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” 103rd game in any Mets season, the “best” 104th game in any Mets season, the “best” 105th 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 103: August 4, 1985 — Mets 4 CUBS 1
(Mets All-Time Game 103 Record: 22-27; Mets 1985 Record: 61-42)
The Mets’ best pitcher pitched as New York faced Chicago in a game laced with deep historic overtones.
Rarely could such a sentence be taken two ways, but on this Sunday afternoon, you could say Mets fans were focused on a simultaneous doubleheader, the kind of situation that cried out for a split screen.
In New York, the Mets’ best pitcher took the mound.
In Chicago, the Mets’ best pitcher took the mound.
In New York, a milestone was at hand for the pitcher.
In Chicago, a milestone was at hand for the pitcher.
In New York, tens of thousands of the home fans rooted for the pitcher.
In Chicago…probably not, but back on cozily familiar Channel 9 in New York, the pitcher held as much attention of Mets fans as he could — when they weren’t watching the pitcher who was pitching in New York on relatively foreign Channel 11.
That was Tom Seaver, then of the White Sox, forever of the Mets. Fate landed him at 299 wins and inside Yankee Stadium going for his 300th win. Tom Seaver was the Mets’ best pitcher ever.
Though in the summer of 1985, so was Dwight Gooden, and he was pitching for the Mets at the moment, against the Cubs at Wrigley Field and, in his way, against the legend of Tom Seaver. Tom Terrific, sixteen years earlier, had won ten consecutive decisions, a franchise record. Four days earlier at Shea, Doctor K matched the streak and now was looking to exceed it. Twenty years old, and the kid was looking to out-Franchise The Franchise on the day Seaver was reaching for a whole other level of immortality.
So much symmetry and so much great Met pitching between Channel 9 and Channel 11. Mets fans working their remote controls could only hope they didn’t get stuck on Channel 10.
Technically, neither Mets ace was involved in a home game, but Seaver came remarkably close to transporting Shea to the Bronx. He upstaged a Yankee broadcaster on what was supposed to be his big afternoon— Phil Rizzuto was having his number retired — and lured a Met broadcaster back to New York for the afternoon. WPIX classily signed Lindsey Nelson to a one-game contract so one of the primary voices from Seaver’s heyday could call Seaver’s day of days.
Nelson, who underscored Seaver’s milestone jubilation by advising, “if you could hear him right now, his voice is up in such a high key only the dogs can understand him,” couldn’t bark at making the trip from Knoxville, Tenn., as it turned out to be an ideal day in the Bronx. If the White Sox starter wasn’t exactly the Seaver of old, he was close enough, carrying a three-run lead into the bottom of the ninth. With one on, Ron Hassey became Tom’s seventh strikeout victim, and Willie Randolph flied to right for the second out. A walk followed, bringing up pinch-hitter Don Baylor.
Unlike some later 300th wins that were left in the hands of closers, the 40-year-old Seaver went after Baylor himself. While Nelson practiced buoyant restraint on Channel 11 in applying the personal touch, White Sox fans watching in Chicago heard Ken Harrelson call the end of the game this way:
“Two outs! Fans come to their feet! The biggest media representation in Yankee Stadium in years! So it’ll be two veterans — Seaver and Don Baylor, who represents the tying run. Baylor hitting at .240, 18 homers, 67 RBIs. High to left, playable! Reid Nichols camps underneath it! History!”
History, indeed. Not just because Seaver became the 17th big league pitcher to attain what’s always been considered the milestone of pitching milestones, but because of the way his minions occupied normally unfriendly territory. It was a sight and sound to behold as a chant of “Let’s Go Mets” accompanied the White Sox’ four-run rally in the sixth. If the exhortation wasn’t universally appreciated in the renovated House that Ruth Built, Seaver certainly was — and Seaver appreciated the circumstances.
“I have beautiful memories here,” Seaver said after defeating the Yankees, 4-1, harking back in general to the days when he pitched for a New York team and specifically to moments like returning to town a month after his trade to the Reds to pitch in the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium in 1977 and his Opening Day assignment when he wore Met colors at Shea again in 1983. “New York fans are fairly sophisticated baseball fans and they know what goes on and they know I’ve done in 19 years.”
They also knew what was going on two frequencies down the dial and one time zone to the west. While Seaver was basking in history, Gooden was making ever more of it. The Doctor wasn’t going to deny Mets fans a pitching sweep — and he’d do his best to not suffer the fate that befell Seaver in all those starts in which he pitched brilliantly but received tepid offensive support. Gooden drummed up his own support by doubling off Ray Fontenot in the top of the third at Wrigley and coming around on a Keith Hernandez single. By the end of the half-inning, the Mets led the Cubs 3-0 and their ace didn’t need much more help after that.
