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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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All 89 Mets Postseason Games Ranked

They were 89 moments in the sun, 89 moments under the spotlight, 89 days and nights of our lives when little else mattered to us. I mean more than usual.

“The Mets go melodramatic in October,” Roger Angell once wrote. “It’s in their genes.” Here we inspect the DNA and report the findings. Here we do what I don’t think I’ve ever seen done before. Here we rank every postseason game the New York Mets have ever played.

Rank them based on what? Excellent question.

The Mets have played 89 postseason games, winning 51 and losing 38. When each was played, each was the biggest game of all time to us. That’s how the postseason is when our team is involved. But when we pull back, years and decades following 89 final pitches, not all throb with the same meaning we attached to them as they alighted and unfolded in 1969, 1973, 1986, 1988, 1999, 2000, 2006, 2015, and 2016. Some we talk about constantly when we talk about the Mets. Some we think about probably every day since they happened. Some we attribute all kinds of enduring mishegas to even if they were only one game. Some thrust us forward. Some stopped us cold. Some dictated much of what came next. Some are memorialized and revered. Some, somehow, were plowed under by the games and seasons that came next. Each, in one way or another, informs who we are as Mets fans and how we consider the Mets when we consider the Mets…which is what people like us do with as little pause possible.

There’s no statistical formula to this, just loads of paying attention and 89 episodes of revisitation. The following exercise is rendered in good faith, sans fear. It’s not a My Favorites list, regardless of the subjectivity inherent. It’s not a Best Games list, exactly, though aesthetics certainly influenced the contemplation. It’s not a wholly YAY METS list, either. Each of the 89 postseason games the Mets have played tell a story to us as Mets fans and to all as baseball fans: the impressions they left, the legends they created, the myths they made, the resonance that resounds, the history that lives on. These are 89 games that explain us and define us, for better and for worse.

The 38 Met losses, unfortunate as it is that they exist, are intermingled here with the 51 Met wins. No harm to any Mets fan’s psyche is intended by being brutally inclusive. Our self-perception, as well as that the world at large has developed of our ballclub, is based largely on these autumnal successes and the not-quite-successes. To play in postseason implies success to begin with. Failure may not be an option, but it’s also not the right word to describe any team that gets far as these nine Met teams did. Still, sometimes history turned on the games that got away. Or at least seemed as if it did.

Maybe next year, next ownership, we’ll have the opportunity to expand the list and revise the rankings. Until then, we present the New York Mets from October 4, 1969, to October 5, 2016, and a stab at what the 89 Met postseason dates have meant, one date at a time (two where applicable).

89. OCTOBER 14, 2000 — NLCS Game Three: Cardinals 8 METS 2
The weather was great, with temperatures peaking in the high seventies. The Mets came in with all the momentum inherent in a two-nil series lead. Then they were clobbered. Rick Reed threw his only bad postseason start. The Mets’ only two runs scored on double play groundouts. Yet when it was over, the Mets still maintained their momentum, with two more home games directly in front of them. It made for a sunny forecast.

88. OCTOBER 6, 1999 — NLDS Game Two: DIAMONDBACKS 7 Mets 1
Adrenaline carried the Mets through four absolute must-win games over Pittsburgh and Cincinnati to get them into the playoffs and propelled them high above Randy Johnson & Co. to grab a series lead once they landed in Arizona. They likely needed a breather. Versus Todd Stottlemyre and the Snakes, they took a nap.

87. OCTOBER 4, 2000 — NLDS Game One: GIANTS 5 Mets 1
This one played to the form expected in some circles. The top-seeded Giants jumped on the Wild Card Mets to stake themselves to an early advantage. Past World Series MVP Livàn Hernandez handled the Mets with ease. Derek Bell sustained an ankle injury that ended his postseason. By the time this NLDS was done, Hernandez’s mastery and Bell’s absence would barely be footnotes.

86. OCTOBER 15, 2006 — NLCS Game Four: Mets 12 CARDINALS 5
Oliver Perez made his first postseason start. David Wright hit his first postseason home run. Carlos Beltran went deep twice. The Mets set a franchise record (since bettered) for most runs in a postseason game. Most importantly, they evened a series that threatened to get away from them. And nobody ever brings any of it up.

85. OCTOBER 20, 2015 — NLCS Game Three: Mets 5 CUBS 2
How about that time Jorge Soler fell down in right and allowed Wilmer Flores’s ball to roll all the way to the wall, letting Wilmer scoot to third and scoring Michael Conforto all the way from first, extending the Mets’ sixth-inning lead to 4-2? If you remember that, it’s your mind playing tricks on you, or perhaps you stepped away while the ball was deemed to be stuck under the ivy. The potentially highly memorable moment was downgraded to a ground rule double, sending Conforto back to third. Neither baserunner scored and Jacob deGrom got back to silencing the Cubs regardless.

84. OCTOBER 5, 2006 — NLDS Game Two: METS 4 Dodgers 1
83. OCTOBER 12, 2006 — NLCS Game One: METS 2 Cardinals 0
Tom Glavine’s finest moments as a Met, so fine we have opted for the spelling by which he was identified prior to 9/30/2007. Six innings to chill the Dodgers one Tuesday. Seven innings to ice the Cardinals one Tuesday later. Shea Stadium roared in support of its lefty ace twice. This really happened, less than a year before Tom Glavine became T#m Gl@v!ne.

82. OCTOBER 8, 1999 — NLDS Game Three: METS 9 Diamondbacks 2
Shea’s first postseason action in eleven years was destined to be overshadowed by Shea’s next postseason action the following afternoon. This Friday night featured Todd Pratt’s first postseason start, which itself was overshadowed by the reason Tank was starting, namely the unavailability of the usual starting catcher, Mike Piazza. For the record, Pratt walked twice and scored a run. It wasn’t Pratt’s finest hour (that would come in less than 24 hours).

81. OCTOBER 14, 2006 — NLCS Game Three: CARDINALS 5 Mets 0
It deserves to be remembered parochially as the Darren Oliver Game, so named for the six innings of scoreless relief the ageless lefty gave Willie Randolph from the second through the seventh. If it’s remembered at all, it’s for the five runs Steve Trachsel gave up in the first. Really, it’s not remembered much.

80. OCTOBER 28, 2015 — WS Game Two: ROYALS 7 Mets 1
Jacob deGrom was on his way to emerging as one of the premier starter of his generation, yet his first (and thus far only) World Series start is the most obscure game among five his team played in their most recent and perhaps most star-crossed Fall Classic.

79. OCTOBER 17, 2006 — NLCS Game Five: CARDINALS 4 Mets 2
Game Five in a seven-game series is either decisive or pivotal. In hindsight, this one was both, backing the Mets to a wall from which they would never effectively detach. Yet this particular T#m Gl@v!ne disappointment (4 IP, 7 H, 3 BB, 3 ER) escapes collective memory, while Jeff Weaver (6 IP, 6 H, 2 BB, 2 ER) is rarely berated in the realm of opposition villainy.

78. OCTOBER 18, 2015 — NLCS Game Two: METS 4 Cubs 1
The set of contests that determined where the 2015 National League pennant would fly has settled in memory into a blur of Daniel Murphy home runs. This game definitely featured one of those.

77. OCTOBER 13, 1999 — NLCS Game Two: BRAVES 4 Mets 3
76. OCTOBER 12, 1999 — NLCS Game One: BRAVES 4 Mets 2

Setbacks at Turner Field, even in October, all looked alike for a dismal spell there in the late ’90s. The second showdown in Atlanta sticks out a little more than the first thanks to it including Melvin Mora’s first major league home run (and, if one wishes to be Metsochistic, the loss going to Kenny Rogers).

75. OCTOBER 9, 1986 — NLCS Game Two: Mets 5 ASTROS 1
In the fifth inning, Nolan Ryan knocked down Lenny Dykstra. Lenny Dykstra got up and singled off Nolan Ryan. Lenny Dykstra would score after Wally Backman singled and Keith Hernandez tripled off Nolan Ryan. Immortals. Legends. Characters. Drama! And together the whole thing usually rates, at most, a paragraph in retellings of this sizzling series.

74. OCTOBER 12, 1986 — NLCS Game Four: ASTROS 3 Mets 1
The yellow highlighter of the 1986 NLCS. It made sure you would remember “Scott” was crucial in knowing what to study for in preparing for the big test.

73. OCTOBER 23, 1986 — WS Game Five: RED SOX 4 Mets 2
Roger Angell was impressed by this one because it was Fenway Park’s last chance to exude enthusiasm for the year; “less than a classic, perhaps, but there was spirit and pleasure to it.” Surely there were also visiting-team charms to be derived from it, as Tim Teufel homered and doubled in the Mets’ only runs, and Sid Fernandez turned in four foreshadowy innings from the pen, but any footprints Game Five left behind were about to be stomped out but good.

72. OCTOBER 15, 1999 — NLCS Game Three: Braves 1 METS 0
Glavine outpitches Leiter. Rocker taunts the howling masses. The Mets face elimination. A series that appears to be out of breath gasps ahead of its second wind.

71. OCTOBER 12, 2000 — NLCS Game Two: Mets 6 CARDINALS 5
Close, back-and-forth, see-saw affair, with the Mets eking out a lead in the top of the ninth and Armando Benitez holding tight to it for a commanding series lead. The Mets couldn’t do any better in terms of results, but for an outfit that does postseason drama as a matter of course, it doesn’t particularly pop.

70. OCTOBER 13, 2015 — NLDS Game Four: Dodgers 3 METS 1
Clayton Kershaw picks this opportunity to shed his postseason reputation for not-so-hotness, keeping the Mets from clinching a series at home, but in defeat, Daniel Murphy makes it a night to begin a historic streak to remember.

69. OCTOBER 11, 1988 — NLCS Game Six: Mets 5 DODGERS 1
68. OCTOBER 18, 2006 — NLCS Game Six: METS 4 Cardinals 2

October’s Mets are known to their fans for the splendor of their Game Six efforts. These were indeed splendid, yet they’re not nearly so well-known, their residue vacuumed up as they were by the Game Seven results to follow. Still, let us appreciate David Cone (CG five-hitter) and Jose Reyes (leadoff HR; 3 H; 2 R) carrying the Mets to necessary ties eighteen years apart.

67. OCTOBER 18, 1973 — WS Game Five: METS 2 A’s 0
Little is more Metsian than Jerry Koosman coming through in the postseason. Nothing is more Metsian than Tug McGraw slamming his glove to his thigh upon closing out a win. Together, the legendary lefties crafted a most Metsian shutout and pushed their club to the brink of a world championship.

66. OCTOBER 17, 2015 — NLCS Game One: METS 4 Cubs 2
Harvey outpitches Lester. Murphy goes deep. D’Arnaud dents the Apple. Mets never trail. After seven losses to the Cubs in seven regular-season contests, the tone between the two teams is reset.

65. OCTOBER 7, 2006 — NLDS Game Three: Mets 9 DODGERS 5
The previous instance in which Greg Maddux started a postseason game against the Mets, Game Five of the ’99 NLCS, day turned to night, the innings totaled fifteen, a fair ball that left the park was ruled something less than a home run and, when it was all over, Atlanta’s lock future Hall of Famer was demoted to an afterthought no more obvious to the outcome than his New York counterpart, Masato Yoshii. The forty-year-old Maddux of 2006 who threw only four innings in what loomed as the Division Series finale might have no longer been the Cy Young-in-residence of the 1990s, but it was still gratifying to watch the Mets outlast an old nemesis. Between withstanding Maddux and sweeping the Dodgers, this game should probably stand out more in Mets lore. It didn’t necessarily stand out in that night’s scores, because the Mets advanced on the same day that the Yankees were eliminated in their ALDS, their dismissal a bigger New York story in the moment. To be fair, watching the Yankees exit, no matter that they stole some Metsian spotlight (and weren’t what they used to be, either), was also pretty gratifying. Or as Manny Acta and Jose Reyes said in call & response fashion in the postgame celebration out west, “Party in Queens, entierro in the Bronx.” Entierro, not incidentally, is Español for burial.

64. OCTOBER 8, 1988 — NLCS Game Three: METS 8 Dodgers 4
63. OCTOBER 17, 1973 — WS Game Four: METS 6 A’s 1

It was the heat of the moment that defined a couple of frigid dates at Shea. In the moment, the heat got intensely hot. The controversy of 1988 involved Dodgers closer Jay Howell going to his glove for pine tar, which earned him a suspension from National League president Bart Giamatti. While L.A. argued the punishment did not fit the crime, the Mets emerged in the frozen muck of Flushing with the go-ahead game that seemed to swing momentum New York’s way. Fifteen years before, the man in the spotlight within a Series of legitimate stars was backup A’s infielder Mike Andrews, a pawn amid Charlie Finley’s ever-shifting manipulations. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn wouldn’t let Finley officially scapegoat Andrews, whose fielding had contributed to the A’s loss in Game Two, off Oakland’s active roster, so when Mike came up to pinch-hit in a game the Mets had well in hand (sore-shouldered Rusty Staub homered and drove in five), he was accorded a standing ovation by righteous Mets fans. Good sportsmanship, however it arrived, was by no means dead in Queens.

62. OCTOBER 18, 1986 — WS Game One: Red Sox 1 METS 0
61. OCTOBER 13, 1973 — WS Game One: A’S 2 Mets 1

Was this any way to start a World Series? In either case, no way. In both cases, the images that lingered were that of Met second basemen who couldn’t pick up simple ground balls: Felix Millan in ’73, Tim Teufel in ’86. Each E-4 led to an opposition run that made all the difference in getting off on the right foot versus shooting themselves in it. It was just one game twice…but a one-game deficit ASAP.

60. OCTOBER 24, 2000 — WS Game Three: METS 4 Yankees 2
Lost amid the epic frustration of four losses that each stick in the craw for its own specific reason is the one Met win of the 2000 Fall Classic. It oughta be the other way around given all the compelling elements: Rick Reed strikes out eight in six; Robin Ventura homers; Todd Zeile doubles in the tying run; Benny Agbayani chases the heretofore indomitable El Duque; Brooklyn’s own John Franco gets the win; Armando Benitez, whose allergies clearly included October, garnered the first Met World Series save since Jesse Orosco. And the Mets beat the Yankees! What more could a Mets fans want from a Subway Series? Three games more like it.

59. OCTOBER 10, 1988 — NLCS Game Five: Dodgers 7 METS 4
It was supposed to be a travel day. In a sense it was, as the Mets seemed to stand in the terminal waving goodbye to their chances to make their second World Series in three years. Rain the previous Friday forced the series into a Monday makeup barely enough hours removed from Sunday night’s twelfth-inning conclusion to have sleep rubbed from the home team’s eyes. The Dodgers, on the other hand, were all adrenaline, taking a 6-0 lead by the fifth. The Mets’ last best hope was snuffed in the bottom of the eighth when wunderkind Gregg Jefferies got himself called out by running into a batted ball. Shea mostly cheering an injury to Kirk Gibson turned karma in the same direction as momentum — against the Mets.

58. OCTOBER 5, 1969 — NLCS Game Two: Mets 11 BRAVES 6
57. OCTOBER 4, 1969 — NLCS Game One: Mets 9 BRAVES 5

Silly Mets thought they could get by on their sparkling young pitching and anemic offense. Sagacious Braves would teach Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman about the pressure of October. Sure enough, neither of the aces who combined to record 42 wins in ’69 could escape the hammer of Hank Aaron and his Atlanta accomplices. Maybe taking down the champions of the Western Division was going to take more than a couple of talented arms. So the Mets brought more. Lots more. Twenty runs, divided almost evenly, carried the weekend and launched the Mets from the Launching Pad and toward a pennant (Art Shamsky alone had six hits). Seems it was the Braves who were taught a lesson, namely that when you get to October and face the Mets, expect the unexpected.

56. OCTOBER 13, 2006 — NLCS Game Two: Cardinals 9 METS 6
The Mets led the series, 1-0. They led the Cardinals at various junctures of Game Two by scores of 3-0, 4-2 and 6-4. They were using home field advantage to its fullest force. Then the Mets’ bullpen got a little too involved. Guillermo Mota, until Game Two a savvy pickup, imploded. Billy Wagner, most of 2006 a brilliant closer, did much the same. Throw in some shoddy outfield defense from Shawn Green and a little too much pluck and spunk from the likes of Scott Spiezio and So Taguchi, and, well, leads proved to be precarious things.

55. OCTOBER 5, 1988 — NLCS Game Two: DODGERS 6 Mets 3
Come and listen to a story by a man named Cone
Twenty-game winner couldn’t leave an edge alone
Before Game Two in his column with his ghost
Wrote himself some words that perturbed his playoff host
Tattooed he was
Vengeful style
Next thing you know David Cone is oh-and-one
Having a byline wasn’t any fun
Said, ‘Hey, Bob Klapisch — this column ain’t for me’
The Mets hopped on their flight, all tied for Game Three

54. OCTOBER 11, 2000 — NLCS Game One: Mets 6 CARDINALS 2
Mike Piazza had been a regular-season beast his entire career, but postseason opponents had yet to fully feel his wrath. Then, in the course of opening the series that would determine the pennant, Mike whacked a first-inning RBI double off Darryl Kile that inspired third base coach John Stearns to shout into his Fox clip-on mic, “The Monster is out of the cage!” By invoking for national consumption his fellow hard-nosed catcher’s clubhouse nickname, Bad Dude had enhanced Piazza’s legend. More importantly, Piazza, en route to batting .412 and slugging .941, had enhanced the Mets’ chances to take command of the NLCS. (Mike Hampton’s seven shutout innings didn’t hurt, either.)

53. OCTOBER 4, 1988 — NLCS Game One: Mets 3 DODGERS 2
The invincible Orel Hershiser, he of the 59-inning scoreless streak that he rode to the end of the season, loomed large. But the Mets were on a roll of sorts, too. Not only had they come into the 1988 playoffs after tearing off 29 wins in 37 games, they hadn’t lost a postseason contest since a certain ball rolled through a certain Red Sox first baseman’s legs. This was a different October, but that old Met magic was brought to bear at Dodger Stadium. In the top of the ninth, with Hershiser ahead, 2-0, the Mets went to work like it was 1986. Darryl Strawberry cracked Orel’s latest string of goose eggs with a run-scoring double, and Gary Carter — the same Kid who started that tenth-inning rally versus Boston in Game Six two years before — stroked a double into center field to bring home Straw and Kevin McReynolds for a 3-2 New York edge. When Randy Myers set down L.A. in order in the bottom of the ninth, the Mets were up where they belonged: one-nothing over the Dodgers and three games from a presumed return to the World Series.

52. OCTOBER 19, 1986 — WS Game Two: Red Sox 9 METS 3
Fans of elite starting pitching couldn’t have asked for a better matchup to salivate over: the best of 1985, Dwight Gooden, versus the best of 1986, Roger Clemens. When the epitome of “highly anticipated” was over, connoisseurs of hurling were spitting the bad taste out of their mouths. Clemens, the 24-4 dynamo of the regular season, was a few shades shy or ordinary, not lasting long enough to earn a win. But there was a win for Boston, given that Red Sox batters more than made up for Clemens’s 4⅓ innings of five-hit, four-walk, three-run ball. The likes of Boggs, Barrett and Buckner jumped ugly all over Gooden, whose 24-4 slate from ’85 might as well have occurred in the prior decade. Doc’s six earned runs allowed all but buried the Mets by the fifth inning, and the throwback effectiveness of erstwhile Bosox closer Bob Stanley (3 IP, 0 R) prevented any chance of resurrection. The Mets were down oh-two in the World Series and could have been easily mistaken for dead.

51. OCTOBER 9, 1973 — NLCS Game Four: Reds 2 METS 1 (12)
The villain gets his vengeance in what turns into the penultimate chapter of a playoff potboiler, as Pete Rose’s twelfth-inning homer off Harry Parker proves the difference. Rose’s sprint around the bases, as he raised a fist in the air to Shea’s vocal displeasure, cemented his role as Flushing’s quintessential heel. Of course the game was still in progress, with the home team in line to clinch a pennant, thanks to Rusty Staub’s dramatic robbery of Dan Driessen at the right field wall in the eleventh. Ironically, the Met crowd got more Rose and less Staub from the bargain, for Rusty wrecked his right shoulder and was doomed to sit out deciding Game Five, which was going to provide its own page-turning chapter to the proceedings. Obscured in the passions of Game Four: four-and-a-third scoreless innings of relief from Tug McGraw on top of six-and-two-thirds frames from George Stone that were marred by only a Tony Perez solo blast. Alas, the Mets could do next to nothing (1 R, 3 H) versus Red hurlers Fred Norman, Don Gullett, Clay Carroll and Pedro Borbon.

50. OCTOBER 9, 2015 — NLDS Game One: Mets 3 DODGERS 1
When the Mets were scuffling at midseason, they rated only one National League All-Star, Jacob deGrom. When the Mets roared to a division title, there were many who performed in stellar fashion, but there was no overlooking the guy who’d been great for them all along. Starting the Mets’ first postseason game in nine years, the NL’s most recent Rookie of the Year lived up to all his burgeoning billing, going seven strong innings, striking out thirteen Dodgers, and outdueling defending Cy Young/MVP Clayton Kershaw. Jake’s supporting cast, featuring Daniel Murphy (a leadoff homer in the fourth) and David Wright (a two-RBI single in the seventh), made sure the Mets ace’s best efforts weren’t for naught.

49. OCTOBER 25, 2000 — WS Game Four: Yankees 3 METS 2
With the Mets back in the Subway Series following their Game Three victory, two battles within the battle within the intracity war defined the fourth game. First — meaning upon the very first pitch in the top of the very first inning — Derek Jeter took Bobby Jones deep to give the Yankees an immediate lead. A one-run deficit shouldn’t have seemed impossible to overcome, but it would be, even when the Mets encountered their most glittering opportunity of the night. Come the bottom of the fifth inning, with the Mets trailing, 3-2, and Mike Piazza coming to the plate having already homered in the third off Denny Neagle, Joe Torre lifted his starter in favor of David Cone. This wasn’t the 20-3 Cone from 1988 who rescued the Mets from the Brink in Game Six of that year’s NLCS, nor was it the Cone who was so indispensable to three Bronx world championships over the previous four Octobers. This was David Cone with a regular-season ERA pushing seven, removed from the rotation, and all but shunted to the shadows for the balance of this postseason. Yet Torre called on his 37-year-old veteran for one mano-a-mano at-bat. As Jeter was versus Jones, Cone proved to be, shall we say, the mano against Piazza, gaining the upper hand as he induced an inning-ending popout. Four innings remained, but, per on-field pregame entertainers the Baha Men, the Mets’ chances to do anything constructive had, like the dogs, been let out.

48. OCTOBER 16, 1973 — WS Game Three: A’s 3 METS 2 (11)
47. OCTOBER 6, 1973 — NLCS Game One: REDS 2 Mets 1

Twenty-seven times between his 1967 debut and the end of the 1973 regular season, Tom Seaver had gone at least eight innings, given up no more than two runs, and won nothing. The postseason isn’t the ideal setting for manufacturing microcosms, but in October of ’73, a larger baseball audience got a taste of what Mets fans had seen beset Seaver repeatedly during the first stages of his Hall of Fame tenure. Tom at his most Terrific; the Mets not scoring; the Franchise not winning; and the franchise losing. As part of the coda to his stressful second Cy Young season, Seaver unfurled two superhuman efforts versus two of the signature squads of the Seventies: 8⅓ IP, 2 ER, 6 H, 0 BB, 13 SO at Cincinnati; 8 IP, 2 ER, 7 H, 1 BB, 12 SO against Oakland. For his troubles, Tom came away with a loss and a no-decision, with the Mets losing the latter in extra innings at frigid Shea. In the NLCS at Riverfront, Tom threw a wrench into the Big Red Machine for seven shutout innings (and doubled in the Mets’ lone run in the second) before Pete Rose nailed him for the tying homer in the eighth and Johnny Bench beat him the same way in the ninth. In the World Series, meanwhile, after Seaver had won the pennant-clincher over the Reds, the Mets’ ace held the Swingin’ A’s at bay as long as he could, carrying a precarious 2-0 lead to the sixth and a 2-1 lead to the eighth. This time, there were no opposition longballs, though the opponents’ most famous power hitter would offer words of praise after first-hand exposure. “Blind people,” Reggie Jackson marveled, “come to the park just to listen to him pitch.” What people watching and listening saw and heard after Seaver left Game Three was the A’s weave a go-ahead run in the eleventh inning on a walk, a missed strike three and a single. According to Baseball-Reference, only five postseason pitchers approximated Seaver’s lines from those two games versus the Reds and A’s in 1973 during the rest of Seaver’s lifetime, and none of them did it more than once.

46. OCTOBER 22, 1986 — WS Game Four: Mets 6 RED SOX 2
45. OCTOBER 21, 1986 — WS Game Three: Mets 7 RED SOX 1

Tourists who visit Boston are often drawn to the Freedom Trail, a walkable exploration of sixteen historic sites designed to tell a story of America’s founding. That wasn’t the trail the Mets were seeking out on their trip north in the middle of the 1986 World Series. Trailing two games to none, they were concerned only with the comeback trail. They found it immediately, starting with Lenny Dykstra leading off Game Three with a homer around Fenway Park’s right field foul pole, continuing through the Red Sox’ blown rundown play later in the first inning, and culminating in a pair of victories that re-established the 1986 Mets as the threat they had been dating back to Opening Day. Two starting pitchers who came embroidered with a Red Sox storyline — Bobby Ojeda who used to pitch for them and Ron Darling who grew up rooting for them — shut down Boston’s bats, while Gary Carter belted two home runs and totaled six RBIs. New England entered the middle portion of the Series blanketing itself in sweep dreams. New York’s invasion surely changed the course of Red Sox events.

44. OCTOBER 16, 2000 — NLCS Game Five: METS 7 Cardinals 0
Mike Hampton unwittingly threaded a needle of accomplishment and perception, giving Mets fans something they’d very badly wanted for a long time yet garnering very little in the way of lasting gratitude. Hampton had been imported from Houston to push the Mets past the heartbreak of having their postseason end in the NLCS as it did in 1999. The lefty had won 22 games for the Astros. He seemed a good bet to make the difference another lefty, Kenny Rogers, couldn’t. In the fifth game of the 2000 NLCS, Hampton delivered, authoring a shutout that clinched the Mets’ fourth pennant. His three-hitter stamped the Mets’ ticket to their first World Series in fourteen years and, when paired with a similar splendid outing in Game One, earned him MVP honors for the League Championship round. When Hampton had finished being his best self, the idea of participating in the 2000 Fall Classic loomed as an unalloyed positive — the ALCS was still in progress, so its outcome might have meant a trip to Seattle — and Mike was, naturally, still under contract to the Mets. Nobody knew how the World Series would unfold and nobody knew where Hampton, with free agency pending, would decide to pitch in 2001…or how inartfully he’d articulate his choice. You won’t learn any of that in any school (in Denver or anywhere else), but it doesn’t hurt to review how much Mike meant to the Mets at one very important franchise peak just in case there’s an exam.

43. OCTOBER 12, 1969 — WS Game Two: Mets 2 ORIOLES 1
Wasn’t it enough that the Miracle Mets had reached the World Series? No man among their ranks would have said yes, and after losing their first game in Baltimore, they set out to guarantee they’d snare more than a runners-up trophy for 1969. Jerry Koosman was so determined to put the Mets on the board that he kept the Orioles completely off it, no-hitting the home team until the seventh. Donn Clendenon had given Kooz a one-run lead in the fourth with a leadoff homer and it stood tall until three innings later when Brooks Robinson singled home Paul Blair from second. The less-celebrated of starting third basemen, Ed Charles, instigated a two-out, ninth-inning rally. The Glider registered a base hit, raced to third on a Jerry Grote single, and crossed the plate when Al Weis singled to left. In the bottom of the ninth, with two out and Ron Taylor on, it was Ed topping Brooks one more time, as Charles grabbed Robinson’s grounder and threw it to Clendenon to close out the Mets’ first-ever World Series win.

