Pirates on a Friday night a couple of weeks ago, to work a CBS game the following day. That was the night the Mets scored three in the ninth to beat the San Francisco Giants at Shea.

"The Pirates are winning by two runs, and they see the Mets are losing going into the ninth," Mazzilli said. "They're thinking, 'We're gonna be up 2 1/2 after tonight.' But now they're out there and all of a sudden, the Mets have a win on the scoreboard instead of a loss. You don't think that plays with your head?"

A couple of innings later, the Astros scored three in the ninth to beat the Pirates.

"You could hear a pin drop in their clubhouse," Mazzilli said. "To them, the lead went from 2 1/2 to one-half, in less than an hour."

At 10:04, meanwhile, the Shea message board flashed that Tim Wallach had doubled in the tying run in Montreal, while Dan Schatzeder came on in relief for the Mets in the top of the eighth.

Now any traditionalist appreciative of the subtleties of scoreboard watching must disapprove of this display of grandiosity. But that's progress. Fans even get out-of-town pictures now, as they did Friday night at 10:11 when Larry Walker was seen hitting the two-run home run which put the Expos ahead of the Pirates, 4-2.

Somehow, even with visual proof, it wasn't official until it went up on the scoreboard. Until the red dot disappeared and the inning number and the F -- the scoreboard-watcher's permission to call it a night -- was in its place.

Which it was at 10:20. The Shea fans got excited but the Mets could not be motivated by them or the Pirates' loss, merely spared. At 10:36, Jefferies popped up and they were 4-1 losers to the Phillies.

Undoubtedly, that's when the TV went off in the Pirates' clubhouse. The scoreboard had brought good news to a couple of beaten divisional contenders, so the night wasn't a total loss.

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