It may not have been a classic, but it was classically effective: a five-hit complete game victory for Gooden, albeit with “only” six strikeouts. The only Cub run was unearned, the only Cub hits were singles, and they didn’t record any of them until the fifth inning. The final score? 4-1, New York over Chicago, the same score by which Seaver won for Chicago in New York at the same hour. Seaver’s 300th was etched in stone, but erased that afternoon was one of his oldest standards. Gooden had just won a Mets-best eleventh decision in a row, supplanting Seaver’s mark from the magic summer of ’69 Bryan Adams was singing about regularly on Top 40 radio from coast to coast in the summer of ’85.
“Records are made to be broken,” the young Doctor confirmed, “and I’m proud to have that one.”
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On July 30, 2000, Mets fans saluted a slew of players who created their franchise’s most indelible episodes and then turned to the current crop of players to enjoy a couple of unforeseen treats. It was Ten Greatest Moments day at Shea in which Mets from 1962 to the present were introduced in pregame ceremonies and various peaks in Met history were applauded. An Internet fan vote had declared the 1986 World Championship the No. 1 moment in the first 37-plus years of Mets lore. After a string of ’86ers, ’69ers and other big names — everyone from Frank Thomas to Willie Mays to Todd Pratt — took their bows, two names nobody was associating with Mets history at that juncture came to the fore.
One inning after Benny Agbayani led off the ensuing Sunday game against the Cardinals with a home run off Garrett Stephenson, Bubba Trammell batted with two on and nobody out. Trammell had just been acquired from the Devil Rays, same as Mike Bordick had been obtained by trade from the Orioles. The day before, Bordick hit the first pitch he saw as a Met for a home run. Here, Trammell wasn’t quite so sudden in his impact, but on the third pitch he saw as a Met — still his first at-bat — Bubba followed Bordick’s example and hit one over the fence. The Mets took a 4-0 lead.
And probably more surprising than anything Bubba Trammel did in a Mets uniform was the performance of the pitcher who held on to that lead clear through the ninth inning. Bobby Jones, a Met since 1993, had been a dependable performer for several seasons, cresting as an All-Star in 1997, but had become a shaky proposition in recent years. Things got so bad in early 2000 that the Mets sent Jones (with his assent) to Norfolk to work out his kinks.
The so-called Norfolk Miracle Cure did wonders for the veteran righty, who fired his first complete game in more than three years in defeating St. Louis 4-2. Jones carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning, eventually giving up only four hits and striking out nine. The pitcher who had gone to Virginia with a 10.19 ERA weighing down his baggage had hopped back over to the right track. Bobby wouldn’t have another game quite as good as this one the rest of the 2000 season, but with Jones pitching in, there would be a 2000 postseason.
And it would be then that Bobby Jones would make his pitch to rewrite the list of the Ten Greatest Moments in New York Mets history.
GAME 104: July 31, 1983 (2nd) — METS 1 Pirates 0 (12)
(Mets All-Time Game 104 Record: 24-25; Mets 1983 Record: 39-65)
This, you might say, is where the Mets began to become the Mets, at least the Mets as they were on the verge of being understood. It wasn’t an instantaneous transformation, but it takes only a little hindsight to see how the pieces were coming together sooner than perhaps could be comprehended in real time. In real time, the summer of 1983 had been a terrible time.
This Sunday doubleheader at Shea commenced to changing all that. It couldn’t all be done in one day, even with a pair of twelve-inning victories and a Banner Day parade thrown in, but the seeds of contentedness could be viewed as finally taking root.
After entering the day as hopeless, hapless and 28 games below .500, the Mets bury themselves early versus the Pirates, falling behind 6-1 in the sixth, but storming back to tie it in the eighth — propelled by back-to-back home runs from Keith Hernandez and George Foster — and they win it in the twelfth, when Bob Bailor drives in Darryl Strawberry against long-ago Met farmhand Jim Bibby. Jesse Orosco pitches four scoreless innings to gain the 7-6 win.
Then come the banners.
After which comes discouragement.
The Met bats do nothing worth writing home (or on a bedsheet) about. Jose DeLeon has his way with them, collecting eleven strikeouts in nine innings. He collects all kinds of outs, actually. The Mets don’t get a hit off DeLeon until there’s one out in the ninth (Hubie Brooks doing the honors) and then that hitter is erased on a double play (Keith Hernandez’s, no less). But amazingly, the Mets are still in a scoreless duel because the mostly flammable Mike Torrez is bottom-line matching DeLeon. He’s not the same kind of untouchable (or “perfect” as Brooks judged) as DeLeon, but Torrez manages to scatter eight hits over eleven innings without allowing a single Buc to cross home plate.
