Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Joey and Iggy Beartran Thanksgiving (2016)

We missed the start of the parade because Mother Nature called.  After all, that's what bears do in the woods.

Greetings and salutations, Mets fans!  We're Joey and Iggy Beartran and today is our favorite holiday of the year - Thanksgiving!  While most people are thankful for their health, their families and whatnot, we're mostly thankful that this is the one day of the year we get to eat anything and everything we want, especially turkey!  Oh, and we're also thankful that we're one day closer to the beginning of the next baseball season.  That's also kind of important to us.

The Mets gave their fans so many things to be thankful for since the last time Thanksgiving came around.  They gave us a full season of Yoenis Céspedes.  They gave us Noah Syndergaard and his Amazin' social media skills.  (He also has a pretty decent fastball.)  They gave us Bartolo Colón's home run.  And they also provided us with a second consecutive postseason appearance.

All Mets fans can be appreciative of those things.  But what are Iggy and I most thankful for this year?  And what will make us feel better about the upcoming 2017 season?  We have all the answers right here.  All you have to do is sit back and relaxBut don't relax too much!  You don't want to end up looking like Keith Hernandez during a day game after a night of barhopping in Sag Harbor.

Video courtesy of YouTube user watchablethings

Joey:  I'm thankful Iggy and I got to enjoy several baseball road trips together, as we visited Denver, Detroit and Cooperstown for the first time.  And even though I didn't get to meet Steve Gelbs in Detroit, that trip to Comerica Park set off a chain of events that eventually led to our first meet-and-greet at Citi Field.

Iggy:  I'm thankful we never have to go to Detroit again.  Going there was like getting in line at Citi Field's Shake Shack, missing three innings of the game and then being told they're sold out of Shackburgers.  In other words, it was a total waste of time.  (And it didn't help that the Mets lost every road game we attended.)

Meeting Steve Gelbs was one of our off-the-field highlights of the season.

Joey:  I'm thankful that we got to see Mike Piazza go into the Hall of Fame wearing a Mets cap on his plaque.  He was one of the best players to ever play for the team and I'm glad he got to share the day in Cooperstown with another of the game's all-time greats, Ken Griffey Jr.

Iggy:  I'm thankful I didn't get in this picture with Joey at Cooperstown.  The last thing I would want is for two guys from the 1969 World Champion Mets to laugh at me while I was posing in front of them.

Do I amuse you?  Apparently, I amused the good fellas behind me.

Joey:  I'm thankful we were able to spend the past three seasons marveling at the work of art that is Bartolo Colón.  He was a gem to watch on the mound and at the plate.  And he's also an inspiration to those of us who consider the act of eating to be as much of a national pastime as baseball has been throughout the years.

Iggy:  I'm thankful I bought Bartolo Colón's workout video.  It really helped me become more flexible while burning off those extra calories we consumed last Thanksgiving and throughout the baseball season.

We'll certainly miss this world class athlete.

Joey:  Finally, I'm thankful the Mets are going to make a push for an unprecedented third straight playoff appearance in 2017.  With Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler hopefully back at or near full strength, and the continued improvement of Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, the pitching should overcome whatever the Mets lose in offense this off-season.  And if Yoenis Céspedes ends up signing that long-term deal to remain in New York, we'll have a whole lot more to be thankful for.

Iggy:  And I'm thankful we each only have four things to be thankful for.  Our Thanksgiving feast has been sitting around since the days of the dinosaurs.  Let's eat!

Is that you, Scott Atchison?

So that's what we're thankful for this Thanksgiving.  Hopefully, you'll have many things to be thankful for as well.  Which reminds us, we're also thankful that even though you could be watching NFL football right now or perhaps picking away at the turkey on the dinner table like a 21st century version of the Old Man from "A Christmas Story", you chose to take the time to read our annual Thanksgiving Day post.  Hey, it's the least you could do after not inviting us over to share in your turkey day feast!

From our family to yours, we'd like to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and may all your wishes for the upcoming baseball season come true, as long as those wishes all involve the Mets winning a World Series and Bryce Harper playing golf in October.  Ya gotta believe!


When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.  We're greedy, so wished upon two of them.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Colón Blows Off Mets to Become Part of Braves' Quadragenarian Effort

Bartolo Colón will be taking his big sexiness down south for the 2017 season.  According to multiple reports, the fan-favorite former Met has signed a one-year deal worth $12.5 million to pitch for the Atlanta Braves.

This comes just a day after the Braves signed another 40-something one-time Met in R.A. Dickey, giving Atlanta the two oldest pitchers in baseball.  (The only non-pitcher older than Dickey is Ichiro Suzuki.)

The two signings also give hope to pitchers such as Scott Atchison (Atchison spent the 2016 season as a Cleveland Indians' advanced coach and staff assistant) that they can still play for a major league team, although in all honesty, Atchison may be out of the Braves' age range.

With Atlanta opening up its new ballpark next season, perhaps they're looking to put fannies in the seats with a bunch of quadragenarian players, especially now that soon-to-be 40-year-old catcher A.J. Pierzynski has retired.  But why stop there?  Why not bring back 58-year-old utility man Julio Franco, who in 5½ seasons with the Braves (2001-05, second half of 2007) put up an incredible .291/.363/.424 slash line in nearly 1,400 plate appearances - all while he was in his mid-to-late 40s.  Or better yet, how about franchise legend Phil Niekro?  He'll be 78 by Opening Day, but he's a knuckleballer, and you know that knucklers can pitch much later in life than their hard-throwing brethren can.  Plus, it would give Dickey a close friend on the team.

But in all seriousness, there was no way Sandy Alderson was going to commit $12.5 million to Colón in his age-44 season when he didn't give that to him in any of Colón's three seasons with the Mets.  As good and as entertaining as Colón was as a Met from 2014 to 2016, the Mets needed to pay him less than that amount if they wanted to keep players such as Yoenis Céspedes around.

The emergence of Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman has given the Mets hope, albeit in a small sample size, that they still have some kind of depth in the starting pitcher department in the event that the Fab Five of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler never materializes because of their constant injury issues.

If the Mets use the money they would have given to Colón to sweeten the pot for Céspedes and he ends up re-signing with the team, then great.  We'll miss Bart, but we'd have missed Yo more.  If one or all of the starting five miss a significant part of the season, then oops, the Mets will have crapped their pants; Colón blowing off the team for the money in Atlanta will come back to haunt New York.

The Mets begin the 2017 season at Citi Field next year.  Their opponent will be the Atlanta Braves.  More than likely, the Opening Day starter for the Braves will be Met-killer Julio Teheran.  But don't be surprised if Bartolo Colón and R.A. Dickey start the other two games of the series.  And you also shouldn't be surprised if the fans give both pitchers the same kind of welcome that Mike Piazza received when he returned to Flushing for the first time as a former Met in 2006.

I just hope both pitchers don't become Met-killers themselves, regardless of their Atchisonian age.

I have faith that the Mets will not make these SNL references come true.  Ya gotta believe, right?

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Mets Who Came Close to Winning a Major Award

In the classic film, "A Christmas Story", Ralph Parker's Old Man became quite excited when he realized he had won a major award.  And why shouldn't he?  It's not every day that someone is recognized with a prize, even if it's just a leg lamp wrapped in vintage Old West tumbleweed.

