|The late Harry Caray probably wishes he hadn't been taken out to the ballgame on August 16, 1987.|
The New York Mets are currently playing the crosstown rival Yankees in a four-game home-and-home series. Thirty years ago today, the Mets were playing another of baseball's storied franchises, taking on the Chicago Cubs on a lazy Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field. One year after winning the 1986 World Series, the Mets were battling the St. Louis Cardinals for the division title and needed to win the finale of their four-game set against the Cubs after dropping the first three games. They were in the throes of a poor stretch that saw them lose six out of eight games after they had cut the Cardinals’ lead in the division from 10½ to 3½ games. In that eight-game stretch, they had scored only 20 runs. They needed to bust out of their slump quickly if they were going to continue to stay in the race with St. Louis. Fortunately, the wind was blowing out at Wrigley Field on August 16, 1987 and the Mets’ bats were ready to take advantage.
The starting pitchers were Ron Darling for the Mets and a kid for the Cubs who had just been recalled from the minors after being sent down two weeks earlier due to a poor 6-10 start for the big club. You may have heard of him. He was a scrawny 21-year-old kid named Greg Maddux.
The Mets jumped out of the box quickly, scoring three runs in the first inning to take an early lead. The lead had extended to 7-0 by the time the Cubs came up to bat in the bottom of the fourth inning. However, Darling struggled in the fourth, giving up a grand slam to catcher Jody Davis. That was followed up by a home run from the next batter, a rookie who was pinch-hitting for Cubs reliever (and former Met) Ed Lynch. That neophyte was Rafael Palmeiro, who hit the tenth of his 569 career home runs to cut the Mets lead to 7-5.
Fortunately for Darling, manager Davey Johnson did not remove him from the game despite the poor inning. He was allowed to put out the fire he started and pitch the minimum five innings required to qualify for the victory. Because of that, Darling was able to stick around to reap the benefits of the additional fireworks displayed by his teammates as they continued to ride the jet stream out of Wrigley Field.
The Mets immediately responded to the Cubs’ five-run fourth by scoring three runs in the fifth inning and seven additional runs in the sixth. They now had a commanding 17-5 lead, but the Cubbie carnage continued. Not satisfied with a lead of a dozen runs, they scored three additional runs in both the seventh and eighth innings. Jesse Orosco relieved Darling in the seventh and gave up four runs in his inning of work, but by then, the Mets had already put the game away. A run by Chicago in the ninth inning off Jeff Innis produced the final tally in the Mets’ 23-10 shellacking of the Cubs.
The offense was powered by Lenny Dykstra and Darryl Strawberry. Eights were wild for the two Met outfielders, as they combined for eight hits, eight runs scored and eight runs batted in. Strawberry in particular smoked the Cubs’ pitchers, as all four of his hits went for extra bases (two doubles, a triple and a home run).
|Dykstra and Strawberry - two smiling California kids who put lots of frowns on Cubs fans' faces on August 16, 1987.|
In doing so, Strawberry became just the third Met to produce four extra-base hits in one game, joining Joe Christopher, who accomplished the feat in 1964, and Tim Teufel, who turned the trick just six weeks prior to Strawberry. Strawberry added a stolen base in the second inning, making him the first Met to collect four extra-base hits and a stolen base in the same game. The Straw Man was the only Met to accomplish this feat until Yoenis Céspedes matched him with four extra-base hits (three homers, one double) and a steal against the Colorado Rockies on August 21, 2015.
Strawberry also became just the third Met to score five runs in a game, after Lenny Randle in 1978 and Lee Mazzilli in 1979. In addition, the Straw Man drove in five runs, making him the first Mets player to have a five-run, five-RBI game in franchise history. The only other Mets to accomplish that rare feat since August 16, 1987 are Edgardo Alfonzo, who produced six runs and five RBI against the Houston Astros on August 30, 1999, and Céspedes in the aforementioned 2015 affair. He had seven RBI to go with his five runs scored.
Dykstra also made Mets history in the game, becoming the first Met to collect seven at-bats in a nine-inning game. The only Met to match Dykstra since then is Luis Hernandez, who went 3-for-7 in an 18-5 thrashing of the Cubs in 2010, which, just like Dykstra's record-setting effort 23 years earlier, took place on a lazy Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
Strawberry and Dykstra victimized several Cubs pitchers that day, including starting pitcher Greg Maddux. Maddux collected almost 10% of his 355 career wins against the Mets. His 35 victories (against 19 losses) are the most by any pitcher against New York. However, one of his worst pitching performances against the Mets (or any other club) took place on that Sunday afternoon in the North Side of Chicago.
Throughout his major league career, which resulted in a much-deserved call to the Baseball Hall of Fame this year, Maddux was always known as a control pitcher, as he walked fewer than 1,000 batters in over 5,000 innings. But on August 16, 1987 against the Mets, Maddux pitched 3⅔ innings and was charged with seven earned runs allowed. He gave up six hits and a very un-Maddux-like five bases on balls. Let's dissect Maddux's effort to see just how much of an anomaly this game was for him.
|Greg Maddux would have preferred starting at Shea Stadium on August 16, 1987.|
Greg Maddux made 740 starts in his big league career. He issued five bases on balls or more in just 20 of those starts. But in 14 of those 20 starts, he lasted at least six innings, giving him more time to issue those free passes. Maddux wouldn't have another game in which he lasted fewer than four innings and allowed five or more walks until 2004, a year in which he produced his first ERA above 4.00 since - you guessed it - 1987.
Maddux also allowed seven earned runs in the game, which was the first time he had ever allowed that many runs in one of his starts. Maddux would go on to allow seven or more earned runs in a start a total of 27 times in his career, including three more times against the Mets, but he never walked more than three batters in any of his other seven-run efforts. The game on August 16, 1987 was the only time in his 23-year career that Maddux allowed seven or more runs and walked more than three batters. And that was from a future Hall of Famer who beat the Mets more than any other pitcher in the 56-year history of the club.
Going into their series finale against the Cubs on August 16, 1987, the Mets were in a hitting slump and got out of it in a major way at Wrigley Field. They scored more runs in that one game than they did in their previous eight contests combined. By doing so, the Mets established a new franchise record with their 23-run outburst in Chicago and were able to use that game as a stepping stone that carried them all the way until the last week of the season, when they were eliminated from playoff contention by the Cardinals. And it all happened exactly 30 years ago today.