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Frank Viola, the game that left Ron Darling, linked life to ’40 years old

Even today, Tom Cocoska is surprised that Frank Viola’s curved ball appears to have fallen from the sky. Don Giordano remembers that Ron Darling’s slider started at the head of a right-handed batter and somehow landed on the outer corner.

Both are basically 40 years ago today, May 21, 1981, in Yale Field, New Haven, Connecticut. The pitchers played against each other.

The country’s powerhouse, St. Johns, who owns the 31-2 records, appeared in the College World Series the previous year. On the other side of the dugout was Yale, an enemy of the Ivy League, who lost 12 but had two all-American and top hitters, Darling.

Darling did not allow a hit in the first 11 innings and ended up with 16 strikeouts. This is the performance he called the best at every level. Viola threw 11 shutout innings. The game wasn’t decided until the 12th, when St. John’s second baseman Steve Skafa broke on the game’s only hit and stole his house for a solo run in the afternoon.

“I’m 61 years old and have been involved in games for over 50 years,” Viola said in a telephone interview. It’s one of the best games I’ve ever played. “

St. Johns arrives in New Haven cheeky and hopes to win. Viola and Southpaw companion John Franco had two elite candidates, a team of men in the city who weren’t afraid to speak trash. Darling, meanwhile, wanted Yale to be able to hold himself against such difficult enemies.

It didn’t take long for both teams to figure out what was prepared. Johnny’s chatter soon subsided. Viola, now the pitching coach of North Carolina’s Independent League High Point Rockers, remembered one of his teammates who returned to the dugout in awe after hitting in the first inning.

“It’s going to be a long day, boy. Oh yeah, this is the best I’ve ever seen,” the player said of Darling. Darling was named ninth in the 1981 draft and won the World Series at Mets five years later.

Frank Viola
Frank Viola pitching St. Johns

Viola matched him zero to zero while Darling cut Johnny and sliced ​​the lineup. Yale had a chance, scoring 7 hits and drawing 4 walks, but the viola didn’t break. Darling was very dominant, but he didn’t feel like he was throwing a shutout.

“I felt pretty well pitched and lost all the innings,” said Viola, the second-round pick of the Twins of the year, who won the AL Cy Young Award and reached three All-Star games. Said. “Every time I crossed that first base line, I had to look back at the scoreboard to make sure there was a zero and make sure it remained tied.”

The crowd began to grow to a maximum of 2,500 as each inning passed without St. Johns recording a hit and Yale recording a run. The local TV crew arrived in the middle innings as the language spread. Tension increased in the field. It was quiet at the stand where New Yorker baseball writer Roger Angell and former Red Sox pitcher Smoky Joe Wood were sitting.

“Strength focused across the stadium” is how Cocoska, a darling roommate and one of Yale’s catchers, explained it. “The conversation is over. In the middle of the game, people were riveted.”

Darling’s no-hitter no-run has finally ended and started on the 12th. Speedster Skafa, who plays in the Yankees minor league system, led with a soft single over shortstop. He said he had jammed, but it was enough to bring the ball to the outfield.

He had to stop before Darling attacked the next batter. He received an exciting applause, and it wasn’t just from the crowd. The entire dugout of St. Johns took the top step and praised him.

“It may have been the most classy [gesture] I’ve paid me from my opponents before, “said Darling, who now calls the Mets game SNY.

Yale
Ron Darling takes a swing for Yale against St. Johns.
Yale Athletics

From there, Skafa went to work. He stole the second, third, and home for the sole run of the game. Yale contributed. The shabby grounder put a runner in the corner. Howie Garshberg, the pitching coach of St. Johns, who replaced the sick head coach Joe Russo, joked that Skafa was “the best first and third play in college baseball history.” Said. When Pinch runner Thomas Covino was involved in the rundown, Skafa sprinted home and defeated the throw. Still, the two pitchers are the ones I remember most of the day.

“I think of myself as Rodney Dangerfield in the game,” Skafa joked.

Eric Stample, who is near the freshman who threw hard, retired from the side in turn on the 12th, defeated Darling and started the frame, and then the celebration of just what happened began. St. Johns was excited to survive and acted accordingly, with fans and media members in attendance raiding the field. Darling was immediately surrounded by fans who wanted his signature, a TV camera, and a reporter asking him. It was like he had never experienced before.

“It was surreal,” Darling said.

Mets
Ron Darling and Frank Viola who are enrolled in Mets.

Forty years later, he still uses the same adjective (surreal) to describe the day. That was all that happened. Scout behind the plate. No hit no run until 11 innings. NCAA tournament high stakes. Ivy League schools are endangering the country’s great powers.

He said there were no losers that day. However, Darling and Viola were the biggest winners. A few years later, Viola was told that its own performance boosted him multiple rounds in the draft. It solidified darling as a top 10 pick.

One season, the two faced each other in a triple A, and Viola took Darling to a steak dinner. Later in their career, they shared a clubhouse with Mets. But best of all, the two friends share the day and match New Haven’s Zero.

“In that one simple game, we were intertwined for the rest of our lives,” Darling said.

Frank Viola, the game that left Ron Darling, linked life to ’40 years old

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