Just like Mr. Parker was rightfully pleased with what he won, major league ballplayers are tickled pink when they are bestowed with their sport's most prestigious single-season honors.  After all, a player's performance can vary dramatically from one campaign to another, especially for a player who might be considered, shall we say, fra-jee-lay.  (Those players must be Italian.)

What I'm trying to say is that nothing is guaranteed in baseball, so winning a major award might be what separates a so-so career from one that causes a player to be remembered long after his career is over.  For example, Jon Matlack had a mediocre 82-81 won-loss record in seven seasons as a Met and never approached the lofty statuses afforded his fellow moundsmen, Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman.  But he won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1972 - one of five Mets players to take home the prize for top neophyte - and even the most casual Mets fan today knows about Matlack, even though the southpaw pitched his final game for the team nearly 40 years ago. 

Some all-time Mets greats came close to taking home the hardware, such as Koosman, who finished second in the 1968 N.L. Rookie of the Year vote to future Hall of Famer Johnny Bench and second to future Met Randy Jones for the 1976 N.L. Cy Young Award.  Similarly, Seaver and Keith Hernandez were runners-up in the 1969 and 1984 National League Most Valuable Player Award race.  Koosman, Seaver and Hernandez are now all in the Mets Hall of Fame and are beloved by Mets fans to this day.

But several former Mets who were near-misses come awards time aren't Mets Hall of Famers such as Kooz, the Franchise and Mex.  Perhaps with a little more support from awards voters, they would have earned a plaque of their own at Citi Field.  Here are ten players who came oh-so close to winning the baseball version of a leg lamp.

Ron Hunt

After making their National League debut in 1962 with a slew of veteran players, the Mets decided they needed to add some fresh faces to their roster in 1963.  One of those faces belonged to 22-year-old rookie Ron Hunt.  Hunt was purchased from the Milwaukee Braves at the conclusion of the 1962 season, but did not get into a game with the Mets until the team's seventh contest in 1963.  But once he got into the lineup at second base, Hunt made it impossible for manager Casey Stengel to take him out.

In the first of his 12 big league seasons, Hunt posted career highs in several offensive categories that he would never surpass.  Among these categories were at-bats (533), hits (145), doubles (28), home runs (10) and RBI (42).  Hunt finished second in the 1963 Rookie of the Year vote to Cincinnati's Pete Rose, even though Hunt had more doubles, homers and RBI than Rose and finished the year with an identical .334 on-base percentage.  It should be noted that Hunt accomplished his numbers while compiling nearly 100 fewer at-bats than Rose and playing in a much weaker lineup that gave him far less protection than Rose enjoyed.

John Milner

The first ten years of the Mets' existence saw the team produce several good, young players.  Among these players were one Rookie of the Year Award winner (Seaver) and two runners-up (Hunt, Koosman).  But in 1972, New York had its first third-place finisher for top rookie in the league.  And as impressive as a top-three finish is for any rookie, this particular Mets neophyte wasn't even the best rookie on his own team.

Playing in just 117 games in 1972, John Milner showed Mets fans why he would become known as "The Hammer", pounding 17 home runs in his inaugural campaign.  Milner also showed a keen eye at the plate, walking 51 times in just 423 plate appearances.  As Milner showed his prowess at the plate, his teammate, Jon Matlack, topped his performance on the mound.  Matlack's first full season in the majors produced a 15-10 record, 2.32 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 169 strikeouts, which earned him the 1972 Rookie of the Year Award.  But instead of settling for second place, Milner also finished behind Giants' catcher Dave Rader, whose .640 OPS was dwarfed by Milner's .762 mark.

Steve Henderson

In 1976, Steve Henderson was one of the Reds' top prospects, hitting for average (.312), flashing good power (17 HR) and displaying great speed (44 SB).  Henderson continued to tear it up at the Triple-A level in 1977, batting .326 with seven homers and 19 steals in just 60 games.  But Henderson was an outfielder, and with top slugger George Foster in left, perennial Gold Glove winner Cesar Geronimo in center, and batting title contender Ken Griffey in right, Henderson's chances of making the Reds was slim to none.  With no room on the roster for him, Cincinnati traded Henderson to the Mets for the team's first Rookie of the Year winner, Tom Seaver.

In his first season in New York, Henderson blossomed, posting a .297/.372/.480 slash line.  Despite not playing his first game for the Mets until June 16, Henderson led the team in RBI (65) and tied for the team lead in homers (12).  He also finished second to Lenny Randle in both runs scored (67) and triples (6).  Henderson lost the Rookie of the Year Award to Montreal's Andre Dawson, finishing just one vote behind the future Hall of Famer, despite having a higher batting average, OBP and slugging percentage than Dawson.  Henderson also scored more runs, drew more walks and tied Dawson in runs batted in despite playing in 40 fewer games than the Hawk.

Hubie Brooks

In 1980, the Mets marketing campaign tried to convince fans that the magic was back at Shea Stadium.  Sure enough, in September, three promising rookies made their debuts with the team, as Mookie Wilson, Wally Backman and Hubie Brooks all made their first appearances at the major league level during the final month of the 1980 campaign.  Although Backman spent most of the next few seasons in the minors, Wilson and Brooks were with the Mets to stay, and both took advantage of their new everyday player status.

Wilson impressed the Mets with his speed, but Brooks had a better all-around game.  Two weeks before the player's strike began in 1981, Brooks was contending for a batting title.  Once the players came back from their two-month hiatus, Brooks began to drive the ball, collecting ten extra-base hits and driving in 13 runs in his first 19 games after the strike.  For the season, Brooks batted .307 with 21 doubles, four homers and 38 RBI.  That was good enough for third place in the National League Rookie of the Year vote, behind Fernando Valenzuela and Tim Raines.  How impressive was Brooks' rookie season?  To this day, Brooks remains the only Met rookie with at least 350 at-bats to finish his first year with a batting average above .300.

Jesse Orosco

When the Mets traded Minnesota native Jerry Koosman to the Twins following the 1978 campaign, they received two minor league pitchers in return.  One of the young hurlers was Greg Field, who never played in the Mets organization, as he was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates the following April.  The other was a 21-year-old southpaw who spent his first professional season getting himself in and out of jams, as evidenced by his stellar 1.12 ERA and mediocre 1.23 WHIP pitching for the Elizabethton Twins.  It's no wonder he was eventually known by the moniker Messy Jesse.

Jesse Orosco will always be known for recording the final out of the 1986 World Series and for appearing in more games than any pitcher in major league history.  But as a part-time closer who spent most of his career coming into games long before the ninth inning, Orosco had little hope of ever being considered for an individual award.  At least until he put up one of the best seasons ever recorded by a reliever in 1983, posting a 13-7 won-loss record with 17 saves.  In 110 innings, Orosco posted a 1.47 ERA, becoming the only Met (starter or reliever) to post a sub-1.50 ERA in 100 or more innings.  In fact, Orosco is one of only seven pitchers since 1920 to accomplish the feat, joining players such as Hall of Famers Bob Gibson (1968) and Bruce Sutter (1977).  For his efforts, Orosco finished third in the N.L. Cy Young Award ballot, finishing behind John Denny and Mario Soto.