42. OCTOBER 5, 1999 — NLDS Game One: Mets 8 DIAMONDBACKS 4
Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Unit? Anybody with any sense while Randy Johnson was in his lengthy prime, but the ’99 Mets didn’t have time to fully consider their mound opponent’s perennial Cy Young credentials as they arrived in the postseason essentially after the last minute. Having completed their 162-game season knotted with the Reds for the NL’s final playoff spot, they had to contest and capture a tiebreaker in Cincinnati to qualify for the Wild Card. Well, they did that, as Al Leiter blanked the Reds, 5-0. A quick champagne shower and long westward flight later, they were in Phoenix to take on the Western Division champions. The most venomous Snake in Arizona, who had struck out 364 batters in 1999, awaited them. The Mets didn’t wait to get to whacking. Two-hole batter Edgardo Alfonzo homered to give the Mets a quick lead in the first. John Olerud, in an episode of lefty-on-lefty crime to which the Unit was rarely victimized, bopped a two-run dinger in the third to increase the Mets’ edge to 3-0. The Mets led until the sixth, when their starter, Masato Yoshii, ran out of gas. Having survived the initial New York onslaught and granted a cleanish slate via a 4-4 tie, Johnson got characteristically tough. Through eight, the Big Unit had racked up eleven strikeouts. Randy’s late-game magic finally evaporated as the Mets loaded the bases in the top of the ninth. The Unit exited. Bobby Chouinard entered. With two outs, Fonzie returned, detonating a grand slam that ensured the Mets would attain the advantage in their first postseason series since 1988.

41. OCTOBER 16, 1999 — NLCS Game Four: METS 3 Braves 2
They were off the mat. They had life in them. They were naturalized citizens of Cliché Stadium. However you termed it, the Mets absolutely needed to win what could have been their last game of the twentieth century, and they did. As was the case regarding basically everything in 1999, it wasn’t easy. Rick Reed dueled John Smoltz effectively for most of seven innings, but a couple of solo home runs left Reed and the Mets behind, 2-1, in the top of the eighth. The backs/wall ratio was overwhelming, but it wasn’t over until it was over, and it most definitely wasn’t over. In the bottom of the eighth, Roger Cedeño, Melvin Mora and John Olerud (who had earlier homered) engineered a breath-holding rally that not only created the necessary two runs to constitute a comeback, but they scored the tying and go-ahead runs with John Rocker on the mound, which made the resuscitation even sweeter. Armando Benitez held Fort Ninth Inning for the save and, yup, the Mets lived another day.

40. OCTOBER 4, 2006 — NLDS Game One: METS 6 Dodgers 5
In an echo of the NBA’s old “three to make two rule,” the Mets improvised a scenario that indicated the ball was destined to bounce their way in their first postseason appearance in six years. John Maine, a surprise starter with Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez sidelined by a calf injury, allowed the first two runners of the second inning on base via singles. With Jeff Kent on second and J.D. Drew on first, the Dodger threat was palpable this late afternoon in Flushing. When Russell Martin lashed a ball to the right field corner, Kent seemed a sure bet to score. But Shawn Green handled it cleanly off the wall and made a quick relay to second baseman Jose Valentin, who in turn unleashed a dart to Paul Lo Duca. Lo Duca turned and tagged ex-Met Kent, who did not get a very good jump off second. If one out wasn’t enough to electrify the Shea crowd, what happened a beat later did the trick. Drew kept charging and ran into the Met catcher’s second tag of the play, touching off an jolt of joy as loud as anything takeoffs out of or landings into LaGuardia could produce. Martin took second amid the breathtaking pair of home plate outs and scored on Marlon Anderson’s ensuing double, but the Dodgers taking a 1-0 lead felt like a Los Angeles letdown. Though there’d be some back-and-forth on offense — Carlos Delgado doing the most to carry the Mets forth by going 4-for-5 with a homer — the 9-4-2 chain of DP events instigated by three former Dodgers defined the day in the Mets’ favor and set the series’ trajectory on its way.

39. OCTOBER 6, 1969 — NLCS Game Three: METS 7 Braves 4
Had 1969 taken place in 1968, this step would have been unnecessary, but the Mets’ place in 1968 was ninth, while in 1969, the only thing the best record in the National League won you was a spot in something called the Championship Series. The 100-62 record the Mets notched in the regular season was indeed tops in the senior circuit, but for the first time since the NL was founded in 1876, the best record wouldn’t necessarily add up to a league pennant. For that honor, the Mets would have to complete their business against the Atlanta Braves, the 93-69 team with the best record in the division opposite them. In this inaugural showdown between East and West, the Mets showed the Braves on whom the league’s sun rose and set. Henry Aaron may have put the visitors out front in the first (he homered in every NLCS game) and Gary Gentry may have been less than his sharpest thirteen days after throwing the shutout that clinched the division, but the Mets would not be denied. Tommie Agee, Ken Boswell and Wayne Garrett all homered. Nolan Ryan threw a mere seven innings of relief. And, in the ninth inning, with two out and the Mets up by three, when Tony Gonzalez grounded to third baseman Garrett, who threw to Ed Kranepool at first, Ralph Kiner explained the result simply and succinctly: “The Mets are National League champions!” The team that had never remotely challenged for any kind of title — other than worst ballclub ever — had now earned its second flag of 1969 and was poised to compete for its third and ultimate.

38. OCTOBER 10, 2015 — NLDS Game Two: DODGERS 5 Mets 2
For thirteen regular seasons, the name Chase Utley elicited little worse than grumbles among Mets fans who had grown used to the Phillies’ All-Star second baseman occasionally contributing to defeats of their beloveds (it wasn’t for nothing that the area by the right field foul pole at brand new Citi Field had been grudgingly dubbed Utley’s Corner). But by the second week of October 2015, the Mets were beyond the regular season and Utley was no longer a Phillie. The Dodgers had traded for the six-time All-Star second baseman, and fate would pit the former division rival against the NL East champions…and then fate would really bring it on where these two entities were concerned. Utley was on first base in the home seventh at Dodger Stadium, with Kiké Hernandez on third, as Bartolo Colon came on to relieve Noah Syndergaard and protect a 2-1 Met lead. Howie Kendrick’s chopper to second scored Hernandez and unleashed havoc. Daniel Murphy’s attempt to start a 4-6-3 double play went for naught as Utley slid into shortstop Ruben Tejada rather than the bag Tejada was straddling. Tejada suffered a broken leg. Utley incurred the wrath of Mets fans a continent away. Worse, from a New York perspective, Utley was awarded second despite never touching the base he nominally sought. The mess spiraled into a four-run rally for L.A. and hard feelings that would not dissipate soon or, really, ever.

37. OCTOBER 5, 2000 — NLDS Game Two: Mets 5 GIANTS 4 (10)
Several Mets played the roles those who intensely observed them expected to see. Al Leiter threw eight strong innings, allowing only two runs. Edgardo Alfonzo ripped a clutch ninth-inning home run to extend the Mets’ lead to three runs. And Armando Benitez…well, Armando was Armando, the closer who shut down most every ninth inning except for the ones that seemed a little more important than the rest. J.T. Snow drove a three-run homer out of Pac Bell Park to tie the contest and send it to extras. But then a couple of additional characters got their hands on the script. With two outs in the top of the tenth, Darryl Hamilton doubled and Jay Payton followed immediately with a run-scoring single to regain the lead for New York. Finally, it came down to two new names deeply known by anybody who’d been watching the Mets vie for victory over the past decade-plus. In the batter’s box, with a runner on first and two out, was Barry Bonds, about as dangerous a lefty hitter as baseball history had to offer. On the mound, John Franco, the veteran southpaw whose career was dedicated to putting the clamps on the most lethal of lefthanded batters. Franco vs. Bonds worked its way to a full count. Finally, on a fairly borderline pitch, Bonds was called out looking. Strikeout and win to Franco, split in San Francisco for the Mets before both teams would split for the airport and a trip to Shea.

36. OCTOBER 27, 2015 — WS Game One: ROYALS 5 Mets 4 (14)
35. OCTOBER 21, 2000 — WS Game One: YANKEES 4 Mets 3 (12)

For a franchise that made a habit of waiting forever to get back to the Fall Classic, the Mets sure had a knack for sticking around on the nights they arrived. The opener of the 2000 World Series, an event for which they hadn’t qualified since 1986, was an antsy affair in the Bronx. Despite several opportunities unredeemed (most notably one wasted on Timo Perez not hustling his head off from first to home on a Todd Zeile double that just missed going out), the Mets nursed a 3-2 lead to the bottom of the ninth. Alas, Armando Benitez lost a ten-pitch battle to Paul O’Neill and, after walking the Yankee right fielder, eventually let him score. The Mets hung around Game One until the twelfth, when, with two outs and the bases loaded, their former shortstop, Jose Vizcaino, singled in Tino Martinez to put the Mets in a one-game hole. If it wasn’t exactly déjà vu all over again fifteen years later, the next time the Mets started a World Series generated an eerily similar storyline. This time it was a 4-3 lead at Kansas City gone awry when Alex Gordon lined a Jeurys Familia quick pitch over the Kaufman Stadium wall to tie things up. Tied they stayed into the fourteenth, until Eric Hosmer put everybody to bed via a bases-loaded sac fly. Two very long nights (ten hours total), two deceptively deep one-nothing deficits.

34. OCTOBER 21, 2015 — NLCS Game Four: Mets 8 CUBS 3
The Cubs had a billy goat. They had a cinematic omen. They had ivy, romance, perhaps the heart of America on their side. But the Mets had Lucas Duda, and Duda didn’t care that in the 1989 feature film Back to the Future II, this date in Mets history was the date the Chicago Cubs finally won a Fall Classic. The Mets’ slugger wasn’t in a movie, though he certainly earned a starring role in highlight reels by bashing the first-inning grand slam that sent the North Side’s world championshipless streak at least another year into the future. The Mets took that 4-0 lead and embellished it ASAP when Travis d’Arnaud added a solo home run. The Mets never trailed in the game, just as they never trailed in the series. When Jeurys Familia struck out Dexter Fowler in the ninth — after NLCS MVP Daniel Murphy had homered for a record sixth consecutive postseason game (and the ghost of the goat of 1945 legend named Murphy failed to haunt Wrigley with any kind of good home team luck) — it was the Mets who had accomplished the stuff of modern myth: a four-game sweep and their fifth National League pennant.

33. OCTOBER 31, 2015 — WS Game Four: Royals 5 METS 3
The Mets had been flipping Daniel Murphy’s coin throughout the 2015 postseason, and it had come up heads more often than not. One too many flips, however, left the ballclub on its tail. With seven home runs in the NLDS and NLCS behind him, it was easy to forget that Murph’s defense at second base had never been his strong suit. Yet in the eighth inning of the fourth game of the World Series, all of Metsopotamia was reminded that the extraordinary autumnal offensive performer had generally always lacked a position. He had made himself a suitable second baseman, but then a ground ball confounded him. The Mets were clinging to a 3-2 lead, as Tyler Clippard walked Ben Zobrist, then Lorenzo Cain with one out. Jeurys Familia took over and got the desired result from Eric Hosmer. It was a grounder to second. Except it was mishandled by the Mets’ second baseman, and Zobrist scored the tying run. Two singles to right followed and the Royals a built a two-run lead. Daniel attempted to make amends for his error with a one-out single in the bottom of the ninth, but Yoenis Cespedes (speaking of 2015 heroes running out of steam) would get caught off first on Lucas Duda’s game-ending line drive to third and the Mets landed a game away from elimination.

32. OCTOBER 21, 1973 — WS Game Seven: A’S 5 Mets 2
The name “Oakland” doesn’t translate in some ancient tongue to “land beyond belief,” but that’s where the Mets wound up. The team that rode stifling starting pitching and the You Gotta Believe mantra from last place most of the summer to the precipice of a second world championship came up one game short in the Oakland Coliseum. Jon Matlack, who had been so good in Games One and Four, not to mention Game Two of the NLCS, didn’t have his best stuff. The lefty didn’t last three innings, having been taken deep for a pair of two-run homers by Bert Campaneris and soon-to-be-named MVP Reggie Jackson. Ken Holtzman and Rollie Fingers teamed to tame the Mets into the ninth inning, but apropos of the way the 1973 Mets kept pushing from the rear, New York brought one run in and put two runners on in the ninth, provoking Dick Williams to call on Darold Knowles to extinguish their final fire. Knowles became the first pitcher to appear in all seven games of a World Series. With everything on the line, he could have faced potential pinch-hitter Willie Mays, the legend on the edge of retirement, but Yogi Berra stuck with regularly scheduled batter Wayne Garrett. Garrett popped up and the A’s finally deflated the Met balloon that stayed aloft longer than anybody would have guessed when they themselves were stuck in the basement as late as August 30.

31. OCTOBER 12, 1988 — NLCS Game Seven: DODGERS 6 Mets 0
The Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958, which gave them thirty years to understand how Hollywood stories were supposed to climax. The Mets of New York apparently had no idea, and 3,000 miles removed from their Queens stage, they performed several levels shy of Broadway-caliber. They were off-off their game from the second inning on. A five-run debacle, including four L.A. hits, a pair of Met errors and the replacement of stunned starter Ron Darling with never-before reliever Dwight Gooden, all but closed the curtain on what had been a blockbuster season. Once the inning was over, the Mets were down by six. Orel Hershiser would seal his NLCS MVP honor by going the distance on a five-hitter, striking out Howard Johnson looking to grab for the ’88 Dodgers the mantel of miracle-workers. The Dodgers had a date with the A’s and destiny. The Mets were destined to wait a very long time to see a postseason again.

30. OCTOBER 15, 2015 — NLDS Game Five: Mets 3 DODGERS 2
After he put himself and his team on the postseason map in Game One, there was little doubt Jacob deGrom could measure up to Zack Grienke when it came time to contest the deciding game of the Mets’ first playoff round in nine years. Yet after the Mets nicked the usually impervious Greinke for a run in the top of the first, deGrom struggled. The Dodgers sent seven batters to the plate, scoring twice. As Greinke settled in, deGrom squirmed some more, as Los Angeles steered a man to scoring position in each of the next four innings. Terry Collins left Jake on the mound, and Jake wriggled out of every jam. Greinke, meanwhile, mostly displayed the form that saw him unfurl a 45⅔-inning scoreless streak during midsummer. Then again, it was the Mets (with deGrom as the batter) who broke that streak, so leave it to this ballclub to find a way against the former Cy Young Award winner. In the fourth, Daniel Murphy pretty much stole a run, taking third from first on a Lucas Duda walk and coming home on Travis d’Arnaud’s foul ball sac fly. In the sixth, Murphy belted a home run to push the Mets ahead, 3-2. Jacob finally gave Collins his first clean inning and then turned the pitching over to Noah Syndergaard — Thor’s first relief appearance — and Jeurys Familia. The result was a breath-holding series-finale victory that transformed the 2015 Mets from postseason guests to the home field hosts for the start of the NLCS.

29. OCTOBER 7, 1973 — NLCS Game Two: Mets 5 REDS 0
The Big Red Machine had cranked out only two runs the afternoon before, but it was enough to sneak by Tom Seaver. Cincinnati was about to find out two runs was the most any Met pitcher would allow them in any of the days ahead. On Sunday, they discovered Jon Matlack was every bit as ready as Seaver to clog the Machine’s valves. The Western Division champs of Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Johnny Bench produced exactly a pair of base hits — and it was second-string outfielder Andy Kosco who rapped those out. Otherwise, it was all zeroes for Cincy. The Mets’ lineup wasn’t having a ton more luck versus Red lefty Don Gullett, subsisting for quite a while on only a Rusty Staub solo homer in the fifth. New York’s 1-0 edge expanded to more than comfortable via four ninth-inning runs, after which Matlack put away Morgan, Perez, Bench and any notion that these 99-win Reds would be too much for these 82-win Mets.

28. OCTOBER 12, 2015 — NLDS Game Three: METS 13 Dodgers 7
Citi Field opened in 2009, yet needed seven seasons to immerse itself in the baptismal waters of October intensity. Nobody in Flushing wished to wait that long, but it’s hard to say the first post-Shea playoff game in Mets history wasn’t worth hanging in there for. The pregame festivities could have netted the price of admission themselves, encompassing as they did two particular introductions. When the Dodgers came out to figuratively tip their cap, one visitor in particular received a rousing reception. With Game Two villain Chase Utley appealing his suspension, he was eligible to line up and take his vocal medicine from the 44,276 who had rejected his appeal altogether. Received 180 degrees more warmly was Utley’s victim, sidelined shortstop Ruben Tejada, limping out of the home dugout with a Mets-logoed cane to uproarious approval. Thus inspired, the Mets pounded Brett Anderson and Alex Wood for ten runs total in the second, third and fourth innings, with Yoenis Cespedes tearing the metaphorical roof off the proverbial sucker with his game-breaking, rip-roaring, bat-flipping, three-run blast to the distant seats of the Left Field Landing. Not that anybody in any section was much sitting this night, which was different from all other in October when Citi Field seats sat vacant as a matter of course because the playoffs had passed over the Mets. Postseason had arrived in the house at last.

27. OCTOBER 15, 2000 — NLCS Game Four: METS 10 Cardinals 6
Good vibrations abounded at Shea Stadium. Very good vibrations. Very vibrant vibrations. If you were there, as 55,665 were, you feel it still. It’s the stuff of oral history, passed along by word of mouth, not that a Mets fan could much hear what the Mets fan to the side of either ear was saying. It was that tumultuous. It was that tremendous. It was, after Bobby Jones spotted the Cardinals a pair or runs, a barrage of five doubles off Darryl Kile to put four runs on the board in the home first, followed by another three runs in the second. By the time Todd Zeile produced the Mets’ sixth double, the entire Upper Deck felt ready to either soar into orbit or plop down atop Field Level. Either way, gravity was rendered all but immaterial. Such was the force of the jumping around that turned Shea Stadium into a house of pain for the Cards and a pleasure palace for patrons of the Mets. Home field advantage has rarely been as voracious. When Citi Field on its most boisterous days is said to have grown as loud as Shea, this is the Shea Mets fans have in mind.

26. OCTOBER 5, 2016 — NL Wild Card Game: GIANTS 3 Mets 0
If reaching the 2016 postseason embodied the concept of sprint over marathon for the New York Mets, the team’s experience in the playoffs amounted to once around the track and out. Following a rush of 27 wins in 39 games to emerge from under .500 in late August to clinch a Wild Card on October 1, all the Mets got for their efforts was one guaranteed date, versus the league’s other Wild Card, the San Francisco Giants. Win that, and move on to a deeper version of October, but that was the epitome of easier said than won. True, the Mets earned hosting rights, but considering that the Giants’ postseason master Madison Bumgarner was regularly virtually unhittable at Citi Field, the site didn’t seem to much matter. The Mets’ best pitcher of 2016, Noah Syndergaard, was equal to the task and to his opponent for seven innings; defensive support from Curtis Granderson in center certainly didn’t hurt. Eventually, however, the scoreless tie shifted into the hands of the Met bullpen, and from there it slipped. In the top of the ninth, Jeurys Familia, he of the team-record 51 regular-season saves, surrendered a leadoff double to Brandon Crawford, a one-out walk to Joe Panik, and the cruelest blow of all, a three-run homer to Conor Gillaspie. Gillaspie’s postseason bona fides were non-existent entering the evening, but in the moment they became every bit as substantive as Bumgarner’s. In the bottom of the ninth, the World Series MVP from 2014 showed his standard October stuff, completing the five-hit shutout and closing the door on the briefest of the Mets’ nine postseason appearances thus far.

25. OCTOBER 8, 2000 — NLDS Game Four: METS 4 Giants 0
Bobby Jones going for the Mets in, say, 1997, would have loomed as a formidable obstacle for any team, but by 2000, Jones was three years removed from his All-Star form, plagued by inconsistency and injury. In the middle of the first summer of the new millennium, Jones took a trip to Norfolk to right himself as a Triple-A Tide once his MLB ERA bloated to 10.19. Back in New York, his second half showed notable improvement, so when Bobby Valentine needed a pitcher for a potential NLDS clincher, it was within the realm of rational to expect a serviceable start from his No. 4 starter. Yet nobody claiming sanity could have anticipated what Jones’s next nine innings would yield: one Giant hit — a Jeff Kent double to left to lead off the fifth, lined just a little too high to meet the vertical leap of Robin Ventura — and absolutely nothing else. San Francisco would load the bases on walks but make no hay in the fifth, nor any other inning. Ventura had stroked a two-run homer in the first. Edgardo Alfonzo doubled the Mets’ lead with a two-run double following Jones’s escape act. The rest of the game was all about Mr. Jones. The second-most famous righthander ever to emerge from the Fresno pitching scene squelched the Giants right down to their bitter end, reached when Barry Bonds (a .688 slugger in the regular season, but a .176 hitter in this series) lined to Jay Payton in center to send San Fran home and the Mets to a chance at bigger and better things. As Bob Murphy summed it over WFAN, “A one-hit shutout for Bobby Jones…what a magnificent game. The Mets have never had a better ballgame pitched in their thirty-nine year history than this game pitched by Bobby Jones.”

24. OCTOBER 8, 1986 — NLCS Game One: ASTROS 1 Mets 0
The best-hitting team in the National League — tops in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage — met its match on a mound deep in the heart of Texas. It was a match nobody in New York wanted much part of to start the postseason. The Mets were also the best-pitching team in the National League, at least as measured by full-season ERA, but as 1986 ended, no staff presented itself as scarier than that of the Houston Astros, and nobody could cast a more frightening specter than their ace, Mike Scott. Scott didn’t just throw a shutout to clinch the Western Division title, he threw a no-hitter. The ex-Met proved every bit as daunting as his momentum indicated, going the distance, striking out, 14 and getting inside the Mets’ heads with a split-finger fastball that the Eastern champs were sure had more than just skill propelling it into catcher Andy Ashby’s mitt. Though in the box score it says the margin of victory was provided by Glenn Davis’s second-inning solo homer off Dwight Gooden, the night may have been decided in the first when Gary Carter couldn’t convince home plate ump Doug Harvey that Scott’s pitches were scuffed. However the Astros did it, they grabbed the series lead and their pitcher donned an aura of presumed invincibility.

23. OCTOBER 11, 1969 — WS Game One: ORIOLES 4 Mets 1
Oddsmakers said there was no way Cinderella’s darlings and everybody’s underdog were going to touch the team with the best record in baseball. The Baltimore Orioles had been installed by Las Vegas oddsmakers as an 8-5 favorite to collect their second world championship in four years. For one day, listening to what the house said seemed to be the best bet. In the bottom of the first inning of the first World Series game the New York Mets ever played, the first batter to face them, Don Buford, homered. That the ball he hit off Tom Seaver barely eluded Ron Swoboda’s jump at the right field fence didn’t make it count any less. The Mets, predicted months earlier by nobody to be joining as imposing an outfit as the Orioles in October, were down, 1-0. After nine innings, they were down, 1-0, on the larger Series scoreboard. Down, but hardly out. The Mets were new to Fall Classics, but the odds were they understood it would take four wins to crown a champion.

22. OCTOBER 10, 1973 — NLCS Game Five: METS 7 Reds 2
In the first do-or-die postseason game the Mets ever played, the Mets most decidedly did. Yogi Berra’s makeshift lineup might have indicated it was going to be an unusual afternoon. Cleon Jones was in right instead of left. Ed Kranepool was in left instead of at first. Rusty Staub was on the shelf with an aching shoulder. And dethawed from cold storage, not having played in more than a month, was 42-year-old Willie Mays, who’d received gifts and hosannas upon announcing his retirement in September, yet was still technically active. More than technically, actually. Amid a fifth-inning rally that saw the Mets break a 2-2 tie, Willie came up with the bases loaded and did something he’d been doing since 1951: he drove in a key run and helped push his team toward victory. The five-run fifth fortified Tom Seaver, who pitched into the ninth, handing the ball with one out to Tug McGraw, who had saved so many big wins down the stretch. You had to believe Tug got the final two outs and, on the same day Spiro Agnew resigned the vice presidency of the United States, the New York Mets accepted the nomination of the National League to represent the senior circuit in the World Series. Judging by the thousands who poured onto the field when the result went final, you might say the Mets won by acclamation.

21. OCTOBER 26, 2000 — WS Game Five: Yankees 4 METS 2
The Subway Series functioned better as hype than it did happy ending from a Met perspective. All the games were close, but only one of them could be termed successful. With one more opportunity to reroute momentum, Al Leiter conducted the train at Shea as best and as long (142 pitches) as he could, nursing a slim lead from the second through the fifth, then maintaining a tie into the ninth. But after registering two swinging strikeouts to start the ninth, Al got squeezed in at-bat that became a walk to Jorge Posada. Following a single from Scott Brosius, Leiter induced backup infielder Luis Sojo to tap a routine ground ball that might have been harmless had it not cleverly sussed out for itself a narrow hole between short and second. Posada and Brosius each scored, leaving the New York home team two runs behind the visitors from nearby. The Mets’ final chance in the bottom of the ninth died in the heavy night air of Flushing, as Mike Piazza’s deep fly ball to center flew not quite deep enough. The Subway Series was out of service. Last stop: close but no cigar.

20. OCTOBER 30, 2015 — WS Game Three: METS 9 Royals 3
David Wright’s twelfth major league season was his first as a World Series participant. It didn’t take Noah Syndergaard but five-and-a-half months to arrive in the brightest lights of October. But together they strove to immediately erase the glaring zero that had followed the Mets home from Kansas city. To begin the game, Syndergaard brushed back Royals leadoff hitter Alicides Escobar, a pesky type who swung at every first pitch except the ceremonial kind. Message sent…and if the visitors didn’t like it, Noah stressed, “they can meet me sixty feet, six inches away.” David spoke softly and carried his big stick to the plate in the bottom of the first, erasing KC’s 1-0 lead with a two-run homer. It was the first in Citi Field World Series history and the first of a career that had inspired Hall of Fame talk before spinal stenosis changed the conversation. Though the Royals snatched the lead back in the second, Curtis Granderson put the Mets ahead to stay with his own two-run homer in the third, and David extended the home team’s lead with a two-run single in the sixth. For one night, all was Wright with the World Series.

19. OCTOBER 14, 1986 — NLCS Game Five: METS 2 Astros 1 (12)
The marquee didn’t lie. For most of this Tuesday afternoon makeup game, it really was a battle between two superstar starting flamethrowers delivering their pitches from opposing demographic poles. Doc Gooden, 21, went ten innings for the first time in his brilliant three-year career, scattering nine hits and giving up only one run. Nolan Ryan, 39, who’d been pitching in the majors since 1966 — including a memorable relief appearance during the 1969 World Series — went nine, struck out twelve, and gave up only two hits. Unfortunately for him, one was a ball Darryl Strawberry guided over the right field fence. The 1-1 tie was handled with care by both bullpens until the bottom of the twelfth, when Wally Backman reached first against Charlie Kerfeld and took second on a pickoff throw gone awry. Kerfeld intentionally walked Keith Hernandez to face Gary Carter, not as much of a matter of picking one’s poison as it reads, since Carter was mired in the deepest of October slumps (1-for-21). Properly disrespected, Kid — who Kerfeld made look very bad two games before — was determined to unslump. True to character, the catcher lined a three-two pitch into center to score Backman and lift the Mets to within one game of the franchise’s second World Series since Ryan was in New York’s bullpen.

