Welcome to The Happiest Recap, a solid gold slate of New York Mets games culled from every schedule the Mets have ever played en route to this, their fiftieth year in baseball. We’ve created a dream season consisting of the “best” 19th game in any Mets season, the “best” 20th game in any Mets season, the “best” 21st game in any Mets season…and we keep going from there until we have a completed schedule worthy of Bob Murphy coming back with the Happy Recap after this word from our sponsor on the WFAN Mets Radio Network.
GAME 019: April 29, 1987 — METS 2 Astros 1
(Mets All-Time Game 019 Record: 26-25; Mets 1987 Record: 10-9)
It’s an article of faith that the Mets had to defeat the Astros in Game Six of the 1986 National League Championship Series because had Houston forced a Game Seven, Mike Scott and certain demise awaited them from sixty feet, six inches away. That was the story then and nobody’s much deviated from it for a quarter-century. Scott was that good — and perhaps that devious via his illicit use of sandpaper — and the Mets were that helpless against his split-finger scuffball.
In the first game of the ’86 playoffs, at the Astrodome, Scott outdueled Dwight Gooden 1-0, yet it was never really very close. It didn’t even take Glenn Davis’s second-inning leadoff home run to put the Mets in a hole. Baffled by one of Scott’s mysteriously dipping, darting deliveries in the top of the first, Gary Carter asked home plate umpire Doug Harvey to inspect the baseball, expecting or least hoping the man they called God would see as obvious the markings of a cheater and throw Scott out.
Harvey didn’t answer Kid’s prayer, so Scott kept pitching. Carter struck out swinging. He wasn’t the first Met to do so (Hernandez had just gone down) and he wouldn’t be the last. By the end of the evening, Scott was, to borrow a phrase from Bob Murphy, wearing the hitters on his watch chain: 1 walk, 5 hits, 14 strikeouts in the complete game shutout.
When next the Mets met their nemesis, they were still operating on Scott Standard Time. This time the Mets scuffed…make that scratched out a run, but it was a mighty lonely tally in the Game Four 3-1 loss at Shea Stadium. Master Mike went the distance again, striking out only five but scattering just three hits.
So yeah, it was imperative in the Mets’ minds, when they held a 3-2 lead in the series, to go to Houston and wrap things up in six. Nolan Ryan was tough. Bob Knepper was difficult. But Mike Scott, they decided as a unit, was literally impossible. Anybody who watched the Mets grit their teeth for sixteen innings in Game Six until they absolutely, positively pulled out a 7-6 victory and can attest they were playing to win more than a pennant — they wanted desperately to gain a reprieve.
But what about the parallel universe? The alternate history? What if the Astros had not permitted the Mets to tie them in the ninth inning of Game Six? Or what if Kevin Bass had gotten ahold of one of Jesse Orosco’s breaking pitches in the sixteenth? What if the Astros had evened the series and the Mets, for all their reservations, were compelled to reserve their Houston hotel rooms another night and face Michael Warren Scott with everything in the balance in Game Seven?
We’ll never know, and we can only imagine what those circumstances might have wrought. The 1986 Mets might have surprised themselves and their followers and discovered that Scott, deep down, was as mortal as any pitcher (say the Mike Scott who scared nobody when he wore a Mets uniform from 1979 through 1982). Ron Darling, the Mets’ prospective Game Seven starter, might have pitched the game of his life and rendered Scott irrelevant. Or the worst that everybody feared might have come to pass and the Red Sox would have blown the 1986 World Series to the Astros. We can imagine all we want but we will truly never know.
But we do have a little proof that maybe, just maybe, Mike Scott wasn’t necessarily going to be Kryptonite to those 1986 Mets…if you’re willing to use the closest chronological thing possible from which to draw conclusions.
Nineteen games into the 1987 season, the defending world champion New York Mets hosted the defending National League West champion Houston Astros at Shea Stadium. If it wasn’t a playoff atmosphere, and if it wasn’t the playoffs, it represented a chance for each side to maybe slay a ghost. The Astros could no longer capture the 1986 flag, but if their ace remained true to his previous October’s form, they could perhaps be satisfied on some level that ultimate success could have been their if only this, that or some other thing had gone their way six months earlier. As for the Mets, dragging with a bit of a post-championship hangover as 1987 commenced, it would be reassuring for them to know there was no single individual (save, perhaps, for Gooden, who had wrapped a four-week stay at the Smithers Alcoholism and Drug Treatment Center a few hours before this Wednesday night’s NLCS rematch proceeded) who could stand in their way as they attempted to repeat their championship feat of a season ago.
