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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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King for a Day

Welcome to Flashback Friday, a weekly feature devoted to the 20th anniversary of the 1986 World Champion New York Mets.

Twenty years, 43 Fridays. This is one of them.

Lest you think the 2006 Mets can’t possibly catch up to the achievements of their 1986 big brothers, we’re already 100 games ahead of one particular ’86 pace.

In 2006, the Mets used their tenth starting pitcher in their 49th game.

In 1986, the Mets used their ninth starting pitcher in their 149th game. They never even got to a tenth.

What a bunch of pikers!

We know all too well our habit of offering repeated opportunities to lukewarm arms from far and wide of late. And we won’t be shocked if our starters used total shoots into the high teens before the year is up. The real surprise may be that the pitching-rich New York Mets of 1986 actually had to use nine starting pitchers themselves.

Without looking, who do you think they were?

Gooden? Easy.

Darling? He’s on TV.

Ojeda? What a steal!

Fernandez? No start was as good as his final relief appearance against Boston, but he did make the All-Stars based on his starting.

Those are the Big Four. Depending how you take your bigness, you could make a case for an Extra Large Five. The symmetry of Ojeda 18 wins; Gooden 17; Fernandez 16; Darling 15 could continue with Roger McDowell’s 14, ‘cept for the pesky detail that the Rajah was a reliever. On the studliest staff in the league, it’s almost heresy to imagine there was a vulture feeding off the good works of the virtuosos who comprised the Queens Quartet. From a distance, it’s a puzzler how Roger McDowell accumulated 14 wins from the pen. While it was in progress, it seemed perfectly normal. That our two closers, McDowell and Orosco, combined for 22 victories and 43 saves, speaks to a lot of late-inning lightning. Nobody was complaining too loudly.

But if we’re looking for that fifth Beatle, it wasn’t McDowell. It was reluctantly Rick Aguilera. He was the afterthought of the 1986 rotation, the deep-sea fishing rights clause Adams, Franklin and Jefferson didn’t argue too strenuously in favor of keeping in that Declaration of theirs. Gooden…Ojeda…Darling…Fernandez…fine, fine, just make with the John Hancock.

One got the sense that Davey never felt all that secure about Aggie as his fifth starter. It was Rick’s second year in the bigs, which probably gave him no cred with Johnson. In 1985, the skipper sent down Sid even though he was presumed to have a spot sewn up before spring. Aguilera made the team out of St. Pete in ’86, but when he didn’t make the most of his first three starts (ERA: 8.22), he was replaced in the rotation.

Not easily replaced, but not particularly missed in the short-term. With the Mets having locked down first place early and often, Davey could try to squeeze some use out of Bruce Berenyi. Battling injuries and obsolescence, the ex-Red was inserted into the spin cycle in early May and held a spot into late June. I have to confess that I barely remember Bruce Berenyi contributing to the eventual world champions. With an ERA that topped out at 6.35 after his very last Major League appearance, it’s no wonder. On the ’86 Mets, you could pencil in Bruce Boisclair for seven starts and you wouldn’t feel it in the pocket.

By July, Rick Aguilera reclaimed his spot and was actually quite effective when there was little pressure beyond appearances’ sake. He finished with 10 wins and an earned run average below 4, a quietly impressive renaissance. Still, he got no love when it counted. Mets need a starter for an inexplicable exhibition against the Red Sox in early September? Use Aguilera. Mets have a pointless doubleheader on the second-to-last day of the regular season? Use Aguilera. Mets lining up their rotation for the post-season? Forget Aguilera.

Rick’s respectable three shutout innings in Houston Game Six were overshadowed by Roger’s remarkable five zeroes. And the W affixed to his record from the single biggest win in franchise history, Boston Game Six? Hard to say that was hard-earned. It was Aguilera’s surrender of two runs in the top of the tenth that allowed him to be pitcher of record on the winning side when the bottom of the tenth yielded three for the good guys. The Mets have 12 World Series wins in their history. Rick Aguilera has as many as Tom Seaver and one more than Doc Gooden and Al Leiter combined. Go figure.

So, it’s the Big Four or Five plus the anonymous Berenyi. That’s six. We said there were nine. We’ll cut the suspense already yet. A backlog of twinbills threw lefty specialist Randy Niemann (his specialty was an inability to retire big league hitters) onto the mound to start a game against the Cardinals in August. He won, the son of a gun. And the general malaise permitted a team that has it clinched with two weeks to go allowed young John Mitchell a shot against the Phillies after the fact in September. Mitchell was the John Maine of his day except he didn’t get hurt but he did lose.

The ninth starter the Mets used in 1986 — chronologically the seventh — was the feelgood story of the summer. Well, one summery night anyway. With Aggie in the doghouse and Berenyi’s ankle barking, the Metsies reached down to Tidewater and brought up an aged neophyte to start June 9 at Shea against Philadelphia.