18. OCTOBER 7, 2000 — NLDS Game Three: METS 3 Giants 2 (13)
Sheer stubbornness carried the day, even as the Flushing day carried on into night. After the Giants pushed two runs across the plate off Rick Reed in the fourth inning, Reeder and five relievers simply refused to give up another San Francisco run. Meanwhile, Mets batters chipped away for a tally in the sixth (Timo Perez driving in Mike Bordick, who had walked) and another in the eighth (Edgardo Alfonzo doubling home Lenny Harris, who had reached on a fielder’s choice and then stole second). The ninth inning passed. Then the tenth. And so on, clear into the thirteenth when, with one out and five hours and twenty-two minutes logged, Benny Agbayani belted an Aaron Fultz pitch practically to his hometown of Honolulu.

17. OCTOBER 11, 1986 — NLCS Game Three: METS 6 Astros 5
A chilly afternoon at Shea grew positively frosty as Ron Darling was rocked for four early runs. The Mets being the Mets of the year that it was rocked back in the sixth, tying the game on Darryl Strawberry’s three-run bomb to right. As soon as the Mets drew even, they fell behind again, and stayed behind until the ninth. Facing Dave Smith, a top-notch closer against every National League club except the one he needed to shut down ASAP, Wally Backman led off with a bunt that got him to first. A passed ball sent him to second. One out later, it was time for Backman’s companion top-of-the-order pest Lenny Dykstra to wreak havoc. Usually Lenny did it on the basepaths. This time Nails hammered Smith over the wall with as unlikely a game-winning, two-run homer as anybody on hand could have imagined. It was a game the Mets had never led until it was over, and now they held an edge in the series for the first time yet.

16. OCTOBER 19, 1999 — NLCS Game Six: BRAVES 10 Mets 9 (11)
Just to land in the eleventh inning of this mustest-win game of a year pretty much spent with their backs against the wall the whole time took some doing for the 1999 Mets. Al Leiter dug the Mets a five-run hole in the first inning. Long reliever Pat Mahomes shoveled the dirt right back in the Braves’ faces for four scoreless innings, but it was hard to believe it wasn’t too late. Then again, the Mets are all about believing in October, even at Turner Field. Three sixth-inning runs snuck the Mets back into the game. Though the Braves would grab two back in the bottom of the inning, the top of the seventh revealed a beating heart and pounding pulse emanating from the New York dugout. Rickey Henderson and John Olerud each drove in a run and Mike Piazza smashed a line-drive two-run homer to tie this Met gala at seven. Given that the Mets had withstood starter Kevin Millwood and obliterated miscast setup man John Smoltz, it seemed momentum was on their side and perhaps destiny favored them in the last place it had ever done them any favors. Sure enough, Melvin Mora produced the go-ahead run in the eighth. The Mets at last led…but not for long, as the Braves stitched together a tying run off John Franco. In the tenth, it was Todd Pratt’s turn to shove the Mets in front once more, 9-8. Alas, in the bottom of the inning, it was Armando Benitez’s turn to let it get tied again. Finally, in the eleventh inning, another starter coming in from the bullpen cracked, as Kenny Rogers allowed a double, a sac bunt and two intentional walks. With the bases loaded, Andruw Jones received a fourth ball that wasn’t issued on purpose. The 1999 Braves won the pennant. The 1999 Mets captured forever the heart of anybody who lived and ultimately died with them.

15. OCTOBER 22, 2000 — WS Game Two: YANKEES 6 Mets 5
It is only slight hyperbole to estimate the countdown to this game began 106 days earlier when Roger Clemens, frustrated at his inability to keep Mike Piazza from hitting balls very hard and very far — .583 batting average against in Interleague play, highlighted by three home runs — simply hit the Mets catcher. Piazza hit the ground, the Mets hit the roof, and from July 8 forward, the baseball nation and the city that served as its turn-of-the-millennium capital looked forward to a possible second close encounter between the two megastars. Here it was, on a Sunday night in the Bronx, in the first inning. On one hand, there was neither another beanball nor longball. On the other hand, we had wood. Piazza fouled off a pitch and broke his bat. The bat splintered. Its barrel flew toward Clemens. Piazza jogged toward first before realizing the ball wasn’t in play. Then he found he had the sizable bat shard thrown at him by Clemens. As a sequel to their midsummer exchange, it was bizarre. By itself, it was unprecedented. What pitcher throws a broken bat after a foul ball at the batter? The Mets’ and Yankees’ benches emptied, jaws were exercised, interborough tempers flared, but nothing of substance came of it, other than Clemens’s testimony that, gosh, he thought he was tossing the ball out of play and Piazza just happened to get in the way. After the Yankees leapt to a six-zip lead and the Mets fell short of tying them in a furious ninth-inning rally, the Piazza-Clemens interlude went down as the Subway Series in miniature — the Yankees got away with another one and no Mets fan wished to abide by the outcome.

14. OCTOBER 14, 1973 — WS Game Two: Mets 10 A’S 7 (12)
Willie Mays’s career encompassed enough hitting, running, catching and throwing to render the phrase “signature moment” inadequate. There were enough signature plays across 22 seasons to fill an autograph book. Yet a period imprinted itself on the end of his nonpareil story, whether it deserved punctuating or not. The well-worn phrase, “Willie Mays fell down in center field” was born this overly sunny Sunday afternoon in Oakland, which was less about a defensive miscue and more about symbolism. Mays, 42, had no more than a week remaining as an active player. He hadn’t played much in his final year, but Yogi Berra turned to his unmatched experience and residual excellence to help carry the Mets toward a Series tie. Willie didn’t look great tracking a fly ball that he admitted he couldn’t see. The Say Hey Kid stumbled. The ball, hit by Deron Johnson, fell in. Aging athletes ought to get out before the getting gets less than good, went the narrative that was born immediately and re-emerges every instant an immortal dares to show a little mortality. A companion Game Two image, portraying sad old Willie down on his knees adjacent to home plate reinforced the talking point when presented without context; in reality, Mays was theatrically beseeching umpire Augie Robustelli to reverse a dreadful call ruling Buddy Harrelson out, supporting his teammate and being as into the game as any player at any age could be. Less bandied about in the decades that followed: the run that served to put the Mets ahead for good in what was then the longest World Series game ever (4:13) was driven in off eventual Hall of Fame reliever Rollie Fingers by Hall of Fame shoe-in Willie Mays. You could make quite a fuss about a man at the end falling down, but you couldn’t ignore the manner in which he got back up.

13. OCTOBER 8, 1973 — NLCS Game Three: METS 9 Reds 2
What began as a routine enough 3-6-3 double play wound up cementing more than one reputation in legend. The technical instigator was a simple ground ball, bounced to John Milner by Joe Morgan in the fifth inning of a 9-2 game, the Mets the team ahead by seven. Milner, at first base, diligently fielded it and zipped it to shortstop Buddy Harrelson for a force play at second. Harrelson, twice an All-Star and once a Gold Glove, naturally threw it right back to Milner to retire Morgan. The unnatural element in all this was the baserunner from first, Pete Rose, barreling not so much into second to try to break up the DP but hurling himself into the lithe Harrelson in an effort to fire up the Reds or perhaps take out the Reds’ frustrations on a slender Met. Whatever the motivation, it got very physical very fast between both teams. Bob Murphy noted that “Jerry Koosman is in the middle of the fight,” which is exactly where you don’t want your starting pitcher to situate himself. The hostilities extended to an undercard featuring home team reliever Buzz Capra and visiting counterpart Pedro Borbon — with Borbon mistakenly donning a Mets cap in the confusion and then trying to tear it apart with his teeth. The melee painted forevermore Harrelson as the hero of the little guy, Rose as the big Red meanie and, just when it might have seemed tensions calmed, Shea as a stadium that was prepared to devour its most despised foes by any means necessary. The fans in left field took to showering Rose with every object reachable. The Mets’ comfortable lead was suddenly in jeopardy of transforming into a forfeit. A peace delegation constituted of Yogi Berra, Tom Seaver, Rusty Staub (who’d homered twice), Cleon Jones and Willie Mays had to march out to left and urge a ceasefire. The debris stopped flying. The game kept going. The animus toward Rose in Flushing never quite died down.

12. NOVEMBER 1, 2015 — WS Game Five: Royals 7 METS 2 (12)
11. OCTOBER 20, 1973 — WS Game Six: A’S 3 Mets 1

Regrets, Mets fans have had a few. More than a few, actually. But two stand out for the what-iffery that informs the pitching choices that have never stopped serving as the source of heartfelt regret or at least hardy debate for more than a few Mets fans. In 2015, there was the pitcher who was going too well to take a seat. In 1973, it was the pitcher who had gone too well to not take a start. The context for Matt Harvey was the most urgent. Down three games to one, the Mets had to have Game Five, and for eight innings, Harvey had darn well gone out and gotten it for them, shutting out the Royals while striking out nine of them. Now it was time to…what, exactly? Terry Collins was ready to call Harvey’s night complete. Harvey was not so agreeable. Neither was the Citi Field throng. Matt emerged from the Met dugout to start the ninth. He didn’t finish it. Instead, the Royals got to him for one run, Jeurys Familia (and some shaky fielding) for another, and the game the Mets had to have was no longer theirs. What if Harvey had simply taken a seat and Familia had taken the ball? And what if, 42 autumns earlier, Yogi Berra had not opted for another righty ace who might not have had enough left when he had a conceivably better option standing by. George Stone was a 12-3 fourth starter for the 1973 Mets, but for Berra in the World Series, he was assigned to contingency status. The manager felt more comfortable relying on another George to potentially close out the Mets’ second world championship. George Thomas Seaver would soon be voted a second Cy Young and had mostly overwhelmed the A’s in Game Three. Why wouldn’t you want Tom out there on the Coliseum mound with all the marbles in your grasp? Perhaps because since April he had thrown more than 300 innings, and going on short rest when there was a very good option available wasn’t necessarily optimal. It’s not as if Seaver got lit up, but Reggie Jackson beat him with doubles twice in the first three innings and the Mets barely touched Catfish Hunter. In Game Seven, when Seaver could have gone on full rest had Stone not hypothetically finished the Series, Berra went with Jon Matlack, also with just three days off and clearly less than was needed in his tank. For nearly a half-century, no discussion of the Mets’ near 1973 miss gathers moss before Stone’s name rolls to the fore.

10. OCTOBER 9, 1999 — NLDS Game Four: METS 4 Diamondbacks 3 (10)
Six days earlier, when Melvin Mora raced home with the walkoff run on a wild pitch to push the Mets into the one-game playoff that determined the National League Wild Card, it was hard to escape the historical overtones of the date: October 3 — the 48th anniversary of Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard ’Round the World — nor the irony inherent in the moment. Bobby Valentine’s father-in-law was Ralph Branca, the Dodger pitcher who gave up the home run that made Russ Hodges shout euphorically and repeatedly, “the Giants win the pennant!” when Brooklyn and New York dueled in their tiebreaking three-game 1951 series. “Win or lose,” Branca said from the manager’s office after the 10/3/99 game, “I wanted to be here. I was saying October 3 owes this family one and I was hoping I was right.” With Branca’s blessing secured, maybe it was time for the spirit of Thomson to inhabit Shea as well. Playing the role of the Flying Scot for the Mets in the tenth inning was the man known as Tank, Todd Pratt. The backup catcher who wouldn’t have been playing if not for an injury to Mike Piazza (and a ballplayer who gave up the game altogether three years earlier) stepped up with the stadium tense and the score tied and drove a pitch from fireballing Arizona closer Matt Mantei to deepest center field, just over the 410 sign that indicated a leaping Steve Finley had run out of room. It was the fourth walkoff home run to decide a postseason series in baseball history, including those launched by Bill Mazeroski, Chris Chambliss and Joe Carter, but not counting Thomson’s because Thomson’s technically took place at the extended end of the regular season. By the same token, the Mets didn’t “win the pennant!” that Pratt-powered Saturday afternoon, yet as October shots that catapulted the New York (NL) team forward on just one swing went, nobody’s ever ruled out the possibility that a gust coming in from Coogan’s Bluff is what blew that ball inches beyond the reach of Finley’s glove.

9. OCTOBER 15, 1969 — WS Game Four: METS 2 Orioles 1 (10)
8. OCTOBER 14, 1969 — WS Game Three: METS 5 Orioles 0

A team that won its division by eight games and swept its pennant round in three shouldn’t have been considered any kind of historical accident. Yet the sobriquet Miracle Mets proved it permanently fit 1969’s Metus Operandi not only for whence the Mets had come from prior to ’69 but for how they proved they belonged where they’d climbed. The miracles within the Miracle — the episodes that keep the Miracle Mets a topic of awed conversation more than a half-century after the fact — unfolded in earnest once the club returned to Shea Stadium after splitting two games with the Orioles in Baltimore. Games Three and Four were the days of miracle and wonder, the days of Agee and Swoboda, most specifically — though hardly exclusively. Tommie reaching out in center twice and swiping approximately five runs total from the Birds in Game Three (while keynoting the affair with a leadoff home run) and Rocky sprawling inelegantly and preserving brilliantly the gem polished to a high gloss by Tom Seaver in Game Four certified the Miracle as actual and the real as spectacular. Because these were the 1969 Mets, they weren’t alone in executing indelible exploits. First baseman Ed Kranpeool homered one day. First baseman Clendenon homered the next. Nolan Ryan held the fort out of the pen for Gary Gentry one day. A three-man relay, with the baton passing from Jerry Grote (hustly bloop double) to Rod Gaspar (heady pinch-runner) to J.C. Martin (wristy pinch-bunter) captured a ten-inning thriller for Seaver the next. There was so much to catch those two afternoons, so much for a Mets fan to never let go of.

7. OCTOBER 17, 1999 — NLCS Game Five: METS 4 Braves 3 (15)
The long haul is what a true fan signs up for. However long it takes for your team to near the heights, you will agree to stick close by. If it takes more than a decade. If it takes all season, no matter how often the stressful impedes the ebullient. If it takes several brushes with elimination. If it takes extra inning upon extra inning…in the rain. If it takes one final reincarnative rally to provide life anew. Whatever it takes is what you’ll endure, up to and including: ancient import Shawon Dunston working a 12-pitch at-bat, matching the number on the back of his jersey, until he singles to put a leadoff runner on, down one in the bottom of the fifteenth; Dunston stealing second; ace pinch-hitter Matt Franco patiently pinch-walking; Edgardo Alfonzo (he of the 108 regular-season RBIs) bunting them along for the calculated greatest good; John Olerud receiving an intentional bases-loading walk instead of a chance to drive home the tying run; Roger Cedeño, his back still sore from jubilantly stomping on home plate in the previous night’s death-defying maneuvers, pinch-running for Franco at third; Todd Pratt, who eight days earlier was a series-deciding walkoff home run hero, settling for a less climactic contribution by taking game-tying ball four from rookie Kevin McGlinchy in his lone NLCS appearance — McGlinchy was Bobby Cox’s sixth pitcher against Bobby Valentine’s nine; and Robin Ventura, aching and far off his regular-season MVP form (0-for-16 in the series until the eleventh inning of the fifth game), yet comfortable enough to swing at a two-one pitch and send it over the right field wall for what Gary Cohen prematurely called “a game-winning grand slam home run,” a call in need of immediate clarification because as Cohen himself immediately observed amid what should have been, if you’ll excuse the inadequacy of the adjective, a routine game-winning trot around the bases in the fifteenth inning of an elimination-averting five-hour, forty-six minute spectacle of the gruelingest grit imaginable, “They’re mobbing him before he can get to second base.” That improvised conclave was a matter of Pratt turning from second to tackle Ventura after he rounded first to not wait one second longer than necessary to smother him in ecstasy, and all of their teammates following suit. Once it was confirmed every Met who was required by regulation to move up exactly ninety feet had indeed touched at least one base, the grand slam home run was downgraded in the official scorekeeping to what became referred to in franchise lore as the Grand Slam Single. When you’re in it for this long and this epic a haul, a traditional slam would surely suffice, but perhaps you’re entitled to something somehow grander, not to mention singular.

6. OCTOBER 9, 1988 — NLCS Game Four: Dodgers 5 METS 4 (12)
A team doesn’t lose a best-of-seven series when the team leading that series two games to one goes from leading the fourth game late to having it tied. But does that team lose something intangible enough that doesn’t show up in the line score of the moment? Eleven years before another Mets club made much of their mojo risin’, that certain indescribable quality seemed to slip from the franchise’s grasp in the ninth inning of the fourth game of an NLCS going their way until it wasn’t. Darryl Strawberry and Kevin McReynolds homered in succession in the fourth to give the Mets a one-run lead. Gary Carter expanded the edge to two on a sixth-inning triple (though was left stranded after landing on third with nobody out). Dwight Gooden made the Mets’ advantage hold up through eight and was given every opportunity to finish what he started. The visitors’ ninth started with John Shelby battling for nine pitches until he walked. The home bullpen remained silent. Mike Scioscia turned on the very first pitch he saw from Gooden and lofted it over the right field fence, into the Mets’ inactive pen. Scioscia batted more than 400 times in 1988 and homered only thrice, but a bat in the hand is worth all the stats in the bush. Three outs from a three-one lead in the series, the Mets were now even with the Dodgers in a game that grew instantly pivotal and eventually aggravating. The Mets left a runner on first in the tenth and two on in the eleventh. Kirk Gibson grabbed L.A. the lead with a two-out solo homer off Roger McDowell in the twelfth. The Mets responded by loading the bases in the bottom of the inning but failing — against three different pitchers, concluding with the previous afternoon’s starter, Orel Hershiser — to drive any of them in. Game Four turned on Scioscia’s swing. Despite three more innings and three more games, so did the series. Maybe the Met dynasty that had seemed like destiny also found out it wasn’t going to happen that night. Nineteen Eighty-Eight appeared primed to restore the Mets to the throne they’d unintentionally vacated after 1986. They were 100-60 against everybody in the regular season, 10-1 against the Dodgers. They were loaded. Yet the Mets of Doc, Darryl and the rest of this star-studded production didn’t win their second pennant and never returned to the postseason. In a matter of three years, what was left of these Mets fell completely from contention, then plummeted from grace. Had lefty Randy Myers been warming during Shelby’s AB to face lefty Scioscia…or had Gooden gotten strike three over on Shelby…or had things played out to the statistical form embodied by Scioscia’s career batting average to date versus Gooden of .184…but none of that happened, and the next Mets’ World Series trip was postponed by a dozen years. Sometimes what doesn’t happen is a direct result of what does happen. Sometimes what does happen, however, is just one of those things you wish hadn’t happened.

5. OCTOBER 15, 1986 — NLCS Game Six: Mets 7 ASTROS 6 (16)
Mike Scott didn’t strike out any of the Mets in Game Six. Striking fear into the depths of their souls was enough. The Mets were in front three games to two yet proceeded as if behind the eight ball. Lose Game Six, invite Scott to the mound in Game Seven. Play Game Seven, then you’re playing Russian roulette with the deadliest bullet rattling around in Astro manager Hal Lanier’s chamber. No, don’t go there if you can help it. But could they help themselves at the Astrodome against Bob Knepper, the Game Six starter and a lefty who carried his own ability to smoke them? For eight innings, the Mets’ bats sawed wood. Knepper had lulled them to sleep in making a 3-0 lead achieved in the first inning hold up. Bobby Ojeda and Rick Aguilera kept the hole shallow, but the way Knepper was going — two hits, one walk — the Mets may as well have been stuck down a well. The climb up and out took forever to commence and then happened all at once. Lenny Dykstra pinch-hit to lead off the ninth and tripled. Mookie Wilson singled him home. Kevin Mitchell grounded out, but moved Mookie to second. Keith Hernandez doubled Wilson in. At 3-2, Knepper exited and Dave Smith, the closer for whom the Mets were Kryptonite, entered. “Super,” the men in orange and blue said. Gary Carter walked. Darryl Strawberry walked. Ray Knight flied deep enough to right to score Hernandez. It was a whole new ballgame, one much better than the first one. It stayed 3-3 through thirteen, thanks primarily to the five innings of shutout relief provided by Roger McDowell. In the top of the fourteenth, the Mets scratched out the run that put them ahead to stay…until there was one out in the bottom of the fourteenth and Billy Hatcher had his say, Fisking a ball off the left field foul pole to tie the game anew at four. Jesse Orosco, who gave up Hatcher’s dinger, hung in for the rest of the inning and the next one, keeping the game tied long enough for the Mets to explode for three runs in the top of the sixteenth. With Jesse on fumes (he’d thrown two innings the day before to win Game Five at Shea), the Astros mounted one more assault. Two were out, but two were across the plate, two more were on base and Kevin Bass, Houston’s best hitter, was at the plate. It was enough to freeze all of New York — this game started at three o’clock in the afternoon Eastern Time, rendering rush hour in the Metropolitan Area an oxymoron — and elicit beelines to the mound from Orosco’s catcher, Carter, and the battery’s first baseman, Hernandez. It was generally agreed, allegedly under the threat of violence from Hernandez, that Jesse throw only sliders. So he did. Six in all. The first five elevated the count on Bass to three-and-two and blood pressure readings everywhere off the chart. The sixth went for strike three. The Mets won the National League pennant and a reprieve from Mike Scott. The desperation and drama involved implied they were highly uncertain they could have one without the other. Scott (18 IP, 2-0, 0.50 ERA) was named NLCS MVP. As Orosco flung his glove to the Astrodome roof and his teammates Metpiled all over him, no one bothered to argue that the award for the series’s key player was handed to somebody from the losing side. Given the motivation inherent in not facing him, it was likely as sound a decision as not throwing Bass a single fastball.

4. OCTOBER 19, 2006 — NLCS Game Seven: Cardinals 3 METS 1
When the tightest of seventh-game ties is broken on a ninth-inning home run, and that swing ranks as no greater than the third-most dramatic interlude of that seventh game — a distant third — you’re probably talking about a night that sets up somebody’s fans for massive disappointment. Yet setups have rarely loomed as more perfect than a pair that materialized at Shea Stadium as the Mets sought a World Series berth that appeared for months a confirmed appointment. In the top of the sixth inning, when Game Seven had already been tied since the top of the second, the Cardinals appeared inches from taking a 3-1 lead versus usually shaky but somehow holding it together starter Oliver Perez. After Jim Edmonds walked with one out, Scott Rolen rocketed a ball over Shea’s left field fence. The only problem for Rolen was the Mets had in the vicinity a rocket interceptor named Endy Chavez, who dashed to the wall, “went to the apex of his leap,” per Gary Cohen, and took away the sure home run for one out — and fired the erstwhile rocket into the infield with just as much force as it had been hit to effect a double play on Edmonds. Shea Stadium still rippled from its brush with defensive perfection in the bottom of the sixth when the Mets prepared to untie the game off Jeff Suppan. They loaded the bases with one out, bringing up Jose Valentin, who’d handled the relay from Chavez. But Valentin struck out. That was perhaps OK because up next was none other than Endy, and who better to generate a Met lead than the man who minutes earlier prevented a Met deficit? But Endy flied out, and the tie continued until the ninth, when it was Aaron Heilman pitching and Yadier Molina ripping into one with Rolen on first. This was uncatchable and became the 3-1 lead Chavez had taken away three innings before. Ah, but in the bottom of the ninth, Valentin led off versus rookie closer Adam Wainwright with a single, and Chavez followed with the same. This setup was conceivably just as good as the one from the sixth. Runners on first and second, nobody out and here came the Met attack that powered the club to 97 regular-season wins (14 more than the Cardinals), a breeze through the NL East and a sweep of the Dodgers in the NLDS. But the offense had blinked on and off through the NLCS, and plugging it in was no sure thing. Cliff Floyd, who had never registered a pinch-hit in four years as a Met, struck out off the bench. Jose Reyes lined a dangerous-looking drive into center, but it was grabbed by perennial Gold Glover Edmonds. Paul Lo Duca walked, however (with Anderson Hernandez inserted to pinch-run), meaning the bases were loaded for the best all-around Met of 2006, Carlos Beltran. Beltran had homered 41 times during the year and three times more during the playoffs. He didn’t need to homer, necessarily. At the very least, he needed to keep this rally going. But against the rookie with the deadly curveball, Beltran did what can be without judgment referred to as nothing. Carlos took a strike, fouled off a pitch and, on oh-and-two, looked at strike three. One could reasonably argue that Beltran hadn’t ascended to the top of his profession without trusting his batting eye, but one could just as reasonably counter that protecting the plate was paramount with two strikes, two outs and no more chances guaranteed. The Cardinals were National League champions. The Mets were done for 2006, one theoretical swing from the World Series. When 2007 and 2008 imploded across consecutive Septembers, the image of possible future Hall of Famer Beltran’s bat remaining on possible future Hall of Famer Beltran’s shoulder hardened as a popular symbol of where a burgeoning era of Met dominance went awry. Called Strike three harshly cast Beltran’s seven generally stellar seasons as a Met as something less than a net-positive and haunted a generation of Mets fans with the notion that “nice things” were meant to chronically elude them…an idea that didn’t (mostly) dissipate until the successful pennant run of 2015. Though replays of it lingered after the fact as no more than a nifty consolation prize, Chavez’s catch — “the play maybe of the franchise history,” Cohen assessed — remained beyond reproach, every bit as cherished as the 1969 grabs executed by Tommie Agee and Ron Swoboda, with the only difference being that Endy’s came in a loss, dammit.

3. OCTOBER 27, 1986 — WS Game Seven: METS 8 Red Sox 5
Greatness assumed is greatness unearned. The greatest of greatness, at any rate. On raw numbers, there was no arguing that the 1986 Mets were great. Regular season wins: 108. Winning percentage: .667. Division-winning margin: 21½ games. Then came the postseason and they kept up the pace, eliminating a highly formidable Houston club in six extremely hard-fought games. All of it by itself was pretty damn good, but the most it earned an enterprise striving for its kind of greatness was one final chance to earn it. In any year, that means winning the World Series. In 1986, that meant going to a seventh game against an obstinate opponent from Boston, falling behind early, refusing — via Sid Fernandez’s two-a-third innings of shutdown relief— to let the Red Sox bury them, and then coming alive en route to becoming immortal. Three runs in the sixth inning to tie Game Seven. Three runs in the seventh to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Another pair in the eighth to secure what they were determined to earn. Every Met who came to the plate in those final three innings the Mets batted did something useful. Keith Hernandez got the Mets off the schneid. Gary Carter drove in the run to make the evening even. Ray Knight lined the home run to put the home team ahead and clinch himself the MVP prize. Darryl Strawberry launched the moon shot that would have served as the exclamation point had not Jesse Orosco of all people driven in the game’s final run (and the final run of a career that would last another 17 seasons). Jesse wasn’t done, however, for it was Orosco, a.k.a. the player to be named later from the Jerry Koosman deal eight winters earlier, who’d become the second man to stand on the mound at Shea Stadium and throw the pitch that would make the Mets world champions. He threw it past Marty Barrett, Carter caught it, and there it was: greatness. Three-and-a-half decades later, its kind has yet to be replicated in Flushing.

