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” 118th game in any Mets season, the “best” 119th game in any Mets season, the “best” 120th 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 118: August 16, 1987 — Mets 23 CUBS 10
(Mets All-Time Game 118 Record: 26-22; Mets 1987 Record: 66-52)
The beginning of a period of heightened consciousness. An announcement of the forthcoming end of time as we knew it. A preparation to move from third-dimensional reality of space into fourth-dimensional reality of time. The initiation of a spiritual humanity factor.
All of the above was the New Age forecast for the Harmonic Convergence, scheduled to commence on Sunday, August 16, 1987. One description identified the date as the end of “the Hell cycle”. And coincidentally or otherwise, the Mets chose the very same day to score more runs than they ever did before or have since.
Met batters swung in harmony all game long and Met runners converged on home plate at Wrigley Field a franchise record 23 times.
If only the Hell cycle could have ended a little longer.
Were three Met runs in the top of the first a hint? Well, they were off a young, unaccomplished righty named Greg Maddux, but this was Wrigley, where a good stiff breeze makes runs as plentiful as Old Style. Even a 4-0 lead in the top of the third didn’t necessarily hint anything harmonic or historic was on tap. Darryl Strawberry knocked Maddux out of the box with a three-run homer in the fourth, so at 7-0 maybe it was worth leaning forward.
Then again, Ron Darling was pitching, and Ron Darling — whatever his skills — could from time to time demonstrate a knack for not being at his most effective with a lead. This was a pretty big lead, yet Darling found a way to be uncommonly ineffective pitching from ahead in the bottom of the fourth. A couple of walks set up a grand slam to Jody Davis, who was followed to the plate by Rafael Palmeiro. He homered, too. Now it was 7-5 and Darling wasn’t yet eligible for the win…assuming there was a win to be had.
His chances increased exponentially in the Mets’ fifth when Lenny Dykstra singled home one run and Keith Hernandez singled in two more to make it 10-5, Mets. Ronnie held the Cubs scoreless the bottom of the inning, and from there the Mets built as indestructible a lead as could be constructed in the old brick ballyard.
The sixth brought seven runs, highlighted by a two-RBI triple from Strawberry (playing with a sore hip, perhaps exacerbated from giving and receiving so many low-fives). That made it 17-5, and team records were blowing in the wind and toward Lake Michigan. When Mookie Wilson knocked in one and Lenny Dykstra went deep for two in the seventh, the Mets were up 20-5, tying their 1971 predecessors for most runs in a game. It was no more than a clerical detail to note Jesse Orosco, mopping up for Darling in the home seventh, allowed four more runs to the Cubs.
They were converging, too — just not as harmonically.
In the eighth, with Darryl on third (after his fourth hit of the day), Barry Lyons scratched out an infield single, plating Straw with the 21st Met run of the game and establishing a new franchise standard for offensive output. To make sure nobody would come along and tie or break it for the foreseeable future of heightened consciousness, Howard Johnson stepped up and homered to score Lyons and himself. That gave the Mets 23 runs.
Then, for the hell of it, Davey Johnson let reliever Jeff Innis pinch-hit for Orosco. He flied out.
The final wound up 23-10. Strawberry scored five and drove in five. Dykstra batted seven times and collected four hits. Hernandez had three hits and three runs. Darling scored twice. Seven different players accumulated at least two RBI. Jeff Innis pinch-hit, for crissake.
Consciousness may not have been heightened, time may not have ended and the remainder of the 1987 season (and everything thereafter) indicates the Hell cycle was just beginning in Metland. But for one day, on one number-laden horizontal line of the scoreboard, harmony ruled.
Twenty-three blessed times.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On August 19, 1969, one of the best pitchers of his generation shut out the Mets for 13⅓ innings and still couldn’t beat them. Juan Marichal may have been on his way to the Hall of Fame, but the ’69 Mets were are their way to a whole other plane.
Marichal was typically brilliant this Tuesday night at Shea, not allowing the Mets two baserunners in any one inning until the tenth and facing serious danger only through a fielding mishap in the twelfth, an episode that came to naught when Cleon Jones was thrown out at the plate. Gary Gentry was no piker, either, throwing ten scoreless frames. Tug McGraw took over in the eleventh, keeping the zeroes flowing, though you’d have to give an assist to his manager. With two out and nobody on in the top of the thirteenth, lethal lefty slugger Willie McCovey came up. Gil Hodges, truly protecting against the extra-base hit, convened a four-man outfield by moving third baseman Bobby Pfeil to the far left field corner and positioning Jones in the left-center power alley.