It’s the most innings any Met pitcher has thrown in one game since Jerry Koosman went eleven five years earlier…and it’s the last time a Mets pitcher will ever go that far into a game. Perhaps manager Frank “Hondo” Howard figures that with a last-place club, there’s nothing to save Torrez for.
The Mets’ second hit, in the tenth, is also erased on a double play (a Bob Bailor lineout). In the bottom of the eleventh, Howard pinch-hits Rusty Staub for Torrez, but even Le Grand Orange comes up empty against Kent Tekulve, who replaced DeLeon in the tenth. In the twelfth, Hondo turns to hot hand Orosco to keep the Pirates at bay a little longer. The strategy works — Jesse walks Gene Tenace with two out but retires Lee Lacy to escape unscathed.
The Mets’ misbegotten 1983 marketing slogan was Now The Fun Starts. For once, it was truth in advertising.
Bottom of the twelfth. Mookie Wilson commences matters by singling off Manny Sarmiento. Mook’s the first Mets leadoff batter to reach base since Keith walked to start the fourth (and was erased on a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play; Mookie’s single means the Mets have as many hits as double plays hit or run into in this game). Hubie is ordered to bunt and he complies, sacrificing Wilson to second. Chuck Tanner, no dummy, walks Hernandez to get to George Foster and set up yet another double play. It’s not bad strategy considering Foster is slow and Hernandez is slow.
But Mookie is fast, and what happens unfolds in a Flushing minute:
Foster grounds to Johnny Ray at second. Not a lightning fast grounder — and it’s not picked perfectly cleanly by Ray. Hernandez, as noted, is not lightning fast, either, but he runs and slides hard enough to make life difficult for Dale Berra, the shortstop who forces Mex. That’s one out. Meanwhile, Mookie is zipping around third. Foster is charging, in his fashion, for first.
Which means Mookie Wilson is scoring the winning run from second base on a ground ball out.
“I didn’t know Mookie was trying to score until the last second,” Berra said as he gave up on the 4-6-3 DP and tried to nail the Mets’ speedster.
No dice. Mookie had one destination in mind from the nanosecond George connected, and it wasn’t third. After receiving the high sign from third base coach Bobby Valentine, he knew where he was going.
“All my thoughts were collected before Foster even came to bat,” Mookie explained. “I’d already looked down at Bobby and got the OK, so there was no hesitation. He’d told me to go ahead.
Mookie went as fast as he could, which the National League had noticed was about as fast anybody could.
Berra: “Once Johnny didn’t field the ball cleanly, I thought about Wilson trying to score, but I didn’t see him.”
And how are you gonna catch what you can’t see?
With Mookie making himself a blur, the Mets win the nightcap 1-0 in 12 after winning the opener 7-6 in 12. Jesse Orosco, an All-Star selection earlier in the month, wins both ends of the doubleheader, the first time a Met pitcher has done so since Willard Hunter in 1964. Jesse will go on to become the National League’s most dynamic relief pitcher over the final two months of the season and finish third in the Cy Young voting.
Mookie, in the meantime, establishes a signature play. He will actually replicate it three days later, scoring from second under eerily similar circumstances (one out, grounder, same cast of supporting batters, same winning pitcher). His recognition as one of the sport’s true generators of excitement grows.
And the Mets? They’re out of it, of course, but they inject some life into their deadly ways at last, finishing their final 60 games with a record of 31-29, pretty much the first time in a decade that they’ve gone out on an indisputable high note. Mookie’s in place. Jesse’s in place. Mex is here. Hubie…Darryl…even Foster drives in 90 runs. Frank Howard will be replaced by the manager from Tidewater, Davey Johnson, who will bring with him some of the best starters the Mets’ minor leagues are developing. And in relatively little time, there will be consecutive Mets games whose signature moments will include Mookie Wilson hustling along the basepaths and Jesse Orosco recording a final out.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. 1983 was billed as the “now” when the fun was to start. On a most banner day at the end of July, it really kind of did.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On August 5, 1985, the Mets took sole possession of first place for an indeterminate span, though the way they claimed the top spot in the National League East was surely crowned with an exclamation point. Players and owners were facing off in one of their periodic battles to the death and the clock was ticking down on a strike deadline. This Monday would be baseball’s final day of games until nobody-knew-when. The Mets entered their Monday matinee at Wrigley Field a half-game behind the Cardinals and figured it couldn’t hurt to make a move on first just in case they had to lock the penthouse door behind them during any kind of protracted job action.