Opposing Scott was Fernandez, losing pitcher from Game Four. Sid didn’t much have it in the playoffs, confined to that one start in which Alan Ashby and Dickie Thon each tagged him for homers. Both pitchers were tough in the early going this dance. The Mets couldn’t put two runners on base at the same time in the first three innings while the ’Stros wasted three singles, a walk and a stolen base through four.
Keith Hernandez led off the bottom of the fourth and, with one swing, eviscerated Kryptonite. His solo home run gave the Mets something they never had versus Mike Scott in October 1986: a lead. It was only 1-0, but it was a changing of the tides. After Fernandez escaped the top of the fifth unscathed, Hernandez kept the tide rolling in the Mets’ favor. With two out and two on, Keith delivered a single to right, scoring Wally Backman from second and giving the Mets a 2-0 lead over the man they were all but certain they couldn’t have beaten in the year when they beat just about everybody else.
This was Sid Fernandez’s turn to be impenetrable. The long-relief hero of the World Series kept the Astros off the scoreboard for seven innings. “This is Sid’s game,” Hernandez said afterwards. “He knew that he would have to give us an ‘A’ game against Scott and that’s what he did.”
Doug Sisk pitched a scoreless eighth, exiting after allowing a leadoff double to Bass to start the ninth. Jesse Orosco, he whose glove still presumably floated over Shea from the previous October 27, got two quick flyouts before allowing pinch-hitter Mark Bailey to single in Houston’s first run. But without nearly as much Sturm Und Drang as transpired in the sixteenth inning at the Astrodome, Jesse struck out Jose Cruz to end the game, the Mets victors, 2-1.
Scott was just another pitcher now. Not a bad one by any means, but no longer loitering among the Mathewsons. Ex-Met Mike went six, struck out seven and walked nobody, but he was touched for seven hits and those two juicy rib-eye steaks off the grill of Keith Hernandez. He was, against the Mets, not long after he loomed as unbeatable, the losing pitcher.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On April 24, 2007, Orlando Hernandez of the Mets and Aaron Cook of the Rockies exchanged seven scoreless innings at Shea, then handed their zeroes to their respective bullpens. Met and Rockie relievers kept the blanks firing until the top of the tenth when rookie shortstop Troy Tulowitzki tripled off Billy Wagner to drive home catcher Yorvit Torrealba. Colorado closer Brian Fuentes made quick work of the first two Met batters in the bottom of the inning and put pinch-hitter Damion Easley in an 0-2 hole. After then taking two balls, Easley got a pitch he liked and sent it soaring over the left-center field fence to tie the game at one. The score remained deadlocked until the bottom of the twelfth when Ryan Speier gave up a walk, a sacrifice and a balk, suddenly placing Shawn Green on third base with one out before recovering to fan pinch-hitter David Newhan for the second out. Opting to intentionally pass eventual National League Player of the Month Jose Reyes, Rockies manager Clint Hurdle had his righty reliever pitch to Endy Chavez. After taking one pitch so Reyes could race to second on defensive indifference, Endy laid down an exquisite drag bunt that took the entire ballpark by surprise, nobody less than Speier. The pitcher had no chance to cleanly glove the ball, which one chronicler likened to a faithful dog “companionably rolling alongside Endy” as Chavez sprinted through the first base bag. Green, meanwhile, crossed the plate and the Mets lapped up a 2-1 win.
GAME 020: April 28, 1992 — METS 4 Astros 0
(Mets All-Time Game 020 Record: 29-22; Mets 1992 Record: 11-9)
On a staff fronted by Dwight Gooden, embellished by Bret Saberhagen and steeled by Sid Fernandez, nobody would have much argued that none of them had better stuff than David Cone. To date, Cone wasn’t quite as accomplished as Gooden and Saberhagen — each of whom were won a Cy Young before turning 22 years old — and he wasn’t generally as tantalizingly unhittable for stretches the way Fernandez could be, but he was plenty good and plenty baffling. Certainly nobody brought the kind of arm angles to bear the way Coney did (or did you think Laredo was merely a town in Texas?) and nobody inspired the brand of empathy David could when working hard, working tough and working to confound the opposition.
