In 1984, the New York Mets
posted their first winning season in eight years, under new manager Davey Johnson
. They won 90 while losing 72, and finished second in the NL East
The 1985 team came even closer, trailing the St. Louis Cardinals by one game as late as the 2nd of October, and winning 98 games while losing only 64.
The 1986 team did not differ dramatically from the 1984 and 1985 squads. The Mets brought in reserves Tim Teufel and Kevin Mitchell, and left-handed pitcher Bob Ojeda, but the core of the 1985 team remained unchanged.
The pitching staff was one of the most formidable ever assembled. The ace of the staff was 21-year old Dwight Gooden, just coming off of a 24-win season and a Cy Young Award at the age of 20. He was complemented by two young Hawaiian-born flame-throwers, 25-year old righthander Ron Darling, and 23-year old lefthander Sid Fernandez. Lefthander Bob Ojeda was acquired from the Boston Red Sox. He was 28 years old and had never won more than 12 games in six big-league seasons. The rotation was rounded out by Rick Aguilera, who later enjoyed great success as a reliever for the Minnesota Twins. The Mets didn't have a very deep bullpen, but they weren't going to need one with that starting pitching. Lefty Jesse Orosco (who had saved 31 games in 1984) and righty Roger McDowell shared the closer's spot, righthander Doug Sisk was the middle reliever, and there wasn't much after that.
The catcher was 8-time All-Star Gary Carter, who was the best offensive catcher in the game. The Mets had acquired him before the 1985 season, and he had anchored their lineup, hitting 32 home runs and driving in 100 runs.
The infield featured 3-time All-Star Keith Hernandez, one of the best defensive first basemen to ever play the game. Hernandez was also a top-notch offensive player, a high-average line drive hitter. The second baseman was scrappy Wally Backman, who had stolen 30 bases in each of the past two seasons. 33-year old Ray Knight was the third baseman. He was coming off of a dreadful season where he batted .218 with only 6 home runs. The shortstop was Rafael Santana, a good fielder who supplied very little offense. The infield backups were Tim Teufel and Howard Johnson. Both were young power-hitting prospects who had accomplished little at the major-league level up to that point.
The outfield was also a position of strength. Darryl Strawberry was the only regular starter, in right field. Strawberry was only 24 years old but had already homered 81 times in 3 major league seasons. The other two outfield positions were filled by a rotation of speedsters Len "Nails" Dykstra and Mookie Wilson, and veteran slugger George Foster, who had once slugged 52 home runs for the Cincinnati Reds, but was now 37 years old and fading fast. Kevin Mitchell was the fifth outfielder.
The usual 1986 Met lineup looked like this:
1. Len Dykstra, centerfield
2. Wally Backman, second base
3. Keith Hernandez, first base
4. Gary Carter, catcher
5. Darryl Strawberry, rightfield
6. Ray Knight, third base
7. Mookie Wilson, leftfield
8. Rafael Santana, shortstop
The Mets started hot. After losing three of their first five, they ran off an 11-game winning streak which moved them into first place on the 23rd of April. The Mets would hold first place for the rest of the season.
The Mets were 13-3 at the end of April, 31-12 at the end of May, and 50-21 at the end of June. The Mets quickly developed a reputation around the league as an arrogant team that would brawl at the drop of a hat. Third baseman Ray Knight was perhaps the prime offender, charging the mound after being hit by pitches, and starting a fight with Cincinnati's Eric Davis after Davis slid hard into him at third base.
This particular game was a demonstration of Davey Johnson's managerial skills. The Mets and Reds were tied 3-3 in the tenth inning when Knight and Davis were ejected, and the game dragged on to an eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth inning. Johnson, with his short bullpen, replaced Roger McDowell with Jesse Orosco, but sent McDowell out to play left field. McDowell and Orosco then alternated between the mound and left field, depending on whether the situation called for a right-handed or left-handed pitcher. Ray Knight's replacement, Howard Johnson, stroked a three-run homer and won the game in the 14th inning.
In midseason, veteran George Foster was released. Wilson and Dykstra settled into permanent starting roles.
The Mets clinched the division on September 17th behind Dwight Gooden, and finished the season with a record of 108-54 and a 21.5-game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies.
Surprisingly, the best pitcher on the staff that year was Bob Ojeda, who posted an 18-5 record. Gooden won 17 games, Sid Fernandez won 16, Ron Darling won 15, Roger McDowell won 14 in relief, and fifth starter Rick Aguilera won 10. Gary Carter led the club in runs batted in with 105, and Darryl Strawberry led the club in home runs with 27.
The Mets faced the Houston Astros in the NLCS. They dropped the first game in Houston, 1-0, as former Met Mike Scott struck out 14, and Houston first baseman Glenn Davis drove in the game's only run with a homer off of Dwight Gooden.
The Mets rebounded in Game 2, as Bob Ojeda pitched a complete-game victory over Nolan Ryan, 5-1. Keith Hernandez had two hits and drove in two runs.
The Mets came from behind in Game 3, played at Shea Stadium. The Astros touched Ron Darling for four runs early, but Darryl Strawberry's three-run homer tied the game in the sixth. The Astros scored off of reliever Rick Aguilera in the seventh, but the Mets won in dramatic fashion on Len Dykstra's two-run homer off of Houston closer Dave Smith, by a final score of 6-5.
In Game 4, Mike Scott stymied the Mets again, holding them to three hits and defeating Sid Fernandez, 3-1.
