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 that includes the “best” 97th game in any Mets season, the “best” 98th game in any Mets season, the “best” 99th 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 097: July 23, 2005 — METS 7 Dodgers 5
(Mets All-Time Game 097 Record: 22-27; Mets 2005 Record: 50-47)
Speed, it is said, doesn’t slump. Still, speed needs to get on base to really be appreciated, even if there was no disregarding the promise of one of the speediest Mets ever.
Some so-called baseball experts were willing to do so anyway where young Jose Reyes was concerned as the 2005 season got underway. His first two major league campaigns indicated two things about the kid who came up to the Mets just shy of his 20th birthday two Junes earlier:
One, he could run; two, he couldn’t run if he was hurt.
Injuries literally hamstrung the promising Reyes in 2003 and 2004, limiting him to 69 games in his rookie season and 53 during what was supposed to be his first full year. Still, a .307 average in ’03 and 32 steals in the shortstop’s 122 career games to date indicated Jose was a pretty special prodigy. Healthy entering 2005, it figured the best of Reyes was yet to come.
His hamstrings weren’t killing him as the season got going, but an allergy to bases on balls loomed as something of a problem, particularly among the statnoscenti who looked at OBP with a more discerning eye than they might have applied to less tangible qualities like “natural talent”. When Reyes played every game but one in April yet didn’t walk once, it was taken a red flag. He ended the month batting .260, but getting on base at a clip of only .267. It was apparently troubling enough to provoke Rob Neyer, then of ESPN.com, to declare in an online chat that the 21-year-old Jose was “one of the very worst everyday players in the majors”.
Soon enough, Jose Reyes began to walk, though not that much. The hitting, however, was improving — seven triples in May — and the running was happily unencumbered — resulting in a dozen steals in June. And as July 2005 unfolded, it was clear a breakout month was in progress.
Fast-forward, then, to a Saturday at Shea against the Dodgers, when Jose Reyes truly takes flight.
In the first inning, after the Mets find themselves down 3-0, Reyes bunts his way on. Two pitches later, he steals second. Former teammate Jason Phillips, now the L.A. catcher, throws the ball into the outfield in a futile effort to nab him. Fresh off his 33rd steal of the year, Jose is on third. A moment later, he’s in the dugout, driven home by Mike Cameron’s infield single.
The Mets are on the board with a Reyes run. It might not be called that just yet, but that’s clearly what it is. Jose Reyes has raced around the bases, and for the rest of the day, it will be as if Belmont has come to Flushing.
In the third, Reyes singles. Cameron bunts his way on, and Reyes dashes to second. Carlos Beltran (as he was prone to do in 2005) bunts them over. Jose scores on a Cliff Floyd groundout and ties the game at three.
In the seventh, with the Mets down 6-5, Marlon Anderson pinch-hits for Pedro Martinez, who has uncharacteristically struggled all afternoon. Anderson walks. Reyes doesn’t. Instead, Jose triples into the right field corner to drive home Anderson and tie the game. Two batters later, Jose scampers across the plate with the go-ahead run on a Beltran single.
In the eighth, Reyes does his best GEICO impression when, with two out and Miguel Cairo on third, Jose singles to left for the insurance run. The Mets lead by two. Reyes then gets a jump on Dodger reliever Duaner Sanchez and swipes his second bag of the day, his 34th of the year.
It winds up a very good 7-5 win for the Mets, the first game they’ve captured after falling behind by three runs all year. It’s also a good day for the speed game, as the Mets steal five bases altogether, with Beltran, Cameron and Cairo each purloining one apiece. And it’s a great day for Jose Reyes: no walks, but 4-for-5, three runs scored, two RBI, the two steals and that particularly electrifying triple in the seventh. That one made everybody sit up and take notice of the youngster whose legs are sound and whose skills are stunning.
“When I’m finished,” an impressed Martinez marveled, “I’ll get the best seat to see him play. I’ll pay whatever price to see him play.”
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On July 20, 2011, SNY sent its broadcast team onto Citi Field’s Pepsi Porch and effervescent Met things followed. Carlos Beltran’s game-tying two-run homer landed just to the left of Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling in the fifth inning. Five frames later, Angel Pagan launched a fly ball that Cohen warned was “headed toward us” in the first row of the soft drink overhang before it clanged off the Subway billboard directly beneath them. Pagan’s Porchfront shot turned into the decisive blow of a 6-5 extra-inning Mets win.
