About half an hour ago, The Mets beat the Braves 16-13 in the 19th inning. We got 28 hits. Tom Gorman gave up two two-strike, two-out game-tying home runs. Keith hit for the cycle. Ray Knight, who stranded 10 men, drove in the winning run. HoJo hit a 13th-inning homer and Ray Knight hugged him. Darryl and Davey were thrown out. Dwight Gooden started, walked 4 and was knocked out by two rain delays. Very wet field. Len Dykstra came up 11 times I think. Sisk pitched well after bringing in Orosco’s runners. Terry Leach pitched 4 terrific innings. McDowell pitched a third of an inning in the third. Ron Darling finished, getting Rick Camp out. Camp represented the tying run at the plate. Camp already tied it up in the 18th with a home run. Even Sutter looked bad.
At 4 AM, the Braves proceeded with their fireworks show.
…And that’s why I love baseball.
—The author’s journal entry, 7/5/85, 4:27 AM
Funny what stood out then versus what I remember now.
I was out of college a little more than two months when the Mets went to Atlanta for the Fourth of July 20 years ago tonight/last night/this morning. I had taken a creative writing class my sophomore year wherein we were encouraged to keep a journal. I kept mine up for the rest of college and then fairly regularly for another half-decade. It was kind of a protoblog, I suppose. I wrote a lot about the Mets then because a) I do that and b) the Mets were particularly writable in those days.
It was automatic that the absolutely weirdest game ever would go right into my journal (don’t call it a diary) right away. That the game didn’t end until 3:55 AM didn’t deter me. In fact, it was helpful. I’ve always been nocturnal as the attentive reader who checks time codes may have noticed. It’s been a blessing of sorts but more often a curse in a world gone mad with its daylight bias. In the early hours of July 5, it felt natural to watch a ballgame ’til four in the morning and then record my thoughts immediately thereafter.
Not to be too critical of my 22-year-old self, but my scribblings from then don’t resonate as much as I would think they would now. There are a few tidbits that wouldn’t have occurred to me in 2005 if I hadn’t committed them to paper in 1985. We have Retrosheet, the greatest baseball research tool imaginable, to cross-check our memories against reality (Len Dykstra — not yet Lenny — went 3-for-9 with a walk and a sac fly), but a cold scouring of the boxscore now wouldn’t make Terry Leach’s “4 terrific innings” pop. My journal had it but I’d forgotten until this moment. At the time, though, Terry Leach was a Tidewater yo-yo. To have someone like him come in and restore order must’ve seemed immense.
And Sisk. Think Kaz Matsui is abused? Forget about it. This guy was Mr. Scapegoat. Doug Sisk wishes he was as relatively beloved as Kaz Matsui. I never thought he was that awful but I tend not to think anybody is that awful. On a night that was rapidly becoming a morning when Orosco totally didn’t have it, Doug came in and threw 4-1/3 shutout innings (despite some inherited-runner issues). On another night, that would’ve been the story. Or maybe Gary Carter’s five hits, which I didn’t even notice as I did my initial summation. But there were so many stories.
That bit about Knight hugging HoJo — why, you may wonder, was that significant? Well, Knight was almost as much a target as Sisk in 1985. HoJo was, in 2005 terms, Aaron Heilman (the fairly recent version). If only the manager would use Howard Johnson at third all the time and sit Knight, everything would be great; we’d lead the Cardinals instead of the Cardinals leading us. Ray Knight sucked it up, though. He wasn’t producing (even I was booing his continual platoon-presence in the lineup) but he was the definition of a team player. When his competition appeared to be the main man, homering to give the Mets the lead in the 13th, Knight, who scored ahead of him, waited for HoJo at the plate and embraced him in a manner he must have normally saved for Nancy Lopez. It was a beautiful moment.
But it didn’t last. Nothing lasted in this game. Keith Hernandez’s cycle? That was over by the 12th. There were still seven innings to go. Bruce Sutter? His signing with the Braves prior to 1985 would be like Eric Gagne going to the Phillies last winter. It was huge. He was Sutter-good the first half of ’85 but not on July 4-5. His workload caught up to his right arm. Maybe it started that night. He blew a three-run Braves’ lead in the 9th, sending this thing on its merry way toward dawn.
Tom Gorman’s career was the inverse of Sutter’s. Sutter was a should-be Hall of Famer. Gorman should’ve been charged admission to the ballpark. But Gorman was, in the baseball sense, the hero of the night. He was way worse than Sisk generally but versus Atlanta, when there were no alternatives, he just kept pitching. Sure, he gave up a game-tying dinger to Terry Harper, negating that HoJo shot, but then he went out and kept the Braves at bay for five innings until Rick Camp came up in the bottom of the 18th with two out and, with two strikes, hit that very famous, very aberrational, very bizarre home run to tie it, 11-11.
Kids, Rick Camp was a relief pitcher who had never hit a home run in his entire life before that.
