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A Plaque for El Sid

At the end of Absence of Malice, the great 1981 newspaper movie, the reporter played by Sally Field finds the tables have turned on her, and sits numbly while a colleague runs through everything that’s happened for the story she’s been told to write. Her account is a proper recitation of the facts, but one that says nothing about intentions or bad luck or missed chances, and you see this play out on Field’s face as she listens.

“That’s true, isn’t it?” the other reporter asks.

“No,” Field says, then pauses, trapped. “But it’s accurate.”

That scene went through my mind when I read about the denouement of the affair of the plaque outside Citi Field commemorating Game 7 of the 1986 World Series. The plaque is part of a series that’s been added to the Fan Walk, our greatest moments set amid the expressions of belief purchased by fans. It’s a nice juxtaposition — official recitations of great events echoed by a surrounding chorus of fan memories. And it’s welcome evidence that Year 2 of Citi Field may see the addition of a lot of what was missing in Year 1, starting with a healthy dollop of Mets’ history in their own home.

So what’s the problem? As originally worded, the Game 7 plaque told us that “first baseman Keith Hernandez and third baseman Ray Knight delivered key hits, and Sid Fernandez earned the win with exceptional relief work.”

Well … not quite.

Sid relieved Ron Darling with two outs in the fourth and the Red Sox up 3-0. Dave Henderson was on second and Wade Boggs was due up. Sid walked Boggs — the only baserunner he would allow — and got Marty Barrett to fly to right. He then shut down the Red Sox in the fifth and again in the sixth, after which Lee Mazzilli pinch-hit for him with one out in the bottom of the inning. Maz singled. So did Mookie Wilson. Tim Teufel walked. Keith Hernandez drove in Maz and Mookie to make it 3-2, and Gary Carter’s RBI groundout tied the game. Roger McDowell worked a scoreless seventh; Ray Knight led off the bottom of the seventh with a home run, and the Mets were on their way.

The win, of course, goes to McDowell. And that’s what the updated plaque will say.

Kudos to Ken Belson of the New York Times for an excellent rundown [1] of the plaque on the Times’ Bats blog — and for giving our blog pal Shannon Shark of the Mets Police [2] center billing for his work calling attention to the issue and driving the awareness that helped get it fixed posthaste. As Shannon told Belson, this is about “making sure we teach our children correctly.” Amen to that.

But if ever there was an understandable mistake, it’s this one. Those of us who watched the Mets claw their way back into Game 7 remember that it was El Sid who calmed the waters and allowed a better story to emerge. Boston had battered Darling around; Sid’s deceptive deliveries and sneaky speed disrupted the Red Sox’s’s’s’s’s timing and got them thinking about lost momentum and missed chances. McDowell followed his spotless seventh with a ghastly eighth, yielding two singles and a double to make the score Mets 6, Red Sox 5 and bring Jesse Orosco in to face a raging conflagration.

Wins can be silly things. Starting pitchers sometimes get them when they give up runs by the bushel but last five innings because their mates are scoring runs by the double bushel. And relievers sometimes get them not because they were particularly competent, but because they were in the right place at the right time.

It’s unassailably accurate that Roger McDowell was the winning pitcher in Game 7. (Heck, you could look it up [3].) But is it true? That’s a little murkier.

(Speaking of the Times, Greg and I discussed the 2010 Mets this morning [4] on the Bats blog, along with MetsBlog [5]‘s Matt Cerrone and Amazin’ Avenue [6]‘s Sam Page. Check back in tomorrow for Part 2 of the discussion. Thanks to Justin Sablich for including us!)

Update: And here’s Part 2 [7].