David had it all working against the Astros on a chilly Tuesday night at Shea. Houston fielded a fairly young, not yet fully bloomed lineup, and it seemed as overmatched by Cone as anything just planted would have in the cold of Queens in late April. Kids like Craig Biggio, Steve Finley, Jeff Bagwell and Steve Finley — the Astros’ first four batters — weren’t quite ready for Cone time. Nobody in orange and yellow trim was. Bagwell walked in the first; Gonzalez was hit by a pitch in the fourth; veteran shortstop Rafael Ramirez walked in the sixth but was erased on a Biggio ground ball — and Biggio was himself eradicated when Finley grounded into a double play.
That was the extent of the Houston offense for six innings. The Mets led 4-0, thanks to a two-RBI double in the first and a two-RBI single in the fourth, both courtesy of Eddie Murray, but the excitement abounding wasn’t over how much the Mets were hitting. It was because the Astros weren’t…or rather, because David Cone was no-hitting them.
If they handed out primers on Mets fandom for newcomers, even twenty years ago, the lack of a no-hitter despite all the Amazin’ pitchers who had passed through Flushing would have be printed no later than Page 3. It was part of Met lore and an essential element of Met heartache for three decades. Didn’t matter if it was Seaver, if it was Gooden, if it was Randy Tate…no Met had ever done it. Yet here in 1992, David Cone, as mysterious to the other team’s batters as the lack of Met no-no’s was to their hardcore loyalists, seemed to be on the verge of breaking the barrier. When he stormed through the seventh by popping up Bagwell, lining out Gonzalez and striking out Pete Incaviglia, Coney appeared almost destined to be The One.
“You get the sense,” Astros skipper Art Howe would observe, “something was going to happen.”
His attempt became, of course, the main attraction of the night. Jeff Torborg, who’d caught no-hitters thrown by Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan, was taking no chances when he removed lumbering Bobby Bonilla from right field and replaced him with the swift Rodney McCray. With the best possible defense the Mets could rustle up behind him, Cone took the mound in the eighth in reach of the unreachable star: a Mets no-hitter.
First batter: Third baseman Casey Candaele. He grounded to Murray at first. One out.
Second batter: Catcher Eddie Taubensee. Cone missed on a 3-2 pitch and walked him. Not an out, but not a hit.
Third batter: Lefty inch-hitter Benny DiStefano.
Note the last two letters of that last name: no. Under the right circumstances, that could be a prefix for what Cone was five outs from nailing down…but, no. Out of the majors since 1989, receiving only his second Astro plate appearance of the season (a campaign he started in Triple-A Tucson), grown up in Brooklyn a Mets fan conversant in the vocabulary of Jimmy Qualls, it would fall to DiStefano to extend the world’s most unlikely streak. Benny hit David’s second pitch off the end of his bat. It rolled toward third base, but not far enough to be picked up by Dave Magadan, who positioned himself properly for the normally dead pull hitter. Mags had made one of the several Met defensive gems earlier that contributed to the sense that TONIGHT COULD BE IT!, but this infield roller was immune to that kind of magic.
DiStefano was safe. The no-hitter was out.
“I thought it was my night,” David allowed after putting in the books a 4-0 victory, a two-hitter adorned by eleven consolation strikeouts of Astro batters not named Benny DiStefano. Oh, Cone was very good despite not quite making Shea’s dreams come true. “His fastball was alive,” Torborg judged, “his backdoor breaking ball was working, he was all over the outside of the plate.”
Outstanding pitching, to be sure. And a nice win, yes. But no…well, you know.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On May 6, 1962, the recently born Mets never say die, scoring two to knot the Phillies at five in the eighth inning at Connie Mack Stadium, and then take the lead in the twelfth when Gil Hodges singles home Rod Kanehl and Gus Bell. Casey Stengel calls on his ostensible ace Roger Craig (knocked out of the box in the first inning two nights earlier) to preserve the 7-5 win for Craig Anderson. Despite allowing a leadoff double to catcher Clay Dalrymple and wild-pitching him to third, Roger struck out Roy Sievers to give the 4-16 Mets their first-ever extra-inning win. It wouldn’t be an official statistic for seven years, but the scoreless twelfth also earned Craig the first save in Mets history.