Hodges wasn’t concerned with Stretch singling and he couldn’t do much about him homering. But anything else that could be prevented the skipper was determined to prevent. And wouldn’t you know it, mighty Willie swung and belted a ball to the fence — not quite high enough to be gone maybe, but plenty deep enough to be trouble if only three men had been patrolling Shea’s outer pastures. Yet because Gil sent Cleon to left-center, it wasn’t trouble. It wasn’t easy, mind you: Jones had to leap and grab the ball backhanded, but he made the catch and got the Mets out of the inning.
The scoreless duel continued apace, Marichal setting down the next three Mets, McGraw retiring the next three Giants. Then, in the bottom of the fourteenth, after grounding Rod Gaspar back to the mound, Marichal finally proved human. He got a pitch up to Tommie Agee and Agee sent it where no outfielder — no matter how many you could have stuck out there — could stop it. Tommie’s homer into the left field bullpen shattered Marichal’s shutout and gave the Mets a 1-0 win for their fifth victory in a row.
It was that kind of year. It was getting to be, anyway.
GAME 119: August 16, 1988 — Mets 13 GIANTS 6
(Mets All-Time Game 119 Record: 24-24; Mets 1988 Record: 71-48)
That kid in class who finishes his work first and has to be told to sit quietly at his desk and read while everybody else plods on with their assignments? That was the Mets this Tuesday night at Candlestick Park.
Top of the first inning, please pick up your pencils…er, bats and begin.
Mookie Wilson: singles to left.
Atlee Hammaker: balks Mookie to second.
Tim Teufel: grounds out to short.
Keith Hernandez: singles to right, scores Mookie.
Darryl Strawberry: singles to right.
Candy Maldonado: throws poorly, allows Keith to go to third, Darryl to go to second.
Roger Craig: tells Atlee to walk Kevin McReynolds.
Kevin McReynolds: walks intentionally.
Gary Carter: singles to left, scores Keith.
Kevin Mitchell: makes error, lets Darryl score, lets Kevin and Gary move up a base each.
Howard Johnson: singles to right, scores Kevin.
Kevin Elster: singles to center, scores Gary.
Joe Price: relieves Atlee.
Dwight Gooden: strikes out.
Mookie Wilson: singles to center again, scores Howard.
Tim Teufel: doubles to center, scores Kevin and Mookie.
Keith Hernandez: pops up to left side of infield.
Robby Thompson: commits error on Keith’s popup, allows Tim to score.
Darryl Strawberry: flies to center.
Class, put down your bats. Does somebody want to come up to the board and show their work?
When the chalk dust settled, the Mets scored nine runs in top of the first inning on eight hits and three Giant errors. They set a team record for most runs scored in a first inning, and then they went out for the rest of the game and managed not to look completely bored as they beat the Giants, 13-6.
The Mets aced their assignment, all right.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On August 18, 2009, the Mets presumably called time before coming to bat in the bottom of the fourth at Citi Field so they could all run into their clubhouse and change into their hitting shoes. That had to be it, for what else could explain the dismal ’09 offense coming so alive all at once?
The Mets held themselves an old-fashioned hit parade in their Tuesday night hitting shoes. Here they came, marching about the bases, in stylish singles and doubles: Pagan, Castillo, Sheffield, Francoeur, Tatis, Santos, Hernandez (Anderson), Perez (Ollie), Castillo (again) and Sheffield (ditto). They stepped all over the Braves’ Derek Lowe and Kris Medlen for ten hits, the most hits the Mets have ever garnered in any one inning. The ten hits produced eight runs, accounting for most of the scoring in a 9-4 win over Atlanta.
Then the 2009 Mets turned back into pumpkins, as their hitting shoes proved to be nothing more than the fleeting glass slipper of fairy tales. Yet for one inning, they really did hit happily ever after.
GAME 120: August 16, 1999 — Mets 4 PADRES 3 (10)
(Mets All-Time Game 120 Record: 19-29; Mets 1999 Record: 73-47)
One of the freshest entries in the heartbreak sweepstakes better known as a Met bid for a no-hitter emerged this Monday night at Jack Murphy Stadium. Stepping onto the mound of ultimate disappointment was a contestant Mets fans were just getting to know, 25-year-old rookie Octavio Dotel, making only his ninth major league start. To date, Dotel had demonstrated what could kindly be called inconsistency, alternating brilliant and abysmal outings. His previous turn, against the Padres at Shea, had been unimpressive: 4⅓ innings, 4 hits, 5 walks, 5 earned runs.