Kevin Mitchell

In 1986, the Mets had several players locked into their defensive positions such as Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter and Darryl Strawberry.  Manager Davey Johnson also employed several platoons, making it difficult for a rookie to find his way into the starting lineup.  But one rookie learned how to play many positions in order to make the team.  Contending for a batting title during the first half of the season and lashing extra-base hit after extra-base hit throughout the entire season forced Johnson to put him in the lineup as many times as he could, even if he couldn't promise him a regular position on the field.

After having a cup of coffee with the big club in 1984, Kevin Mitchell made it back to New York in 1986.  By July 6, Mitchell was batting .370 with 16 doubles and five homers, despite starting just 33 games.  But Mitchell had also played six defensive positions by then, playing everywhere but second base, pitcher and catcher.  By season's end, Mitchell's batting average had sunk to .277, but he still managed 22 doubles, 12 homers and 43 RBI in just 328 at-bats, which placed him third in the Rookie of the Year ballot behind Todd Worrell of the St. Louis Cardinals and Robby Thompson of the San Francisco Giants.  Mitchell became the second Met rookie (after Ron Hunt) to record 20 doubles and 10 HR and will always be remembered for his hit that continued the Mets' miraculous tenth-inning rally in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.  Unfortunately, that hit was his last in a Mets uniform, as the versatile slugger was traded to the San Diego Padres during the off-season, which brings us to the next player on this list.

Kevin McReynolds

Following the 1986 World Series victory, general manager Frank Cashen traded Kevin Mitchell to his hometown San Diego Padres, mainly because he thought Mitchell was a problem in the clubhouse.  In return, he received an outfielder who also had World Series experience but wouldn't hurt a fly (as long as he wasn't hunting it).  Kevin McReynolds gave the Mets several solid, All-Star caliber seasons and almost led the Mets to a second pennant in three years in 1988.

McReynolds had the most complete season of his career in 1988, batting .288 with 30 doubles, 27 homers, 99 RBI and a perfect 21-for-21 in stolen bases, which at the time was a major league record for most steals in a season without being caught.  He finished in the top five in the league in home runs and RBI, while placing in the league's top ten in extra-base hits and slugging percentage.  And on the defensive side, he led all National League outfielders with 18 assists and five double plays turned.  But because his fellow outfielder and teammate Darryl Strawberry also had a spectacular season (39 HR, 101 RBI, 29 SB), McReynolds and Strawberry split the MVP vote, allowing Dodgers outfielder Kirk Gibson to limp home with the award.  McReynolds, who never made an All-Star team in a dozen seasons in the big leagues, finished third in the 1988 N.L. MVP vote.

Gregg Jefferies

Not since Darryl Strawberry in 1983 had a Met rookie been promoted to the big leagues with such potential.  But that was a different team in 1983 - a team that was on the rise and destined for greatness.  The 1988 squad had recently won a championship and appeared poised to become a dynasty.  But the team was getting older and needed an infusion of young talent.  Gregg Jefferies had destroyed minor league pitching from 1985 to 1987, recording two 100-RBI campaigns and batting .354 over the three years.  By 1988, the 21-year-old was ready to become a full-time player at the major league level.  Unfortunately, his maturity level hadn't caught up with his talent level.

Jefferies batted .321 after his late-season call-up to the Mets, and despite not playing enough to remove his rookie status for the following season, Jefferies still got enough support from the voters to finish sixth in the 1988 Rookie of the Year vote.  A year later, his production at the plate suffered, as his batting average slumped to .258, although he did record 28 doubles, 12 homers, 21 stolen bases and a clubhouse full of dissenting veteran players.  His attitude notwithstanding, he still finished third in the 1989 Rookie of the Year ballot, trailing Cubs teammates Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith.  At least Jefferies got the last laugh, making multiple All-Star teams (albeit with the St. Louis Cardinals) while Walton and Smith never played in the Midsummer Classic.

Frank Viola

After losing the pennant to the Dodgers in 1988, Frank Cashen started to part ways with several players who were instrumental in the team's rise to title contention.  By late July 1989, fan-favorite players such as Wally Backman, Roger McDowell, Lenny Dykstra and Mookie Wilson were all former Mets.  Although Cashen was trying to rebuild the team, he wasn't giving up on the 1989 campaign.  That was made clear when the general manager traded five pitchers to the Twins for 1987 World Series MVP and 1988 A.L. Cy Young winner Frank Viola.

Viola was a local kid from Long Island who became one of the most durable pitchers in the game, averaging over 250 innings pitched per season from 1984 to 1988.  And as a left-handed starter, that durability made him all the more valuable.  Although Viola couldn't help the Mets defend their 1988 N.L. East division crown, he did go on to win 20 games for the team in 1990, joining Jerry Koosman as the team's only left-handed starters to win that many games in a season.  The Mets won 91 games in 1990 but fell short of their postseason goals, finishing behind the Pittsburgh Pirates in the East.  No Mets pitcher was able to duplicate Viola's 20-win campaign for over two decades, when R.A. Dickey accomplished the rare feat.  Viola's 20-win season earned him a third-place finish in the 1990 N.L. Cy Young Award vote behind fellow 20-game winners Doug Drabek and Ramon Martinez.

Jay Payton

The Mets did not produce many five-tool players in their minor league system in the 1990s, but one player stood out among all the others.  In the mid-'90s, Jay Payton was recognized by Baseball America as one of the top prospects in the game.  He was never better than he was in 1995, when he batted .307 with 31 doubles, 18 homers and 27 stolen bases, all while playing an above-average center field.  But injuries held Payton to 71 games in 1996 and wiped out his entire 1997 campaign.  Payton split time between the majors and minors in 1998 and 1999, before finally getting his first chance to stick with the Mets in 2000.  He took full advantage of the opportunity.

Payton led all Mets outfielders in games played during their pennant-winning season, batting .291 with 23 doubles, 17 homers, 62 RBI and 63 runs scored.  He also made great contact and had a keen eye at the plate, as evidenced by his low strikeout total (Payton whiffed just 60 times in 523 plate appearances in 2000).  But the voters were more impressed by Rafael Furcal's speed (40 SB) and Rick Ankiel's arm (194 Ks in 175 IP) than Payton's complete game, dropping Payton to third in the Rookie of the Year vote behind the Braves' speedster and the Cardinals' promising young pitcher.  The Mets wouldn't have another top-three finisher in the Rookie of the Year vote for another 14 years, when Jacob deGrom took home the award.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

30 Years Later: "The Dream Has Come True..."

Two days ago, we looked back at the 30th anniversary of Game Six of the 1986 World Series.  Miraculous as that game was, the Mets did not win their second championship that night.  The improbable comeback only forced a seventh and deciding game.

Do you remember seeing the replay of Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk hopping and waving his arms in the hopes that his long fly ball would stay fair in the 1975 World Series?  That home run gave Boston a thrilling 12-inning victory over the Cincinnati Reds in Game Six.

That's right.  It also happened in Game Six.  But just like the Mets' dramatic Game Six victory in the 1986 World Series, the home run by Fisk did not clinch the title for the Red Sox.  All it did was force a seventh game, a game won by the Reds to give Cincinnati the championship.