2. OCTOBER 16, 1969 — WS Game Five: METS 5 Orioles 3
Casey Stengel termed his ability-deprived, fundamentals-averse Mets “Amazin’” in 1962, and, in the felicity of phrasing with which the Ol’ Perfesser was gifted, he nailed the franchise’s identity as it grappled with learning to crawl, never mind walk. Six years and 648 losses later, Gil Hodges commenced teaching a barely evolved band of Mets to stop dropping the ball and everybody else to stop dropping a ‘g’. Under Hodges, the Amazin’ Mets grew into something simply amazing. Still underdogs in the eyes of the world; still lovable to those who’d embraced them when they’d made acquaintances at the bottom of the standings; but, as a season and postseason that boggled minds from Teaneck to Timbuktu soared to its conclusion, unquestionably unbeatable. Three Oriole runs in the third inning (both on homers, one from opposing pitcher Dave McNally) didn’t derail Jerry Koosman. A call in the sixth inning that a pitch didn’t hit Cleon Jones when Jones and Hodges were convinced he was nicked didn’t deter either man. Hodges produced a ball flecked with shoe polish, umpire Lou DiMuro reversed his call, Jones jogged to first, and the on-deck hitter, Donn Clendenon, made the whole scene mythic, and himself MVP, by belting a two-run homer. The bottom of the seventh offered another long ball by one of the several non-sluggers the Mets carried on their roster, Al Weis. Weis had homered six times in his career, not at all since July, and never before (nor ever again) at Shea Stadium. Here he led off and tied the game the Mets needed to clinch the World Series. In the eighth, Jones doubled to lead off; Ron Swoboda doubled him home with one out; and Swoboda scored when a potential 1-3 putout got dropped — the sort of thing that happened to the Mets before 1969. Going to the ninth, the Mets led, 5-3, and the favored Orioles found themselves down to their final chance. Second baseman Dave Johnson drove Jerry Koosman’s two-one fastball to deep left, in front of the warning track, into the glove of Cleon Jones. Just like that, the Amazin’ Mets were world champions. The franchise Stengel accurately dubbed might never fully shake off the laughable roots of 1962, but no one could ever take away from them the title they captured in 1969. Those Mets remain the most amazing team ever.

1. OCTOBER 25, 1986 — WS Game Six: METS 6 Red Sox 5 (10)
Eddie Van Buren, manager of the Washington Senators of fiction, sung to his players that you gotta have heart. A little luck, however, doesn’t hurt your cause. Oh, and talent, though by the sixth game of the World Series, the presence of that essential element of penultimate success should be apparent. Down three games to two and therefore absolutely, positively requiring a win this gut-check of a Saturday night, we knew the Mets had the talent to get to Game Six, and would find out they were capable of, in nothing else, getting Game Six to a tenth inning. That alone had been a monumental accomplishment, itself encompassing an array of impressive microaccomplishments. Withstanding 24-game-winner Roger Clemens, who’d no-hit them for four innings…tying the game at two in the fifth…Bobby Ojeda fending off further damage through six…overcoming the Red Sox slipping ahead again in the seventh on an unearned run with five Met batters stringing together another tying run in the eighth…Rick Aguilera setting down the Red Sox in the ninth…entering extra innings, because nine, no matter how eventful, were not enough. (There was also a man with a parachute, but he didn’t show up in the box score.) The tenth, though, appeared to be too much, and that was the inning that was needed to get Game Six in the win column and keep the Mets alive in the World Series. Dave Henderson socked Aguilera’s second pitch of extras just fair but amply over the left field fence. Now the Mets were behind in the game they had to have in order to prevent their season of dominance from devolving to dust. Then the Mets fell a little further behind, thanks to AL batting champ Wade Boggs doubling and the scalding Marty Barrett singling Boggs in. The bottom of the tenth and perhaps an ignominious ending to 1986 beckoned. Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez’s attempts at playing heroes resulted in flyball outs. Hence, this was it. One more chance remained for the Mets’ talent to show its heart. Gary Carter singled. Kevin Mitchell, pinch-hitting, singled, too. Ray Knight produced a third consecutive single, sending Carter home and Mitchell to third. The Red Sox’ closer, ex-Met Calvin Schiraldi, just couldn’t slam shut the door that would have left the Mets out in the cold, so John McNamara called on Schiraldi’s predecessor in the job, Bob Stanley. Stanley’s immediate assignment, hopefully from a Boston standpoint, was retiring Mookie Wilson. Do that and the Red Sox would be world champions for the first time in 68 years. Wilson was blatantly uncooperative, building a count to two-and-two after six pitches. The seventh pitch was ball three and then some. It squirted away from catcher Rich Gedman, far enough to spur third base coach Buddy Harrelson to urge Mitchell to dash home. The wild pitch made it a tie game and, not incidentally, moved Knight up to second. If nothing else, the Mets guaranteed themselves at least one more inning of life. But the Mets didn’t storm into 1986 seeking only to survive. Mookie fouled off another of Stanley’s pitches. Then another. Then, on the tenth pitch of the at-bat, Wilson made fair contact. It was a ball trickling up the first base line, according to Bob Murphy’s description, a little roller by Vin Scully’s reckoning. It appeared to be a matter of Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner bending down, picking it up and beating the speedy Wilson to the first base bag. Undetectable in whatever analytics existed then: luck. It entered the picture for the Mets just as Buckner went about doing what he’d been doing in professional baseball since 1968: picking up a batted ball. Except this one eluded his grasp, trickling, rolling and bouncing between his legs and into right field before slowing and stopping on the Shea Stadium grass to plant itself in history. It was the ball that scored Knight to win the Mets Game Six; to keep the Mets alive for Game Seven; to shine Shea’s brightest light on the heart displayed by Carter, Mitchell, Knight and, finally, Wilson; to let the talent of the 1986 Mets regain its traction and resume pursuit of the championship that had been its goal for a year. There were incalculable ways they could have arrived where they were going. The path they chose — that is if the path didn’t choose them — was bizarre enough to be unimaginable. Yet it happened. It couldn’t have, but it did. It happened, and it happened for keeps. It’s ours. Can you imagine that? You don’t have to. Game Six of the 1986 World Series is the Mets simultaneously being everything we’ve ever wanted them to be. They’re the team that has to overcome a Met-ric ton of improbability in order to disprove a universe of doubts. They’re the team that is too blatantly good to ever be beat when it counts most. They’re the Mets in every best sense of the word.

After the Fall

Welcome to A Met for All Seasons, a series in which we consider a given Met who played in a given season and…well, we’ll see.

Oh yeah
Life goes on
Long after the thrill
Of livin’ is gone

John Mellencamp

FLUSHING (FAF) — Matt Harvey, one of the towering New York Met figures of his time, may opt out of participating in the A Met for All Seasons series, Harvey’s agent Scott Boras says, due to the former superstar’s reluctance be profiled within the context of 2016.

“We see Matt as a 2012, 2013, 2015 kind of Met,” the ever lyrical Boras told reporters Friday, offering a three-ring binder laden with statistics and contemporary reporting in support of his assertion. “Matt is most definitely not a 2016 kind of Met and should not be consigned to the ash heap of history, not after igniting what Fitzgerald called the Valley of Ashes.”

Boras’s objections to Harvey’s assignment to the 2016 season in the A Met for All Seasons series stem from the lesser performance his client delivered during the year in question — a 4-10 won-lost record, a 4.86 earned run average and a campaign cut roughly in half by surgery to address the righthander’s thoracic outlet syndrome — as well as the tone the agent believes a 2016 profile would cast.

“Let me guess — ‘Matt Harvey was once great, had seen better days, was at a crossroads, what a shame,’” Boras said in a mocking fashion of how he believed the onetime Met ace would be framed if the A Met for All Seasons series goes ahead as planned. “Let’s make one thing clear. Matt Harvey is not a sad story, not a frustrating story, not a pitiable story. Matt Harvey is a triumphant story. He’s previously a major motion picture.”

The agent didn’t elaborate as to whether he was referring to the 2015 ESPN documentary Matt Harvey: The Dark Knight Rises, or the general Dark Knight persona adopted after Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci applied the nickname to the pitcher in a 2013 cover story when Harvey was rocketing to the height of his baseball fame. The Mets’ then-ace went so far as to have a Batman silhouette logo affixed to his bat handles.

Harvey riding high.

Sandy Alderson, Mets general manager for most of Harvey’s New York career and consultant to the A Met for All Season series, refuted Boras’s aversion regarding what year the 2013 National League All-Star Game starting pitcher’s ups and downs are filtered through. “This feels like the innings-limit controversy all over again,” Alderson said Friday, alluding to Boras’s threat to pull Harvey from the mound in 2015 ahead of that year’s postseason. Animus then arose from Boras’s concern that his client, one year removed from Tommy John surgery, was on track to exceed the previously mutually agreed-to 180 innings ceiling Harvey would work and possibly interfere with is future earnings potential. At the time, the Mets were headed for a division title and Boras’s pronouncement landed as a distraction in the middle of an otherwise unalloyed feelgood story.

“This agent has traditionally made a lot of noise,” Alderson said, reflecting on the September 2015 ruckus, “and that’s fine. That’s what agents do. But at the end of the day, the pitcher pitches for the team, and the team and the pitcher will get together and decide to do what is best for all concerned.” Bringing it back to the present, Alderson said that “in this case, the best is that Matt Harvey represents A Met for All Seasons for 2016, and our job is to support him as best we can to put him in a favorable light for himself and a realistic light for our readers.”

Other Harvey seasons, particularly the ones Boras singled out as more appropriate to the Harvey story, were ruled out as A Met for All Seasons candidates by Alderson, though he was vague on the reasons why.

“Look, the Mets are a franchise whose roster in any given season is comprised of 25 players at most times, sometimes more, depending on the time of the season,” Alderson explained. “I guess it’s 26 or 28 as of 2020. Anyway, would we, given the historical complexities of A Met for All Seasons, reconfigure our shall we say historical roster to perhaps place Matt in a position where he and his agent are more comfortable? That’s a question that can be asked but can’t necessarily be answered, and I’d argue doesn’t have to be answered.

“Matt Harvey was indeed a Met, which makes him eligible for A Met for All Seasons, and that includes the 2016 season. I’d expect Matt and his representatives to honor their obligation to Met history and go along with our plan.”

Alderson’s response was unsatisfactory to Boras, who noted that a simple swap might have solved Harvey’s misgivings. “Matt was the pitcher of the moment in 2013, probably the pitcher of the year until Tommy John caught up with him,” the agent said. “He embodied 2013 when no other Met could fit the uniform. No offense to the A Met for All Seasons occupying that slot, but trading the 2013 guy to 2016 and sending Matt back where he had the greatest chance to shine would have ameliorated all our misgivings. But that might have beyond the skill set of this general manager.”

Boras’s remarks seemed to be a dig at the trade Alderson attempted but couldn’t pull off in 2015, the one that would have sent Wilmer Flores — the 2013 A Met for All Seasons — to Milwaukee for Carlos Gomez. The trade was widely reported as a done deal but was then called off amid enormous public and media confusion.

“Wilmer Flores was an important part of the Mets when he came up in 2013,” Alderson said in defense of the choice. “And he continued to be an important part of the Mets in all the seasons he played, including 2016. But moving him to one year merely to accommodate a player who wants to be situated in another year is not how you build a winning team, which is what we did here in 2015. As somebody once said, sometimes the best trades you make are the ones you don’t make at all.”

Harvey entered 2016 retaining the informal title of ace of the defending National League champion Mets, selected by manager Terry Collins to start on Opening Night in Kansas City, which turned out to be a rematch of the previous fall’s World Series and a reminder of Harvey’s outsize role in it. After agreeing in September 2015 to set aside the predetermined 180-innings limit, Harvey pitched well for the Mets down the stretch, including in the clinching of the NL East title at Cincinnati. He also won the third game of the NLDS versus the Dodgers and Game One of the NLCS against the Cubs, both at a raucous Citi Field.

The Dark Knight’s autumn took a turn for the worse in the first game of the World Series, at Kaufman Stadium, where the Royals tagged Harvey for three runs over six innings, starting with a leadoff inside-the-park home run from Alcides Escobar, though the unorthodox four-bagger was enabled by sloppy outfield play from Mets center fielder Yoenis Cespedes, the slugger Alderson acquired once the Flores trade fell through. The Mets lost Game One of the World Series in extra innings and trailed three games to one heading into Harvey’s next start in Game Five.

This guy wasn’t going anywhere.

In Game Five, Harvey was magnificent for eight innings, again firing up the Citi Field crowd, this time to such an extent that the roars of nearly 45,000 in attendance, along with the pitcher’s nationally televised pleas to manager Terry Collins, seemed to earn Harvey the opportunity to complete a game he led, 2-0, despite his having thrown more than 100 pitches and closer Jeurys Familia being ready to enter from the bullpen.

With a tiring Harvey on the mound, Lorenzo Cain worked out a seven-pitch walk and stole second before Eric Hosmer doubled to left to put the Royals on the board. With Kansas City poised to tie the game, Collins removed Harvey. Soon, Familia and errant infield defense allowed the Royals their second run. Kansas City went on to win the game and the Series in twelve.

That Harvey was pitching and for a long time winning the decisive game of the World Series one year removed from his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery was testament to the righty’s talent and determination. Inactive from August 2013 until the beginning of 2015, Harvey played a major role in lifting the Mets from perennial also-rans to league champs, posting thirteen wins and an ERA of 2.71. Along with sophomore Jacob deGrom and rookies Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, Harvey was at the heart of a young, hard-throwing rotation that led the Mets to 90 regular-season wins and entry into the postseason.

It was quite a change of fortunes for the franchise from July 26, 2012, the date Harvey made his major league debut in Phoenix apparently fully formed. The six-foot, four-inch rookie joined a rotation helmed by veterans R.A. Dickey, enjoying his Cy Young year and Johan Santana, in the aftermath of his no-hitter, the Mets’ first. Santana, however, would soon be lost to injury and Dickey would be traded in the offseason. Come 2013, following his promising first two months — including eleven strikeouts in his first outing and a 2.73 ERA in ten starts — Mets fans anticipated a breakthrough first full year from the pitcher the club drafted with the seventh pick in the nation in 2010.

What they received in 2013 surpassed their fondest hopes. With each of the 24-year-old’s starts termed “Harvey Day,” the righthander broke from the gate in spectacular fashion. In his first outing, Harvey held the San Diego Padres to one hit in seven innings while striking out ten. In his next start, he thoroughly outpitched eventual Hall of Famer Roy Halladay; followed that with a no-hit bid in Minnesota; and culminated his burst upon the baseball scene by eliciting spontaneous chants of “HARVEY’S BETTER” when he beat Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals on April 19 at Citi Field. In May, he flirted with a perfect game even as his nose bled when the Chicago White Sox visited New York. Before the second month of the season was out, Harvey graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as “the Dark Knight of Gotham,” and Harvey Day was an entrenched element of every Mets fan’s calendar.

“And pitching for the National League…”

In the SI cover story, Verducci wrote Harvey favored “blunt, old-school hardball,” including a “97-MPH blowtorch of a fastball at the top of the strike zone, […] a roundhouse 1-to-7 curveball, a changeup that seems to float into the ether and a tight, hard slider that reaches 92.” With his entire arsenal clicking and his team hosting its first All-Star game since 1964, it was little wonder Harvey was named to start for the National League in July. It also made perfect sense for Mets fans to elevate the second-year pitcher into a pantheon that included the Mets’ two previous All-Star Game starting pitchers, Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden, and picture confidence-exuding Harvey as the natural heir to the legacy established by the franchise’s two previous great homegrown righthanded pitching aces. With Seaver delivering the ceremonial first pitch at the Midsummer Classic and Gooden looking on from a box seat, Harvey striding in from the bullpen to begin the game confirmed the perception of the trio as peers.

Harvey’s phenomenal 2013 season (9-5, 2.27 ERA, more than a strikeout per inning) screeched to a halt on August 26 when the Mets announced a partial UCL tear in Harvey’s right arm. Tommy John surgery and a year or more of rehabilitation seemed the obvious remedy, though Harvey — perhaps unwilling to easily let go of a season that had won him admiration and accolades — hesitated to agree to the procedure. It wasn’t the first time in 2013 that the righty was less than amenable with the news surrounding him. In July, when he could have chosen to bask in the glow of his All-Star aura, he lashed out at Men’s Journal for portraying him as someone as interested in living the high life as he was ringing up a high strikeout total. In the article, Harvey was quoted as saying, “I’m young, I’m single. I want to be in the mix,” and went on about his fondness for a good time. It seemed to mesh with his presence in the company of supermodel dates and didn’t interfere with his superstar pitching, so the image seemed to make him only more appealing. “The way I was portrayed is not who I am and not the person I am,” Harvey nonetheless protested.

Once Harvey crossed paths with off-the-field adversity, he seemed continually less grounded. He eventually consented to Tommy John surgery, though a hospital room photo of Harvey flipping the bird in preparation raised eyebrows. His rehab, scheduled to take place at the Mets’ facility in Port St. Lucie, Fla., became a point of contention once Harvey expressed distaste for being away from New York and his teammates for an entire season. In September of 2014, on a night when the Mets were playing in Washington, Harvey was spotted in the stands at Yankee Stadium, watching the last game of Derek Jeter, his childhood idol and someone he pointed to as a role model in that Men’s Journal piece. Though his location on a given evening didn’t have any impact on his rehabilitation from surgery, it was perceived in some quarters as a bad look for the titular Mets ace.

While Harvey’s image entering 2015 might not have been as pristine as it was before he was forced to the sidelines in 2013, Mets fans welcomed him back warmly and surely enjoyed his output as the club’s renaissance year went along, at least until the innings limit story overshadowed the Mets’ final push toward their division flag. The team’s success and their pitcher’s role reduced it to a subplot as September progressed and it seemed all but forgotten until October. Harvey’s absence from a mandatory team workout similarly came and went as a headline.

This recounting of Harvey at perhaps a step or two down from his peak was cited by Boras as a reason he wishes to keep his client from being A Met for All Seasons subject for 2016. “They always seem to do something like this,” Boras said Friday. “They love to build up their players and then tear them down. ‘He was the Mets’ hope until he wasn’t. He was the greatest until he wasn’t.’ Look at Gooden 1985. Look at [Jason] Isringhausen 1995. They relish this kind of story so much they spread it on their Nathan’s frankfurters.” Boras’s reference was to two previous A Met for All Season entries in which two other Met pitchers enjoyed their best Met moments early and struggled to maintain their status. “At least,” the agent added, “those guys got to be spotlighted in their best years.”

Taste wasn’t everything.

Harvey in 2016 never found his footing. He lost on Opening Night in Kansas City, an outing itself preceded by another tabloid to-do involving a bladder infection that threatened to postpone his first outing. The Mets lost seven of Harvey’s first ten starts as the righty’s command abandoned him, his velocity diminished and his earned run average rose above six. it wasn’t until Memorial Day that he put together a start of a piece with the kind he threw regularly in 2012, 2013 and 2015, and he soon fell back from that 2016 pinnacle.

“I think you’re making the argument for us,” Boras said. “The years you’re referencing are the true Harvey Years. Yet you want to stick him in 2016, bring up the tasteless back pages with the stream of urination jokes, frame him as a fallen idol. This is not who Matt Harvey was or is or should be to the New York Mets.”

Alderson deflected the charges in a style familiar to those who observed the former GM in New York: “Matt had supermodel girlfriends. He had a superagent representative. He was, for a time, a superstar pitcher. He draped himself in a superhero persona. Well, sometimes even the superlatives that define us bump up against the more ordinary intervals of a career. I like Matt a lot. But I liked Matt a lot just as much when he wasn’t so super. That goes for 2016 as much as any of those other seasons of his.

“It’s not like Adam Wilk is the A Met for All Seasons for 2017,” Alderson added in a presumed wink to the Sunday the season after Harvey returned from his thoracic outlet syndrome surgery but didn’t show up at Citi Field for his scheduled start. The AWOL situation compelled the Mets to call up on little notice Wilk, a Triple-A righty who was demolished by the Miami Marlins in Harvey’s stead. What made the absence extra inflammatory was the lack of a straight answer regarding Harvey’s whereabouts.

“That was another season,” Alderson acknowledged, “and we don’t have to focus on another season, but I think the point here is ‘all seasons’ means all seasons, and telling Matt Harvey’s story eventually reins in all the highs and lows, if not the lowest of the lows. It wouldn’t be fair to make this about Matt missing a start and juggling his alibis in 2017. Would it be ideal to go back to 2013? Maybe. But that ship sailed. The way we mapped this out is it’s 2016 or nothing, and when you step back and consider A Met for All Seasons, Matt Harvey was not nothing. Matt Harvey was definitely something.”

Harvey lasted only until early July in 2016, missing the Mets’ second consecutive trip to the postseason. Perhaps overlooking the severity of recovering from the thoracic outlet condition — arising less than three years after Tommy John and involving the removal of a rib — the Mets counted on Harvey to join deGrom, Syndergaard and Matz in anchoring their 2017 rotation, but the results were hardly the same.

“There — there you go again,” Boras interjected. “‘It wasn’t the same.’ You guys and that trope. It wasn’t the same for Gooden after 1985. It wasn’t the same for Izzy after 1995. It wasn’t the same for Tug McGraw after 1973 or Ike Davis after 2010 or Pete Alonso even after one year because the second wasn’t record-setting. Next time I’ll have my client bring a note from home. ‘Please excuse Matt Harvey for being human, please excuse Matt Harvey for being physically fragile, please excuse Matt Harvey for donating his body not to science, but to the New York Mets so they could win a pennant for the first time in fifteen years.’”

The righthander, by then 28, endured another injury in 2017, this one a stress fracture in his scapula. He’d be gone from the middle of June to the beginning of September and pitch very poorly upon his return. The 2018 season got off similarly badly and the former ace was dispatched to the bullpen by new manager Mickey Callaway, a shift that didn’t agree with Harvey. In a matter of weeks, the Connecticut native was dealt to the Reds for catcher Devin Mesoraco, the Mets having completely moved on from the pitcher largely responsible for whatever success they enjoyed five years earlier. Meanwhile, deGrom, whom Harvey identified as his best friend on the Mets, fully blossomed as a superstar, ascending to the Seaver-Gooden level in Mets fans’ estimation, capturing the first of two consecutive Cy Young Awards and particularly thriving in 2018 with Mesoraco as his batterymate.

Since leaving New York, Harvey has struggled to recapture the form that captivated the Big Apple in the mid-2010s, bouncing from Cincinnati to Anaheim to Oakland’s minor league system to, in a touch of irony, Kansas City in 2020, where during the pandemic-shortened season he found little luck. The Dark Knight drifted in the span of a few seasons from a major storyline for the Mets to a suddenly faded piece of their history.

“A Met for All Seasons is right,” Boras insisted. “Matt Harvey as an outsize Met figure is right. But we know what seasons were the most right. The seasons that were less right we’d prefer he not be a part of.” Alderson countered, “Us neither. Sometimes, however, you play the ball where it lies, and sometimes you pitch the pitcher there, too.”

PREVIOUS METS FOR ALL SEASONS
1962: Richie Ashburn
1963: Ron Hunt
1964: Rod Kanehl
1965: Ron Swoboda
1966: Shaun Fitzmaurice
1967: Al Schmelz
1968: Cleon Jones
1969: Donn Clendenon
1970: Tommie Agee
1971: Tom Seaver
1972: Gary Gentry
1973: Willie Mays
1974: Tug McGraw
1975: Mike Vail
1976: Mike Phillips
1977: Lenny Randle
1978: Craig Swan
1981: Mookie Wilson
1982: Rusty Staub
1983: Darryl Strawberry
1985: Dwight Gooden
1986: Keith Hernandez
1987: Lenny Dykstra
1988: Gary Carter
1990: Gregg Jefferies
1991: Rich Sauveur
1992: Todd Hundley
1993: Joe Orsulak
1994: Rico Brogna
1995: Jason Isringhausen
1996: Rey Ordoñez
1997: Edgardo Alfonzo
1998: Todd Pratt
2000: Melvin Mora
2001: Mike Piazza
2002: Al Leiter
2003: David Cone
2004: Joe Hietpas
2005: Pedro Martinez
2007: Jose Reyes
2008: Johan Santana
2009: Angel Pagan
2010: Ike Davis
2011: David Wright
2012: R.A. Dickey
2013: Wilmer Flores
2014: Jacob deGrom
2015: Michael Conforto
2017: Paul Sewald
2019: Dom Smith
2020: Pete Alonso

A Mobile Moment

Welcome to A Met for All Seasons, a series in which we consider a given Met who played in a given season and…well, we’ll see.

The biggest moment in Mets history is also one of the quietest. You’ve seen it: With two outs in the ninth of Game 5 of the 1969 World Series, Davey Johnson hits a fly ball to left. At first the ball looks like it has the distance to be trouble, but the peril is illusory. Its momentum dies in the cool air of October and gravity pulls it down, to where Cleon Jones is waiting at the edge of the warning track. He catches it with two hands, almost gingerly, and then both his glove and his knee come down, until his knee brushes the dirt and his hands are clasped — as if in prayer, or benediction, or a little of both.

The celebration beginsJerry Koosman jacknifed in Jerry Grote‘s arms while Ed Charles dances happily alongside, fans pouring onto the field, Jones and Tommie Agee seeking safety in the visitors’ bullpen — but first there’s a moment of stillness, of hush. That moment’s simultaneously gone in a blink and seems to linger, to draw in everything that led up to it.

Last out of the '69 Series

At the top of the world.

Which was quite a lot — for the franchise, for those who knew its tragicomic and star-crossed history, but also for the author of that quietly moving and strangely elastic moment. Cleon Jones arrived during one ignominious era of Mets history and departed during another, and was treated unfairly coming and going. In between, he won a World Series and a pennant, ascended to the top of the team’s record books, and forged what should have been an enduring legacy. And he did it facing obstacles few of us can imagine.

Jones made his debut at the end of 1963, as the Polo Grounds neared its demise. He was barely 21 and wrapping up his first year of pro ball, having played in the low minors in Raleigh, N.C., and Auburn, N.Y. Sizing up the Mets’ new outfielder, the beat writers found a shy young man who was sensitive about the deep scar that seamed one side of his face (left over from a car accident when he was a teenager) and spoke so softly he could barely be heard, when he spoke at all.

If that sounds like too much too soon, well, you don’t know the half. Jones would admit later that he was scared to death, plucked from his hometown of Mobile, Ala., and dropped into a world he had no idea how to navigate.

The Mobile of the early 1960s was the heart of the Jim Crow south, with Black and white lives kept rigidly apart. Stepping over those lines brought unease at minimum, with the threat of far worse. The threat of racial violence had shaped Jones’s childhood — he was raised by his grandmother because of an incident involving his parents that had happened when was a baby. Jones’ parents had been waiting in line for a bus when a white person in the line objected to being behind them. A yank on Jones’ mother’s hair caused his father to raise his fists. The Joneses fled north, aware of what might happen if they stayed. Jones’ mother died when he was 12, having never returned home. “I never saw my mother except in photographs,” her son recalled.

Jones wasn’t alone in having a childhood so shaped. His best friend in Mobile was Agee, who was five days younger than Jones and the other half of a formidable combination on the gridiron. While Jones’ family had been in Mobile since the 1850s, Agee had grown up in Magnolia, about two hours north. The Agees had hurriedly pulled up stakes after Tommie’s sisters fought with white children who lived nearby, causing their father to get his shotgun and threaten to kill his Black neighbors.

Black Mobile was an insular world defined by strict racial boundaries, but for those willing to stay within them, that little world had its pleasures — particularly if you were a young athlete. Jones threw right-handed but batted lefty, an oddity that was a product of the field where he’d played baseball as a kid: He hit so many balls into a creek that his friends refused to let him hit from his natural side. Mobile was fertile ground for Black baseball stars — besides Jones and Agee, its fields and lots produced the Aaron brothers, Satchel Paige, Willie McCovey, Billy Williams and Amos Otis. Jones and Agee, however, were best known as football stars. At Mobile County Training School, Jones was a running back and Agee a wide receiver for a team that lost just one game in three years. One of their favorite plays was an option where Jones would take the ball from the quarterback and hit Agee downfield. Agee and Jones took their show to Grambling, with Agee departing first, signing a baseball contract with the Indians in 1961. Jones transferred to Alabama A&M before signing on with the Mets in 1962.