While the popular announcing trio got a right field fan’s eye view of the victory over the Cardinals, catcher Josh Thole saw what it was like to play ball as a dad. One night after his wife gave birth to their first child, son Camden, Thole came through with a two-run double that halved the Mets’ early 4-0 deficit and the RBI single that knotted the game at five in the eighth. Josh also did a decent job of handling R.A. Dickey’s tricky arsenal behind the plate, though he tipped his helmet and mask back home in recognition of what Kathryn Thole had just delivered. “Going out there catching a knuckleball is still tough,” he said, “but it doesn’t seem like anything she went through.”
GAME 098: July 25, 1994 — Mets 7 CARDINALS 1
(Mets All-Time Game 098 Record: 26-23; Mets 1994 Record: 46-52)
A Mets fan could have been forgiven for wadding up the proverbial towel as prelude to throwing it in as the 1994 season careened toward a premature ending. After propping up spirits that had sagged following the debacle of 1993 (59-103) with a decent accounting of themselves in April and early May (18-14), the ’94 Mets reverted to previous season’s form, both on the field — dropping 29 of 44 — and off — Dwight Gooden earning a suspension from Major League Baseball for violating the terms of his drug aftercare program. Toss in the inevitable impasse toward which baseball team owners and baseball players were headed come August, and anybody emotionally invested in the Mets needed a very good reason to find something especially encouraging about this team and this year.
One very good reason materialized just as the season appeared to be getting away completely. Its name was Rico Brogna.
Every season is bolstered when it encompasses a pleasant surprise. Rico was 1994’s. His existence, never mind potential, was news to even the most vigilant of Mets fans, coming over as quietly as he did at the tail end of Spring Training in a swap of failed No. 1 draft picks. Brogna was the Tigers’ in 1988, but hadn’t gone anywhere in Detroit, so they traded him for Alan Zinter, the Mets’ top selection from 1989 (who wouldn’t see the majors until 2002). New York still might not have heard a word about Rico — a .244 hitter at Norfolk, albeit with some pop — had David Segui, first baseman during the first half of the season, not pulled his right hamstring the night of what turned out to be Gooden’s final Mets win.
With little fanfare, Brogna arrived on the Met scene in late June, and by the middle of July was establishing himself as the best reason to watch a team whose patchwork personnel (including Roger Mason, Kelly Stinnett, Luis Rivera, Doug Linton, Jim Lindeman, Goose Gozzo, the second, diminished coming of Kevin McReynolds and yet-to-be stellar Jeff Kent) had thus far resisted generating widespread appeal. Rico Suave, as the back pages tabbed him, wielded a hot stick and showed off a glove keen enough to make everybody forget Segui and hark back instead to the heyday of Keith Hernandez. The rookie’s hailing from not altogether too far from Flushing — Watertown, Conn. — didn’t hurt his burgeoning Shea popularity, either. Most importantly, Brogna’s presence in Dallas Green’s lineup coincided with a Met re-reversal of fortunes. His batting average soared over .300 while his team started climbing toward .500.
It wasn’t much, but it was something for a season like 1994. The daily negotiating updates provided ample evidence there’d be no playoffs for anybody, casting a shadow across the middle of the summer. Then again, labor peace could miraculously break out and it was unfathomable to conceive of the Mets playing anything resembling a big game anytime soon. Thus, when they were granted an opportunity to shine on something approximating the national stage, Mets fans were motivated to pay perhaps a little extra attention to their team’s otherwise obscure activities.
Those who did didn’t regret the decision, for the occasion turned into Rico Brogna’s night to shine.
The Mets played the Cardinals on Monday Night Baseball the last Monday in July, but it wasn’t Monday Night Baseball in the traditional sense. In the ’70s and ’80s, MNB meant a coast-to-coast prime time audience, maybe even Howard Cosell adding his bombastic benediction to certify a humble baseball game as a Big Event. In 1994 and 1995, it meant The Baseball Network, a jury-rigged MLB-run operation that sought through some fiscal formula to regionalize what had been a weekly national telecast…sort of like the NFL, but with no guarantee that fans of a given team would have a shot at seeing that team in action.
New York, for example, would be given the Mets game or the Yankees game, but not both. This did not please the fans of the team that was left out. Because The Baseball Network was granted exclusivity on its nights, you couldn’t turn to, say, SportsChannel to watch the Mets if ABC was showing the Yankees. (Same deal in other two-team markets.) The bottom line was the July 25 Mets-Cardinals game on The Baseball Network would air in areas that cared most about the Mets and the Cardinals…which wasn’t all that different from the way a typical Mets-Cardinals game might air, but instead of being on some pissant cable outlet, it ran on a network affiliate.
