Certain players just seem to have a flair for the dramatic -- an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time and then making the most of it. One who definitely fits that mold is Lenny Dykstra, the fiery little leadoff man of the New York Mets who has already made his presence felt this year in both the playoffs and the World Series. Dykstra's basic job is to trigger the attack. The long ball isn't his thing, as you can tell both by his size and by his total of nine home runs in two seasons. But as he has shown both Houston and Boston, he is capable of that aspect of the game when the situation demands it.
Lenny hit the ninth-inning home run that won the third game of the National League Championship Series. Then in Game 3 of the World Series, with his team down two games to none and facing the grim prospect of a sweep, his leadoff homer sparked the Mets to a 7-1 victory that pulled them back into contention.
What did that first blow mean to the players? veteran catcher and team leader Gary Carter was asked.
``It really set the tone for us,'' he said. ``It broke the ice. In the first two games, and in most of the Houston series, we were behind all the way. No question it was a key thing for us to get off like that.''
Indeed, after winning the first two games in New York, the Red Sox and their fans sensed the kill as the Series moved to Boston for the middle portion. But Dykstra's homer quieted the crowd immediately, the Mets went on to score three more runs in the first inning, and the rest was easy.
The New York roster lists Dykstra as 5 ft. 10 in. and 160 pounds, but if you believe those numbers, there's a bridge in Brooklyn I want to talk to you about. Somewhere around 5-8 and 150 would appear to be more like it. And indeed, all through his athletic career he has had to show the skeptics that was good enough to play despite his lack of size.
Lenny did it in high school in Garden Grove, Calif., earning a total of seven letters in football and baseball. His play in the latter sport earned him a chance with the Mets -- and once he got into their farm system in 1981 there was no stopping him. A fabulous 1983 season in Class A ball, where he hit .358, drew 107 walks, and stole 105 bases, marked him for bigger things. Two years later he was playing for the Mets, and this season was their regular center fielder against right-handers, batting .295 with 55 steals.
``He's been our spark plug all year,'' says manager Davey Johnson.
In the playoffs, in addition to his game-winning homer, Dykstra was a key contributor in the 16-inning Game 6 thriller that won the pennant. With the Mets down 3-0, he tripled leading off the ninth inning to launch their last-ditch tying rally. Then in the 16th his single drove in what proved to be the winning run in New York's 7-6 victory.
The right place at the right time. And he was there again in Boston Tuesday night.
`We'd lost the first two games at home, and we weren't very proud of that,'' Lenny said, recalling the team's mood before Game 3. ``This club won 108 games this year. We had something to prove -- not just to ourselves and the Red Sox but to everybody in baseball.
``We knew we needed to win tonight and we woke ourselves up.''
After his homer, Dykstra reverted to form, hitting three singles to raise his batting average for the first three games to .455 -- best among the Met regulars. But it was that opening shot, of course, that got it all started.
``In the playoffs and World Series so far I hadn't been on base my first time at bat,'' he said. ``I was thinking about that in the cab coming to the park. I said to myself, `I gotta do something to get on base that first time.'
``I'm definitely not a home run hitter,'' he added. ``My job is to get on base. Once in a while I'll pop one, though, and tonight I did it.'' Both clubs stung by former teammates
Ironic twists abound in this Series. In the opener it was Calvin Schiraldi, traded away by the Mets last winter, who saved Boston's 1-0 victory. In Game 3 it went the other way as Bob Ojeda, a former Red Sox pitcher involved in the same deal, beat his old teammates. And in their bid to pull even Wednesday night, the Mets called on another hurler with Boston connections, Ron Darling, who grew up in Milbury, Mass., and spent many boyhood days in Fenway Park rooting for the Red Sox. Ojeda defied history
Ojeda was bucking a tradition of postseason failure by left-handers in Fenway Park. The last southpaw to beat Boston in such a game was Charles (Hippo) Vaughn of the Chicago Cubs in the 1918 World Series. The Red Sox beat Al Brazle of St. Louis in the 1946 Series and Don Gullett of Cincinnati in '75. They beat Oakland's Ken Holtzman and knocked out Vida Blue in the 1975 playoffs, and routed California's John Candelaria this year. Ironically, Harry Brecheen beat them three times in 1946 in one of the great World Series pitching feats, but all three games were in St. Louis. Ron Guidry of the Yankees also beat them in the 1978 divisional playoff, but that game was technically still part of the regular season.