Even in such a small world, Jones’ neighborhood of Plateau stood out. Plateau was known chiefly for the miasma from its paper mills, but it had another name: Africatown. For once, that wasn’t a disparaging nickname bestowed by whites. Africatown was settled by Blacks who’d arrived not generations earlier, but in 1860 aboard the Clotilda, the last slave ship to sail to America. The Clotilda survivors banded together after the Civil War, founding a town and pooling their money to return to Africa. That dream never came to pass, but they held onto their language and traditions — in Africatown’s cemetery, all graves faced east, towards their lost homeland. After his playing days were over, Jones returned home and built a brick house on the same lot where he’d grown up in a shotgun shack. “I can’t imagine being anywhere else,” he’d tell many a visitor.

Tommie Agee and Cleon Jones

The Mets from Mobile.

In 1963, though, he was most definitely somewhere else. Jackie Robinson had blazed a trail for Black ballplayers, but the road to the big leagues remained a difficult one. In writing about Jones and Africatown, I’m indebted to Wayne Coffey’s terrific book from a few years back, They Said It Couldn’t Be Done. One of the best things about that book is that it doesn’t shy away from what Jones, Agee, Charles and Donn Clendenon faced on the way to getting their World Series rings — horrific racial abuse from fans, restaurants that wouldn’t serve them, having to board in gyms or decrepit housing, and much more besides. Young ballplayers still struggle when playing a supremely difficult game far from their families and friends; Jones and others in the post-Robinson generation had to do all that while dealing with searing daily reminders that they weren’t welcome playing the game they loved.

The Mets at least, knew that Jones wasn’t ready. He spent all of ’64 and most of ’65 in the minors before moving up to the big club for keeps in ’66 as part of the Mets’ vaunted, largely fruitless Youth of America. Jones’ talent was obvious — he provided both power and speed at the plate and was a superb defensive outfielder — but he was dogged by questions about his commitment and work ethic, and his shy, awkward manner made him a figure of fun in the press box.

But in 1968 — the year Jones represents in A Met for All Seasons — it all came together. After a slow start, Jones wound up hitting .297 with 29 doubles and 23 stolen bases, the latter mark breaking his own club record. Part of that was simple maturation, but he was also helped by two new arrivals to the Mets. The first was Gil Hodges, who mentored Jones where Wes Westrum had hectored him, and helped create a clubhouse remarkably free of the racial tensions and resentments of the era. The other was Agee, whose career had stalled with the White Sox but had been brought to New York on the new manager’s recommendation.

1968 went a lot better for Jones than it did for his boyhood friend — an anxious, discombobulated Agee hit just .217. In the offseason, Jones and Agee spent the afternoons fishing and talking hitting, then went out to take swings with Tommie Aaron. In 1969, that hard work would pay off. Jones finished third in the National League at .340, a Met record that would stand for nearly three decades. Agee rebounded too, hitting .271 with 26 homers. And, of course, they won the World Series, with the two Mets from Mobile at the center of much of that lore — and Jones giving us that indelible moment of quiet genuflection.

Besides securing the final out, Jones had a ringside seat for Agee’s two circus catches, though he insists neither surprised him: In both cases, he saw Agee pound his glove, something his buddy never did unless he was sure he’d make the catch. The famous shoe-polish play? That was Jones’ foot that the ball hit on its way to the Mets dugout and whatever might have happened between the time it rolled in there and when Hodges brought it out for Lou DiMuro’s inspection. (Coffey’s book has an answer, by the way.)

And then there’s Hodges’ long walk — the one part of the ’69 lore that’s been so thoroughly bent by the power of storytelling that it’s come to mean the opposite of what it actually did.

It happened at the end of July, on a soggy and decidedly less-than-miraculous day for the Mets: The Astros had beaten New York 16-3 in the first game of a double header, then scored six in the third inning of the nightcap, all with two out. Johnny Edwards doubled down the left-field line, with Jones pursuing the ball half-heartedly and throwing a little parachute back to the infield. Hodges came out of the dugout, walking with his usual deliberate pace, passed the mound and the infield, and kept going until he reached Jones. After a brief conversation, he turned and walked slowly back to the dugout, trailed by his .346-hitting star.

The incident would become part of the Hodges legend and proof of his steely reputation: The manager demanded his players give their all, no matter who they were or what the situation was, and embarrassing Cleon Jones was the proof of it. And Jones himself has burnished that legend over the years.

But it’s a profound misreading of the incident. The corollary to the story of Hodges’ long walk is that nearly every other story is about him handing out discipline quietly, either behind closed doors or by opting for a long stare and/or a few choice words. It’s Ron Swoboda calling Hodges out and then being unable to pee because he could feel his manager’s eyes boring into his back. It’s Charles coming sheepishly into Hodges’ office without being asked so he could apologize for slamming a bat into the rack — and Hodges remarking that he knew Charles would come. It’s Hodges quietly but pointedly rebuking Ron Santo — not even his own player — at home plate, with no one to know but the two of them and an umpire.

How Hodges handled Jones has been misused because it’s convenient shorthand for something that was so rarely visible. But rather than exemplify Hodges’s toughness and wisdom, that day in July was a rare mistake born out of frustration — one that could have derailed a fine season from a sensitive player the Mets couldn’t afford to lose. After the incident, Hodges was more himself — he challenged Jones behind the closed door of his office, made vague excuses to the writers about a bad foot, kept his star player on the bench for a few days, then declared that bad foot healed once he knew the point had been made. That was much more his style. On occasion Jones hasn’t obeyed the script written long ago and been more forthright about his feelings: “I thought it could have been done another way. I was upset and hurt.” He wasn’t alone. When Hodges came home after the doubleheader, a stunned Joan Hodges had a pointed question for her husband: “Whatever possessed you to do it?”

As we all know, the Mets won, with Jones hitting .429 against the Braves and catching that final out. And he’d remain a mainstay of the team for the next several years, becoming the Mets’ all-time leader in hits, runs, steals and RBIs in 1971, becoming the first Met to 1,000 hits in 1973, and playing a key role in the Ya Gotta Believe charge to an unlikely World Series berth — Jones hit six homers in the last 10 games of ’73 and was the man in the middle of Dave Augustine‘s famous “ball off the wall.” But his knee was betraying him, and ended his season early in August 1974.

The next year, Jones remained in St. Petersburg, Fla., to rehab his knee after the Mets went north. What followed was one of the most shameful incidents in team history. It started in early May, when police arrested Jones on indecent-exposure charges. The cops said he’d been found sleeping naked in the back of a station wagon with a 21-year-old white woman, also naked, who was carrying narcotics — and yes, the racial identification was most certainly relevant in Florida in 1975.

The story quickly fell apart. The station wagon morphed into a panel van, casting doubt on the idea that anyone had been exposed according to any standard of decency. The narcotics turned out to be a joint and a couple of pot pipes in the woman’s purse. Jones insisted that the only part of him that had been naked had been his feet. The charges were dropped.

At that point, whatever happened in Florida should have been no one’s business outside of the Jones house, but the Mets wouldn’t let it go. M. Donald Grant fined Jones $2,000 and forced him to hold a press conference at Shea before his teammates and his wife. He was made to read an apology written by the front office, with mea culpas addressed to not only his wife and children but also “all Mets fans and to baseball in general.” Union boss Marvin Miller accurately called out Grant’s stunt as “a tasteless display of economic power.” Grant’s ouster of Tom Seaver would be remembered with more bitterness, but no part of that sordid affair was as cruel and demeaning as what he did to Jones. Reporters who were there would reference the palpable unease in the room for the rest of their careers.

It was the beginning of the end. Jones returned to the Mets, but Dave Kingman had taken his job, his knee still wasn’t right, and Grant had it in for him. Jones’ doctor told him not to do calisthenics with the team, which got twisted into more evidence that Jones was lazy. Things came to a head in July, when Yogi Berra sent Jones up to pinch-hit and to take over outfield duties. Jones refused — because he’d been stuck on the bench and was angry about it, but also because he hadn’t taped up his balky knee, as he did whenever he knew he was going to play defense.

Berra accused Jones of disrespect and insubordination, and told Grant it was the outfielder or him. The Mets tried to trade Jones, who refused two proposed deals (as was his right as a 10-and-5 man), then released him. A couple of weeks later, after Seaver told Grant Berra had lost the clubhouse, they got rid of the manager as well. Jones would return for a cameo with the White Sox in 1976, then retire. He was only 33. Thirty-three, a World Series hero, and the man who held several Mets’ offensive records. He deserved better — but then even a cup-of-coffee guy deserved better than what Grant did.

Time would heal some of the wounds — Jones returned briefly as a minor-league hitting instructor in the early 1980s, with Darryl Strawberry one of his star pupils. But with a little better health and a lot less Grant and Berra, he might have been Strawberry’s teammate — a legendary pinch-hitter who briefly overlapped with a budding superstar, knitting two eras and two titles together.

Instead, he went home to Africatown — where he’s still hard at work, fixing houses and seeking business deals and serving as the town’s unofficial mayor. When reporters chat with Jones these days, he sounds different than the instinctively accommodating player who excused Hodges’ worst day as manager, or downplayed Grant’s cruelty to him. “Growing up in the Jim Crow south, I learned my lane,” he said earlier this year. “Hell yes, I stayed in that lane. Now every lane is ours, and we have changes to make.”

It’s easy to overthink Jones’s little genuflection in the outfield — a baseball season is a grueling marathon, and he was a hard-nosed athlete looking to put away a last out in a magical season. That’s enough. But I don’t think it’s too much to imagine that at least some of those other things informed his reaction. He’s standing next to his boyhood friend — Jones even pounds the glove as the ball descends, nicking Agee’s habit. They’re a long way from Mobile, in a world that hasn’t always been kind to them. But they’re there, and once that ball finishes its journey, they’re going to be atop that world. That’s not going to change everything — nothing’s ever that simple — but if something like that can happen, what else might be possible one day?

“Come on down, baby,” Jones tells the ball, and it does.

PREVIOUS METS FOR ALL SEASONS
1962: Richie Ashburn
1963: Ron Hunt
1964: Rod Kanehl
1965: Ron Swoboda
1966: Shaun Fitzmaurice
1967: Al Schmelz
1969: Donn Clendenon
1970: Tommie Agee
1971: Tom Seaver
1972: Gary Gentry
1973: Willie Mays
1974: Tug McGraw
1975: Mike Vail
1976: Mike Phillips
1977: Lenny Randle
1978: Craig Swan
1981: Mookie Wilson
1982: Rusty Staub
1983: Darryl Strawberry
1985: Dwight Gooden
1986: Keith Hernandez
1987: Lenny Dykstra
1988: Gary Carter
1990: Gregg Jefferies
1991: Rich Sauveur
1992: Todd Hundley
1993: Joe Orsulak
1994: Rico Brogna
1995: Jason Isringhausen
1996: Rey Ordoñez
1997: Edgardo Alfonzo
1998: Todd Pratt
2000: Melvin Mora
2001: Mike Piazza
2002: Al Leiter
2003: David Cone
2004: Joe Hietpas
2005: Pedro Martinez
2007: Jose Reyes
2008: Johan Santana
2009: Angel Pagan
2010: Ike Davis
2011: David Wright
2012: R.A. Dickey
2013: Wilmer Flores
2014: Jacob deGrom
2015: Michael Conforto
2017: Paul Sewald
2019: Dom Smith
2020: Pete Alonso

The M Met

Welcome to A Met for All Seasons, a series in which we consider a given Met who played in a given season and…well, we’ll see.

In the summer of 2015, an undermanned and shoddily constructed Mets club stumbled along, refusing to fall entirely out of contention despite scoring the fewest runs in the National League, battling injuries, and having to navigate the usual headwinds of being owned by the Wilpons. On July 22, the Mets blew a 3-1 lead in the 8th against the Nationals, a gut punch of a loss, but one that left them still just three behind a Nats team that couldn’t seem to get out of its own way. The next day, Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers came to town and the Mets sent this lineup out to meet them: Granderson, Tejada, Flores, Mayberry, Campbell, Duda, Lagares, Recker, Colon. Murderers’ Row? This wasn’t even Mutterers of Vague Threats Row. The cleanup hitter, Mayberry, was hitting .170, and protected — to bend a definition so far past its actual meaning that it instantly breaks — by Campbell, a guy hitting .179. It was the kind of lineup that would encourage you to make other plans if announced for a March matinee in Kissimmee, except this was July and the Mets were in a pennant race, however dimly they seemed to perceive that.

If the gambit was to lull Kershaw into a snoozy sense of ease, it didn’t work — the Dodgers’ ace was perfect through six and wound up fanning 11, walking nobody and giving up a grand total of three hits. Honestly, it was a surprise he gave up any.

And yet, for all that, the Nats dropped a game in Pittsburgh and the Mets were still just three out.

Fans were screaming for someone to do something — a reaction GM Sandy Alderson had dismissed earlier that month as Panic City. But after pacifism failed to intimidate Kershaw, Alderson finally admitted the team he’d constructed was at least living in Panic City’s iffy suburb, Concern. Michael Cuddyer had hurt his knee in late June but remained entrenched on the roster; now he was finally put on the DL, replaced by a young left fielder named Michael Conforto.

It was a move fans had been campaigning for, but also a sign of desperation. Conforto was just 22 and had logged just 45 games with Double-A Binghamton after being promoted from Single-A St. Lucie. Ten months earlier, he’d been a Brooklyn Cyclone; three months before that, he’d been an Oregon State Beaver. Scouts reported the bat was ready, but warned that Conforto was slow on the bases and in the field, with a poor range and a weak arm. He’d likely to be an improvement over the various one-legged and/or sub-Mendoza line alternatives, but it was far from clear that he was ready for the big leagues, or that the audition was the best thing for his development as a player.

I simultaneously dismissed the call-up as an ill-advised publicity stunt and welcomed it: In Panic City, beggars can’t be choosers. Besides, I’d seen several of Conforto’s games on Coney Island the previous summer and remembered him well. That was new territory for me, as most Mets’ Cyclone tenures had washed out of my memory by the time the players reached Shea or Citi Field. I know I saw the likes of Ike Davis, Lucas Duda and Pete Alonso as Cyclones, but can’t recall any particulars.

I was also excited because Conforto would become a milestone player in franchise history even if he never did more than cameo as a pinch-hitter. He was slated to be the 1,000th player to appear in a game for the Mets, a landmark Greg and I had seen coming and wondered and worried about more than was healthy. Obviously I had no experience in commemorating such an event, but it was obvious to me that the 1,000th Met — the M Met, let’s call him — should be someone significant. Steven Matz had been the 999th Met and would have been a fine choice for No. 1,000, particularly after his debut came with hitting heroics and Grandpa Bert having the time of his life celebrating them. Noah Syndergaard had been the 995th Met; Thor would have been fine too. But between Syndergaard and Matz we’d been introduced to Darrell Ceciliani, Akeel Morris and Logan Verrett — fine gentlemen, I’m sure, but players whose ceilings were somewhere between Answer to Unfair Trivia Question and Oh Yeah, That Guy. I would have worked up enthusiasm for the 1,000th Met even if he’d been a backup catcher, a hair-on-fire reliever or a good-glove, no-bat shortstop, but oh it would have been disappointing. A real prospect assuming the mantle was so much more satisfying.

Conforto made his debut against lefty Ian Thomas and went 0-for-4, but collected his first RBI with a groundout to the right side that brought in Duda. The Mets lost, but my publicity-stunt worries proved unfounded — Alderson was about to be very busy. For starters, he engineered a trade with the Braves to bring in Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe, competent veterans who were also ambulatory. They arrived the next day and Conforto went 4-for-4 as the Mets bombarded the Dodgers. We didn’t know it yet, but the rocket was about to lift off and leave Panic City far behind: Ahead of us lay the non-trade for Carlos Gomez, the arrival of Yoenis Cespedes, Wilmer Flores‘ elevation to folk hero, David Wright‘s brief but thrilling recovery, the obliteration of the Nationals, and a long-awaited return to the postseason. The Mets played 12 weeks of gravity-defying baseball, a run that was both giddy and glorious, taking them past the Dodgers and over the hapless Cubs and into the World Series. (That meant a 13th week of baseball, which turned to be neither giddy nor glorious, but them’s the breaks.)

Conforto was front and center. That swing was as pretty as I’d remembered from Brooklyn, and the M Met had a precocious understanding of the strike zone. But he also looked a lot better than we’d feared in the outfield — he wasn’t fleet, exactly, but he had good enough instincts to maximize his range, and the arm was fine. Conforto capped off his rookie season with a pair of home runs in Game 4 of the World Series, connecting off old friend Chris Young and lefty Danny Duffy, and just missed what would have been a 10th-inning walkoff homer in Game 5 off Luke Hochevar, catching a 3-2 cutter a little too low on the barrel.

(If he’d connected, the history of the Mets — and, who knows, perhaps the last five years — might be far brighter. I will now go off and sulk for a little while.)

Conforto didn’t hit a walkoff. He got one more 2015 at-bat, singling in the 12th off Wade Davis, but by then the Royals had done terrible things to Addison Reed and Bartolo Colon and it was 7-2. Conforto was on second when Flores struck out and the season ended. But he’d arrived and seemed destined for stardom as part of the young core of a rising team.

In 2016, Conforto got off to a hot start, but then was flummoxed by a succession of wicked lefties, fell into a slump and was sent down to the minors to get his breath and earn his place, returning with a better game plan and some much-needed mental toughness, leading to…

Oh wait — I copy-pasted that from The Big Book of Baseball Cliches. Sorry. That’s always a danger in the baseball-chronicling trade.

What actually happened was the Mets did their damnedest to screw Conforto up, and he relied on the mental toughness he already possessed to survive his employer’s negligence.

Confort had hit .274 against lefties in 180 minor-league plate appearances. In 2015 and early 2016 he hit .188 against them … in a grand total of 34 plate appearances.

Conforto and Alonso

A city, busted in half.

Thirty-four plate appearances shouldn’t be enough to convince anyone of anything, but it was enough to make Terry Collins believe Conforto couldn’t hit lefties — after all, he was left-handed and young. Conforto started 26 of the Mets’ first 27 games in 2016, hitting the hell out of the ball, but Collins turned him into a platoon player. He was benched for 13 of the next 45. Denied regular playing time — something young players really do need — he started pressing. The hot start turned lukewarm and then ice cold, given an assist by an unsustainable .167 BABIP. To be fair, it’s not like Conforto never saw a lefty — for instance, Collins sent him up as a pinch-hitter against one at the end of May. That lefty was Kershaw.

Collins’ mishandling of Conforto led to him not being able to hit anybody, which led to his being banished to the minors, which led to him hitting like his old self because he got to play every day and his luck turned and Collins wasn’t around to fuck with him, which led to his recall, which led to a ridiculous Just So story about what had happened and the supposed lesson of it. But the Mets weren’t done — they tried to turn Conforto into a center fielder, a position for which his ceiling was “heroic adequacy.” They did pretty much everything they could to derail him, but somehow he survived, making the All-Star team in 2017 and looking like even the Mets couldn’t mess him up. Then, on Aug. 24, his season screeched to a halt when he dislocated a shoulder on an innocent-looking swing.

Conforto was expected to miss the first couple of months of 2018, but was only late reporting for duty by a week. That looked like good fortune, but it wasn’t — he clearly wasn’t himself, both in terms of his swing and his approach to at-bats. The season was a struggle, but in 2019 Conforto rebounded, rising above the 30-homer plateau for the first time and providing several great moments, from the “Scooter and the Big Man” game (as instantly immortalized by Gary Cohen), to the walkoff single that capped a frantic comeback against the Nats in August.

Even as he became a Mets mainstay, though, Conforto was dogged by grumbling that he wasn’t clutch, that he was too streaky, and so forth. Which made me roll my eyes (or worse), but I came to see it as a backhanded compliment. That picture-perfect swing looks like it should deliver 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons routinely, if only for the fact that baseball isn’t quite that simple. No one was frustrated with, say, Eric Campbell‘s failure to launch, but Conforto has always competed against his own potential.

He’s been my favorite player since he arrived — but in my own way, I too have sold Conforto short. He isn’t flashy at the plate or afield, and he’s affected a measured, deliberately dull style in postgame media scrums. Deprived of his shirt by Alonso, he looked faintly embarrassed by the whole thing. I’ve taken him for granted, assuming that he’ll be in there every day, and waiting for his talents to truly take flight.

2020, while a miserable year, did give us Conforto taking the next step as a hitter. Left alone in right field, he hit .322 (and .284 against lefties), with nary a whisper about clutch. And it became clear that he’d become a leader in the clubhouse — a maturation never more clear than when he took the lead role addressing the media the night the Mets and Marlins chose not to play. It’s easy to forget that he’ll still be shy of his 28th birthday when the Mets return to spring training; I don’t want to think about the fact that he’ll be eligible for free agency when they disperse at season’s end.

Maybe Conforto will never be the superstar he’s clearly capable of becoming — maybe he’ll just remain a very good player, the kind you hope to be able to slot into the middle of a lineup. But I wouldn’t bet against him. He’s already survived Collins’ meddling and life as a Wilpon employee, after all. I can’t think of a better way for the Steve Cohen era to begin than to ensure Conforto will be part of the Mets’ plan through his prime — and I can’t wait to see what other numbers will be significant when we look back at the M Met and his career.

PREVIOUS METS FOR ALL SEASONS
1962: Richie Ashburn
1963: Ron Hunt
1964: Rod Kanehl
1965: Ron Swoboda
1966: Shaun Fitzmaurice
1967: Al Schmelz
1969: Donn Clendenon
1970: Tommie Agee
1971: Tom Seaver
1972: Gary Gentry
1973: Willie Mays
1974: Tug McGraw
1975: Mike Vail
1976: Mike Phillips
1977: Lenny Randle
1978: Craig Swan
1981: Mookie Wilson
1982: Rusty Staub
1983: Darryl Strawberry
1985: Dwight Gooden
1986: Keith Hernandez
1987: Lenny Dykstra
1988: Gary Carter
1990: Gregg Jefferies
1991: Rich Sauveur
1992: Todd Hundley
1993: Joe Orsulak
1994: Rico Brogna
1995: Jason Isringhausen
1996: Rey Ordoñez
1997: Edgardo Alfonzo
1998: Todd Pratt
2000: Melvin Mora
2001: Mike Piazza
2002: Al Leiter
2003: David Cone
2004: Joe Hietpas
2005: Pedro Martinez
2007: Jose Reyes
2008: Johan Santana
2009: Angel Pagan
2010: Ike Davis
2011: David Wright
2012: R.A. Dickey
2013: Wilmer Flores
2014: Jacob deGrom
2017: Paul Sewald
2019: Dom Smith
2020: Pete Alonso

Elimination Nation Rejoice!

We’ve had little to rejoice in this year, so let us rejoice in the postseason elimination of others. Not just any others, but the others we wish eliminated annually. Daily, really.

Happy Elimination Day, civilized world! Hell, take the whole weekend!

Congratulations, Rays. Congratulations, all of us.

Doc, for All Seasons

Welcome to A Met for All Seasons, a series in which we consider a given Met who played in a given season and…well, we’ll see.

And when the morning light
Comes streaming in
We’ll get up and do it again
Get it up again

—Jackson Browne

On Wednesday night, October 2, 1985, at Busch Stadium, Tommy Herr batted for the St. Louis Cardinals in the bottom of the ninth inning with two out and the bases loaded, his Cards down by three. One massive swing from the St. Louis second baseman, who’d already driven in 108 runs, would win the game for the home team and effectively clinch the Redbirds a division title. But that was an unthinkable ending, because the pitcher Herr was facing was Dwight Gooden of the New York Mets, and in 1985, it was unthinkable that anyone, no matter how many RBIs he’d accumulated, could ruin one of Dwight Gooden’s starts with any kind of swing, dramatic or mundane. It was semi-unthinkable that any team would have the bases loaded against him or, for that matter, have two runs on the board as the Cardinals did.

All thoughts reverted to thinkable when Herr lined the final pitch he saw from Gooden in 1985 into Wally Backman’s glove. The Mets won, 5-2, and kept themselves alive for at least another night in the race for the NL East flag. Gooden won, too, raising his record to 24-4. With 10 Ks, his season strikeout total stood at 268. The two Cardinal runs, both earned, meant his ERA clocked in at 1.53.

That’s where it clocked out. Had the Mets taken the third game of this three-game series from the Cardinals as they had taken the first and second, and then continued to apply pressure when they returned home to play Montreal over the final weekend of 1985, perhaps Davey Johnson would have asked Gooden to pitch again on Sunday, on short rest. Or if the Mets and Cardinals were tied after 162 games, maybe Gooden would have been handed the ball on Monday for an all-or-nothing tiebreaker to decide the East. Had the Mets stayed hot and the Cardinals gone cold, vaulting New York over St. Louis before Sunday, the manager could have aligned his pitching for Game One of the NLCS versus the Dodgers. Barring something going terribly awry between October 2 and October 9, there’s no doubt Gooden would have pitched the opener in L.A., going against Fernando Valenzuela in a rematch of three previous 1985 dates.

This was all hypothetical, however. As it happened, the Mets lost the third game of their must-sweep series against the Cardinals on Thursday night, leaving them two behind with three to play. The race wasn’t over mathematically, but the Mets were all but done. Both teams won their Friday night games, keeping the Mets two behind with two to play. Alas, the Cardinals got the win they needed to make it official on Saturday afternoon, and that was that.

There’d be no postseason for the 1985 Mets. There’d be no World Champions flag to join 1969’s, no National League pennant to pair with 1973’s, not even an NL East banner for their troubles. But there was this: the greatest individual season ever recorded by a Met.

24-4. 268. 1.53. You could have embroidered that on a flag, run it up the pole in center and everybody who bled, sweated and teared up with those Mets would have stood to salute it.

Long may Dwight Gooden’s 1985 wave. For 35 years it has.

***
I’m sure if I subscribed to a comprehensive enough archival service or just Googled diligently, I could probably find a quote that asked in either so many or exact words, “What’s Doc Gooden gonna do for an encore?” At the end of 1985, after the 24-4, 268 and 1.53 was put in the books for posterity, it was an urgent question, especially considering the other number you had to consider when considering Dwight Eugene Gooden: 20. He was 20 years old…and he’d been pitching like that in the major leagues since he was 19. When you’re that good and that young, your next move can’t help but be the stuff of breathless anticipation.

There was hardly ever a moment following Gooden’s debut on April 7, 1984, when he wasn’t The Man against men. His age only made his talent more tantalizing. Few pitchers could be as dominating as young Dr. K could be on a given night. Hardly any pitchers could overwhelm hitters so thoroughly as a rookie. Now factor in that he was a teenager two years removed from high school, pitching for New York instead of Tidewater because his first major league camp made him indispensable to the big club’s plans. The accelerated promotion was validated by performance. Except for a few perfectly reasonable bumps in the road as he got himself established from April to August, there was little wrong with what Gooden was doing on the mound.

Then, beginning on August 11, 1984, and extending to May 6, 1986, there was nothing — nothing — wrong with Dwight Gooden.

50 Starts
37 Wins
5 Losses
.881 Winning Percentage
25 Complete Games
12 Shutouts
404.2 Innings
412 Strikeouts
90 Walks
1.38 ERA

Maybe he didn’t hold baserunners on optimally, but there was barely enough of sample size to tell.