Rick Anderson was 29. Old for a freshman, not particularly young in baseball thinking then and not that tender now. He had been in professional baseball (or at least the Mets system) since 1978. Eight years later, he was getting his first taste of white balls for batting practice and never handling your luggage. He was in The Show.

Everybody loved Rick Anderson. Everybody. He was, unbeknownst to self-styled diehards like myself, Uncle Andy to his younger mates who remembered him from the bushes. Everybody wanted to do right by Uncle Andy. “This is a sentimental choice,” Davey admitted. “He has been a minor league workhorse and he’s deserved a shot in the past.” Entering play at 37-15, nine up on Montreal, the manager could afford to be sentimental.

His teammates and manager were into it. The crowd was, too. The Jim Morris of his time was granted the same two-strike clapping that accompanied Doc and the others. Anderson held up his end of the bargain. One lousy unearned run in the fourth put him behind, but the Mets rallied for two in the sixth. Uncle Andy was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the seventh with a 2-1 lead. He gave up only four hits and two walks.

About the only thing that went kind of wrong in 1986 was Rick Anderson was denied a victory on his very special night. With Kevin Gross working his usual mysterious spell over Met bats, they functioned no more. Meanwhile, Orosco coughed up one in the eighth and Sisk did his thing in the tenth and the Mets lost 3-2. Uncle Andy was dispatched to Tidewater with an 0.00 ERA and 0-0 record.

It didn’t make much of a dent in the standings, but it was disappointing for 24 hours. What a shame, this guy who worked so hard all those years. Stupid Phillies. Stupid Sisk.

The postscript was a little anticlimactic. Anderson came back after the break and pitched some long relief, getting four more starts: three in doubleheaders, one the afternoon after the division was put away. His first win came at Wrigley but wasn’t much of a story considering George Foster was busy accusing the Mets of racism. Final Mets numbers for Rick Anderson were 2-1, 2.79. About a hit an inning, but hardly any walks. He didn’t make the postseason roster and he didn’t see 1987 with the Mets. Instead, Rick Anderson became one of the first links in what severe nutcases like myself refer to as the Ed Hearn chain. It’s also Uncle Andy’s. Even Goose Gozzo’s, for god’s sake.

Anderson, Hearn and Gozzo for Chris Jelic and David Cone.

Cone for Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson.

Thompson and Reid Cornelius for Mark Clark.

Clark, Lance Johnson and Manny Alexander for Turk Wendell, Mel Rojas and Brian McRae.

McRae and Rigo Beltran for Darryl Hamilton and Chuck McElroy.

McElroy for Jesse Orosco.

Orosco for Joe McEwing.

Super Joe released — the chain goes snap!

Rick Anderson, now the Twins’ pitching coach under ex-Tide teammate Ron Gardenhire, signed with the Mets in June 1978. He was traded for a guy who was traded for a guy who was traded for a guy who was traded for a guy who was traded for a guy who was traded for a guy who was traded for a guy who was still here as late as March 2005. What could be more Amazin’?

I mean besides Julio Franco signing his first pro contract with the Phillies in June 1978, the same month Rick Anderson signed his first pro contract with the Mets, and Franco being traded for Von Hayes in December 1982, and Hayes driving in the tying run off Orosco that denied Anderson his first big league win on June 9, 1986, twenty years before Franco became the überelder statesman of the 2006 Mets…who have already used one more starting pitcher in 52 games than the 1986 Mets did in 162, yet are in first place on the Second of June by five lengths over Atlanta and 5-1/2 over Philly?

Besides that, not much.

6 comments to King for a Day

  • Anonymous

    got 'em all except for mitchell. I thought terry leach had perhaps started during his very brief stay in early '86. I probably had about 15 of his '87 topps cards (in which I'm pretty sure he's on the mound at shea with a 25th anniversary patch on his sleeve in plain sight), so he stuck out in my mind.

  • Anonymous

    A Prayer for All of US
    May the Mets never again have an off day during this wonderful season with no off the field transactions, controversies, arrests or other hoopla. This just might, Oh Lord, keep Greg from finding obscure links from one Mets era to another and forcing us to remember names we had hoped never to be made aware of again. And for the name Ed Hearn never be mentioned again in an eagerly awaited Friday Flashback. We ask this in the name of the Father (Casey), the son (Gil) and the holy spirit (Joan Payson). Amet.

  • Anonymous

    43 Fridays.
    22 Down.
    21 To Go.
    We're gonna make it, amigo.

  • Anonymous

    Help Me Jeebus

  • Anonymous

    Jeebus Alou?

  • Anonymous

    I had Ed Lynch instead of Mitchell. Damn!