- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

He Put the 8 in 1985

Welcome aboard, and thank you for joining our tour group. We know you could have chosen any Met season to get lost in for a little while, but we think you chose wisely in deciding to join us here in 1985. We’re not supposed to play favorites, but between you folks and me, this is the one where you’ll want to wallow for a while.

We’re ready to start our tour here on December 10, 1984. Now I know what some of you are thinking, that technically this isn’t 1985. Well, not just yet, but the journey begins here by necessity, because we can’t take you where we’re going without stopping first at this spot. This is where Gary Carter gets traded to the Mets. It’s a stunner, all right. Carter’s an All-Star, a slugger, a Gold Glove catcher, but until now, he’s been an Expo.

Not anymore. We give up four promising young players to get him, including one of our favorites, Hubie Brooks, but it’s a bargain. You want promise? The promise of 1985 begins with Carter’s acquisition. The promise is literally spoken by the Kid himself. He stands in front of a room full of New York reporters and tells them about his right ring finger. Why that one? Because that’s the one he’s reserving for his World Series ring, the one he plans to earn as a New York Met.

Such promise. A season never approached with that kind of feeling before. The surprisingly good Mets of 1984 were instantly enhanced by Gary Carter. We see them coming into Spring Training and we see a contender, something we haven’t envisioned so clearly in February in a very long time.

That brings us to our next stop, St. Petersburg, Florida, Spring Training home of the New York Mets. Spring Training home of Gary Carter’s New York Mets. The energy around this team is off the charts. The feeling is they can do anything. If you look closely, you can even see a pitcher in camp on a non-roster invitation, No. 21, Sidd Finch. Sidd’s not going to make the team, but these Mets are loaded with pitching: Gooden, Darling, Berenyi, Lynch, Latham. Orosco, Sisk and McDowell in the bullpen. They’re all young and they all figure to benefit from throwing to the National League’s best catcher.

And this lineup — as strong a lineup as a Mets manager has ever committed to a lineup card. There’s Keith Hernandez, the team MVP from last year. And there’s Darryl Strawberry, the budding superstar. And George Foster, who still has some pop. Wally Backman can hit righties. Mookie Wilson can fly. Rafael Santana shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Howard Johnson comes highly recommended off the world champion Detroit Tigers.

In the middle of all that? A cleanup hitter who’s a threat to hit one out every time up. A batter who knows National League pitchers like he knows hitters. A guy who’s probably on his way to the Hall of Fame.

Gary Carter is here. Gary Carter is making us feel like more than contenders. He makes us feel like favorites. Like we’ve got something going on that’s special and is going to last a very long time.

Let’s move along, shall we?

Our next stop on the tour should look familiar to all of you. It’s Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York. This is April 9, Opening Day. What a crowd! It’s blustery today, but you can feel the heat rising from the Mets, particularly when No. 8 is introduced for the first time. That’s Carter. A year ago, we thought of him as the enemy. A year ago, in Montreal blue, he hit the grand slam that ruined Darling’s day and the Home Opener. But he’s not wearing somebody else’s uniform anymore.

He’s wearing ours. And look at the difference it makes ten innings after he’s introduced. Yes, that’s Neil Allen, the ex-Met, pitching for the Cardinals, and that’s Gary Carter, the Met now and forever more ending the game. Let’s listen to Steve Zabriskie on Channel 9 welcome him to New York.

Yup, he’s here, all right. He’s here to stay.

We’re still at Shea. It’s a couple of days later and the Mets are living up to their advance notices. The pitching is as billed, and that’s due in no small part to the new catcher, the catcher from Montreal. Here he is in the third game of the season guiding home Bruce Berenyi and Doug Sisk to a 1-0 win. The one run is on Carter’s second home run as a Met. And here he is in the fifth game of the season, hitting another home run and catching another shutout, the first of the year from Dwight Gooden. Doc strikes out ten Reds. Carter catches every one of them. One of them will wind up in a video Bruce Springsteen is making: “Glory Days”. It couldn’t be more appropriate for where Gary and the Mets are right now. They’ve won all five games they’ve played, giving up only two runs in the last four.

