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Old Home Week

I gotta say, I am loving the 1986 vibe around our first-place Mets. True, it’s mostly a function of homecoming weekend (a concept I dared only dream of when Citi Field was no more than a branding exercise [1]), but this wouldn’t work nearly as well without the Mets being in first place.

And did I mention the Mets are in first place? By an entire .004 over the Washington Nationals they are, gaining that decimalian advantage by not blowing Friday night’s game to the Los Angeles Dodgers or, more accurately, blowing it before blowing by them and grabbing it back [2].

That’s the teamwork that will make the dream work.

Twenty-four hours in advance of Jacob deGrom [3] growing ever closer to resembling Jacob deGrom (seven three-hit, three-walk innings; one run, seven strikeouts, not bad at all in toto if not quite deGrominant in form); relative tween Julio Urias [4] not being Fernando Valenzuela [5] (yet); David Wright [6] socking one deep to right center (talk about your throwbacks); Juan Lagares [7] homering and driving in three (remember him?); and, after Jeurys Familia [8] gave up a four-run lead, most of it to last October 10’s Worst Person in the World [9] (closers in non-save situation ERA: a million-kajillion), Curtis Granderson [10] reordering all narrative elements in a pleasing walkoff home run fashion (straight into Grandy’s Grove, formerly known as Utley’s Corner, a designation preferably applied to whatever spot in the visitors’ clubhouse Ol’ Chase will ball up into the fetal position after Noah Syndergaard [11] finally takes care of him tonight), the 1986 Mets were dominating my thoughts much as Davey Johnson [12] promised they’d dominate the N.L. East of their day.

They're always welcome back. [13]

They’re always welcome back.

That was the best part of 1986, the way the Mets conducted themselves as spring turned to summer and summer settled in and the Mets glided 20,000 leagues above the sea. I loved going to sleep with the Mets a dozen games ahead and waking up with them fifteen games ahead and reaching nightfall with them eighteen games ahead. You couldn’t unwillingly hum along to “Danger Zone” or “Who’s Johnny” or any of the hits of the year [14] without the Mets picking up ground over the Cardinals or Expos or Phillies, whichever saps sat in the most inconsequential second place divisional play had ever seen. Of course that would all be Afterthought City thirty years later if not for what happened when the regular-season decks were cleared and the Mets proved themselves all over again versus Houston and Boston…which is when things got extraordinarily real.

The apex of human and Metsian existence came as October 25, 1986, tiptoed across midnight into October 26 and our beloved sports collective found itself on the edge of extinction. How close this came to disturbing reality was brought home Thursday night when WOR, bless its non-streaming soul, reaired Game Six of the 1986 World Series, just as it sounded over WHN (except with crummier fidelity, but never mind that right now). I’ve heard recordings of Bob Murphy and Gary Thorne calling the highlights countless times across three decades, but this was the first time I’d had the opportunity to listen as if it was happening live since Christmas Eve 1987, when an enterprising sports talk host on the new WFAN by the name of Howie Rose played it for us as a holiday gift.

It still holds up, not surprisingly. Murph was Murph, Thorne meshed beautifully with Bob and the content is Game Six of the 1986 World Series. If I wasn’t exactly on the edge of my seat in 2016, the ancient anxieties nonetheless reassembled as Dave Henderson [15] took Rick Aguilera [16] down the left field line, the Red Sox tacked on an additional run and — after Murphy announced “it’ll take a huge effort here” — neither Wally Backman [17] nor Keith Hernandez [18] could instigate an answering rally.

Two behind, two out, nobody on, the postseason about to go down and take the stillborn legacy of the 1986 Mets with it. There is no more WHN, no more Bob Murphy, no more Shea Stadium, no way a parachutist would sneak himself into heavily guarded airspace and I ain’t no 23-year-old no more, but the whole thing hung heavily in the balance anew nonetheless.

Then…well, you know. But even though you do know, geez. Y’know? Gary Carter [19] singles. Kevin Mitchell [20] singles. Ray Knight [21] digs a hole (Murph: “now my friends, the New York Mets are down to their final strike”). Knight climbs straight up and out of it to drive in Kid and move World to third. Calvin Schiraldi [22] is finally removed and John McNamara [23] turns to Bob Stanley [24], and Bob Stanley crosses up Rich Gedman [25] (or perhaps Rich Gedman just wasn’t agile enough to reach to his right; not our problem) and Mitchell crosses the plate with a tying run that is provisionally the most amazing thing that could have happened because at least it will get us to the eleventh inning, though Doug Sisk [26] will be pitching and, well…

That’s neither here nor there in the granular there and then which felt like here and now on Thursday, because Mookie Wilson [27] kept fighting off Stanley, and Stanley kept battling Mookie, and, at last, something was trickling.

A fair ball.

It got by Buckner.

Rounding third was Knight.

The Mets won the ballgame.

That’s about as calmly as I can replicate in the past tense what and how Murph reported what unfolded in an eyeblink. No need for the past tense where Game Six and 1986 are concerned, however. It is always with us. It is the milestone moment in franchise history and the best year a Mets team ever forged. It may not be the signature season of New York Mets baseball (1969 endures on that count), but the Mets were never greater and, no matter what they do in 2016 or any campaign down their long and winding road, never will be greater.

Yeah, even Lenny. [28]

Yeah, even Lenny.

The Mets were greatness incarnate in 1986. That’s why it’s so great to have them back this weekend. That’s why it’s so great that even a character of dubious distinction [29] like Lenny Dykstra [30] was slated to tend bar in Sunnyside Friday night after the Mets beat the Dodgers, 6-5, the same score by which the Mets beat the Red Sox in Game Six, the same score by which the Mets beat the Astros in Game Three, won by the man they call Nails, who ultimately gets a pass for everything because he hit one of the handful of walkoff home runs in Mets history to which all others must measure up.

Those throwback unis looked better against the Dodgers than they did against other comers so far this year. Maybe it had something to do with the starting pitcher’s litheness; Jake has the bod type/to rock the race stripe. Perhaps a night game is more natural milieu to stir memories of ’86, since most of those Mets were, to borrow a phrase from the book Roger Angell wrote [31] with David Cone [32], night critters. However one processes it, 1986 is in the air, and as television voice of that generation Tim McCarver [33] might put it [34], oh baby, I love it.