Had the Mets followed up their Game Six heroics with a loss the following night, the miracle comeback would have been for naught.  The Mets had to win Game Seven to validate their incredible campaign.  The stage was set at Shea Stadium for the final game of the 1986 baseball season.  It was up to the Mets to make the dream come true for their fans.

Game Seven was originally scheduled for Sunday, October 26.  However, a steady rain forced the postponement of the game until the following night.  Red Sox starter Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd was supposed to start the seventh game against Ron Darling.  However, with an extra day of rest, the Red Sox chose to bypass Boyd (who had given up six runs to the Mets in his Game Three loss) and gave the ball to Bruce Hurst.

Hurst had already defeated the Mets in Game One and notched a complete game victory against New York in Game Five.  Although he was pitching Game Seven on three days rest, the Mets were still wary about Hurst.  His performances against the Mets in the World Series were reminiscent of Mike Scott's outings in the NLCS.  If the Mets were going to beat Hurst, Ron Darling was going to have to match him pitch for pitch.  Unfortunately, that was not the case in the early innings.

Bruce Hurst was his usual strong self in the early innings, keeping the Mets off the scoreboard.  Ron Darling?  Not so much.  After a scoreless first inning, he gave up three runs in the second inning, including back-to-back home runs by Dwight Evans and Rich Gedman.  By the time the fourth inning rolled around, Darling had already given up six hits and walked a batter.  He then hit Dave Henderson with a pitch to lead off the fourth inning.  After facing two more batters, Darling was relieved by starter turned reliever Sid Fernandez.  The score was still 3-0 in favor of the Red Sox and the game was slipping away from the Mets.  It was up to El Sid to stop the fire from spreading.

In perhaps the guttiest (no pun intended) performance by Fernandez in his Mets career, he shut down the Red Sox.  After walking his first batter (Wade Boggs), Sid retired the next seven batters he faced, with four of them coming via the strikeout.  Fernandez did everything he could to keep his team in the game, but his efforts would go in vain unless the Mets could finally solve the puzzle that was Bruce Hurst.

With time running out on the Mets and their dream season, Davey Johnson was forced to make a difficult move in the bottom of the sixth inning.  After Rafael Santana grounded out to start the inning, the Mets were down to Sid Fernandez's spot in the batting order.  Would Johnson take Sid out for a pinch hitter, hoping that the Mets would start a rally or would he leave him in the game, possibly giving up on another inning in which to mount a comeback against Bruce Hurst?  Johnson chose to pinch hit for Fernandez and it ended up being one of the best managerial decisions he ever made.

Lee Mazzilli stepped up to the plate in lieu of Fernandez.  He greeted Hurst with a single to left.  Game Six hero Mookie Wilson followed Mazzilli with a hit of his own, followed by a walk to Tim Teufel.  The base on balls loaded the bases for Keith Hernandez and brought the crowd of 55,032 to its feet.  The cheering rose to a crescendo when Hernandez delivered a two-run single to center, scoring Mazzilli and Wilson and sending Teufel to third.  Since Teufel represented the tying run, Davey Johnson sent in the speedier Wally Backman to pinch run for him as Gary Carter stepped up to the plate.  Carter came through as he drove in Backman with a ball that would have been a base hit to right had a confused Hernandez not been forced out at second base when rightfielder Dwight Evans rolled over the ball.  Hernandez had to freeze between first and second until he knew that the ball had not been caught.  Despite the out being recorded, the Mets had tied the game at 3.  They had finally gotten to Bruce Hurst and hope was alive at Shea.  That hope became greater when Ray Knight came to bat in the seventh inning against a familiar face.

Calvin Schiraldi had been brought in by the Red Sox to start the seventh inning.  Schiraldi was the losing pitcher in Game Six, having allowed Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell and Ray Knight to deliver hits off him in the tenth inning.  This time, he was facing Knight with no one on base, trying to erase the bitter memories of his previous outing.  Knight would not provide him with the eraser.  On a 2-1 pitch from Schiraldi, Knight got under a pitch and launched it to deep left-center, barely clearing the outfield wall.  A jubilant Knight celebrated as he rounded the bases.  The Mets finally had their first lead of the game and they made sure that they weren't going to give it back.  The hit parade continued in the seventh inning, as an RBI single by Rafael Santana and a sacrifice fly by Hernandez gave the Mets a 6-3 lead.  The Mets were in front, but the Red Sox weren't going to go away quietly.

Roger McDowell had come into the game in the seventh inning once Sid Fernandez had been pinch hit for.  He continued where Sid had left off by retiring the Red Sox in order in the seventh.  However, things went a little differently for McDowell in the eighth inning.  Bill Buckner led off the inning with a single.  Jim Rice followed Buckner with a single of his own.  After Dwight Evans doubled into the gap in right field, scoring both Buckner and Rice, the lead had been cut to a single run.  The Red Sox were down 6-5 with the tying run on second base and nobody out.  It was time for Davey Johnson to make one last move, with the World Series on the line.

Jesse Orosco came in from the bullpen, hoping to shut down the Red Sox to preserve the lead for the Mets.  His first batter, Rich Gedman, had homered earlier off starting pitcher Ron Darling.  This time, he hit the ball hard again, but in the direction of second baseman Wally Backman.  Backman caught the line drive in the air, holding Evans at second base.  The next batter was Dave Henderson.  He had given the Red Sox the lead with a home run in the tenth inning of Game Six.  Now he had a chance to duplicate the feat, as a home run would have given Boston the lead.  This time, the only thing he made contact with was the air.  Orosco struck him out on four pitches and then induced Don Baylor to ground out to short to end the threat.  The Mets were now three outs away from a championship, but they weren't finished scoring yet.

The Red Sox called upon Al Nipper to face Darryl Strawberry to lead off the bottom of the eighth inning.  Nipper was trying to keep the Mets' lead at one so that the Red Sox could make one last attempt in the ninth inning to tie the game or take the lead.  It didn't take long for that one run lead to grow.  Strawberry greeted Nipper with a towering home run to right field that almost took as long to come down as it did for Strawberry to round the bases.  After Darryl finally finished his home run "trot" (To call it a trot would be putting it mildly.  It was more like a stroll and it led to a bench-clearing brawl the following season in spring training when Nipper and the Red Sox faced Strawberry and the Mets again.), the Mets had a 7-5 lead.  After a hit, a walk and an RBI single by Jesse Orosco on a 47-hopper up the middle (how appropriate since 47 was Jesse's number), the Mets had regained their three-run lead.  After being held scoreless by Bruce Hurst for the first five innings of the game, the Mets had exploded for eight runs in the last three innings to take an 8-5 lead into the ninth inning.  Orosco was still on the mound, hoping to throw the season's final pitch.

With the champagne ready to be uncorked in the Mets clubhouse, Orosco went to work on the Red Sox batters.  Ed Romero popped up to first base in foul territory for the first out.  That was followed by Wade Boggs grounding out to second base for the second out.  The Mets were one out away from a championship.  Nothing was going to stop them from winning this game.  Well, nothing except for the pink smoke bomb that was thrown onto the field.

That did not matter to Jesse Orosco or the Mets.  After the smoke cleared, Marty Barrett stepped up to the plate.  Barrett had already collected a World Series record-tying 13 hits, trying to set the record and keep the season alive for the Red Sox.  However, that was not to be.  We now turn the microphone over to the late Bob Murphy for the final pitch.