Nobody was more emphatic about evicting the Redbirds from the perch they’d held for more than a month than Darryl Strawberry.
In the top of the first, facing Cubs righthander Derek Botelho, Darryl lashed a three-run homer over the ivy to stake Ed Lynch to a 3-0 lead. Two innings later, Darryl homered with no one on to make it 4-0. In the fifth, with two out and Wally Backman on second, Cubs manager Jim Frey (the Met coach closest to Strawberry when Darryl came to the majors in 1983) learned his lesson and ordered Botelho to walk his obvious nemesis. The fans at Wrigley booed the decision, and were none too happy when Danny Heep rendered it useless with a two-run double.
And come the seventh, Darryl cracked his third home run of the day, this one off reliever Ron Meridith.
By becoming the first Met to blast three home runs in one game since Claudell Washington five years before (and the fourth ever), Straw stirred the Mets to a 7-2 win and the edge of ending a day alone in first place for the first time since June 6. They’d need a little help, and, as it turned out, Darryl’s power surge resonated all the way down to St. Louis where the Cardinals were pounded by the Phillies, 9-1. The loss pushed them into second, behind the first-place Mets, an order the New Yorkers quite liked and got to enjoy for the duration of the dreaded strike that was called that night. Fortunately for baseball, the labor dispute was settled within 72 hours and everybody was back on the field by Thursday.
But if you’re going to take what amounted to an extended coffee break, better to sip from first than from anywhere else.
GAME 105: August 20, 1995 — METS 5 Dodgers 3
(Mets All-Time Game 105 Record: 26-23; Mets 1995 Record: 45-60)
A phenomenon came to Shea Stadium this Sunday afternoon. He went up against something of a phenom. Those who showed up for the latter came away pleased with the results.
As for the former, in a way Nomomania, the excitement surrounding Hideo Nomo’s first start in New York, was a harbinger of crowds to come at Shea Stadium. Nomo was the first Japanese star player to make a splash in America and, as such, attracted attention as well as fans (Asian and otherwise) to a ballpark where post-strike attendance had been spotty as the team groped for any sustained stretch of success.
While the Mets went about building themselves back up, their building became an intermittent magnet not so much for Dodgers fans but for people drawn to big names and big deals. In later years, it would be everybody from Chan Ho Park to Mark McGwire to Sammy Sosa to Barry Bonds packing in those who didn’t seem too interested in the home team (throw in Merengue Night as another non-Mets attraction that helped fill Shea). That was all coming in the late ’90s and early ’00s. For August 1995, the bright, shiny object that briefly pumped up the gate was the hurler they called the Tornado.
All the Mets could offer to counter the publicity blitz around Nomo — 10-3, with a 2.08 ERA entering the game — was a homegrown pitcher whom their loyalists were watching closely even if the rest of the world wasn’t. Since his mid-July recall from Norfolk, where he had been toying with Triple-A hitters, Jason Isringhausen, 22, had given Mets fans a taste of a better future. Three of his previous four starts had gone eight innings and had yielded no more than six hits. If it wasn’t exactly the stuff of Izzymania, it — along with some promising outings by fellow freshman Bill Pulsipher — served as hopeful building blocks for anyone looking to pave a Met way out of the N.L. East cellar.
The Mets didn’t think they’d be stuck in fifth place for the bulk of the summer, but once it was apparent they weren’t going anywhere, they dispatched most of their higher-priced veterans and took to rebuilding in earnest. Bobby Bonilla and Bret Saberhagen went at the trade deadline. Then, just before this weekend set with the Dodgers commenced, the Mets returned Brett Butler from whence he came…right back to L.A. The Mets had signed him a couple of weeks before the season started, picturing him as the leadoff hitter they’d lacked since the apogee of Mookie Wilson and Lenny Dykstra (a.k.a. Mookstra).
Butler had lingered in the Mets fan regret-filled subconscious for several years, actually, having come on the free market the same winter as Vince Coleman. The Mets chose Coleman, who failed; meanwhile, Butler flourished. Finally in a Mets uniform, Brett wound up demonstrating late wasn’t always better than never. The 38-year-old center fielder proved a poor fit for New York and was happy to realight with his old club, one in a pennant race in 1995 and, conveniently, just across the diamond at Shea.