Firing a high fastball nobody could see and dropping a deadly curveball nobody could touch, Doc owned the National League. He could have brought it home to Tampa during the offseason and played with it in his front yard for fun. Instead, he displayed his abilities in our yard, a privilege for which we lined up anxiously to hail, whether with K cards dangling in left field, applause rising with two strikes or simply primal screams of exultation. For years and years prior to 1984, we wallowed in the second division, still licking the psychic wounds inflicted on us from when the Mets traded Tom Seaver. Finally, in ’84, we had a team definitively rising from those ashes, led by practically the second coming of Tom Seaver.

Maybe even better.

***

It was a sign of the times.

A Friday night at the end of July 1984 signaled the apprenticeship of Dwight Gooden, however brief, was nearing its end. It was Doc vs. the Cubs at Shea, the first-place Mets striving to push back their closest pursuers, their ace charged with making the kind of statement Mets fans dreamed of being necessary to speak aloud for close to a decade. When was the last time the Mets had a big-time Big Game in which they had dealing for them the biggest deal you could have going? Probably 1975, Seaver vs. the Pirates on Labor Day. The start went well, but the rest of the month evaporated, so maybe 1973 — also Seaver, also September also the Pirates — was more like it. Whenever it was, it had been forever. It had been that long since we had the best in the business taking the ball and shoving it down our foes’ throats with something significant at stake for all concerned.

In 1984, it was Gooden. It was all Gooden. For eight innings on July 27, he made the Cubs incidental to the showdown at hand. More than 51,000 were in attendance. If it wasn’t Doc’s strongest statistical outing of the year, it was his most critical. After allowing the top of Chicago’s order to cobble together a single run in the first (a stolen bases involved), he struck out Leon Durham and Keith Moreland to end their inning. The Mets immediately tied the game, and Doc proceeded to brush aside every ensuing threat. The Cubs thrice placed runners on third, once on a leadoff triple. Gooden’s blend of power and poised snuffed each potential rally. Batting in the seventh, he bunted Rafael Santana to second, enabling Wally Backman to drive in Raffy with the go-ahead run. All told, Doc went eight, struck out eight and earned his ninth win. The Mets were now 4½ in front after 96 games played.

We didn’t know it, but that was the high point of the season for the Mets as a unit. The Cubs would win the next three games of the series and sweep four at Wrigley soon after. Though the Mets would stay within shouting distance of first into September, and no Mets fan gave up on dreaming until mathematics sealed our fate, the race was pretty much decided by August 8.

But the most spectacular stretch of pitching ever rendered by a New York Met was about to begin. It started on August 11, at home to Pittsburgh. Gooden entered with a record of 9-8 (we took won-lost records very seriously in those days) and an ERA of 3.42. Punctuated as it had been by eight double-digit strikeout totals to date, a no-hit bid in Pittsburgh in June, and an All-Star appearance in which he struck out a side of American Leaguers in July, it would have been gauche to complain let alone note that his previous two outings — 3 IP, 7 ER at Busch; 4 IP, 5 ER at Wrigley — were more typical of a rookie beginning to run out of gas.

Apparently Doc had stopped to fill up on the way back from Chicago, because, brother, did he get the lead out. That and basically every batter in a Pirate uniform. He went seven innings that Saturday night, long enough for Gooden to strike out 10, which allowed him to surpass Jerry Koosman’s rookie strikeout record. Kooz fanned 178 batters in all of 1968. Doc was at 181 and counting with another seven weeks to go.

Go, he did. The Pirate game was the last time in 1984 Gooden pitched as few as seven innings. His next three starts each lasted nine, as did a pair in September. The other three measured eight. Each of them encompassed at least nine strikeouts. Two, in succession, featured 16 apiece. Those came after a one-hit shutout of the Cubs that was a highly questionable scorer’s decision from standing as the first no-hitter in Mets history. Only one of Gooden’s final nine starts — a stretch during which is earned run average measured 1.07 and the league batting average against him amounted to .160 — wasn’t a personal or team win. That lone loss, at Philadelphia, could be traced to an unearned run in the sixth and a balk in the eighth. Unfortunate, to be sure, but since it was on one of the nights when he struck out 16, it wasn’t exactly a cause for recriminations.

Doc carved his image in those weeks: long, lanky, fluid and demonstrably indefatigable. From August 11 through September 23, Dwight Gooden threw 76 innings, struck out 105 batters, set a new major league rookie strikeout mark with 276, finished overall at 17-9 with a 2.60 ERA, and ensured he’d finish a solid second to Rick Sutcliffe in NL Cy Young voting. And did we mention he was 19?

***

Good company.

What would Doc Gooden do for an encore? He’d do 1985. He’d do it from beginning to end and he’d do it like nobody we ever saw.

The most curious feature of Doc’s ’85, I’ve long thought, is there really isn’t one standout game among his 35 starts that ever gets brought up when discussion turns to the greatest pitching performances in Mets history. When that chestnut of a topic arises, we instinctively go to Seaver’s imperfect game and Tom’s ten straight strikeouts; to Bobby Jones’s one-hitter and Jon Matlack’s two-hitter, each proffered amid playoff pressure; to Johan Santana holding together a stretch drive with one hand while slamming shut a creaky bullpen door with another; to Al Leiter freezing in place the Reds to gain the Mets a Wild Card; to R.A. Dickey’s mesmerizing one-hitter, at Tampa Bay, when he reeled off the first of two of those in a row; to Koosman putting the Birds in their place in Game Two of the 1969 World Series and putting Ron Santo and the Cubs on notice that September; to Matt Harvey being almost flawless versus the White Sox even as his nose bled; to David Cone rolling out a 19-strikeout gem on the final day of a season that ended with the cops waiting in the wings of the Vet to ask him a few questions; to Rob Gardner going 15 this-is-not-a-typo shutout innings in 1965, even.

It’s possible the most famous Dwight Gooden start of 1985 is one where his participation served as prologue rather than plot. Doc started on July 4 in Atlanta. July 4, 1985, in Atlanta is best known for lasting until 3:55 AM on July 5, with the Mets winning, 16-13. Rain, not the Braves, knocked Doc out in the third. Perhaps the “16” in the final score was the Mets’ way of saying they remembered ol’ young No. 16 pitching when the night/morning began hours and hours earlier. Less remembered is May 15 in Houston, though maybe it oughta be. That night, Davey removed Doc after the Astros strung together a double and a single to cut the Mets’ lead to 4-3 with one out in the seventh of what, with Jesse Orosco’s help, eventually became Doc’s sixth win of the year (despite Dr. K getting all but one of his outs without notching a K).

What those two games have in common is they are the only games from 1985 in which Doc left the mound mid-inning — and the July 4 instance was weather-induced. Gooden pitched 276.2 innings in ’85. The “.2” are a third-of-a-inning from May 15 and a third-of-an-inning from July 4. Otherwise, if it ever occurred to Johnson to take the ball from his ace’s hand, he didn’t act on it.

That leaves 33 starts.

The afternoon of August 15 at Shea was steamy for all. The schvitziness seemed to make Doc unusually uncomfortable — 5 IP, 5 ER — but the matinee conditions too hot to handle for his opponent, none other than Jerry Koosman, at this point nearing retirement in a Phillies uniform. The Mets won, anyway. The Mets also won in conditions better suited to the Iditarod, on Opening Day, when Doc reached only the baseline of the trendy new term “quality start”: 6 IP, 3 ER. Gooden certainly gave his teammates every chance to win, which was the idea of labeling a start of no fewer than six innings allowing no more than three earned runs quality, and win they did, on Gary Carter’s “Welcome to New York” tenth-inning homer. If anybody was measuring Doc’s ERA after one start, it was an unsightly 4.50.

That leaves 31 starts.

Doc pitched well enough to win (7 IP, 2 ER) on April 24 in St. Louis, but didn’t; Joaquin Andujar, who’d won 20 the year before and was going to win 21 this year, held the Mets scoreless until the ninth. It was Gooden’s first loss. His second and third defeats, back-to-back in late May versus San Diego and Los Angeles, could be described in a similar manner. In each case he was outpitched by a former Cy Young winner who’d join him and Andujar on the ’85 NL All-Star team — LaMarr Hoyt of the Padres, Fernando Valenzuela of the Dodgers. At the end of August, Gooden lost to a less-credentialed starter, Jim Gott of the Giants. Gooden’s six innings of two-run, six-hit ball simply wasn’t (as headline writers never tired of printing) Goodenough.

Those were the four losses in 24-4. Add those to the tiny stack of the aforementioned not wholly satisfying Dwight Gooden 1985 outings — the exceptions — and that leaves 27 starts.

Those 27 starts, the wholly satisfying ones, were the rule from when Doc ruled. The Mets went 24-3 in those starts. Doc himself went 20-0. The four Doc no-decisions and three Met losses were mostly a product of the offense going into sleep mode or the bullpen blowing up. Every last one of them may not have been a gem, but none deserved to be classified Cubic Zirconia. Actually, most of them were gems. There were so many pitched so consistently that after a while it didn’t seem worth sorting one from another to determine which sparkled most. Plus, when you consider that from Day 1 to Day 161 the Mets were intensely engaged in trying to capture the division title that had eluded them in 1984, you realize there was little time to bask in any one start, Gooden’s or anybody else’s.

Probably the Met start that stands apart from all its peers in 1985 was thrown not by Gooden, but by Ron Darling. On October 1, the night before Doc kept the Mets alive with his fairly routine complete-game 10-K win, the one that brought him to 24-4, Ronnie crafted a masterpiece: 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R versus the closest thing the Cardinals or anybody in the NL had to Gooden, John Tudor. Tudor went 10. The Mets won in 11 on Darryl Strawberry’s home run off the clock. It is remembered better than any of Gooden’s non-July 4 starts from 1985, partly because Darling is ensconced in the Mets’ broadcast booth, partly because, though Darling was a fine pitcher for many years, it was a bit of an anomaly. Usually he was good. That night he was great.

What Darling did on the first night of October, Gooden did basically every five days through the month of September. In the heaviest month of the year in the fiercest year the Mets had ever contested to that point (from July 29 to September 24, the Mets and Cardinals traded first and second place continually, with the Mets never more than a game ahead of the Cardinals and the Cardinals never more than three in front of the Mets), Doc started five times. He compiled 44 innings of must-win work that yielded an earned run average of 0.00.

Grab yourself four paper clips, attach those five games and call that the greatest starting pitching performance in New York Mets history. Or, given the time of the season and the franchise at the time, the greatest finishing kick. This was, lest you’ve forgotten amid the stream of statistical superlatives, from a 20-year-old whose first five months of ’85 indicated any September brilliance to come would hardly be anomalous.

• On July 14, the night before the All-Star break, when the entire Metsian enterprise held its collective breath at word that Carter’s knee was acting up, he threw a five-out shutout over the Astros with rarely deployed Ronn Reynolds sitting in behind the plate for the premier catcher in the game.

• On July 30, amid a five-hit shutout of the Expos, he stood up for Carter by brushing back Bill Gullickson after Carter’s former batterymate had brushed back Gary — just as Koosman had done to Santo in retaliation for Bill Hands’s close shave of Tommie Agee on September 8, 1969.

• He’d surpassed 200 strikeouts for a second time, on August 20, the same night he struck out 16 in a game for the third time, versus the Giants at Shea (the fans in attendance expressed dismay when Keith Hernandez dared to catch a foul pop).

• He’d broken Seaver’s consecutive in-season franchise record for wins, 10, on August 4, the same afternoon Tom was earning his 300th career win, and kept it going until it reached 14, which it did on August 25, the same day he won his 20th game…at the age of 20, a feat Sports Illustrated saluted by labeling him “Dwight the Great”. Alexander the Great, who did his pitching in the Macedonian League, also ascended to his throne at the age of 20.

This was all before September. It had earned him attention and accolades and unquestioned status as the best pitcher in baseball.

It was an appetizer.

September was Doc shutting out the NL West-leading Dodgers for nine innings on the 6th, versus Valenzuela doing the same to the Mets for eleven, until Strawberry won it in the thirteenth.

September was Doc shutting out the rival Redbirds for nine innings on the 11th, while Tudor did the same for ten (if it wasn’t the year of the pitcher, it was sure a helluva year for certain pitchers), until Cesar Cedeño beat Orosco in the tenth.

September was Doc shutting out the Phillies on the 16th, a comparatively stress-free route-going effort, what with the Mets scoring nine.

September was Doc taking off the ninth inning gasp! in a 12-1 rout of the Pirates on the 21st after double-gasp! giving up an entire run, but, relax, it was unearned and, besides, the pitcher made up for the faux pas by belting a three-run homer that he admitted he treasured more than the thought of tossing a no-hitter (Doc was batting .230 when he said it, decent for a slick-fielding shortstop, outstanding for the defining pitcher of his day).

September was Doc returning to complete-game form by shutting out the Cubs on the 26th, a game the Mets so desperately needed to maintain their fading pennant-race viability, that this was how Keith Hernandez summed up the entire game in his deeply textured day-by-day diary of the 1985 season:

“Thank you, Doc.”

***

Youth was served. Or helped itself.

Yes, thank you, Doc. Thank you for September 1985. Thank you for all of 1985. Thank you for 24-4, 268 SO, 1.53 ERA, that last figure the lowest in baseball since Bob Gibson’s 1.12 in 1968 — and the lowest still. Thank you for your unanimously awarded Cy Young. Tudor was great for St. Louis that year. Andujar was, too. Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser personified the Dodger pitching tradition established by Koufax and Drysdale a generation or two before. Tom Browning won 20 as a rookie in Cincinnati. Darling, 16-6, wasn’t too shabby.

But there was no pitcher on Dwight Gooden’s level. No player, either, even if the apples and oranges flummoxed the BBWAA when it came to Most Valuable Player voting. Doc placed fourth in that balloting despite compiling a Baseball-Reference WAR of 13.3, dwarfing sanctioned MVP Willie McGee’s total by more than 5. Obviously Wins Above Replacement was an unknown concept in 1985, but the eye test and a scan of extant statistics should have been enough. Or as Wally Backman kidded his teammate after the Mets finished three behind the Cardinals, if it hadn’t been for you losing those four, Doc, we would have won the division.

The encores for the 98-win Mets and their 24-win ace were, as they’d been after ’84, breathlessly awaited. How could they not be? The Mets had come so close to beating the Cubs, even closer to beating the Cardinals. All the Mets had to do was win a few more games to take the East at last. All Doc had to do was be maybe just a little better, right?

Kidding aside, it didn’t seem preposterous that as long as Gooden was providing a touchstone for 1968 comparisons that maybe he could win 30 in 1986, making him the first 30-game winner since Denny McLain eighteen years before. Really, on an individual basis, what else was left him for him to accomplish inside a season?

***
Doc started 1986 as he had 1985, on the mound for Opening Day. Making the cover of Sports Illustrated was passé by now. Dr. K graced the front of Time magazine to usher in the baseball season. Doc confirmed his coverworthiness with a no-fuss, no-muss complete game win at Pittsburgh. if you needed to file a complaint with the Dept. of High Expectations, he gave up two runs and struck out only six.

Bad Cardinal karma got in the way of a happy Home Opener six days later, but Doc pitched just swell — eight innings, five hits, two runs. Then he threw a couple of complete games, the second of them a shutout of St. Louis as the Mets began to fully feel their 1986 oats. When Doc beat the Braves on April 30, it made him 4-0 and the club 13-3, riding an eleven-game winning streak.

The Mets were off to the races. We were too nervous to completely accept it, but the division was clinched in everything but name before May Day. The Expos would stay conceivably close until late June, but the Cardinals disintegrated and nobody else posed a challenge. We were reveling daily in what the Mets were doing for an encore to 1985.

Judging by April, Dwight Gooden was on the same course as his team. On May 6, it was more of the same as Doc shut out Bob Knepper and the Astros at Shea on two hits. Knepper had come in at 5-0. Gooden now had that very same record to go along with his 1.04 ERA. The encore everybody’d asked for was going splendidly.

Then it…well, it didn’t go off the rails by any means. But starting on May 11, versus the Reds, Doc proved the slightest bit penetrable, maybe even defatigable. Cincinnati loaded the bases in the second with two outs. Less than a year earlier, Doc faced the same situation at Dodger Stadium, but worse. There was nobody out then. What did he do in L.A.? He got out of the jam: strikeout, foulout, strikeout. He went on to beat the Dodgers and Valenzuela that night, elevating his legend in the process.

That was 1985. This was 1986. Usually when one invokes 1986 where the Mets are concerned, it’s all legend and all good. But here the Reds brought their own legend to bear. Batting with the bases loaded and two out was Pete Rose, player-manager and not incidentally all-time Hit King™. Rose had faced Seaver, Koosman, most every Met starter of stature since 1963. Pete hadn’t lasted 24 seasons being intimidated by the greats, even a great on the greatest roll of the post-Gibson, post-Koufax era.

“I’d rather have his future than my past,” Koufax said of Gooden in 1985. Gibson’s two cents on the subject were, “He can’t get any better,” which could have been taken as a extraordinary compliment or a word of caution.

On May 11, 1986, Dwight Gooden stopped getting better. Or stopped staying as good as he’d been for the preceding fifty starts. He worked the count full to Rose until, with all the runners in motion, Rose connected. It wasn’t close to the hardest ball Charlie Hustle ever hit, but it didn’t have to be. The 45-year-old part-timer lined a ball just above the reach of second baseman Tim Teufel. It ticked off the new Mets’ glove and spent enough time in right to score all three runners. Rose hustled only as far as first.

A three-run single. It would be absurd to refer to it as Doc Gooden’s undoing, but since when did Doc give up a three-run anything? The Mets trailed and lost. It snapped their latest winning streak at seven and dropped their overall record to 20-5. They’d get over it.

Doc went only five in going 5-1. The only game when he went no more than five in ’85 was the bizarrofest in Atlanta on July 4 and the sweatbox at Shea on August 15. So just chalk it up as one of those days, right? The next start was closer to Goodenesque — eight innings, seven strikeouts, all three runs scored against him were unearned — but the Mets lost. The Mets lost his next start, too, a 10-2 thrashing of Doc the likes of which hadn’t been seen since he was a rookie. He was 19 then. He was 21 now. He was supposed to be past his apprenticeship.

***

What could be bigger news than the next Dwight Gooden start?

I don’t remember exactly when I consciously drifted into referring to Doc Gooden as my favorite player in the active sense. There was Tom Seaver, who was my favorite of all-time, even if he started 1986 with the White Sox and ended it with the Red Sox. That status was and is etched in my heart forever. After Tom, though, there was Doc. I didn’t see the majority of Gooden’s starts in 1984, spending the spring and first half of summer at college (in his hometown of Tampa, ironically), but what I did see, let alone what I gleaned from box scores and wire copy, began to win me over. When I listened to him best the Cubs on July 27 in the final season I lacked cable, I think I knew for sure he was my guy. There were a plethora of personable, appealing Mets to choose from by 1985, but the fella who threw the first pitch of the year started and ended the conversation for me. Other than Seaver, Gooden was and is my favorite player ever.

I bring that up here because starting in the aftermath of Rose singling in those three runs in the second inning on May 11, 1986, I instinctively grew insanely defensive in response to anything anybody had to say about Doc Gooden being off his game, not being what he’d been in 1985, being only good not great.

HOW DARE YOU? Mind you, this conversation mostly took place internally, in my head, but that’s how I felt. What was it Keith said after that shutout in Chicago? Thank you, Doc. I never stopped being grateful for 1985, and I never wanted to admit that 1985 was once in a lifetime; that whatever Sandy Koufax’s future held after 1985, he probably should have held onto it vis-à-vis what Gooden’s had in store; that the double-edged observation Gibson made was as correct as could be from the cautionary perspective.

How could anybody expect anything better than 1985’s Dwight Gooden? You’d be crazy to. But we were crazy then. I was crazy then. Too crazy for Doc’s own good. I sat on the phone during the offseason leading into 1986 with my Mets-loving friend from high school, Joel Lugo, and mapped out what each Met pitcher should (not could; should) do in the way of winning and losing in the year ahead. We agreed that Doc should go 30-2.

Doc went 17-6. Most of Metsopotamia seemed apologetic about it. Or apologetic about being apologetic. Pitchers occupying only a slightly lower plane than Sandy Koufax’s would have traded their past for 17-6, a 2.84 ERA, 200 strikeouts on the nose. Yet Gooden was suddenly not on Gooden’s plane. Others had ascended while he descended to merely Goodenough. In Boston, Roger Clemens had Gooden’s won-lost record from 1985: 24-4. In Houston, Mike Scott won Gooden’s Cy Young and plaudits from 1985. He threw a no-hitter to clinch the NL West and send up a warning flare for what the Eastern Division champion Mets could expect by way of a postseason obstacle course.

Gooden versus Scott, Game One. Doc was great enough in a 1-0 loss. Scott, whether he scuffed the ball or not, was far better. I’d prefer to call it a draw. It wasn’t. Someone in the National League was outpitching Dwight Gooden when it counted most. Same in Game Five, though that really was a draw. It was Gooden vs. Nolan Ryan, a matchup dripping with symbolism and strikeouts. Ryan, the old master, was dazzling. Gooden simply got the job done. Each man gave up only one run. Neither man was involved in the decision, a Mets win Carter took care of in the twelfth. Stylistically, however, old Nolan outdazzled young Dwight.

The World Series brought Gooden head-to-head with Clemens. They were both disappointing when they clashed, but Gooden was more so. The Red Sox won his Game Two start. Then Hurst and the Red Sox thoroughly bested Doc in Game Five. The Mets lost three games of the seven-game World Series. Dwight lost two of them. Pitching to an ERA of eight, it seemed sacrilege to refer to Gooden as Doc.

But the important thing was the Mets won four of those World Series games. The Mets were world champions. All of them, right up to their 17-6 ace, the righthander who thrust them on the map in 1984 and levitated them close to the top of the standings in September 1985. OK, I’d admit to myself when nobody else was around, he wasn’t quite what he’d been. But, c’mon, who could have been? He deserved his World Series ring as much as anybody else. He deserved to absorb the love and confetti of the championship parade the next day as much as anybody else.

***

The coke was keeping me up. The booze had been keeping me mellow, though not much anymore. Both of them had clearly wrecked my judgment.

The sun through the window slammed me hard.

“Uh-oh,” I finally realized. “That’s not good.”

It was after six thirty by then.

The above passage of what it was like to have the morning light come streaming in when it’s the last thing you want to see is from Dwight Gooden’s 2013 memoir, Doc (written with Ellis Henican). It describes the morning of October 28, 1986, the morning that should have rated among the best of Gooden’s life. He was a newly minted champ. The parade that the Mets earned by dint of those four Series wins on top of the four NLCS wins on top of the 108 wins in the regular season awaited. Every Met who deserved a parade got one.

But one wasn’t there to get it. Unbeknownst to any of us who crammed into Lower Manhattan to strain for a peek of our heroes or anybody watching on TV, Dwight Gooden was not in attendance. On Channel 4, one of the reporters said we couldn’t see Doc on screen at the moment, but that was because he had just gone to be with his wife.

Nope. Doc had gone to be with cocaine. That was after Game Seven, after the World Series was won. Gooden recounts it heartbreakingly in his memoir. You so want him to be there on Broadway. You so want him to step up to the podium at City Hall. You so want there to exist footage of him accepting his key to the city that glorious October afternoon, just as you want to go to YouTube, enter “Gooden World Series ring ceremony Opening Day 1987” and find a clip that’s a perfect match.

But nothing is perfect in the Dwight Gooden story, at least not once we learn cocaine entered it. We didn’t find out until the following April Fool’s Day. I swear I thought it was a sick April Fool’s joke when I’d heard he’d been suspended, over WNEW-FM shortly before one in the afternoon. They were going on about how Doc was perspiring during his World Series starts, that something clearly wasn’t right with him, and now we know why.

Cut it out, lame-ass disc jockey. It’s not funny.

No joke, Doc tested positive for cocaine, was suspended by baseball, went to rehab, came back to the Mets eventually and, no, it wasn’t the same as before April 1, 1987, when this incredibly likable, admirably humble young man (he was only 22) had to admit first to his family, his team and the world that he had done that thing we were all warned against in school. No matter how I wished it so, it would never be the same as before Rose’s three-run single on May 11, 1986, that golden period from August 11, 1984, through May 6, 1986, encompassing all of platinum 1985. Just to reiterate:

50 Starts
37 Wins
5 Losses
.881 Winning Percentage
25 Complete Games
12 Shutouts
404.2 Innings
412 Strikeouts
90 Walks
1.38 ERA

Of course he couldn’t get any better. Of course he couldn’t stay exactly as good. But, Doc…cocaine? Seriously, man, 17-6, 2.84 and 200 strikeouts on the nose was still very good.

What I and most Mets fans weren’t in the mood to understand, or perhaps not capable of understanding, was that addiction doesn’t act as a choice, that it’s not so simple, without a whole lot of effort, to choose to just say no, as they used to say in the ’80s. Doc Gooden was an addict. His addiction was stronger than his pitching. It took an enormous effort go get through every inning of his future once he came to grips with that fact.

Set against an ongoing battle against addiction, going 15-7 in 1987, as Doc did once he returned to Shea on June 5, is pretty fricking remarkable. Ditto 18-9 in 1988, 9-4 in injury-shortened 1989, 19-7 in 1990 and 13-7 in 1991 before another injury interrupted him. These were, if you pulled back from the overwhelming excellence of the original production, solid encores. He was still Dwight Gooden, topflight pitcher for the New York Mets all those seasons. In my heart, he was still the best there was. My head wouldn’t entertain arguments to the contrary, no matter how much inevitably further time ticked onward from 1985. I loved Doc hard in every one of those years. The years directly after them, too, no matter what came up. He endured losing records in 1992 and 1993, but the whole scene at Shea had deteriorated. To win in double figures as he did (10-13, 12-15) was also pretty fricking remarkable.

Then came 1994 and a downturn in his battle against addiction. Another positive test, another suspension. He didn’t last the year with the Mets or in the majors. He was absent through 1995 and reappeared in New York as a Yankee in 1996. On May 14 of that year, I did something I’ve done wholeheartedly exactly once in my life. I rooted for the Yankees to win a game. Dwight Gooden was pitching a no-hitter. He got it. As with Seaver’s 300th, I’d have rather he’d gotten it for us and not at Yankee bleeping Stadium, but the important thing to me was that he got it.

Doc pitched until 2000, winning 194 games overall (157 for the Mets, second to Seaver). We saw him at Shea for one more regular-season start. He had left the Yankees, succeeded in Cleveland, struggled for Houston and Tampa Bay and was granted one of his many final shots by George Steinbrenner. Gooden started on July 8, the afternoon half of a day-night, two-stadium doubleheader. There was little time to savor Doc’s presence in Flushing. The Mets had been jobbed by a rookie ump in the top of the first, and every run and out mattered to death in those years, so it was hard to focus on a beloved if fallen icon’s homecoming, especially in the uniform it insisted on getting itself wrapped in. Still, it was Gooden on the mound at Shea. I applauded softly from afar. He went five and got the win. That night, his teammate Clemens beaned Mike Piazza. Life sure had gone on, huh? Dwight lingered in the Yankee pen clear through the World Series, which ended at Shea, not happily. He didn’t pitch, we didn’t win.

Soon he’d be not pitching at all and dipping in and out of various strata of trouble as a civilian, and all I could do when his name made news was shake my head and hope for the best, which used to be synonymous with him on the mound but now meant I sure hope he keeps living. Seeing him one final time at Shea Stadium, the Sunday in September 2008 when they closed the park, was his and my reward for him surviving. I cried a lot that day. I cried the most when my second-favorite player ever appeared wearing No. 16 with the racing stripe.

