On Sept. 13, 1987, with two outs and Darryl Strawberry on second in the top of the fourth of a tight game in St. Louis between the first-place Cardinals and the second-place Mets, Kevin McReynolds lashed a triple past Willie McGee to tie the score at one run apiece.
Gary Carter came up next. Carter was 33 then, a veteran of 13 seasons of Major League catching and a massively diminished offensive player. Even at six years old, in my first year of actually watching baseball, I knew Carter’s knees were shot. Everyone did.
Terry Pendleton, at third base for the Cardinals, must have been playing Carter back. At six years old I wasn’t nearly savvy enough to pick up on particulars like that. But Gary Carter laid down a bunt toward third base and beat it out for an infield single, scoring McReynolds and giving the Mets the lead.
(Sound a little familiar? Hobbled veteran catcher lays down a bunt base hit in a clutch situation? Carter should have gotten a writing credit on Major League.)
I ran up two flights of stairs to my brother’s room in the attic to tell him about it. We had been watching the game together, but he had to bail after a couple of innings to work on a school project. He told me to keep him updated.
“Chris, Chris!” I said. “Kevin McReynolds tripled then Gary Carter bunted and the Mets are winning!”
This is one of my earliest vivid memories of my brother. He was laying on his twin bed, tucked into the weird little nook in the corner of our attic formed by where the chimney juts into the house, wearing a bright green t-shirt, blue shorts and Avia high top sneakers. And the look on his face suggested he was trying to be patient with his six-year-old kid brother but that he had absolutely no doubt I botched the details.
“Ted,” he said. “Gary Carter doesn’t bunt.”
“No, but he did!” I insisted. “He bunted for a single.” And I guess Chris either believed me or was too busy to fight, because he relented pretty quickly.
The Mets scored two more runs after that and held on to win. Presumably Chris finished his project and got an A or a 100 or an Outstanding. 15 years later he died from tumors in his brain. 10 years after that, so did Gary Carter.
I don’t know why I’m relaying this particular memory about Carter now except that I know I’ve looked for the box score to that game before (I knew the details — McReynolds triple, Carter bunt) and never found it until today. It is one of my first specific baseball memories, and I think it says a hell of a lot about the type of player Carter was. I never really saw him when he was great.
And I guess when I hear about someone dying, especially dying young and of cancer, I always get to thinking of my brother dying. And that’s a selfish thing to post about and it’s not something you care much about right now, as a Met fan justifiably broken up about Gary Carter.
Dying… well, it sucks. It’s awful for Carter that he had to go through what he did, and awful for his family that they have to trudge on without him now. He was by all accounts an awesome guy who did awesome things and treated people awesomely, and losing him must be a heartbreaking thing to suffer.
Those of us who didn’t know Carter personally can celebrate what we remember of his playing days, all of it now presented in the fuzzy standard-definition VHS player in our memories. For me, unfortunately, it’s impossible to divorce any of that from the guy who introduced me to Gary Carter that I miss the s@#$ out of and still sometimes feel moved to call to talk about this stuff when it happens. For you- well, I can’t speak for you.