Out in San Diego, however, he rediscovered his every-other-start magic. Octavio issued a one-out walk in the first to Tony Gwynn (and unleashed a wild pitch to move him to second), but then nothing. He was perfect the rest of the first and throughout the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth. Mike Piazza and Rickey Henderson each reached Sterling Hitchcock for solo blasts. The Mets led the Padres 2-0, and neophyte Dotel — who had collected two more hits off Hitchcock than he’d surrendered to any Padre — was closing in on filling the longest-running void in Mets history.
He was nine outs away from pitching the first no-hitter any Met had ever thrown.
And that’s as close as he’d get. The no-hitter stayed intact for two batters in the seventh, but unfortunately for Dotel, both — Gwynn and John Vander Wal — walked. Two were on for Phil Nevin, a certifiable late 1990s Met-killer. Octavio worked him to three-and-two, but on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, literally everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
Nevin got a hit.
Nevin’s hit was a homer.
Nevin homer scored Gwynn, Vander Wall and Nevin.
The Mets were no longer nine outs from breaking the 38-year no-hitter jinx.
The Mets were no longer winning.
The Mets were now behind.
Other than that, Octavio Dotel was having a whale of a night.
Actually, the kid rebounded with remarkable poise, striking out Wally Joyner, grounding out Ben Davis and fanning Damian Jackson (his ninth K) to avoid further problems.
“The biggest thing is coming back and getting three outs,” said pitching coach Dave Wallace, “because he wasn’t able to do that a month ago. That’s a sign of learning and maturing.”
“That’s what puts stripes on his shoulders and proves he belongs,” agreed Bobby Valentine.
Which was fine and brave Met talk in a military town like San Diego, but heartbreak had already pulled rank and, oh by the way, the Mets’ lead was AWOL.
The Mets’ veterans, however, were not inordinately let down, no matter how crushed their youthful starter might have felt. Edgardo Alfonzo led off the top of the eighth by singling and John Olerud singled him to third. Piazza hit into one of his more effective ground ball double plays, a 4-6-3 that let Fonzie score and tie the game at three. Turk Wendell and Dennis Cook got the Mets to extras, where Fonzie made all the difference in the world when he belted the Mets’ third solo home run of the night to give them a 4-3 lead. Armando Benitez preserved it with a scoreless tenth.
Dotel would eventually go to the bullpen in 1999, to the Astros in 2000 and to ten more teams thereafter, most recently the Cardinals, for whom he is pitching in 2011 at the age of 37.
That no-hitter drought, approaching 50 years of age, is still going strong, too.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On August 17, 1964, Dennis Ribant brought to mind one of the great utterances in baseball history, one certainly in tune with Casey Stengel’s “Youth of America” movement. Ribant, 22, made his second big league start at Shea and dazzled the Pittsburgh Pirates. He retired the first eleven batters to face him this Monday night and let only one baserunner get as far as third. Aided by a pair of Charley Smith home runs, the wiry righty won going away, 5-0. Dennis dominated as no Met hurler before him dominated. His was the first complete game shutout to be delivered with double-digit strikeouts (10) in team history — and he didn’t walk a single Buc.
His performance came some 53 years after a 25-year-old second baseman playing for the New York National League team of yore exulted to none other than Damon Runyon that “it’s great to be young and a New York Giant.” That infielder who was so overjoyed to be playing under John McGraw at the Polo Grounds in 1911 — when Ol’ Case was still a busher for the Aurora Blues of the Class C Wisconsin-Illinois League — was Larry Doyle, a triples-hitting whiz in his day and still very much alive in 1964. Lee Allen of The Sporting News had caught up with Doyle the previous summer in upstate Saranac Lake, a town that liked Larry so much they had recently honored their “most noted citizen” by crowning him King of the Winter Carnival.
Doyle, no fool at the age of 76, told the Chamber of Commerce that if they wanted him to serve as king, they’d have to get him a queen. They took his royal demand seriously and imported that distaff avatar of aristocracy, Miss Rheingold of 1963, Loretta Ann Rissell. Miss Rheingold was pretty famous in those days, just as Rheingold was already known far and wide as the Extra Dry Beer of New York’s new National League team. Thus, Allen invoked Doyle’s “regal association” with Miss Rheingold and suggested it “would seem to give him kinship with the Mets, providing a strain of old blood for the New Breed.” Naturally, Lee was compelled to wonder of Larry, “What did he think of the Mets anyway?”
He asked him directly, and you have to love the literary license the Sporting News scribe took. Allen wrote, “You forget what he replied, you remember that he smiled and, surely, like all old Giants, he wished them well. It’s great to be old and a Met fan.”