***
Doc lives. I haven’t checked Twitter since I started writing, but I’ll assume he’s OK at the moment. I’ve actually crossed paths with him a few times at Citi Field, twice exchanging sets of complete sentences with him. I still don’t believe it happened. Doc and I are contemporaries. I don’t picture myself in awe of somebody I could have demographically gone to high school with (he was drafted by the Mets in the first round a year after I graduated with no offers), but the first time I set eyes on him a few feet from me, whatever downs and ups he’d experienced…well, you know, this was Dwight Gooden.

Correction: this was Dr. K.

Correction: this is Dr. K.

I want to be clear. He’ll always be Doc to me. Sometimes in writing about him I’ve decided to practice toughlove on him by referring to him only as Dwight, as if that would show him to not give into his addictive demons. I’m sure it was quite helpful.

***

Thank you, Doc.

This last part isn’t about 1985, not directly, though, really, it’s always about 1985 where Doc Gooden is concerned. It’s about his start of June 17, 1990. Doc was off to a choppy start that season. All the Mets were. It got Davey Johnson fired. But in June they started to get their act together. The Mets were in Pittsburgh taking long aim at the first-place Pirates. It was gonna take a whole lot of doing to catch them, but the Mets were commencing to resume serious contention. On this particular Sunday, Doc shook off whatever was troubling his right arm and the rest of his body and really delivered whatever he had to home plate. That day, according to the speed gun at Three Rivers Stadium, his fastball hit 100 MPH. It wasn’t 1985 anymore, but he had just thrown the hardest pitch of his career.

If it was 1985, there’s an excellent chance I would have watched Doc on a Sunday afternoon with my parents, neither of whom had been any kind of a Mets fan until 1984, and then suddenly, I found them alongside me on the bandwagon I’d never left. Winning will do that, and I’m in favor of it. The more, the merrier. My dad and my mom both dug Doc. I imagine a lot of mothers and fathers across the Metropolitan Area did. We watched that final win of 1985 together, and that whole series against the Cardinals. We watched the game against Valenzuela that went thirteen from the West Coast. My father thought it amusing that Ralph Kiner pronounced Gooden’s given first name with two syllables: “Duh-wight.” My mother automatically perked up when she saw in Newsday that he was starting.

On Sunday, June 17, 1990, Gooden started, touched a hundred on the radar, evened his record at 5-5 and pushed the Mets within six games of first place. An eleven-game Mets winning streak was about to ensue, which, once it concluded, would have the Mets percentage points in front of the Bucs. I remember the date and circumstances with great specificity because Sunday, June 17, 1990, was also the day my mother died, about a month shy of her 61st birthday. She’d suffered with cancer for nearly two years, and our family was on high alert that the end was nigh. When my sister called me not long after the game with the news and told me to come to our father’s house, one of my first thoughts was, “Look who pitched today.”

Doc was still only 25 then. Was he ever not young?

PREVIOUS METS FOR ALL SEASONS
1962: Richie Ashburn
1963: Ron Hunt
1964: Rod Kanehl
1965: Ron Swoboda
1966: Shaun Fitzmaurice
1967: Al Schmelz
1969: Donn Clendenon
1970: Tommie Agee
1971: Tom Seaver
1972: Gary Gentry
1973: Willie Mays
1974: Tug McGraw
1975: Mike Vail
1976: Mike Phillips
1977: Lenny Randle
1978: Craig Swan
1981: Mookie Wilson
1982: Rusty Staub
1983: Darryl Strawberry
1986: Keith Hernandez
1987: Lenny Dykstra
1988: Gary Carter
1990: Gregg Jefferies
1991: Rich Sauveur
1992: Todd Hundley
1993: Joe Orsulak
1994: Rico Brogna
1995: Jason Isringhausen
1996: Rey Ordoñez
1997: Edgardo Alfonzo
1998: Todd Pratt
2000: Melvin Mora
2001: Mike Piazza
2002: Al Leiter
2003: David Cone
2004: Joe Hietpas
2005: Pedro Martinez
2007: Jose Reyes
2008: Johan Santana
2009: Angel Pagan
2010: Ike Davis
2011: David Wright
2012: R.A. Dickey
2013: Wilmer Flores
2014: Jacob deGrom
2017: Paul Sewald
2019: Dom Smith
2020: Pete Alonso

The Power Broker

Welcome to A Met for All Seasons, a series in which we consider a given Met who played in a given season and…well, we’ll see.

We had our bitter cheer
And sweet sorrow
We lost a lot today
We’ll get it back tomorrow

Shawn Colvin

In March of 2020, as the coronavirus was rapidly shifting from an abstract concept to the determining factor of our lives and times, I thought about baseball, though baseball had shifted from the determining factor of our lives and times (mine, anyway) to an abstract concept, thanks to the coronavirus. I thought specifically of Pete Alonso.

Had this emerging global pandemic occurred a year earlier and indefinitely postponed the 2019 season, putting it on hold the way the 2020 season was on March 12, it struck me that we as Mets fans would have been deprived of a formal introduction to a promising power hitter whose minor league numbers we had seen but whose potential and personality were surfaces that had yet to be scratched.

A funny thing happened on the way to a Polar encore.

In the snapped-shut Spring of 2020, even as we groped to grasp all that was going on around us, what we’d have to do and what we’d not be able to do, the idea that we wouldn’t have had a full dose of Alonso-19 indeed seemed like a deprivation. By March of 2020, after a year of exposure, Pete Alonso was as much the determining factor of our current Met lives and contemporary Met times as any one individual could have been.

Alonso entered the 2019 season with zero home runs and credentials on his major league ledger. He was an abstract concept at most. They guy who hit 15 home runs for Binghamton in 2018, 21 for Las Vegas and another six in the Arizona Fall League. The guy who was said to be far more bat than glove at first base. The guy whose prospective offensive assets and potential defensive drawbacks might be transcended, anyway, by his service time to date (also zero), meaning the Mets could theoretically be best served by allowing the kid to cool his heels in frosty Syracuse for a couple of weeks, lest he prove too worthwhile too soon and he become eligible for free agency in six years rather than seven.

Remember when the future was something people thought they could make out in advance?

It was all theory and supposition. Pete Alonso shattered speculation by breaking through. In Spring Training of 2019, the last Spring Training to both begin and end, Alonso came to bat 75 times, hit another four home runs and slashed .352/.387/.620. How ya gonna keep Pete down on the farm after he’s conquered St. Lucie? New GM Brodie Van Wagenen broke with MLB’s anticompetitive gentlemen’s agreement and sanctioned the rookie as roster-ready from Opening Day forward.

Whatever happens to Van Wagenen in however much tenure he has remaining as Mets general manager under pending new ownership, this decision will rate as his savviest. Alonso making the Opening Day lineup essentially made 2019. Pete was a big leaguer from the moment he showed up at Nationals Park on March 28. He might have been a big leaguer from the moment he came out of the womb, probably tugging at his mother’s shirt in celebration. That’s how the youngster Todd Frazier nicknamed the Polar Bear carried himself. Like he belonged. Like he always belonged. Like this was his frozen tundra and the rest of us were giddy just to be gathering chills on it.

Pete Alonso belted his first major league home run on April 1, 2019, his and the Mets’ fourth game, at Marlins Park. The Polar Bear had shown he could thrive in Florida during exhibition games. He took his thawed bat back up north and blasted four more homers during the first Mets’ homestand. Then it was back down south to crash and splash a fountain at SunTrust Park in Atlanta. In St. Louis, he hit one off a relative stranger, another off a college rival he demanded to step in against (it was an SEC thing). Before April was over, he was a certified slugger and budding legend.

In May, the legend was certifiable, too. His first home run of the month, in the ninth inning at Milwaukee, thrust a looming loss into marathon territory (still a loss, but it took eighteen innings to get there). His next was a “take that!” to a Padre freshman hurler who dared question Pete winning April’s NL rookie honors instead of him; the aggrieved party shut down the Mets one night, Alonso beat his successor the next. In mid-month, one night in Miami, he went deep twice. Another night soon after, at home versus Washington, he launched a ball so high over the left field foul pole that only replay review — perhaps aided by air traffic control across the street at LaGuardia — could confirm that it was indeed a home run. That was the night after he hit one off another National, a big-deal free agent signing, three nights before he bashed some visitor from Detroit. In Los Angeles toward May’s close, where the Mets regularly imploded, Pete exploded for a pair of homers off a Dodger otherwise becoming yet another L.A. ace. Shortly after June began, back at Citi Field, Pete’s next victim was a San Francisco postseason icon, the same southpaw who stifled the Mets for nine innings the last time they competed in postseason play.

The identities of the opposing pitchers hardly seemed to matter. It was the rookie slugger from the Mets who was the story. Nine home runs by the end of April. Nineteen home runs by the end of May. The pelts piling up at a preposterous pace in June and a record falling before July. On June 23, Pete homered off his second former World Series MVP of the month for his 27th circuit clout of the year. The rookie had accumulated more home runs in a season than any Met rookie before him. And the season had a half-season left to go.

Pete Alonso was just getting started.

We knew him for three months. The rest of the baseball-loving nation was invited to a sitdown with him at the Home Run Derby in Cleveland. It’s an event that doesn’t count yet can mean a ton when somebody most had recently never heard of hits a ton in the full All-Star festivity spotlight. Alonso won. It meant a ton. He was handed an enormous check. He made substantial charitable donations ASAP. The Polar Bear had gone national.

The U.S. tour continued after the break. One in Minneapolis that nearly reached Canada. Two in San Francisco. Back to Flushing for a plundering of the Pirates. Stuck briefly on 34 (which had been the Mets team record until the franchise’s adolescence), Pete told us neither he nor his mates were giving up. #LGM? Make that #LFGM. Pete was all about emphasis.

Appropriately, Pete commenced boldfacing his at-bats.

BAM! No. 35 boosts the Mets over the .500 mark on August 5.

BAM! No. 36 contributes to the Mets’ suddenly unstoppable winning ways on August 6.

BAM! No. 37 helps complete a sweep of the Marlins on August 7 (Miami pitchers would turn and watch helplessly eleven times after Pete connected).

BAM! and R-R-R-RIP! It wasn’t enough that Pete’s 38th home run of 2019 catapulted the Mets back into a game the suddenly self-styled contenders needed against the Nationals. The kid (he was still only 24, still only a rookie) led the charge to embrace Michael Conforto after Scooter scalded the single that scored the winning run in the ninth. That much is commonplace when ballclubs go nuts. What was new — what represented the Polar Bear’s special touch — was separating Conforto’s uniform top from his body top. Like unbelievable home run totals and embellished acronyms, shirt-tearing was now a Met thing. Like everything else emanating from Pete Alonso, it came off as the greatest thing since Todd Hundley.

Hundley once hit 41 home runs for the Mets in an entire season. Carlos Beltran matched that total. Nobody had exceeded it. It was such a daunting sum from the Mets fan perspective that we had stopped bothering to have one of our own aspire to it. The Mets dinged their share of dingers collectively as the homer-happy 2010s wore on, but no single Met had dared to directly challenge the majestic Hundleyan figure since future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza came within one in 1999. This entire century had transpired without a Met closing in on the record.

What’s that? Pete Alonso hit his 40th home run of the year on August 18? And his 41st on August 24? And his 42nd on August 27? He had outslugged every Met ever and there was still more than a month’s worth of Met games to go?

That’s pretty good, isn’t it?

It was insanely good and it kept getting better. The Mets could only FG so far in 2019, but Pete’s power knew few bounds as August became September. He owned the National League rookie record for home runs. He led all of Major League Baseball in home runs. He hit his 50th on September 20. He surpassed 50 on September 25. He tied the all-time mark for home runs by a rookie on September 27. He set a new one on September 28.

Pete Alonso hit 53 home runs in 2019. If it boggled the mind a little less than we might have expected when he reached 53, it was because he’d given us a season to get used to his ways. Yet our mind still boggled plenty.

After Pete’s cup runneth over in 2019, it might have been a bit much to ask for a full refill in 2020.

No Met had ever done anything like Pete Alonso did in 2019. Few Mets ever appeared to enjoy doing what they did as Pete Alonso did in 2019. No Met ever took such obvious charge of the vibe surrounding the team in his first year à la Alonso. Five previous Mets won the National League Rookie of the Year Award. Nobody among them, not even Tom Seaver in 1967, took it upon himself to conceive what shoes each of his brethren should be wearing for a big occasion and then arrange for each of them to have the shoes. That, however, was what Pete Alonso did to commemorate the somber anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Since 2008, Mets fans had mourned not just the casualties from 2001 but the disappearance of the first-responder caps the Mets had worn to show solidarity with local cops, firefighters, EMTs and those from other agencies who lost people in service to other people. Major League Baseball, in what will go down as some of the most boneheaded rulemaking and regulation-hewing decisions of modern times, denied the Mets the chance to maintain an organic, community-minded tradition that had said so much to so many.

OK, Pete said, if we can’t have the caps, we can do the shoes — specially designed footwear that will illustrate and spell out that we Met players have not forgotten and would not forget those heroic acts that cost so many lives. Never mind that none of them were Met players in 2001 or that most of them children eighteen years earlier. This was a symbol of commitment. It was a statement…but what a statement, both from the Mets and from Alonso, the latter of whom, in case you’re keeping score at home, was still a rookie.

By September 11, 2019, Pete’s home runs had made him a shoe-in to become the Mets’ sixth NL Rookie of the Year. The shoes made him something more. It was yet another dimension to a player and a season. Shoeing feet. Shredding and shedding shirts. F’ing up the ol’ LGM not for profanity but from ebullience. Not just happy to be here in standard froshspeak but bleeping delighted to have arrived and prepared to stay at first base and propel us next year to first place.

The whole of the man won us over in 2019. It would have been a shame to have been deprived of that. It convinced us as much as anything to look forward to 2020 like we hadn’t looked for to a Met year in quite a spell.

***
As March became April in 2020 and baseball was nowhere to be seen except on rewind, I selected Pete Alonso of the Most Valuable Player of a year whose games might very go well unplayed. He’d finished seventh in NL MVP balloting in 2019, but that was based on the 53 homers, the 120 RBIs and the outsize impact of his presence.

The statistical odometer reset to zero for the new year, as it always does, and it wouldn’t budge until who knew when, but the legend of Pete Alonso kept gathering mileage and momentum because Pete Alonso was determined to live up to his legend, bat or not bat. Pete was on Zoom extending his best wishes to a Mets-loving grandma whose spirits were thus lifted out of the park. Pete got in touch with medical teams fighting the virus, and they took an instant from saving lives to say thanks for his saying thanks. Pete started a foundation called Homers for Heroes. Pete stood up for the idea that the lives of Black people matter before every sports league figured out that was a pretty simple truth. You didn’t need baseball to be in progress to keep rooting for one of baseball’s rising stars.

Getting back to watching this guy was a major reason resuming baseball this summer seemed imperative.

Then baseball came back in late July, Pete, wearing 20 in ’20, with it. We’d get him athletically, not just virtually. We’d cheer him distantly because the virus barred us from the Met premises. He’d continue what was shaping up as a Met career for the ages and we’d continue to roar our approval through whatever channel we could.

It wasn’t the same. No two seasons are ever the same, no matter how Groundhog Dayish it can get around the Mets. Clearly 2020 was going to be unprecedented from every angle. There were no fans in attendance. There were more than a hundred fewer games. There was a DH in each league, and Pete was often assigned to hit without fielding despite his determination to catch a Gold Glove at first. With the roar of the crowd prerecorded and the element of surprise now more something you dreaded rather than embraced (because this whole horrible year was a surprise…and who embraces anymore?), Pete Alonso of the 2020 Mets didn’t amount to a cause to rally around.

On September 19, as Pete batted against Ian Anderson amid the Mets battling the Braves at empty Citi Field, Wayne Randazzo talked on the radio about closing one eye and imagining the ballpark as it had been almost a year ago at this time, when Atlanta was the visitor, the stands were well-populated and Alonso was making history by belting his 53rd home run of the season. Randazzo was interrupted mid-reverie by a deep fly to left. Alonso was going deep, just like it was 2019 again. It was perfect!

Too perfect. The ball was caught at the wall by Marcell Ozuna.

Pete Alonso was, to be brutally honest in the skewed scheme of all the things that had gone awry, less the Polar Bear and more just another player. A player in a slump, at that, reaching for too many outside pitches, striking out and popping up over and over. He may have still encompassed all the marvelous traits we assigned to him in 2019, but it wasn’t 2019 anymore, and there wasn’t any track record before 2019 to fall back on. Pete Alonso was batting in the low .200s and not necessarily the first Met you looked to to go deep or for postgame depth. Michael Conforto and Dom Smith were the primary visible postgame Mets, as visible as they could be without Steve Gelbs standing next to them to ask questions in front of an adoring crowd. Pete was kind of his own. Perhaps it’s harder to be out front when your numbers are back in the pack. Perhaps only so many players can speak on the head of a Zoom. Perhaps, mercifully, there wasn’t much call for asking yet again, what do you think is wrong, Pete?

As it did for most of the rest of us, his 2020 was taking place in a vacuum. As it did for most of the rest of us, it had a tendency to suck…though there were moments to the contrary here and there. On September 3, when the Mets absolutely needed to win in the wake of the news that Tom Seaver had passed, it was Alonso who hit the game-winning homer to beat the Yankees (a leadoff two-run homer in extras because that, too, was how 2020 rolled). Afterwards, Alonso seemed to grasp how a Met icon should speak on an occasion of this magnitude of a Met of this magnitude. Tom, Pete said, is “an absolute legend. Now he’s a baseball god.”

It would be too much of a stretch, even for the nimblest of first basemen, to say it takes one to know one. Maybe none of Alonso’s years will approach his debut year. Or maybe Pete is still scaling Mt. Metsmore like one of his batted balls ascends to the skies. He is, after all, only 25, and he already has 69 home runs, with a late rush bringing his 2020 total to 16. There’ve been full years when 16 home runs have been enough to lead the Mets. Pete popped his bittersweet 16 across the shortest, least appealing baseball calendar imaginable. They didn’t catapult the Mets into a legitimate playoff race, but they were 16 causes to clap a little, shout a little, forget a little that the virus that closed down baseball and everything else in March hadn’t yet hit the exits.

Pete Alonso is already 27th on the all-time career Met home run list, tied with Ron Swoboda, who needed six seasons to hit 69. On the final day of the 2020 season, when Pete mashed his last two taters until further noticed, he surpassed the lifetime Met totals of Lee Mazzilli, Ike Davis and Wilmer Flores. They were all around Flushing for many more than two years. They were all at least demi-legends in a Metsian context. Guys who hit 68 home runs. Guys who hit 69 home runs. Plus did other things. That was plenty for us. We were conditioned from 1962 until 2019 to never expect an outpouring of power from most of those we thought of as boppers. We loved whatever we got.

Then Alonso burst through the wall in 2019 like John Madden selling Lite beer, soon to wallop balls over it again and again. He created an act too tantalizing not to follow and likely impossible for himself to follow up. Sixteen homers in a sixty-game season now seemed a little off. The output of Polar Bear Pete, the toast of the town, registered as a tad disappointing.

We won’t know what Pete Alonso is truly all about as a baseball player and Met legend until we make the turn to something approaching normal and get another up-close look at what he can do in it. He did extraordinary things we’ll always remember in the one regular regular season he was granted to date. No Met ever had the kind of year Pete had in 2019.

If he didn’t have the best of 2020s, well, who among us has?

PREVIOUS METS FOR ALL SEASONS
1962: Richie Ashburn
1963: Ron Hunt
1964: Rod Kanehl
1965: Ron Swoboda
1966: Shaun Fitzmaurice
1967: Al Schmelz
1969: Donn Clendenon
1970: Tommie Agee
1971: Tom Seaver
1972: Gary Gentry
1973: Willie Mays
1974: Tug McGraw
1975: Mike Vail
1976: Mike Phillips
1977: Lenny Randle
1978: Craig Swan
1981: Mookie Wilson
1982: Rusty Staub
1983: Darryl Strawberry
1986: Keith Hernandez
1987: Lenny Dykstra
1988: Gary Carter
1990: Gregg Jefferies
1991: Rich Sauveur
1992: Todd Hundley
1993: Joe Orsulak
1994: Rico Brogna
1995: Jason Isringhausen
1996: Rey Ordoñez
1997: Edgardo Alfonzo
1998: Todd Pratt
2000: Melvin Mora
2001: Mike Piazza
2002: Al Leiter
2003: David Cone
2004: Joe Hietpas
2005: Pedro Martinez
2007: Jose Reyes
2008: Johan Santana
2009: Angel Pagan
2010: Ike Davis
2011: David Wright
2012: R.A. Dickey
2013: Wilmer Flores
2014: Jacob deGrom
2017: Paul Sewald
2019: Dom Smith

Nails and the Chalkboard

Welcome to A Met for All Seasons, a series in which we consider a given Met who played in a given season and…well, we’ll see.

When I was a teenager, a lot of people assumed I’d be a sportswriter. Which made a lot of sense: I loved baseball and writing, so why not put the two together? But I was pretty sure I didn’t want to do that.

For one thing, I knew enough about sportswriting to understand that you couldn’t be in the press box and be a fan, and I didn’t want to stop being a fan. There were other ways to write, but you either were a Mets fan or you weren’t, and being a Mets fan was important to me.

For another thing, I’d read enough scoop-in-the-locker-room stories to learn that daily exposure to millionaire athletes was probably not going to lead to my liking them more, and almost certainly was going to lead to my liking them less — in some cases, a lot less. I didn’t want to know that my team’s veteran first baseman was a surly asshole, or that the ace of its starting rotation was a leering, juvenile dipshit. I was already beginning to sense that there was a huge gulf between my life and that of baseball players. In the vast majority of cases, we’d have nothing whatsoever in common, and the professional relationships I’d have to forge would only widen that gulf. Their paychecks would come with two or three extra zeroes, and there’d be many times — a bad game, a clubhouse controversy, a messy collision between on-field and off-field worlds — when they’d see me as an adversary.

Why in the world would I trade being a Mets fan for that?

Then there was a third thing, one I was nowhere close to understanding then and am still sorting out now that I’m north of 50. I didn’t want to cross that gulf. I had no particular interest in meeting ballplayers or knowing them as people.

Is that snobbery? I’m sure there’s more of that at work than I’d like to admit, some jocks vs. nerds residue that can never be cleaned out of the gears. But I don’t think it’s the real reason. For one thing, I don’t think of ballplayers as dumb — I’m floored by their ability to recall long-ago at-bats, their radar for picking up patterns and tells, and the superhuman discipline and focus possessed by even the most marginal big-leaguer. They outclass me as thoroughly in those respects as they do in hand-eye coordination and fast-twitch musculature, and those mental weapons are as important to their success as their physical gifts.

The gulf is more about the fact that the players determine the outcome of events on the field that mean everything to me, and I can have zero effect on those outcomes, no matter how hard I cheer or how eloquently I write or how diligently I follow whatever whammy seems to be working at the moment. I am not part of a shared endeavor, no matter how much I’d like to think otherwise and how many times I refer to the Mets as “we.” The players are doing a job for which they are uniquely suited, by genetics and lifelong training; I am living and dying on the outcome of their job performance. They may as well be superheroes, both in terms of ability and in terms of being participants in a drama I can only observe.

There’s no bridge long enough or strong enough to cross that gulf, and knowing ballplayers as people has always struck me as a doomed attempt to rivet one together. Still, I’ve done more metalwork than I might have guessed: In one of life’s ironies, technology and friendship and chance conspired to produce this blog and make me at least a quasi-sportswriter after all. During the Mets’ Prague Spring of outreach to bloggers, I found myself meeting players in occasional media-room and dugout sessions. It was fascinating hearing R.A. Dickey break down his approach to pitching, it was fun asking Dwight Gooden what he might have accomplished if he’d been allowed to hit left-handed, and it was a treat to interview Ron Darling at length for a Queens Baseball Convention panel. But those brief forays were about as far down that road as I wanted to go, and did nothing to make me think I’d chosen the wrong path years earlier.

All of which has brought me, at last, to Lenny Dykstra.

I was 16 when Dykstra made his debut for the Mets in 1985, and I loved him instantly. He was pint-sized in a game of giants, and he played baseball with ravenous joy, gorging on it like a kid in that two-hour grace period from nutrition and house rules that ends Halloween Night. Whether at the plate, on the basepaths or in the field, he was an agent of gleeful chaos, a player who seemed able to will himself to success.

And it didn’t hurt that he was ferocious bordering on crazy. I loved that the Mets of the mid-80s seemed more like a mob of banditti than a baseball team. I gloried in their bad behavior: the arrests in Houston, the plane they trashed so thoroughly that it’s a minor miracle it stayed airborne, their serial fistfights and dust-ups, and the fact that other teams and other fans hated them. They were brash and loud and crass and backed up every obnoxious thing they said. When you’re a teenager, that’s pretty appealing.

Dykstra fit in perfectly, paired at the top of the lineup with his partner in grime Wally Backman. I can close my eyes and bring him to life, blinking out at the pitcher with what looks like impatience, jaws worrying at the baseball-sized hunk of chewing tobacco in his cheek, fingers twitching and rearranging themselves on the barrel of the bat. In a minute he’ll have spanked a ball three-quarters of the way into the gap, certainly a single and just maybe a double, except it’s Dykstra and there’s no way he’s going to settle for a single, and he’s sliding into second face-first. Now he’s standing out there filthy and triumphant, with the enemy fans muttering and the pitcher stalking around in a little circle, and here’s Backman, his twin terror, staring out from the plate with his bat cocked like a trigger of a pistol, and if the pitcher doesn’t get Backman out the Mets are already up 1-0 and Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter are coming up and oh boy.

And if Dykstra doesn’t get that hit? If the ball hangs up long enough for the center fielder to glide over and pluck it out of the air? Then he’ll take himself back to the dugout, every step of the way marked by blinks of disbelief — Roger Angell described that Dykstra reaction as “his disbelieving, Rumpelstiltskin stamp of rage,” and as always it’s perfect. Dykstra succeeding made you laugh out loud for the sheer joy of what you’d seen; Dykstra failing made you laugh out loud for the cartoon fury he radiated. Years later, Dykstra told Larry King that after every game he’d take a minute to sit at his locker and ask himself a simple question: If he were a fan, would he have paid money to sit and watch him play? The answer was yes, most emphatically yes.

In October 1986 Dykstra struck a pair of critical blows for the Mets. He won Game 3 of the NLCS with a two-run walkoff homer off Dave Smith, averting what would have been a 5-4 Houston win and a 2-1 series lead. It’s another moment imprinted on my brain: Backman throwing his arms skyward, seeing the ball is gone; a few seconds later, Dykstra vanishes into a sea of blue jackets worn by larger teammates at home plate, nothing visible but his face. I was briefly worried his teammates would strangle him in their enthusiasm, but of course he was fine — wouldn’t you be, in the greatest moment of your life? Later, charmingly, he said the last time he’d hit a game-winning homer in the bottom of the ninth had been playing Strat-O-Matic against his brother.

Dykstra was at it again in Game 3 of the World Series, leading off at Fenway against Oil Can Boyd with the Mets down two games to none and panic in the streets of New York. Dykstra connected on a 1-1 pitch, the swing and trajectory reminiscent of the contact he’d made against Smith. The ball dropped beyond the Pesky Pole for a homer, leaving Boyd stalking around the mound and sending mutters through the Red Sox crowd. Dykstra all but strutted around the bases, walking into the dugout looking like a gunfighter who’d just cleared a street of outlaws. Though the ’86 Mets being who they were, maybe he looked more like an outlaw who’d just eliminated all the deputies.