The Mets scored a mess of runs in the top of the 19th. Ron Darling came in to pitch the bottom of the 19th. Ron Darling had never pitched relief in the Majors. As noted in my journal, it all came down to Camp again because Darling, not expecting to be pitching at a quarter to four in the morning, gave up his own mess of runs. But Camp didn’t strike twice.
That’s the stuff I jotted down and the stuff that’s mostly discernible from Retrosheet and other accounts. But that’s not exactly what springs to mind when I think back to what I was doing 20 years ago tonight to the hour.
First off, the game was a movable feast. It started around 7:30 PM with a 90-minute rain delay, but that was all right because my family was headed over to the boardwalk in Long Beach to watch fireworks. That was a family and a civic tradition (the last time our original cast went, it would turn out). Fine, I thought, I’ll bring my radio for whenever they start playing. On the boardwalk — among the M-80s and sparklers and oohs and aahs and what not — is where I heard about the second rain delay that forced Davey Johnson to remove Doc Gooden prematurely. Doc was the best pitcher there was in 1985 but the organization wouldn’t dare screw with his arm after two stoppages (certainly not on that very wet field). McDowell, who hadn’t yet cemented his role as a late-inning reliever, came in in the fourth but was jobbed out of the game on a weird interpretation (could there be any other kind then?) regarding a double-switch Davey did with the lineup. That’s why our manager got ejected. More importantly, our Cy Young starter and hottest reliever were both gone after four.
It was those rain delays, incidentally, that vaulted this game from marathon to epic. The Mets had played more innings a few other times but had never pushed sunrise in local-time before.
When we got home from the fireworks, maybe in the fifth, there was a car blocking our driveway. I concluded there was an obnoxious scofflaw at work and I was ready to call the cops until I realized the car belonged to Joel Lugo. He came over to watch a couple of innings in our kitchen and, ultimately, suggest we go to Copperthwaite’s in Rockville Centre to watch the rest. Sure, I said, sounds good.
Let posterity note that this was the first and only time in my life that I closed down a bar. Me and Joel. The Mets and Braves were on the big screen. That’s where we saw Sutter blow the lead and Keith cycle and Strawberry get tossed for arguing a terrible third-strike call. A number of people were watching the game in awe. By 3 o’clock, it was down to do a couple of degenerates, the staff and me and Joel. We didn’t have to go home but we couldn’t stay there.
We got in my car and headed back toward Long Beach. The Mets went up a run in the top of the 18th. We were relaxed and confident. Then Rick Camp came to bat.
As the game neared its 18th-inning finale, Gorman presumably about to strike out Camp, we dawdled down an absolutely deserted stretch of Austin Boulevard, the main drag of Island Park that takes you into Long Beach. Everybody in Island Park had gone to bed. Everybody. It was just me and Joel and my Toyota and Tom Gorman and Rick Camp and Gary Thorne falling over from shock and me coming to a dead stop in the middle of Austin Boulevard absorbing what just happened and Bob Murphy, the sunniest man even on the darkest night, uttering what had to have been the hardest words in his vocabulary:
“Some games you’re just not meant to win.”
Wow, Bob Murphy gave up. I never thought I’d hear that. Or Rick Camp hitting a home run in the bottom of the 18th inning at like 3:30 in the morning. Or a bottom of the 18th inning at like 3:30 in the morning at all. There were lots of things I never anticipated that took place on July 4 and July 5, but this was as unimaginable as the sport could get.
Cushioned against optimism, I put my foot back on the gas and crossed the bridge into Long Beach. I dropped Joel off and drove home. I kind of expected one or both of my parents to be up and watching Channel 9. My mother, you should know, was who I got this nocturnal habit from. While my father would sleep, she’d stay up and watch TV in their bedroom. When I was in first grade, I’d join her to watch Knicks’ games from the West Coast that started at 10:30 on school nights. A health specialist once addressed our class and asked us to identify our bedtimes. I panicked and made up what I thought was the reasonable-sounding 9 o’clock. Oh dear, I was told, that’s too late. I was incredulous but kept it to myself.
That was the last time I bothered to even pretend to have a bedtime.
By 1985, my mom and dad had adopted the Mets the way I had — all-out. One of them was bound to be tuned in. At the very least, I would’ve figured they’d doze off with the game and a lamp still on. Yet I opened the front door and it was dark and desolate in the house. Dead. They were lights-out, both of them. It was that late. I went upstairs.
It was in my room on an 18-year-old, five-inch Sony black & white that I saw the Mets score five runs in the top of the 19th and the Braves mount a furious, failed comeback (this was back when the Mets winning in Atlanta was the last thing that made a game seem strange). I heard McCarver and Kiner punchily point out the fireworks that were launched at 4:01 AM. When they went off the air, I turned on WHN and listened to the post-game show. When that was over, I started on my mostly just-the-facts journal entry of July 5, 1985, 4:27 AM.
As first reported at that moment, nights and mornings like those are indeed why I love baseball.