"He struck him out!  Struck him out!  The Mets have won the World Series!  And they're jamming and crowding all over Jesse Orosco!  He's somewhere at the bottom of that pile!  He struck out Marty Barrett!  The dream has come true!  The Mets have won the World Series, coming from behind to win the seventh ballgame!"

The Mets had completed their dream season with a World Series championship.  After 108 regular season victories and a hard-fought six-game NLCS against the Houston Astros, the Mets were able to bring the trophy home.  At times, it seemed as if the season was going to come to a screeching halt, but through determination, perseverance and perhaps an extra pebble or two around the first base area during Game Six, the Mets came through for themselves, for their fans and for the city of New York.

In 1986, the Mets owned New York.  They were a blue (and orange) collar team for a blue-collar city.  Thirty years ago today, the Mets became the World Champions of baseball.  Victory never tasted so sweet.

One final postscript on the whereabouts of Jesse Orosco's glove:  I'm sure many of you who watched Game Seven remember Jesse Orosco flinging his glove up in the air after striking out Marty Barrett to end the World Series.  Have any of you wondered what happened to that glove?  Now it can be told!

If you have the 1986 World Series DVDs, watch the final out of Game Seven.  After Orosco throws the glove up in the air and falls to his knees, he gets up just as Gary Carter and the rest of his teammates mob him at the pitcher's mound.  Now hit the "slow" button on your remote and watch closely as Bud Harrelson (wearing No. 23) runs around the crowd of players to the left of them.  He has nothing in his hands as he goes around the pile of ecstatic players.  Right before he goes off-camera, you can see him start to bend over.  When he comes back a split second later to celebrate with the team on the mound, he has a glove in his left hand.  That's Jesse Orosco's glove.

The Studious Metsimus staff and friends of the staff had the pleasure of meeting both Bud Harrelson and Jesse Orosco (see photo, below right). 

During the 50th anniversary conference at Hofstra University in 2012, staff member Taryn Cooper and friend of the staff, Jason Bornstein (who remembers Shea very well), met the former Mets shortstop, third base coach and manager and confirmed with Harrelson that he was the one who picked up the famously thrown glove.

We also ran into Orosco at Darryl Strawberry's restaurant (an eatery which sadly is no longer with us) and asked him if he knew who retrieved the glove for him after he recorded the final out of the 1986 World Series.  For over a quarter century, he was under the impression that it was bullpen coach Vern Hoscheit, but wasn't sure.  When we informed him that it was Bud Harrelson and explained how he retrieved it, he was surprised to hear the news and thanked us for finally giving him confirmation.  Hey, it was the least we could do for the man who gave us one of our fondest Mets memories!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

30 Years Later: "Little Roller Up Along First..."

Every generation has its defining moment.  People who grew up in the 1960s know exactly where they were when President Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated.  In the 1980s, every American knows where they were when the Space Shuttle exploded.  It's no different for Mets fans.

People who grew up rooting for the Mets remember every detail of the 1969 Miracle Mets' run to the World Series.  Fans of my generation well up with happy tears when you mention two words to them:  Game Six.  How can anyone forget the night of October 25, 1986?

The Mets were facing elimination entering Game Six of the 1986 World Series.  They fought back to tie the Series at Fenway Park after dropping the first two games of the Fall Classic at Shea Stadium.  Then Bruce Hurst shut them down in Game Five to send the series back to New York with the Mets down three games to two.

It was up to Bob Ojeda to save the Mets' season.  He was opposed by Roger Clemens, who was on his way to his first Cy Young Award.  Ojeda was also called upon for Game Six of the 1986 NLCS against the Astros, a game in which the Mets defeated Houston in 16 innings to claim the National League pennant.  In that game, Ojeda struggled early, giving up three runs in the first inning before settling down.  Game Six of the 1986 World Series was no different for Ojeda.  He gave up single runs to the Red Sox in each of the first two innings, but then settled down.

When Ojeda was replaced by Roger McDowell to start the seventh inning, the Mets had come back against Roger Clemens to tie the score at 2.  Although the drama that unfolded in the tenth inning is what Game Six is most known for, a number of interesting events occurred in the seventh inning that are often forgotten.

With one out and Marty Barrett on first base for the Red Sox, Jim Rice hit a ground ball near the third base line that barely stayed fair.  Ray Knight fielded it and threw wildly to first base, with the ball popping in and out of the glove of a leaping Keith Hernandez.  That brought up Dwight Evans with runners on the corners.  Evans hit a ground ball for the second out of the inning, but Barrett scored the go-ahead run and Rice was able to advance to second base.  That was when Mookie Wilson became a hero for the first time that night.

Roger McDowell was able to get ahead of Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman by throwing strikes on the first two pitches, but Gedman then grounded the 0-2 pitch from McDowell between short and third for a base hit that appeared to give the Red Sox an insurance run.  However, Mookie Wilson charged the ball and fired a strike to Gary Carter at home plate to cut down a sliding Jim Rice for the third out of the inning.

The defensive efforts of Wilson and Carter helped keep the Red Sox lead at one, a lead that would be erased when the Mets came up to bat in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Roger Clemens had been pinch hit for in the top of the eighth inning, so the Red Sox brought in former Met Calvin Schiraldi to pitch the bottom of the eighth.  Schiraldi had been brilliant in relief for the Red Sox during the regular season, compiling a 4-2 record and a sparking 1.41 ERA.  However, all that changed once Lee Mazzilli led off the inning with a base hit.  Lenny Dykstra followed with a sacrifice bunt, but he reached first base safely when Schiraldi threw wildly to second base in a failed attempt to nail Mazzilli.  Now the Mets had two men on with nobody out for Wally Backman, who laid down a bunt of his own.  His successful sacrifice moved Mazzilli and Dykstra into scoring position for Keith Hernandez, who was intentionally walked to load the bases.  That brought up Gary Carter.  On a 3-0 pitch, Carter had the green light and lined a sacrifice fly to left field.  The fly ball allowed Mazzilli to score the tying run.  When neither team scored in the ninth inning, the stage was set for the most dramatic frame in Mets history.

The inning started with a bang, but not the one wanted by Mets fans.  Dave Henderson led off the tenth with a laser beam down the left field line that just stayed fair as it cleared the wall.  The home run off Rick Aguilera silenced the Shea Stadium crowd of 55,078 and gave the Red Sox a 4-3 lead.  They weren't done yet.  Aguilera came back to strike out the next two batters but then proceeded to give up a double to Wade Boggs and a run-scoring single to Marty Barrett.  The latter hit gave the Sox an insurance run as the lead was now 5-3.  The next batter was hit by a pitch.  Who was the victim of Aguilera's wayward offering?  None other than Bill Buckner (more on him later).  Now there were two men on base for Jim Rice.  Rice could have redeemed himself for being thrown out at home in the seventh inning with a hit in the tenth.  However, Rice failed to add to the Red Sox lead when he flied out to Lee Mazzilli in right.  His failure to come through in two crucial spots set up the events in the bottom of the tenth inning for the Mets.

Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez were due to lead off in the bottom of the tenth inning.  However, two fly balls later and the Mets were down to their final out with no one on base.  The dream was one out away from becoming a nightmare.  108 regular season wins and a thrilling NLCS against the Astros would mean nothing if the Mets couldn't start a rally against Calvin Schiraldi and the Red Sox.  The Shea Stadium scoreboard was flashing "Congratulations Red Sox: 1986 World Champions" and NBC had already awarded its player of the game to Marty Barrett.  Then Gary Carter stepped up to the plate and something special began to happen.

On a 2-1 pitch from Schiraldi, Carter singled to left.  Then Kevin Mitchell, pinch-hitting for Rick Aguilera lined a hit to center on an 0-1 curveball.  The tying runs were now on base for Ray Knight.  If you recall, Knight had made an error in the seventh inning that led to a run for the Red Sox.  Perhaps this game would never have gone into extra innings had Knight not committed his error.  Knight didn't care.  All he cared about was getting a hit to continue the inning.  Unfortunately for him, Schiraldi threw his first two pitches for strikes.  The Mets were down to their final strike, but Knight had a little something to say about that.

On a pitch that was headed for the inside corner of the strike zone, Knight fisted it over Marty Barrett's head into short center for another base hit.  Carter scored from second base and Mitchell went from first to third on the hit.  The tying run was 90 feet away and the winning run was at first base.  Red Sox manager John McNamara had made up his mind.  He was going to Bob Stanley to try to win the World Series.  Stanley would face one batter, Mookie Wilson, with everything on the line.

Stanley would throw six pitches to Mookie Wilson to get the count to 2-2.  Hoping for strike three with his seventh pitch, Stanley let go of the pitch and at the same time, let go of the lead.  The pitch was way inside, causing Mookie to throw himself up in the air to avoid getting hit.  Fortunately, the ball didn't hit Mookie or Rich Gedman's glove (or home plate umpire Dale Ford for that matter).  The ball went all the way to the backstop and Kevin Mitchell was able to scamper home with the tying run.  The wild pitch also allowed Ray Knight to move into scoring position with the potential winning run.  All Mookie needed to do now was get a base hit to drive him in, or perhaps he could so something else to bring him home.

During the regular season, John McNamara had always removed first baseman Bill Buckner for defensive replacement Dave Stapleton during the late innings.  However, this time Buckner was left in the game despite the fact that he was hobbling around on two gimpy legs and had just been hit by a pitch in the previous inning.  What was McNamara's reasoning for the decision?  He wanted Buckner to be on the field to celebrate their championship with his teammates.  Instead, Buckner was on the field for a different celebration.

Buckner was at first base as the count went to 3-2 on Mookie Wilson.  A mountain of pressure had been lifted off his shoulders once he went airborne to elude Stanley's pitch.  A relaxed Mookie came back to the plate to finish what he came up there to do.  After fouling off two more pitches, including a line drive that curved foul down the left field line, Wilson hit a slow ground ball that hugged the first base foul line, bringing Mets fans to their feet as Bill Buckner hobbled to the line in an attempt to field it.  I'll let NBC broadcaster Vin Scully describe what happened.

"Little roller up along first.  Behind the bag!  It gets through Buckner.  Here comes Knight and the Mets win it!"

A miracle had happened on the diamond.  Perhaps Mookie's grounder hit a pebble.  Perhaps Buckner took his eyes off the ball as he watched Mookie sprint down the first base line.  Perhaps God was a Mets fan.  Regardless of what caused it to happen, Mookie's grounder found its way under Buckner's glove and the Mets lived to see another day.  (Buckner later admitted in the film "Catching Hell" that his momentum as he approached the first base line caused his glove to close on its own, a split second before he would have fielded it.  With the glove closed before the ball reached it, the grounder was able to scoot by the gimpy first baseman.)

As a dejected Bill Buckner walked off the field, Shea Stadium was rocking as it never had before.  Mookie Wilson was still running towards second base because he had no idea that Ray Knight had scored the winning run.  Ron Darling, who was scheduled to start the seventh and deciding game of the World Series the following night (even though it was rained out and played two nights later), admitted that he could see dust falling from the roof of the Mets dugout because of the vibrations caused by the fans jumping up and down over it.  Keith Hernandez had left the dugout to go into Davey Johnson's office after making the second out of the inning, but never moved from the chair he was sitting in, even after the historic rally had begun because as he admitted afterwards, the chair he was sitting on had hits in it.

As the unbelievable events were flashing on the TV screen for those of us who weren't fortunate enough to have tickets to the game, Vin Scully came back on the air after a long pause to tell the viewers everything they needed to know about what they had just seen unfold at Shea Stadium on that Saturday night.  The recently retired Hall-of-Fame broadcaster said:

"If one picture is worth a thousand words, you have seen about a million words.  But more than that, you have seen an absolutely bizarre finish to Game Six of the 1986 World Series.  The Mets are not only alive, they are well and they will play the Red Sox in Game Seven tomorrow."

Game Six didn't give the Mets the World Championship as many baseball fans mistakenly believe.  There was still one game left to play.  Although it was scheduled for the following night, rain put a hold on Game Seven until the night of Monday, October 27.  Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd, who had been scheduled to start the seventh game for the Red Sox, was scratched from his start to allow Met killer Bruce Hurst to pitch.  But I'll leave that narrative for another night.

For now, think of the memories you have of that unbelievable Game Six.  Imagine how different things would have been if Jim Rice had not been thrown out at home plate in the seventh inning, or if Bob Stanley had relieved Calvin Schiraldi before Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell or Ray Knight produced base hits in the tenth inning.  Mets fans who celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Miracle Mets during Citi Field's inaugural campaign might still be talking about that team as their only championship squad.

A miracle happened at Shea Stadium 30 years ago today, on October 25, 1986.  It is the single greatest Mets memory I have.  I'm sure for many of you reading this, it's your favorite Mets memory as well.  Do Mets fans believe in miracles?  If you watched Game Six of the 1986 World Series, the answer is a definite yes.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Joey's Soapbox: My 2016 Somewhat Biased World Series Pick

Never thought I'd see a World Series between the Cubs and Indians, but here we are.  (Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

Hey, everyone!  This is Joey Beartran.  I'm supposed to be an expert at prediction postseason results.  There's only one problem.  I've been more wrong this year than I've been right.

I was half-right with my wild card game predictions.  (And of course, the one I got wrong was the Mets.)  Then I called for a Texas vs. Boston ALCS.  Instead we got Toronto taking on Cleveland.  Once we got to the American and National League Championship Series, I called for a Blue Jays-Dodgers World Series.  Oops again.

So now we're left with the Chicago Cubs going up against the Cleveland Indians and I have no idea who to pick to take home the trophy.  Neither team has a history of winning.  I mean, the Indians last won a World Series in 1948, when there were only 48 stars on the American flag.  And while the Indians were celebrating that last title, the Cubs were marking the 40th anniversary of their last championship team.

No matter who I pick, my success rate this year says that I will probably be wrong.  And I'm okay with that.  Because whichever team wins will have a fan base that'll be celebrating like it's 1948.  Or 1908.

And with that being said, let's move on to my World Series pick!

World Series

Chicago Cubs vs. Cleveland Indians

You've heard it on social media ever since the Cubs recorded the final out of the NLCS.  You know what I'm talking about.  All the things that didn't exist the last time Chicago played in a World Series.