Dykstra Nails posterOf course he was a folk hero — how couldn’t he be? There was the poster — a shirtless Dykstra, looking about 12, surrounded by nails and baseballs. It was simultaneously awesome and deeply ridiculous. Or the video from 1986 Mets: A Year to Remember, which showed highlights of Dykstra and Backman, complete with extremely mid-80s effects, accompanied by Duran Duran’s “Wild Boys.” OK, that one was a lot more ridiculous than awesome — I remember realizing what was happening and trying, unsuccessfully, to sink through my couch and keep going until I hit the Earth’s core. Or how about his book, also called Nails? Dykstra wrote that one with Marty Noble, whom I imagined must have dined out on the stories of their collaboration for the rest of his life. After it came out in 1987, Dykstra proudly brought a copy into the spring-training clubhouse; a bemused Backman paged through it and said something like, “if you took all the ‘fucks’ out of this, it would be a 25-page book.” (Lenny’s verdict on Calvin Schiraldi, by the way: “Everybody gets the tight asshole sometimes.” Which might not be how I would have phrased it, but isn’t wrong.)

1987 is the year Dykstra represents in A Met For All Seasons; it’s also, in retrospect, the year things started to go wrong. Besides his new, gloriously fuck-strewn book, Dykstra showed up encased in new muscle. “Lenny, what the fuck happened to you?” asked Backman. Dykstra’s response, delivered in front of teammates and reporters and everyone else: “Dude, been taking some of those good vitamins, you know?”

Dykstra hit 10 homers that year, a career high, but feuded with Davey Johnson about having to share center field with Mookie Wilson. Wilson didn’t like it either, and asked for a trade. The Mets eventually solved the problem in the worst of all possible ways, by trading both of them. In June 1989 Dykstra and Roger McDowell went to Philadelphia for Juan Samuel, who wasn’t a center fielder. Six weeks later, the Mets traded Wilson away too. Center field would be a tragicomic disaster in Flushing for years, and even as the Mets floundered and flailed to fill the position some small, mean little part of me would remember the day I’d heard Dykstra had been traded and think, Good, it’s exactly what you all deserve.

Meanwhile, Dykstra and Philadelphia proved a perfect match. In 1993 Dykstra — by now so inflated that he looked like a sidekick of Popeye’s — led the league in runs, hits and walks, finishing second to Barry Bonds in the MVP race and hitting .348 in the World Series with four homers. A town with a chip on its shoulder embraced a player with a boulder on his. Phillies fans adored Dykstra for his grit and hustle, for his belief that he was immortal, and for his refusal to be anything other than himself, regardless of the scorn that being himself brought his way. In ’93, after the World Series, Major League Baseball sent Dykstra on a goodwill tour of Europe (no seriously, they did), which you can read about here — is the best detail Dykstra buying a German shepherd in Dusseldorf because “this is where they come from” or the second bottle of Château d’Yquem he ordered to go after dining at Paris’s La Tour d’Argent? It’s a minor tragedy, at least, that this visit never produced a Get Him to the Greek-style comedy.

Phillies fans so loved Dykstra that they were willing to overlook the stuff that wasn’t so funny — such as the May 1991 car crash after a bachelor party that could easily have killed him and Darren Daulton, or someone else. (Dykstra blew a 0.179 on the Breathalyzer test, indicating a level of impairment somewhere between “you may fall and hurt yourself” and “standing and walking may require help, as balance and muscle control will have deteriorated significantly.”) They overlooked when Major League Baseball put him on probation for losing $78,000 playing illegal poker games with shady company in Mississippi. They laughed off stories like this one, from Philadelphia Magazine. But I read those stories too, and I gave him a pass of my own. Dykstra made mistakes, sure. He was obsessed with money, the trappings of wealth and the thrill of playing for high stakes — any Mets beat writer could have told you that. But he didn’t strike me as having a mean bone in his body — and there was an up-by-his-bootstraps honesty to his live-in-the-moment vulgarity that’s deeply American.

After 1993 injuries took their toll, particularly for a player incapable of pursuing baseball at anything less than dangerous speed. Dykstra retired after 1996, 33 years old and beloved in two very different cities. And since he retired, everything has gone horribly wrong. Or, perhaps, it’s gone pretty much as it went then, except there are no baseball heroics to make us want to hand-wave the rest away.

Sure, some of the stories were entertaining, such as Dykstra’s brief time in the spotlight as a stock-market guru, anointed by CNBC’s Jim Cramer as a homespun American genius. But others weren’t, at all. In 2011 he was charged with indecent exposure, allegedly for advertising for housekeepers on Craiglist, then announcing the job duties included massages and disrobing. (He served nine months.) In 2012 Dykstra pleaded guilty to bankruptcy fraud, concealment of assets, and money laundering and was sentenced to six and a half months in prison, the end point of an odyssey that began in 2009 with a bankruptcy filing connected to his purchase of Wayne Gretzky’s house. In 2018 he was charged with pulling a gun on an Uber driver who refused to let him change destinations, and for possession of cocaine and methamphetamines. (The drug charges were dropped and he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.) Dykstra launched a magazine, The Players Club, that he envisioned as the beginning of a concierge-cum-investment service for wealthy athletes. It crashed and burned, with one employee writing this scathing account of his time there. Among other things, he alleged that Dykstra had said that “nobody can call me a racist—I put three darkies and a bitch on my first four covers.”

Trying to untangle all this, I ran across this clip of Dykstra talking with Larry King in 2016. It was sad to watch Dykstra, still restless and fidgety but also now pudgy and gray, veer between defiance and remorse and never quite manage to land on either one. He almost makes it at one point, telling King that “that mentality that I had in baseball – do whatever I have to do, win at all costs – when you take that mentality out to the normal world…” But he never completes the thought. He’s off grabbing for the next thing.

Dykstra is a supporting character in MoneyballBilly Beane told Michael Lewis about a day in the Mets’ dugout when the two were watching the opposing pitcher warm up and Dykstra asked who “that big dumb ass” was. An astonished Beane told Dykstra it was Steve Carlton, one of the greatest left-handers in the game. Dykstra took this in, sized up Carlton and announced, “Shit, I’ll stick him.”

“Lenny was so perfectly designed, emotionally, to play the game of baseball,” Beane said. “He was able to instantly forget any failure and draw strength from every success. He had no concept of failure. And he had no idea where he was.”

The same qualities that made Dykstra great on the baseball field made him a train wreck away from it. That’s what he almost finished telling King, and it seems like a grim but simple lesson. But then, last year, things got more complicated.

Darling wrote a book in which he revisited the Mets’ Game 3 World Series victory, and said something we hadn’t heard before. He said that while Boyd was warming up, Dykstra was in the on-deck circle “shouting every imaginable and unimaginable insult and expletive in his direction – foul, racist, hateful, hurtful stuff. I don’t want to be too specific here, because I don’t want to commemorate this dark, low moment in Mets history in that way, but I will say that it was the worst collection of taunts and insults I’d ever heard – worse, I’m betting, than anything Jackie Robinson might have heard, his first couple times around the league.”

By then, I was used to wincing whenever Dykstra’s name crossed my radar — because, as with Gooden, I assumed the news would be something sad and/or ugly. But this new allegation seemed hard to believe. It wasn’t that I was inclined to side with Dykstra over Darling — my inclination would be the reverse — but that I looked askance at the details and the setting. Fenway is tiny, with fans and players practically on top of each other, and Bad Stuff About the ’86 Mets has been a cottage industry since, well, 1986. Darling was clear that he heard what Dykstra said, and that Boyd did too. Which means dozens if not hundreds of other people must have heard it as well. And yet that story stayed under wraps for nearly a quarter-century? How was that possible?

Dykstra sued his former teammate for defamation and libel, which led to a rather extraordinary decision. The judge in the case reviewed Dykstra’s past missteps in excruciating detail, and wrote that “Dykstra’s reputation for unsportsmanlike conduct and bigotry is already so tarnished that it cannot be further injured by the reference. … In order to [assert a cause of action for defamation], Dykstra must have had a reputation capable of further injury when the reference was published.”

In other words, Dykstra’s reputation was already so wretched that it was impossible for him to be defamed — a hell of an addition to his other baggage.

Dykstra’s post-baseball life has been a drumbeat of stories that made you say, “Oh God, really?” — a few amusing, some merely tawdry and embarrassing, others frankly disturbing. And yet, even after all this, I find myself wanting to do mental gymnastics on his behalf — not to claim these things didn’t happen, but to somehow separate them from the exploits of a ballplayer who was always worth paying to see. I keep wanting a gulf between these two Lenny Dykstras. I think that’s why I don’t want to believe Darling’s story about Game 3 — it’s a bridge over that gulf, an insistence that no such separation is possible, and an assertion that there’s only ever been one Lenny Dykstra.

I keep fighting that idea, and I’m not sure why. Because isn’t it the same insight I had all those years ago, the one that steered me away from sportswriting? Appreciate the players for what they do, and be careful about delving too deeply into who they are. Because you might wind up liking them less. Even if that’s a verdict you want desperately to resist.

PREVIOUS METS FOR ALL SEASONS
1962: Richie Ashburn
1963: Ron Hunt
1964: Rod Kanehl
1965: Ron Swoboda
1966: Shaun Fitzmaurice
1967: Al Schmelz
1969: Donn Clendenon
1970: Tommie Agee
1971: Tom Seaver
1972: Gary Gentry
1973: Willie Mays
1974: Tug McGraw
1975: Mike Vail
1976: Mike Phillips
1977: Lenny Randle
1978: Craig Swan
1981: Mookie Wilson
1982: Rusty Staub
1983: Darryl Strawberry
1986: Keith Hernandez
1988: Gary Carter
1990: Gregg Jefferies
1991: Rich Sauveur
1992: Todd Hundley
1993: Joe Orsulak
1994: Rico Brogna
1995: Jason Isringhausen
1996: Rey Ordoñez
1997: Edgardo Alfonzo
1998: Todd Pratt
2000: Melvin Mora
2001: Mike Piazza
2002: Al Leiter
2003: David Cone
2004: Joe Hietpas
2005: Pedro Martinez
2007: Jose Reyes
2008: Johan Santana
2009: Angel Pagan
2010: Ike Davis
2011: David Wright
2012: R.A. Dickey
2013: Wilmer Flores
2014: Jacob deGrom
2017: Paul Sewald
2019: Dom Smith

Disposable Seasonette

But after all, it’s what we’ve done
That makes us what we are

Jim Croce

On one hand, the Mets were defeated in embarrassing fashion on Sunday, losing to the Nationals, 15-5, leaving them at their low-water mark for 2020, eight games below .500 and tied for the worst record in the National League East.

On the other hand, the Mets played, which they won’t be doing tonight or tomorrow or any day again for real until April 1, 2021, and we cite that inadvertently ironic date only because it’s been printed somewhere, not because we any longer take schedules, or much, as certainties.

I prefer the Mets not lose by ten runs, not finish basically last, not show little gumption down what passed for a stretch and not demonstrate a disturbing lack of pitching depth. I prefer the Mets not play in front of essentially nobody except cutouts and camera operators.

But I did like that they played. It struck me as ridiculous, while Covid-19 first spread through America, that they and their counterparts would try, yet whatever I thought I put aside to watch and listen, because, as ever, that’s what I do where the Mets are concerned. I do it as willingly as I do semi-kvetchingly.

It wasn’t a season to cherish. Not at all. Not without you or me invited to pass through big league turnstiles and grab a ballpark seat and turn to somebody else who did the same and ask, whether from a source of pride or surfeit of disgust, “How about those Mets?”

Say, how about those Mets? They weren’t very good in 2020, were they?

In any given five-day stretch, you could count on an average of one-and-three-quarters starting pitchers to position us toward victory. There was deGrom and there was, now and then, somebody who looked pretty solid. For a few spins of the rotation, that was Seth Lugo. Sunday, it wasn’t. Seth got lit up by the Nats Sunday. So did just about every one of the umpteen relievers who followed him to the mound. Those who weren’t lit up set themselves on veritable fire via the base on balls. Some days we thought we had this bullpen thing licked. Other days were Sunday.

That lineup of ours, though. When it wasn’t submitting to attrition in the final days — Conforto went on the IL with a tight hamstring; Giménez went on the IL with a tight oblique; Smith sat after running facefirst into a wall — it was pretty impressive. No National League team compiled a higher batting average…although six teams scored more runs, so maybe the impressions were fleeting. Their most imposing player coming into the season, Pete Alonso, was also their most imposing player heading out, hitting five home runs over the club’s final eleven games, including two on Sunday. Pete finished 2020 with 16 homers. His disappointing sophomore campaign picked up steam just when it had nowhere left to go.

Dom Smith hit .316, slugged .616 and drove in 42 runs. Michael Conforto was a .322/.412/.515 slasher. Jeff McNeil heated up to rates of .311/.383/.454 after an icy start. Robinson Cano was the personification of “the old guy’s still got it,” batting .316, slugging .544 and mentoring his juniors. The youngest among them, Andrés Giménez, impressed everybody in the field and at the plate.

But collectively they still didn’t score enough. They didn’t run brilliantly and, Andrés to the contrary, they didn’t necessarily catch most of what they should have or could have. The hitting that came in waves dried up at inopportune junctures. The pitching was untrustworthy when it wasn’t Jacob deGrom’s turn to throw, only semi-reliable in the hands of Lugo, David Peterson and select relievers. Edwin Diaz’s talent sometimes seemed worth whatever was surrendered to secure it, if hardly always.

So, no, they weren’t very good. They let us down repeatedly, in numerous ways, but they were around to anchor us, at least a little, amid too many public infuriations and perhaps private heartbreaks to enumerate if we wish to resist turning around and going back to bed.

But we watched and listened. I watched and/or listened to all sixty games, rooting for the Mets, cheering for Gary Cohen, Howie Rose and Wayne Randazzo mostly. They were the show for me. Baseball in 2020 was improvised as a broadcast-only enterprise, and those fellas (with contributions from Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling and Steve Gelbs on the TV side) did the heavy lifting. Gary, Howie and Wayne hit it out of the park more consistently than Alonso, Smith and Conforto even though they had the advantage of being in the park where a game was being played only about half the season. Announcers and production crews didn’t go on the road. The game had to come to them via video, then through them, then to us. They brought it winningly. For me, WCBS-AM and SNY went 60-0. Say what you will about the Wilpons, but they never chased away Rose, Randazzo or Cohen and, as far as can be divined, none among Fred, Jeff and Saul ever meaningfully got in their way. The only thing that could ever impede my Mets fandom to the point of abandoning it would be if the next owner stuck one too many cents between himself and those golden microphones.

Putting aside my darkest Metsian fear, I can’t wait to see what the Mets under Steve Cohen, should he be approved (remember: nothing is a certainty), will be like as a going proposition in 2021 and beyond. When I first took up with the Mets in 1969, I didn’t know who the team owner was or what a team owner was. When I discovered it was Joan Payson, it didn’t matter to me. The Mets did what it took to win, from what I could tell. Then Mrs. Payson died and free agency was born. It’s a shame Mrs. Payson couldn’t have lived to have had the opportunity to sanction the pursuit of every desirable player on the open market — or to compensate existing Met players to their satisfaction and thereby convince them to not test the open market en route to leaving us behind.

Let’s not pretend the Mets have never pursued a player or paid him fairly since the advent of free agency in 1976. But have you ever had the prevailing sense, particularly dating back to August 23, 2002, that somebody who owned the Mets cared to the core of his soul about how the Mets were going to do and made it his priority to have a player in a Mets uniform to help the Mets do as well as they could? Not for business reasons, not because somebody decided the cut of somebody’s jib came across swimmingly over lunch at some country club, but because, dammit, I love the Mets, I own the Mets and I want this guy ON the Mets?

That’s my best-case conception of Steve Cohen, owner of the Mets. He doesn’t have to throw the bucks around willy-nilly (or at Willy Nilly, a strong-armed outfielder who spend most of 2020 at the Tigers’ alternate site in Toledo). He just doesn’t have to rule it out, and then he can act accordingly — act like a well-resourced, well-informed fan. With Sandy Alderson set to be among those informing him, I’m confident the stream of information he’ll be receiving will e valid. One dares to assume (even as making assumptions falls under the heading of there being no such thing as certainties) that Cohen has his systems for figuring things out and making the most of them.

That, MLB approval and good global health willing, is for 2021 and beyond. For 2020, there was 26-34, starting late and ending too soon. The eight-team playoffs in each league will commence with too many teams, yet one shy of the ideal assortment in the NL. It would have been nice for the Mets to have taken part. Then again, as my friend Kevin suggested of the ad hoc alignment when it was announced in July, if we sneak in and get knocked out, that’s a playoff banner I could do without seeing hanging off the Excelsior facade.

Like we wouldn’t have taken it and run with it, but we didn’t get it. But we did get the season. Or seasonette. There is no internal mechanism to deal with a sixty-game season as complete or substantial, yet we just had one and we engaged its substance as circumstances allowed. We didn’t wait around for four months to turn up our noses at something that, in immediate retrospect, now seems so disposable. Why wouldn’t we dispose of it? It barely happened, then it was over; it was blazingly unsuccessful and all we want to do is turn to the next chapter, the one that introduces the new owner to the official narrative.

The 2020 season may have been here and gone and acknowledged as authentic only grudgingly, but it happened. Because it happened, I got to tune into Gary on television, Howie and Wayne on radio and, best of all, the baseball frequencies in my head. For example, when Guillermo Heredia led off the top of the second inning Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park with a home run off Austin Voth, the center fielder’s second of the season, I made a mental note to take Heredia off a list I keep on my computer. The list encompasses every Met who has hit exactly one home run as a Met. Every player who hits a first home run for us enters the list, and every player who hits a second exits it. Those who stay stuck on one stick on the list, from Gus Bell on April 17, 1962, to Robinson Chirinos on September 24, 2020. There are 84 players listed in all. Until this morning, there were 85.

The modest act of highlighting Heredia and the details of his first homer (against the Rays’ John Curtiss at Citi Field last Tuesday) with my cursor and then pressing the delete key was made possible by the existence of the 2020 season. Hundreds of such notations I think over, jot down and type up — debuts, returns, milestones — were made possible because they happened. Because the 2020 baseball season happened. Every season those exercises constitute my baseball season as much as watching, listening, cheering, kvetching and blogging. All the minute details filling a borderless canvas. It’s numbers and actions and moments just occurred balanced lovingly atop moments ages ago enshrined.

I care about Heredia having more than only one Met home run because ten years ago I grew fascinated that Mike Hessman, a minor league bopper, joined the Mets, hit one home run and, when it appeared he’d hit a second, had it reversed via replay and ruled a triple, which was absurd because Mike Hessman had no speed and, had the ball he hit been considered in play in the first place, he would have stopped at second with a double.

But Mike Hessman had one home run and one home run only. Hessman would be gone soon after 2010 ended, but who else was like him? I looked it up.

Frank Taveras was like him — just one home run as a Met (though 12 triples between 1979 and 1981).

Alex Cora was like him, though not at all the same style of player. Cora the prototypical heady middle infielder with limited pop and Hessman the corner power guy who struck out too often to avoid Quadruple-A status overlapped on the same Met roster for precisely a week. In the interim, the lucky Louisville Slugger had been passed to a new generation.

Esix Snead was like him, except Snead hit his one homer to win a game in extra innings in September of 2002 and it was the most fulfilling moment of the waning days of a season that felt far worse in its time than this one feels in this, and not only because it was the year the Wilpons bought rather than sold majority interest in the franchise.

Tony Fernandez was like him, in arguably the worst of Met seasons, 1993. One-hundred three losses, countless embarrassments to the cause of humanity, but one home run for Tony Fernandez, same as Sid Fernandez who hit one in 1989, making El Sid one of 22 Met pitchers with exactly one home run hit as a Met. One of the other 21 was Matt Harvey, who hit his one Met home run, in 2015, off the same pitcher, Patrick Corbin, that Robinson Chirinos hit his one Met home run off last week. One of them was Seth Lugo, who started the last Met game of 2020, the one in which Guillermo Heredia doubled Lugo’s Met home run total by hitting his second for us. No matter how good Seth might be as a starter in 2021, it doesn’t appear he’ll ever hit another home run as a Met. But that’s another story (and a downright shame).

Somewhere post-Hessman, I made my list. There were lists begun before it. There’ve been lists begun since. Every Mets game is an excuse to update at least a couple of them. Some baseball fans referred to the 2020 regular season as a distraction from worrying about the effects of the pandemic or facing up to existential threats to representative democracy. Me, I had the opportunity to note, among myriad other occurrences, that on September 23 — one night after Heredia took Curtiss deep and one night before Chirinos took Corbin deep — the Mets’ record landed at 25-31.

And? And it was the FIRST time the Mets ever sported a record of 25-31 after 56 games…if one can be said to sport a record of 25-31. It’s more something an obsessive type types quickly, clicks close on and keeps mostly to himself.

But then I opened it just now and shared it with you here on the remote chance you might find it interesting. Or that you find finding so much about baseball interesting, which I’m gonna guess with great certainty that you do. Your interest, whatever shape it takes, got you into baseball, got you to stay with baseball, got you to 2020 and through 2020 and will take you to 2021, no matter the onslaught of uncertainties and imperfections surrounding us.

It got you to this space. Thanks, as always, for dropping by. We’ll be here all winter, however long it lasts this time around.

The Cookie Crumbles

I applaud the Mets’ continual affirmations of confidence. You Gotta Believe should extend to belief in oneself. But after watching the Mets’ wisp-thin playoff eligibility expire in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader in Washington — and having their status confirmed in a less competitive loss in the nightcap — I’m having trouble abiding by the idea that this is some juggernaut that was steaming toward the postseason until it took a wrong turn on the Beltway.

There has to be a center lane that merges the power of positive thinking with a grip on reality. Throughout this brief year, the Mets have been at a loss for explaining why they’re not living up to their perceived awesomeness. These attempts at explanations have taken place after losses, of course. Saturday, after the two latest, the song was essentially the same.

Dom Smith: “We fought hard, we fought until the last pitch, even tonight. Obviously, we weren’t able to overcome certain circumstances. It just shows the character of the group. We never gave up, we never gave away games, and we competed until the last out.”

Pete Alonso: “I feel like this team is built to win. We have just a ridiculous amount of talent. It’s unfortunate we couldn’t put it together within the sixty-game time span.”

What season were they watching? Because if it exists, I want to rewind it and luxuriate in it. Then I want to surf its momentum into next week when this awesome Met behemoth roars into the Wild Card round as the National League’s 1-seed.

The performance at some point has to measure up to the perception. Even in a season undeniably like no other, you have to win games before declaring victory. The 2020 Mets didn’t win nearly enough of them. Though it was fun to take their minuscule chance at advancement seriously for a few hours before first pitch Saturday, this was a team that, as a rule, performed dreadfully from late July to late September, which unfortunately encompassed all the months they had to get going. In 2019, Alonso, Smith and the rest of the Cookie Club had six months. They revved it up late in the fourth month and rode out the schedule on a well-earned high. It was chilling and thrilling and all those things we wish from an August and September.

That was last year. This year is nothing like last year in any capacity, but it did offer the Mets the same sixty opportunities it offered their competitors. Within the NL, making the most of thirty of those opportunities would have amounted to succeeding at baseball without really trying. These Mets couldn’t do that. That’s fine within the realm of balls bouncing and cookies crumbling. As Mets fan Matthew Broderick once belted out on Broadway, “Mediocrity is not a moral sin.” A hard-bitten fan can accept a 26-33 entity with fairly decent humor. I don’t mind a 26-33 team looking in the mirror and seeing a 33-26 (or better) team staring back at it. But to regularly slide in front of the Zoom camera and tell all interested onlookers that it’s a mystery we’re not 53-6 right now…guys, seriously, look in the mirror again. Watch the video from the doubleheader. Cue up more than half of your 2020 archives.

Build from this year. Learn from this year. Strive for next year. Forget about last year, which is about to be two years ago, at least in terms of apparently deciding you deserved to be wearing the same gold-trimmed uniforms the Nationals have been modeling in 2020 (like that helped them repeat). I loved the stretch run of 2019, no matter it was a coupla bucks short and at least a month too late. It reinvigorated my waning enthusiasm for the franchise. It made me eager for the future. I’m still eager for the future. It didn’t arrive as any of us wished this past March or July, but there’s always more future as long as somebody says you can play. I join you in your confidence that it can still take the shape we desire. Why not? No games have been played in 2021 yet.

All but one of ours have been played in 2020. There are more for a majority of major league teams, but not ours. There’s a reason for that. We weren’t good enough. We weren’t remotely good most of the time. I say “we” because I’d like to think we win together and we lose together, regardless that some of our uniforms have yet to be delivered from Stitches of Whitestone. If this was all second-person accusatory, you’d be on your own and we wouldn’t care. That’s not the case. We are with you, Dom. We are with you, Pete.

We are with Jacob deGrom who always provided rational hope if not, in his last start, requisite length. Jake went five pitch-laden innings. It felt like a crushing late-September outing from a grizzled ace who’s carried too much of his staff’s burden for too long. And he was still more than pretty good (3 ER, 10 SO) in his five endless innings. DeGrom left us a tie, with one of the runs scoring on a wild pitch — Wilson Ramos’s bat and mitt giveth and taketh in equal proportion — and another on an inside-the-park home run that flicked off of Dom’s glove in left before the padded fence beckoned his face. Dom, thankfully, was all right, but the ball Andrew Stevenson (who’d homered over the fence earlier) hit sat unattended for four bases. No wonder Dom’s in favor of the DH.

Once Jake threw his 113th pitch for the third out of the fifth inning, we knew he wasn’t coming back for the bottom of the sixth. And once the Mets didn’t do anything constructive with a first-and-third in their half of the sixth, we could guess playoff elimination was at hand. First clue: Miguel Castro walked leadoff batter Brock Holt. Everything else thereafter was details. The final of the opener was 4-3, Nats. The nightcap loomed as spectacularly futile.

And it was, scorewise, with Rick Porcello giving up five runs (three earned) in the third inning of the day’s second seven-inning game. The Mets would lose, 5-3, indicative of some of their fighting until the last pitch, in that the Mets stuck around Nationals Park for the remainder of their contest rather than retreat to their hotel. It is my instinct to dismiss what was almost certainly Porcello’s final start as a Met with “typical” because, quite frankly, it was. Rick finished 2020 1-7, with an ERA of 5.64. A decent outing or two notwithstanding, we got next to nothing from Rick Porcello this season, same as we got next to nothing from too many pitchers to recite in polite company.

Yet we are with Rick Porcello, or oughta be. Maybe not for 2021 — definitely not for 2021 — but in eternal spirit, yes, Rick from Jersey should be our guy. I’ll admit that despite his local breeding and Mets fan roots, he was never mine. One night this abbreviated season, I got in the car after my weekly grocery-shopping trip, turned on the game, discovered it was another Porcello start going quickly awry, and muttered some pretty nasty thoughts aloud in the direction of a fella who couldn’t hear me. But on Saturday night, after the sweep in D.C. was complete and the Mets dangled one game above finishing in a last-place tie, Rick Porcello took it upon himself to basically apologize for how crummy he and the rest of Mets played in 2020. It was enough to almost make me take back my previous grumblings.

“I’m sorry we couldn’t have done better for you, and given you something to watch during the postseason,” the righty said, noting that he was happy he could at least be a part of giving us folks at home a distraction from all that swirls about us. “I wish I could’ve done better for this ballclub. Unfortunately, we’re out of time. I gave it my all and it wasn’t good enough for us.”

Rick concluded by adding, “I love the Mets, I’ve always loved the Mets since I was a kid.” It would figure that someone who realized a lifelong dream of playing for “a team I grew up cheering for” would know exactly what to say to us, a cohort that surely includes him.