To inject the broadcasts with a little extra zest, an announcer who generally covered one team would be paired with an announcer from its opponent, giving viewers a taste of voices they didn’t ordinarily hear on television. One of the fringe benefits of The Baseball Network was Bob Murphy did a few of its games, his first TV appearances since 1981. The Mets-Cardinals game at the end of July, however, was assigned to Murph’s former radio partner, Mets telecaster Gary Thorne, and Cardinal color man Al Hrabosky.
They wound up co-hosting, live from St. Louis, The Rico Brogna Show.
With as much spotlight as the 1994 Mets were going to garner, the young man from Connecticut twinkled. Brogna sizzled at Busch, going 5-for-5, making him the first Met to register five hits in one game in six years. His biggest hit was a two-run double that keyed a five-run fifth, giving Bret Saberhagen all the support he needed to cruise to a complete game 7-1 win. Rico came into the game batting .333. He came out of it batting .377.
“I guess he’s what you would call a manager’s delight,” Saberhagen said.
“It’s probably a night that I’ll remember for quite a while,” the first baseman allowed, humbly adding, “Some of the balls found some holes.”
It was also a night Mets fans would want to cling to longer than they might normally some random Monday night from Missouri. Though the calendar said it was the last week of July, the season was ending all too soon for these modestly resurgent 1994 Mets. Only fifteen games remained (the Mets would win nine of them en route to a reasonably respectable 55-58 record) and then — curtains. The season was over on August 11. Millions of baseball-lovers would righteously claim betrayal and bitterness that billionaire owners and millionaire players would conspire to take away the game for which they lived.
In the long, dark emotional winter that set in amid the heat of summer, however, Rico Brogna left Mets fans who tuned into Channel 7 that Monday night with a lingering memory of a baseball game to cherish…and the kind of ballplayer (7 HR, 20 RBI, .351 BA in 39 games) they could look forward to once the sport came to its senses and back to its diamonds.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On July 28, 1979, Dave Kingman learned you can go home again and do something nobody on the home team had ever done there, even if he had to do it as a visitor. The once-revered, later jeered slugger, returned to Shea Stadium on a Saturday and belted three home runs in one game for the Chicago Cubs. When Kingman became the second Met ever to hit three home runs in a game, in 1976, he didn’t do it at home. Nor did the first, Jim Hickman. Nor would any Met in the 45-year history of Shea Stadium. Kingman, however, was the third opponent to turn the hat trick at Shea, joining Richie Allen from 1968 and Pete Rose, who did it in 1978. Kingman’s ex-Met pedigree may have made his feat easier to swallow for the 11,359 attending his homerpalooza, but what really helped was a) each Kingman dinger was a solo shot and b) the Mets prevailed 6-4 on the strength of a pair of two-run homers — one from Lee Mazzilli, the other off the bat of John Stearns — plus a then-club record three stolen bases by Frank Taveras.
GAME 099: July 30, 1985 — METS 2 Expos 0
(Mets All-Time Game 099 Record: 26-23; Mets 1985 Record: 58-41)
A familiar scenario was playing itself out this Tuesday night at Shea Stadium, though its familiarity only made it more welcome every time it unfolded.
Dwight Gooden pitched. Dwight Gooden won.
It was getting to be habit. A most happy habit, the prospect of which drew better than 45,000 to Flushing. These were Mets fans yearning to become immersed in this force of habit, not to mention the force of nature Gooden had grown into.
Doctor K was 6-3 in late May. Two months later, he was 15-3 and going for his tenth consecutive win. If successful, No. 16 would tie a 16-year-old franchise record set by — appropriately enough — the Franchise. Tom Seaver won his final ten decisions of 1969. For Gooden, nine in a row felt like only the beginning in 1985.
The beginning of this attempt at ten straight was about as airtight an effort as one could imagine.
The Expos sent up Tim Raines to lead off. He struck out.
Vance Law batted second. He struck out.
Andre Dawson was the third-place hitter…and the third batter struck out by Dwight Gooden in the top of the first.