With Butler a Dodger, the suddenly younger Mets felt invigorated. They called up 23-year-old Butch Huskey, planted him at third base and took the first two games from the visitors from the west, both of them one-run affairs. They went for the sweep on Sunday in front of 33,668, their largest home crowd since Opening Weekend…and Opening Weekend was jammed only because the Mets had slashed ticket prices as a post-strike gesture of goodwill.
Nomo was the main draw; Birmingham Black Barons caps given away as a salute to the Negro Leagues probably helped, too. But Mets fans who came to the Mets’ stadium to see the Mets were pretty stoked to see if Isringhausen could keep pace with the Japanese import, a tough task. Nomo indeed got great mileage, dropping 13 strikeouts on Mets batters in seven innings, the ninth time he reached double-digits in his first MLB season.
But the Tornado wasn’t untouchable. With one out in the bottom of the third, Nomo walked Izzy on four pitches, then walked Joe Orsulak behind him. Jose Vizcaino, the Mets’ low-key but eminently useful shortstop of the mid-’90s, made Hideo pay for his only wildness of the day by blasting a three-run homer. Carl Everett was next in the order and next in the long-hit parade. Everett went yard and the Mets led 4-1.
Izzy would give back two runs in the Dodger fourth, but ground out ex-teammate Butler with the tying run on third and get through six with no further damage. Huskey provided an insurance run with a distant leadoff homer off Nomo in the seventh, and Doug Henry and John Franco closed down the Dodgers from there for the 5-3 victory.
Those customers who were most interested in “the scene” got what they came for — Hideo Nomo was the real deal, at least as far as 1995 was concerned. But the Mets fans who saw better days stitched into that long name above No. 44 were rewarded, too. Isringhausen went to 3-2 on the season en route to a 9-2 record all compiled in the second half. Izzy would ride that momentum to a fourth-place finish in the National League Rookie of the Year voting — well behind winner Nomo, but a pretty good showing considering how obscure he and his team were to the voters when ’95 began.
“As the Mets rebuild their product, they are trying to restore their fan base as well,” Marty Noble wrote in Newsday. “All Isringhausen did was beat Nomo. The magic was not back. But in the stands, winning and an absolute monster home run by Butch Huskey appeared to be enough to satisfy the hand-clapping, souvenir-buying, chant-chanting zealots and even the faithful who came armed with brooms, anticipating a third win in three games.”
Unknown to Noble — who framed the weekend finale as “the best of days for the Mets” coming as they did “in the midst of the worst of times” — or anyone on hand, the trio of triumphs over the Dodgers kick-started the Mets to a relatively hellacious finish: 34-18 over their final 52 games, a notable improvement from how they started their heretofore lackluster year. They had a potential ace pitcher of 22, a potential game-breaking slugger of 23 and a sweep of a first-place club. When you’ve been down in the dumps, that’s practically a bounty of riches.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On July 28, 2001, you could be forgiven a double-take as you watched the bottom of the ninth inning proceed. After all, you’d had less than 24 hours to process that two of your mainstay relievers were now aligned with your opponents. The night before, a Friday, Mets GM Steve Phillips continued to throw in the towel on what had been an extremely disappointing season, making his second trade in a week, each intended to strip payroll from a roster that Phillips judged incapable of rebounding into playoff contention.
First, he had dealt 1999 playoff hero Todd Pratt to the Phillies for a cheaper catcher, Gary Bennett. Then it was time for lefty Dennis Cook and righty Turk Wendell to make the trek to the same club, in exchange for two pitchers, major leaguer Bruce Chen and prospect Adam Walker. Spicing the wheeling and deal was that the Phillies were who the Mets were playing that very weekend. Cook and Wendell didn’t have to go far to find their new teammates — they were over in the visiting clubhouse.
Fast-forward to the bottom of the ninth of Saturday afternoon’s 3-3 game, one in which Pratt started for the Phillies and collected three hits off Al Leiter (the same pitcher who, as a Marlin, surrendered Pratt’s first Met hit in 1997 — a home run). Pitching for the Phils was Wendell, pretty close to a folk hero at Shea since emerging as Bobby Valentine’s most dependable middle-innings man in 1998. Whether it was the slamming of the rosin bag, the necklace of animal teeth, the sporting of No. 99 or simply his clutch pitching, Wendell was pretty popular. But so was the man he’d face to lead off the ninth, Robin Ventura. Robin’s popularity soared two pitches later as he took Turk for one last trip to downtown Flushing. Ventura’s booming homer to right-center gave the Mets a 4-3 win…and must have tempted Pratt to reprise his Grand Slam Single tackle from two years earlier.
But Pratt, like Wendell and Cook, was wearing the wrong uniform for those kinds of hijinks now.