Carter’s catching them every day and they’re winning every day. The Mets are 5-0, folks. There’s a sense that nothing can stop them. It’s glorious.

It’s a month later now. We’re still at Shea. Things have warmed up but not everything has gone exactly as hoped for. The Mets are no longer undefeated, which isn’t a surprise. Gary Carter’s in a bit of a slump, which is, but he’s busting out tonight, May 7, against the Braves. Recognize the pitcher? That’s Bruce Sutter, one of the best relievers ever. And the hitter is Carter, lashing his first Met grand slam. The Mets win this game and they, like Gary, appear to be putting their stumbles behind them.

Our next stop is a month later, the middle of June, to be precise. The Mets are still trying to find their groove. They’ve had some injuries and they’re immersed in a dogfight for first place with the Cardinals, the Expos and the Cubs, the team that happens to be at Shea tonight. If you took the full 1984 tour, you’ll recognize the Cubs as the Mets’ nemeses, the ones who cost them the division last year. Somehow the Mets have yet to play them in 1985, so there’s a ton of anticipation for the opener. It’s Ron Darling and Rick Sutcliffe in a scoreless duel in the fourth inning…and can anybody take a guess at what happens next?

That’s right. Gary Carter leads off the fourth with a home run and the tension transforms into cheers. The fans know everything’s gonna be OK. By the end of the week, the Mets sweep four from the Cubs and they’re never heard from again for the rest of the season. This matters to us here in 1985 because when we got Gary in December, we had it in our heads that he would be the difference-maker between them and us. And he is.

Unfortunately, it’s the Cardinals who emerge as the Mets’ new rivals by now and as you’ll see on the edges of our tour, we have to keep a pretty close eye on them. You may not have bargained for it when you signed up for 1985, but that’s what happens.

But first, we’re going to ask you to buckle up for our flight to our next stop, and that’s Atlanta in early July. It’s a night like no other, a 19-inning marathon that includes two rain delays, all kinds of oddities and, when it’s over, fireworks at four in the morning. But not one minute before it is over does Gary Carter stop playing. He’s a 31-year-old catcher but he will not yield. He crouches for every gosh darn pitch and, as if that’s not enough, he goes 5-for-9 as the Mets win a game that would have been brutal to lose. The final score is 16-13. Manager Davey Johnson gives Gary the next night off.

As our tour winds into Houston just ahead of the All-Star break, does anybody notice anything disturbing? That’s right, it’s the lack of Gary Carter in the Mets’ lineup when word gets out that his knees aren’t right. There’s a lot of mileage on those joints and it might be catching up with this great catcher. The Mets cross their fingers while their trainers unspool their tape. The Kid’s well-being will bear watching the rest of the way.

Thankfully, we can watch him in action as we resume our tour after the All-Star break, as Gary Carter literally grins and bears it, He’s in the lineup and behind the plate again. You can’t miss him — though one of his old teammates comes perilously close. Our next stop is Shea Stadium, July 30, the Mets and the Expos. Headhunting Bill Gullickson, who Gary used to catch in Montreal, decides to play some chin music for Carter. Gooden, pitching for the Mets, returns the favor on Gary’s behalf. This is Gary’s team and Gary’s teammates are going to watch out for him. Of course Gary returns the favor by catching yet another brilliant performance from Gooden: another ten-strikeout, shutout win — Doc’s tenth victory in a row, the most since Tom Seaver in ’69.

Gooden is having the season of his life, as you might have noticed as our tour has taken us from April to August. He breaks Tom’s record for consecutive wins on the same day Tom wins his 300th as a White Sock. He fans sixteen Giants soon after, his most since last September. He becomes the youngest pitcher ever to win a twentieth game, against the Padres before August is done. And who’s catching him every time he makes history?

Gary Carter. Carter’s shepherding Gooden to superstardom. He’s helped Darling reach the All-Star team. He’s nurtured Sid Fernandez since returned from Tidewater and he’s welcomed Rick Aguilera to the big leagues, too. Carter’s impact as the catcher for these Mets as they sizzle through the summer cannot be understated. As our tour moves near September, you should take a good, hard look at that aspect of his game.