GAME 021: April 30, 1974 — Mets 8 DODGERS 7
(Mets All-Time Game 021 Record: 21-30; Mets 1974 Record: 8-13)
Second acts in Metropolitan life? They’re a mixed bag, as anyone who has grown excited over the return of an old favorite only to be let down when stark reality trumps sepia-toned memory can tell you. But one Recidivist Met surely made more of his second tour of blue and orange duty, even if the sequel didn’t provide nearly as much in the way of color as the first act.
If you’re thoroughly schooled in the ways of Mets, then you must have heard of Bob Miller. No, you must have heard of the two Bob Millers. It was their proliferation that made them colorful in the first place…or, more accurately, in last place. That’s where the 1962 Mets were involuntarily ensconced, and when you’re en route to losing 120 of 160 decisions, everything seems a little absurd. The 2000 Mets offered the world two Bobby Joneses and, really, few gave it a second thought. But in 1962, when little thinking was devoted to winning, you needed all the distractions you could get.
Or all the Bob Millers.
The Mets’ first Bob Miller was obtained with every intention of taking him seriously. He was one of the Mets’ four $125,000 picks in the 1961 National League expansion draft. In 1961 money, that made him a big-ticket item. Though he hadn’t yet compiled much of a track record in segments of four seasons as a Cardinal, Miller would be 23 entering 1962 and therefore represent an infusion of youth on a roster saddled (through a combination of philosophy and availability) with age. He was worth a shot, in other words.
This is Bob L. Miller, we’re talking about, a distinction that went unspoken for four months as Bob L. was the only Miller on the Mets. Sadly, the L’s weren’t lonely. Bob had a tough time as a reliever and as a starter, and after 18 appearances, he was 0-7. While he was minding his own business, pitching but neither losing nor winning as a reliever, the Mets did something proactive.
They brought in another Bob Miller: Bob G. Miller. The Mets traded for the aging lefty pitcher, along with Cliff Cook, in early May (coming over with third baseman Cliff Cook from Cincinnati for Don Zimmer, another of those valuable $125,000 draft picks) but didn’t get him on the big club until late July; he’d wanted to quit baseball but had to be talked out of it and then talked into a stint at Syracuse to get back in shape. The materialization of Bob G. Miller made Bob L. Miller — a righty — not just 0-7 but half of an unavoidable storyline.
The Mets are stuck in tenth place, but they lead the league in Bob Millers.
It was as good as anything in 1962 for a laugh. Traveling secretary Lou Niss roomed them together to cut down on the inevitable confusion, but it didn’t help Stengel, who as manager didn’t have to explain himself to anybody. When he wanted Bob L. Miller up in the bullpen, he simply rang coach Red Kress and asked for Nelson.
All Bob L. Miller asked for was a win. He went back to racking up decisions not long after being joined by Bob G. Miller. Alas, they were the same kind as they were before: losses. Miller ran his record to 0-12 before finally, in the Mets’ second-to-last game of their first season, prevailing 2-1 over the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Wrote George Vecsey in Joy in Mudville, “Having given so many unhappy interviews all season, he waited in front of his locker to tell the New York reporters how it felt to win a game finally.” Yet another alas: the Mets’ traveling press corps had abandoned the sunken Met ship to cover the sizzling Dodger-Giant pennant race on the West Coast. Miller had no one with whom he could share his happy ending.
So concluded the strange, mostly unfulfilling trip through inaugural Metsdom for Bob L. Miller. While Bob G. Miller simply retired, Bob L. Miller was traded to the Dodgers in the offseason for Tim Harkness and Larry Burright. He served as a journeyman reliever and spot-starter for the next eleven seasons, often on some very good teams. Miller pitched in five postseasons and was a member of two world champions, L.A. in 1965 and Pittsburgh in 1971. The Pirates, however, released him in Spring Training of 1973, so he latched on with the Padres. The Padres waived him in June, and he drifted to the Tigers. The Tigers were out of it by September, so they sold him to a contender that needed all the pitching it could get.
Bob L. Miller returned to the Mets late in the 1973 season, too late to be more than a footnote to the You Gotta Believe charge to the N.L. East title. Miller appeared in one game, an 8-5 loss to Montreal that, almost poetically considering the righthander’s 1962 storyline, broke the Mets’ seven-game winning streak. By then, however, they were safely in first place. He was ineligible for the playoffs against the Reds and World Series against the A’s.
