Here’s a story I wrote for The Tablet newspaper about former New York Mets’ team chaplain Father Daniel Murphy. A huge Mets’ fan, Father Murphy was there when the Mets made their magical run to capture the 1986 World Series.
Here is his story:
With the start of the World Series, New York Mets’ fans are reminded of a better time, because unfortunately, October baseball is a rarity in Flushing, Queens.
That better time was of course the 1986 World Series in which the Mets relied on a bit of divine intervention to cap off an improbable come-from-behind victory in Game 6, which in turn fueled the series-clinching win in Game 7.
And that divine intervention was provided by none other than the Mets’ team chaplain, Father Daniel Murphy, the current pastor of St. Saviour Church, Park Slope.
Father Murphy served as team chaplain for seven seasons from 1984 to 1990. He said Mass at Shea Stadium for every Sunday home game throughout the season. Of course, his fondest memories of his time as chaplain are the 1986 season and playoffs.
“We won 108 games,” said Father Murphy of his favorite team. “Today if you win 92, you make the playoffs. We won 108. We were good!”
The Mets were riding high after winning an exciting playoff series over the Houston Astros, so all that was standing in their way from their first World Series title since 1969 was the Boston Red Sox.
However, it was the Red Sox that earned the upper hand in the series, winning both games at Shea Stadium with the series then shifting to Boston’s Fenway Park.
The Mets rallied to win the next two games but then dropped Game 5 as they headed back to New York facing elimination.
Now, most priests who serve as team chaplains usually pray for the success of all those involved with an athletic contest. But Father Murphy is not your average priest; Father Murphy is a devout Mets’ fan, who also happens to be blatantly honest.
“I was really praying that we’d win,” he said. “I can’t say that I was praying that ‘may the best team win’ and that no one gets hurt.”
The events of Saturday, Oct. 25, 1986 will forever be engrained in the minds of die-hard Mets’ fans. Trailing 5-3 heading into the bottom of the 10th inning, the Mets were just three outs away from watching the Red Sox celebrate a World Series title on their own home turf.
After Wally Backman flew out to left and Keith Hernandez flied to center, hope seemed bleak. But the tides turned with consecutive singles by Gary Carter and Kevin Mitchell.
“I had given up until Kevin Mitchell’s hit,” Father Murphy said of the fateful night. “I knew Carter was not going to go down easily. But when Mitchell got the hit, I think I saw destiny happening!”
And destiny certainly happened. Ray Knight followed with an RBI single to get the Mets within two. With Mookie Wilson batting, a wild pitch by Boston pitcher Bob Stanley allowed Mitchell to score the tying run.
Just like his teammates, Wilson would not go down easily.
“Half of the pitches he (Wilson) swung at were balls, but he wasn’t striking out,” Father Murphy said.
Then on the 10th pitch of at-bat, Wilson grounded a ball toward Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner, and the words of the sweet baritone voice of NBC broadcaster Vin Scully took over from there:
“Little roller up along first … behind the bag! It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight, and the Mets win it!”
“I will never forget the clubhouse that night,” Father Murphy said. “It was as if they (the Mets) didn’t go home. It was wild!”
Red Sox manager John McNamara later called Wilson’s at-bat the second greatest at-bat in baseball history, behind only Bobby Thomson’s famous “Shot Heard ’Round the World” to send the New York Giants to the 1951 World Series.
So with the series tied, Father Murphy held his typical Sunday Mass at Shea Stadium prior to the game on Oct. 26, 1986. The regulars at Mass – Danny Heep, Rafael Santana and Tim Teufel – were of course present, but other players like Jesse Orosco, Sid Fernandez, Lee Mazzilli, Backman and Wilson all joined in that day.
“Usually when I walked in (to Mass), it was pretty quiet … maybe a few people walking around,” Father Murphy said. “But when I walked in (prior to Game 7), it was like Grand Central!”
Game 7 was actually rained out, but the players’ prayers at Mass were answered the following night, as the Mets defeated the Red Sox 8-5.
Father Murphy may no longer be team chaplain for the Mets, but he continues to pray for the team’s success. Though the baseball gods may not have been listening the past few years, 2015 will be a different story – at least St. Saviour’s pastor hopes so!