The NBA didn't exist.  Neither did African-American participation in Major League Baseball.  Also, Alaska and Hawaii weren't states.  Fourteen current big league teams didn't exist.  The Baltimore Orioles were the St. Louis Browns.  The Braves hadn't yet moved to Milwaukee, which is where they were for 13 seasons before packing their bags for Atlanta half a century ago.  I had never eaten chicken nachos.  And the list goes on and on and on.

The Cubs won 103 games during the regular season, or nine more than the 94-win Indians.  It was the first time Chicago reached triple digits in wins since 1935 and their highest win total since 1910, when they emerged victorious in 104 of their 154 contests.

Chicago had the best record in baseball and should be favored to win the championship.  Or should they?

Let's do a little research here on teams that have won 100 or more games.

Here's a team with 100+ wins that won it all.  Wonder if the Cubs will do the same?  (T.G. Higgins/Getty Images)

Over the last 30 years (since the Mets won a major league-leading 108 games and the World Series), a total of 27 teams have managed to reach the 100-win plateau.  But only the 1998 Yankees (114-48 regular season record) and the 2009 Yanks (103-59) have been able to win a championship after their 100+ win regular season.  In fact, the last team to win the World Series after winning 100 or more games that wasn't from New York did it 32 years ago, when the Detroit Tigers parlayed a 104-win season into a World Series trophy.  (And not that it means anything here, but the Tigers were also the last team the play the Cubs in the World Series.  Detroit won.  Because of course they did.)

So for three decades, only the greatest postseason team in the history of the planet has been able to bring home a title when it had a relative cakewalk through the regular season.  That doesn't bode well for the Cubs.

Also, the Cubs haven't exactly breezed their way through this year's postseason.  They needed a four-run ninth inning rally against the worst bullpen in baseball to avoid a fifth and deciding game in the division series.  Then they were shut out by the Dodgers twice before rallying to take the NLCS.

Meanwhile, Cleveland has advanced without exerting much effort through the playoffs.  The Indians trailed, 2-1, in the third inning of Game One of the ALDS.  They never trailed again in their three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox.  Cleveland then never fell behind in Games One, Two and Three in the ALCS against Toronto.  The Indians lost their first and only postseason game of 2016 in Game Four, then followed it up with a shutout victory against the high-powered Blue Jays offense in Game Five.

So let's review.

The Cubs don't have history on their side.  The Indians have the hotter team.  (Win for the Indians.)

The Cubs were only 12 games over .500 on the road.  The Indians were 25 games over .500 at home.  And Cleveland has home-field advantage in the World Series after going 4-0 at Progressive Field during the American League playoffs, while Chicago went 3-2 on the road in the N.L. playoffs.  (Win for the Indians.)

The Cubs have Henry Rowengartner.  The Indians have Ricky Vaughn.  (Win for the Indians.)

The Cubs have so-so hot dogs.  The Indians have THIS!

Lovers of flatulence, behold this Cleveland hot dog delicacy!  (EL/SM)

Clearly, the Indians won the food battle as well.

So that's four wins for the Indians in four major categories, which is exactly the number of wins they need to defeat the Cubs in the 2016 World Series.  That also means you can add another year to the Cubs' championship drought.

Oh, and remember those 100+ win Cubs teams I mentioned 14 paragraphs ago?  (That's the 1910 and 1935 Cubbie squads, for those of you who are too lazy to scroll back up.)  Neither of those teams won the World Series either.

The curse of the Billy Goat preventing the Cubs from reaching the World Series may be over.  But the curse of realizing that they're still the Chicago Cubs will live on.

Prediction: Indians in 6.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

I'm Keith Hernandez! And I Wish Me a Happy Birthday!

Hello, my friends.  I'm Keith Hernandez.  And today is a special day for me.  You see, today is my birthday.  That's right, all you kids out there.  I'm now 63 years old.

In honor of my 63rd birthday, the cast and crew at Studious Metsimus asked me to give you a brief recap of my life.  To be honest with you, I've never heard of Studious Metsimus, but the offer of unlimited Tootsie Pops was too much to refuse.  Plus, they promised me there would be no traffic on the Long Island Expressway so I could make a quick getaway after writing this piece.  How could I pass that up?

Anyway, I was born in San Francisco on October 20, 1953.  Contrary to popular belief, I was not born with a mustache.  The picture you see below is one of my early photos.  Yes, the ladies loved me even then.  Can you blame them?  I mean, look at me!  I'm Keith Hernandez!

Unfortunately, I failed in my petition to get my own name on my Little League jersey.

After my days as a Little League Lothario were done, I was drafted in the 42nd round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1971.  (Yes, I did go to high school between my Little League days and my high school graduation, but that was an awkward time for me, so I'd rather not talk about it.)  Clearly, the scouts back then were terrible judges of talent if they waited that long to draft me.  Unfortunately, I did nothing to earn that selection early on in my minor league career until I was promoted to Triple-A Tulsa in 1973, where I hit .333 and showed those other kids out there how a real baseball player was supposed to play the game.

In 1974, I hit .351 for Tulsa and was promoted to the big show on August 30 of that year against my hometown San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park.  I reached base three times in my first big league game, drawing two walks before collecting my first big league hit and RBI in the ninth inning off Giants' starter Mike Caldwell.  Unfortunately, we lost that game 8-2, but I let it be known to my teammates and the rest of the league that I was here to stay.

Once I settled in to the big leagues, I made my presence felt in the clubhouse and on the field.  The Cardinals just had to keep me around.  Therefore, they traded incumbent first baseman Joe Torre to the Mets after the 1974 season (more on first basemen being traded to the Mets a little later ... after a few more paragraphs and my first Tootsie Pop).  I was a Cardinal now, and St. Louis was about to see what Keith Hernandez was all about.

It was in St. Louis that I let my trademark mustache grow.  That is also where I earned my first Gold Glove in 1978 and my first MVP Award one year later.  (Okay, so it was a co-MVP award that I shared with Willie Stargell.  But in Strat-O-Matic, I kicked Willie's posterior.)  St. Louis was also the place where I claimed my first batting title (also in 1979), my first World Series championship (1982), my first line of ... umm ... baseball cards (yeah, that's the ticket) and my first comparison to adult film thespian Ron Jeremy.

If my brother Gary were in this collage, you'd have the original Gary, Keith and Ron.

If you ask me, I don't see the resemblance.   He looks more like Mike Piazza than he does me.  Also, my acting skills are far superior to his.  Was he on "Seinfeld"?  I don't think so.  That was me.  Why did they choose me over him?  Because I'm Keith Hernandez!

Anyway, less than eight months after bringing home St. Louis' first World Series championship since 1967, I experienced one of the saddest days of my life, or so it seemed at the time.  On June 15, 1983, I was traded from the defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals to the perennial cellar dweller New York Mets.  Shockingly, I wasn't even traded for future Hall of Famers.  I was shipped off to the Mets for Neil Allen, Rick Ownbey (who also celebrates a birthday with me today, but he's four years my junior) and a half-empty box of Tender Vittles.