It was easy to forget Miller was around the Mets’ second pennant-winner, but when they gathered in St. Petersburg to defend that title, Bob showed up, just as he had a dozen years earlier. No longer possessing the live right arm that had George Weiss digging deep into the player personnel kitty, Miller, 35, proved himself useful enough for Yogi Berra to keep as the proverbial grizzled veteran out of the pen. It was a comfortable enough role for somebody who was a little bewildered by the wonders of Stengel and expansion baseball when he was 23.
“I sat in the clubhouse with the press guide figuring out who the people were,” Miller remembered in 1974. “My uniform didn’t fit. This year it does.”
His won-lost record would look a lot better on him, too, even if the Mets themselves couldn’t say the same about theirs. Oh, they weren’t reliving 1962, but the successes of 1973 seemed just as far away as the ’74 Mets stumbled out of the gate losing 13 of their first 20. At Dodger Stadium on a Tuesday night at the end of April, Jerry Koosman appeared on his way to an easy win, staked to a 6-0 lead by the fifth. L.A., however, came roaring back, tying the game in the bottom of the eighth on a three-run homer by Steve Garvey. Berra took out Koosman, and brought in Miller, who kept the game tied at six.
In the top of the ninth, the Mets put two on versus screwballer Jim Brewer. Walt Alston brought in rubber-armed Mike Marshall to face John Milner with one out. Milner doubled, scoring Teddy Martinez and Cleon Jones. Thus, with an 8-6 lead, Miller went to work in the bottom of the ninth.
1962 seemed to be festering in Robert Lane Miller’s soul, for Bill Russell reached him for a leadoff triple. Bob struck out pinch-hitter Manny Mota but Davey Lopes was safe at first on a ground ball when Milner couldn’t handle Wayne Garrett’s throw from third. Miller (who may or may not have had his mail mixed up with Milner’s) couldn’t exactly be blamed had he allowed a thought similar to “Can’t anybody here play this game?” pass through his head. The next batter, Tom Paciorek, lined to Dave Schneck in right for the second out, but then Dodger left fielder Bill Buckner singled Lopes to third.
Ron Cey stepped in with the tying run 90 feet away, the winning run on first and the weight of delayed déjà vu nearly crashing down on Miller’s shoulders. Nevertheless, the vet composed himself and flied Cey to Don Hahn in center for the final out. The Mets won 8-7 and gave Bob L. Miller the first W of his second Met tenure mercifully quickly. It came in his ninth appearance of 1974, waaaaay ahead of his 1962 pace.
Said Ed Kranepool, who joined the Mets just in time to watch Miller to finish 1-12 the pitcher’s first time around, “He’s a lot smarter. Now it took him only twenty-something games to win. The last time it took five-and-a-half months.”
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On April 30, 1988, the Mets showed up at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati to play a baseball game and ended up surviving a circus atmosphere to take a 6-5 win. They were up 4-2 in the sixth when Reds starter Tom Browning was called for a balk, sending Mookie Wilson home from third. Browning took out his frustrations by hitting Tim Teufel with the next pitch, which in turn brought an angry Met contingent charging out of the visitors’ dugout. There was some pushing and shoving, as Browning and Darryl Strawberry were ejected. But that was just the warmup act. In the ninth, with the score tied at five, Reds closer John Franco walked Howard Johnson to lead off the inning. He was sacrificed to second by Kevin Elster and, one out later, scored on Mookie Wilson’s grounder to shortstop — Mookie was safe when Barry Larkin’s throw pulled Nick Esasky off the first base bag. HoJo was able to come around because Dave Pallone hesitated in making the safe call, a long enough pause that it kept Esasky from throwing home. Pallone’s slowness on the draw roused the ire of Cincy manager Pete Rose who came out to argue and then some. Rose ultimately shoved Pallone in the chest twice, which earned him an ejection (and an eventual 30-game suspension from National League president Bart Giamatti). Reds fans took their cue from Rose’s histrionics and began showering the field with all manner of objects. After a lengthy delay, from which Pallone didn’t return for what his fellow umps decided was his own safety, Randy Myers came on in the bottom of the ninth to save a frenzied Met victory.