The score, as generally expressed by Bob Murphy, was Expos nothing, the Mets coming to bat, but a three-up, three-down fanning of such decisive nature was enough to make anyone watching think Montreal was already trailing. The visitors saw ten pitches. All were strikes. One they managed to foul off
“Tonight’s game is a mismatch,” Keith Hernandez concluded, as related in his (and Mike Bryan’s) seasonlong diary, If At First.
To be fair, there was another pitcher involved, and he didn’t give up much for a while. Bill Gullickson matched zeroes if not strikeouts with Gooden but came up a little too high and tight for Met tastes in the fourth when he brushed back his former batterymate Gary Carter. Carter may have been the best Expo ever, but he wasn’t exactly a beloved ex-Expo in his first year as a Met.
Gullickson, meanwhile, was a headhunter going back to his rookie season. Mets fans who had been coming to games since before Gooden made them de rigueur again remembered him all too well. On July 4, 1980, in the second game of a doubleheader at Shea, the big righthander was having a difficult time with the Mets, so he responded to his own shortcomings by throwing at Mike Jorgensen’s head. The Mets, aware of Jorgy’s injury history from a previous beaning, took exception and fought the invading Canadians on the spot. Five years later, however, their descendants didn’t lose their cool.
That’s because they had the coolest customer in the game going for them. Gooden calmly struck out his former teammates, Herm Winningham and Mike Fitzgerald, to start the fifth and then faced his opposite number, Gullickson.
The Doctor gave the other hurler a little career advice: If you want to be a headhunter, you might consider going into executive recruiting — but you don’t throw at my catcher. At least that’s what Gooden seemed to be saying as he threw a pitch clear over Gullickson’s head.
That merited a warning from home plate ump Frank Pulli. No further bouts of unforeseen wildness were unleashed from Dwight’s right arm. Having sent his message, he struck out Gullickson to end the top of the fifth for his seventh K of the night.
Gooden was all but impenetrable through five. “Against Dwight, every inning is the eighth,” Hernandez wrote. “Time is running out with his first delivery.”
If you subscribed to that theory — and in 1985, you had no reason not to — you knew Doc would inevitably outlast whatever Gullickson or whoever could come up with. And sure enough, in the home sixth, Wally Backman led off with a single, stole second with one out, moved to third on a Carter grounder to the right side and, after Darryl Strawberry was intentionally walked, scored on a George Foster single.
There. Dwight Gooden had a one-run lead. It was pretty likely enough, but just to be on the safe side, Foster drove in Strawberry in the eighth to make it 2-0. Dwight finished the game in rather pedestrian-for-him fashion, teasing flyouts from Dawson and Hubie Brooks and a groundout from Dan Driessen in the top of the ninth. Just like that, Gooden had his record-tying tenth consecutive win: a five-hit complete game shutout, garnished by ten strikeouts. He was 16-3 with more than two months left in the season. His ERA was 1.65. His strikeout total was 173. And his reputation was only growing larger.
“Dwight is a pitcher who comes along once in a lifetime,” Davey Johnson said after this latest triumph. “He is in total control at all times.”
Except maybe for that pitch over Gullickson’s head. Ah, it probably just got away.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On July 27, 2000, the Mets faced one of those states of emergency that befalls a baseball team now and then across the course of a season: they required an emergency starter. Rain had lashed the New York area the night before and suddenly Bobby Valentine’s club found itself faced with an unscheduled daytime doubleheader. Called upon to take the impromptu start was 22-year-old Norfolk Tide Grant Roberts.
He was not ready for his closeup.
Making his major league debut at Shea this Thursday afternoon, Roberts found himself pounced upon by the Expos — four runs in the first, three more in the second. The Mets, in turn, found themselves trailing 7-2. Yet seven innings later, they found themselves anew, 9-8 winners, thanks to a comeback onslaught that entailed 15 hits in toto. The win was sealed when Matt Franco singled off Steve Kline in the bottom of the eighth to break an 8-8 tie; it was the third M. Franco hit of the day. Also contributing mightily: Todd Zeile (3-for-4, including the game-tying single in the eighth), Benny Agbayani (4-for-5, 3 RBI) and Pat Mahomes, who gave up no hits across 4⅔ scoreless innings of relief.
In the nightcap, the Mets took a much easier route to a sweep, with Mike Hampton pitching a seven-hit complete game. By then, rookie Roberts was literally bound for Norfolk, flying back to the minors, where he’d be marooned until recalled in September. “It didn’t work out the way I wanted it to,” admitted the emergency starter whose veteran teammates combined to rescue him from his shaky first brush with the big time.