After spending another season in the booth analyzing his former team the New York Mets, right-hander Ron Darling is part of the TBS crew covering the postseason. His assignment: The ALDS between the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees.
Darling took a few moments on workout day at Target Field to scout the series, reminisce about the '80s-era Mets and what might happen now that Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel are being replaced.
David Brown: I've always considered playoff series — especially the five-gamer — unfair and to be not a true representation of what any team is about. What do you think?
Ron Darling: When you have a sport that's suited to how well you play over 162 games, maybe it isn't fair — but that's all right, too. It sure makes it exciting, and it sure makes every single pitch important. That's the one thing about a five-game series — maybe it's not fair, maybe teams deserve to play a seven-game series. But, it's the team that pays attention to every single pitch, every little detail, and doesn't take anything for granted in a short five-game series that usually wins it. That's the most important thing for all the managers to get across to their teams.
DB: Remembering when you played in the playoffs, do you feel that extra pressure of everything meaning more?
RD: I think who really feels it are the starting pitchers in Game 1. I don't have the numbers on me, but the team that wins Game 1, all they have to do is play .500 the rest of the series. I think that's where the pressure lies. For this series, Francisco Liriano's(notes) got to match CC Sabathia(notes). That's where the pressure for the Twins will be.
DB: When you consider every playoff series that's been played since 1986, when you guys had such a great NLCS with the Astros and World Series with the Mets, do you go, "This stuff pales in comparison to what we experienced"?
RD: In those days before the wild card, before the extra teams, the seven games played — with the Mets against Houston and the California Angels (at the time) and the Boston Red Sox — that was about as good a theater as you're going to get. That's what you try to get in the championship series now. But I don't know; in some ways, if you're a team that's playing a big powerhouse, the five-game series gives you a chance to shock the world. And that's pretty good.
DB: What are the Twins chances in this series?
RD: I like the Twins chances. In fact, I think the Yankees and Tampa Bay — who are considered the favorites, I would guess — are more vulnerable than at any other time in the past few seasons. The reason I say that is, both the Yankees and Tampa Bay are situated with outstanding left-handed No. 1s in David Price(notes) and Sabathia. After that, they have question marks. Usually, those teams are at least two or three deep [in starting pitching]. Question marks give this Twins team an opportunity. Liriano is going to have to pitch great for the Twins to beat the Yankees — and he's got it in him. But matching zeroes with Sabathia is always tough.
DB: What do the Mets have to do? How hard is this going to be to fix? Is it a super rebuilding job, is it fine-tuning?
RD: When you have a team that has Jose Reyes(notes), David Wright(notes), Carlos Beltran(notes), Jason Bay(notes) and Angel Pagan(notes) after a big year, you'd say you yourself, "Boy, that's not so bad." But for whatever reason, it hasn't worked out there, especially the past two seasons when they've been under .500 with a high payroll. I don't think it's a "blow it up and start all over" deal. The new general manager — usually when you go to a team that's been under .500, you say, "Boy, we really have to re-do this thing." I don't think the Mets are that kind of team. Watching the San Diego Padres this year, if you can pitch it and catch it, you can be in it.
DB: People really seem to like the Mets broadcast team; You and Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez. Do you hear positive feedback from people who might not even be Mets fans?
RD: We work real hard at it. Gary Cohen is one of the best play-by-play guys in baseball. He's not only a baseball historian but an incredible Mets historian as he grew up a Mets fan. And Keith Hernandez's expertise; He's probably forgotten more than I know. But also, he has a great sense of humor and keeps it light. Sometimes you're lucky, sometimes the right personalities who certainly are not the same — I don't know if we'd be friends off the field, out of the booth — but sometimes the perfect storm kind of gets together. That's how I feel about our booth.
DB: Hernandez rubs you the wrong way, doesn't he?
RD: No! I love ... Keith [laughs]. He's one of my favorite, dear friends. But he can say some funny things in the booth, but over 162 games, why not make it funny occasionally?
RD: I think Keith's got to get the edge —only because he's had it longer. Ask in another 25 years and I'll give Carl Pavano the credit.
DB: Have you heard from Doc Gooden lately?
RD: I have not. I saw him during the season. He was honored along with Darryl Strawberry, Davey Johnson and Frank Cashen. They were all welcomed into the Mets' Hall of Fame. I did see him then, he looked great and I always wish the best for Dwight. One of the great guys who lost his way.
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