Game 5 was a classic pitching duel between Dwight Gooden and Nolan Ryan. Ryan allowed two hits and struck out twelve, and Gooden was almost as good, but the game went into extra innings tied at 1-1. Gary Carter won the game in the 12th with a one-out single to center.
The Mets returned to Houston in the driver's seat, needing to win only once in two games. Bob Ojeda opposed Houston right-hander Bob Knepper. The Astros scored three times in the first inning, and the Mets still trailed 3-0 going into the ninth. Knepper tired in the ninth, and the Mets scored three runs off of him and reliever Dave Smith. The game went into extra innings. Rick Aguilera and Roger McDowell of the Mets combined to pitch eight innings of scoreless relief. In the top of the 14th, the Mets finally broke through on a Wally Backman single, but Jesse Orosco was unable to close out the Astros, surrendering a game-tying homer to Billy Hatcher. In the 16th inning, the Mets pushed across three more runs against Houston reliever Aurelio Lopez, but Orosco allowed the Astros to score twice in the bottom of the 16th before striking out Kevin Bass with the winning run on base. It was the longest game ever played in postseason up to that point.
The World Series:
The Mets now faced the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. The Mets again dropped the opening game, 1-0, as Bruce Hurst defeated Ron Darling. The only run scored on an error by infielder Tim Teufel.
In Game 2, the Red Sox lit up Dwight Gooden for six runs in five innings. The Mets managed to chase Boston starter Roger Clemens (who had won 24 games that year), but were shut down by relievers Steve Crawford and Bob Stanley, and lost 9-3.
The Mets were in dire straits, having lost the first two games at home. They traveled to Boston desperately needing to win at least two of the three games there. Len Dykstra led off Game 3 with a home run against Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd, and later in the inning little-used reserve Danny Heep drove in two runs with a single. Bob Ojeda turned in another masterful playoff pitching performance, and the Mets cruised to a 7-1 win.
The Mets also took Game 4, as Ron Darling outdueled Al Nipper, and Gary Carter stroked two home runs.
Dwight Gooden started Game 5, and quickly fell into a 4-0 hole. After pitching well in the NLCS, Gooden was extremely ineffective in both of his Series starts. Bruce Hurst went the distance for the Red Sox, who won 4-2.
The Mets returned to Shea needing to win both games there. Bob Ojeda opposed Roger Clemens in Game 6. The Sox jumped out to leads of 2-0 and 3-2, but the Mets tied it in the eighth on a Gary Carter sacrifice fly. The game went into the tenth inning, where the Red Sox touched Rick Aguilera for two runs, the first on a homer by Dave Henderson. The first two Mets were retired in the tenth when the Red Sox imploded. Gary Carter and Kevin Mitchell hit two-out singles, and Ray Knight hit a two-out, two-strike single to score Carter. Bob Stanley relieved Red Sox closer Calvin Schiraldi. Stanley threw a wild pitch that allowed Mitchell to score the tying run, and then Mookie Wilson hit a weak grounder to first that famously went through the legs of Boston first baseman Bill Buckner to win the game for the Mets.
So the Series came down to a deciding Game 7, to be pitched by Bruce Hurst for Boston, and Ron Darling for the Mets. The Mets fell behind 3-0 on a two-run homer by Rich Gedman and a single by Wade Boggs, but tied the game at 3 in the sixth. In the seventh, Boston reliever Calvin Schiraldi once again got to play the goat, surrendering a tie-breaking home run to Ray Knight. The Mets got two more off of him on an infield single by Rafael Santana and a sacrifice fly by Keith Hernandez. The Sox scored twice in the eighth off of Roger McDowell, but Jesse Orosco came into record a six-out save, stranding the tying run on second base with none out in the eighth. Darryl Strawberry homered in the bottom of the eighth, and Orosco put the punctuation on the victory by singling in the final run in an 8-5 victory. It was the Mets' second championship in 24 years of existence.
With their nucleus of young talent, the Mets seemed poised to create a baseball dynasty along the lines of the Yankee teams of the late 1970's. However, they won the NL East only once more, in 1988, and by 1991 were no longer a contending team. Part of the reason for this was that the team's veteran players began to fade, and also the Mets' front office made some truly bone-headed trades. Future star Kevin Mitchell was shipped to San Diego after the season, and even worse, Dykstra and McDowell were dealt to Philadelphia in 1989 for the completely useless Juan Samuel. Keith Hernandez enjoyed one more good season before fading, Gary Carter did not. Ray Knight signed with Baltimore as a free agent and subsequently disappeared from the major leagues. Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell never pitched as effectively again, perhaps due to Davey Johnson's overuse of them.
Many of the team's younger stars also had disappointing careers. Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry both had Hall of Fame careers derailed by drug abuse. Ron Darling won 17 in 1988 and never pitched well again. Sid Fernandez was an effective pitcher when healthy. Weight problems and a chronic knee injury ended his career prematurely. Len Dykstra enjoyed several successful seasons with Philadelphia, but his career was also cut short by injury. Rick Aguilera was traded to the Minnesota Twins in another boneheaded move, and developed into an All-Star closer in Minnesota. Howard Johnson became the Mets' regular third baseman and hit 30-plus home runs on three separate occasions for them.
Manager Davey Johnson was fired during the 1990 season, and the Mets were cursed with inept managers in his wake (Bud Harrelson, Jeff Torborg, and Dallas Green). Johnson later managed the Cincinnati Reds, the Baltimore Orioles and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mookie Wilson is currently on the coaching staff for the 2002 New York Mets. Jesse Orosco, at the age of 45, is still pitching in the major leagues.
Sources: 1986 and 1987 Official Yearbooks of the New York Mets.