But now that we’re in September, there’s no way you can’t focus on his bat. Our next stop is San Diego. This is where Gary Carter takes off all over again. We advise you to put on your special neck gear otherwise you might strain something watching what he does.

There’s three home runs on Tuesday night, September 3, to beat the Padres.

And there are two home runs more on Wednesday night, September 4, to beat them again.

That’s five home runs in two days, something hardly anybody in major league history has ever done, certainly no Met. Going back to August 29, covering six games he’s played, Gary has whacked eight home runs. This is the veteran power bat the Mets craved when Frank Cashen traded those youngsters to Montreal. It’s exploding at the perfect time of year. The Mets and the Cardinals are neck and neck. Every hit is humongous. Every game is gargantuan. Everywhere you look, Gary Carter is hanging in there, bad knees and all. He catches all thirteen innings of a big win on a Friday night in Los Angles and he catches all fourteen in an equally big win on Sunday afternoon. Then he and the Mets fly home to take on the Cardinals in a three-game set that will decide who leads the division for the stretch drive. The Kid doesn’t rest and the Mets win two of three.

Gary Carter’s Mets are in first place on September 12. New York has been hanging on this team since they came north and this season since it began — since Carter beat the Cardinals on April 9. And they’re still hanging on. Everybody is buzzing. This is the month we as Mets fans have been waiting for.

I’m going to need you to hold on tight for the last part of our tour. The going gets very tough, though no tougher than Carter. In the 32 games he plays in September and the first week of October, Gary totals 13 homers and 36 runs batted in all while catching day in and day out, guiding Gooden to his mindblowing 1.53 ERA. The National League will name him its Player of the Month.

Our next stop is Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, the final Sunday in September. You can see Gary Carter’s final home run of the 32 he hits for the season. It comes in the tenth inning of a game the Mets must have. It’s a two-run shot that rescues the team from slipping out of the pennant race. The Mets win, 9-7, and go to St. Louis with a puncher’s chance of catching the Cardinals, who went on a hot streak and have taken a three-game lead with six to play. Now you understand why you had to keep an eye on them.

We stop now at Busch Stadium and watch Carter the catcher do maybe his finest work of the year, bringing Darling through nine pressure-packed innings and Jesse Orosco through two besides. The Mets take a lead when Darryl Strawberry launches a homer in the top of the eleventh and it hits the stadium clock. The Mets win this one, 1-0. They win the next night, too, behind Gooden’s 24th win. Carter, as usual, is behind the plate and leaps up to congratulate him when it’s over.

I’m sure you’ve noticed by now on the tour how ebullient Gary Carter is throughout 1985. He’s an instant sensation in New York, and it transcends anything he brought with him in the way of reputation. He’s making commercials and he’s pumping his fist and he’s thanking the fans after the fans thank him. He’s lighting up Shea Stadium and he’s lighting up the away games on TV. He’s not leading the Mets alone. We haven’t mentioned Keith Hernandez’s myriad contributions and we’ve skimmed over some of the other players, but as we get close to the end of our tour, we come back again and again to Gary Carter and how he’s made this the season of a lifetime for all of us lucky enough to feel like we’re living it again.

We’re going to close the tour back at Shea Stadium. The Mets didn’t win the third game in St. Louis and the Cardinals clinched the division a couple of days later. It was heartbreaking in a sense, yet the whole season was so full of life that the pain heals by this final stop on the last day. Here’s Carter and all of his teammates taking one final curtain call. The love affair between these 1985 Mets — his Mets — and we Mets fans is so strong, so palpable, that the 98 wins they rack up…most of them in stirring fashion…only partly describe what a special bunch they are and what an extraordinary season it’s been.

See Gary there, right there, practically smiling his teeth out? See those arms in the air? And the way he’s blocking the plate, giving no ground? And coming through so many times when it counted like you couldn’t believe it counted? And drawing you into the Mets like you’ve never been drawn in before?

You spend 162 games with the Mets in 1985, you never forget somebody like that [1].


(Jason’s farewell to Gary is here [2].)