It was already an insult to me that I was traded to the team known as "Pond Scum" and the "Stems" in St. Louis.  But come on!  Couldn't the Mets have offered some 9 Lives to the Cardinals instead of Tender Vittles?  After all, Morris the Cat was all the rage back then.  I mean, he was the O.G.  (Original Grumpy cat).   I would have accepted a trade for Allen, Ownbey and 9 Lives, not Allen, Ownbey and half-eaten Tender Vittles.  Sheesh!

I guess since the Cardinals already had the Clydesdale Horses, they didn't need another animal in the barn.

Anyway, the Mets didn't do too well after I got traded there.  We finished 68-94 in 1983, but showed some signs of life.  Old punching buddy Darryl Strawberry came up in May and future broadcast colleague R.J. (that's Ron Darling for all you casual Mets fans out there) was called up when rosters expanded in September.

Big Brother didn't come around in 1984 like he was supposed to, but we had our own little Animal Farm at Shea Stadium.  Top pitching prospect Dwight Gooden was called up in 1984 and Davey Johnson became the new Mets manager.  The team responded by going 90-72 and giving the Cubs all they could handle in the NL East.  As a result, I was no longer saddened by my trade to New York and only occasionally did I wonder if Whitey Herzog had finished what was left in the box of Tender Vittles.

After falling short again in 1985, we put it all together in 1986.  That was the year I won my second World Series championship and helped bring the first title to Flushing since the Miracle Mets did the same in 1969.  I also paired up with another Ronnie after bringing the trophy home in 1986. 

What?  No Gary?  Fine.  Then we'll just have to make do with Keith and Ron instead.

After my tenure with the Mets ended in 1989, I decided to give acting a try.  I wasn't going to tell you this, but the Tootsie Pop dangling in front of my face has convinced me to do so.

Did you know that "Seinfeld" was not my first attempt at acting?  Before TV immortality, I wanted to be a movie star.  My time with former actor Ronald Reagan in the White House showed me that if he could be President and a movie star, then I could be a baseball legend and a movie star as well, so it was off to Hollywood for me.

I first gave acting a shot when I auditioned for the movie "Major League".  However, it ended up being a bad dream and instead of playing for the Cleveland Indians in the film alongside noted actors Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Dennis Haysbert and Wesley Snipes, I ended up playing for the REAL Cleveland Indians, who were not nearly as talented as their 2016 American League champion counterparts.  Needless to say, it was not a good time to be Keith Hernandez.

There's no way I would've let Roger Dorn get away with not diving for ground balls.

I was injured for most of my time in Cleveland.  Because of that, I only played in 45 games for the Indians, batting .200 with one HR and eight RBI.  You know it wasn't a good season when my Studious Metsimus editor reminded me that I had to write out my home run and RBI totals in words (one and eight) instead of numbers (1 and 8).  Needless to say, I retired after the 1990 season and went back home...

...which didn't last long.  In 1992, I appeared on Episode #34 of "Seinfeld".  The special one-hour episode, named "The Boyfriend", featured me trying to date Elaine Benes, but not being able to get past first base because I used to smoke back then.  Another subplot involved me being accused of spitting a magic loogie on Kramer and Newman, when in fact it was my former Met teammate, Roger McDowell, whose mouth shot the viscous projectile from the grassy knoll.

"That is one magic loogie."

My appearance on "Seinfeld" in 1992 and my subsequent cameo in the series finale in 1998 parlayed into several broadcasting appearances for the Mets.  When SNY debuted in 2006, I teamed up with former radio play-by-play man Gary Cohen and analyst/former teammate Ron Darling as the new broadcast team for the New York Mets.  My boothmates and I are also part of Gary, Keith and Ron, or GKR for short.  Together, we've raised money for our favorite charities, such as the Cobble Hill Health Center (for Alzheimer's care) and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (hoping to find a cure for Type 1 diabetes).  In addition, we've also focused on helping victims of domestic abuse.  And for all you kids out there, there's nothing funny about domestic abuse.

Fans might know me for my baseball career.  Others might know me for my excellent acting on "Seinfeld".  Some of you might even know me for my Just For Men commercials with Walt "Clyde" Frazier.  Current Met fans know me for my unabashed analysis on SNY telecasts of Mets games. 

I'm all of those people. Although I'm a year older today, I'm still only 63 so I have plenty left to accomplish.  Maybe I'll mass produce my Mex Burgers.  Or perhaps I'll go from flashing the leather to wearing it on a broadcast.  Hey, I might even create a fantasy league for Strat-O-Matic players.  (Why haven't I thought of that before?)  Who knows?  One thing is for sure.  No matter what job I have or what position I fill, I'll always be around.  Why wouldn't I be?  After all, I'm Keith Hernandez!

It's not easy being me, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

30 Years Later: The "Other" Game Six (Mets vs. Astros)

When you say the words "Game Six" to any Mets fan, their thoughts immediately turn to the 1986 World Series.  You can't blame those fans for thinking of that memorable game first.  After all, the game in which Mookie Wilson hit a "little roller up along first" was voted by Mets fans as the most memorable moment in Mets history.

But that wasn't the only memorable Game Six for the Mets that season.  If not for the events of "the other Game Six", there might not have been a chance for Mookie Wilson and Bill Buckner to etch their names in the memories of millions of Mets fans.  That first Game Six was played at the Astrodome in Houston and it took place 30 years ago today.

After playing a 12-inning classic in New York the previous afternoon, the Mets and Astros traveled to Houston to play their second day game in 24 hours on October 15, 1986.  The two teams would have had the day off before Game Six, but a rainout on October 13 forced them to sacrifice their travel day to play the extra-inning affair at Shea Stadium on October 14.  That game was won by the Mets, 2-1, when Wally Backman scored from second on a Gary Carter single.

Both teams were exhausted when they took the field for the 3 o'clock (Central Time) game, and rightfully so.  Unfortunately for the Mets, the Astros woke up from their slumber early in Game Six, scoring three runs off Bob Ojeda in the first inning.  The damage could have been worse, but Kevin Bass (more on him later) was tagged out on a failed suicide squeeze.  Even with the base running blunder, the Astros still held a 3-0 lead after one inning for starter Bob Knepper.

Kevin Bass was out coming home in Game Two (above), then again in Game Six.  He made a much bigger out at home later.

Knepper, who was in line for the win in Game Three before Lenny Dykstra took Astros closer Dave Smith deep in the bottom of the ninth, was dominant over the first eight innings of Game Six.  He faced the minimum three batters in seven of the eight innings, allowing only two hits and walking one.  The Mets were three outs away from a potential Game Seven matchup against Mike Scott, who had confounded them in Games One and Four.  The first batter in the ninth inning was pinch-hitter Lenny Dykstra.  In Game Three, Dykstra waited until Knepper was out of the game before delivering his big ninth inning hit.  This time, he didn't have to wait, driving a 1-2 offering from the Astros' southpaw to deep center field for a leadoff triple.  It all went downhill for Knepper and the Astros from there.

The next batter was Mookie Wilson, who hit a soft line drive on an 0-2 pitch that fell in for a run-scoring single.  Before you could say Dickie Thon, the Mets were on the scoreboard and the tying run was at the plate in Kevin Mitchell.  The Mets' rookie utility man grounded out, but in the process moved Wilson to second base.  Up came Keith Hernandez, who had gone 0-for-3 with a strikeout against Knepper.  Four pitches later, that oh-fer was no more.

Hernandez doubled to deep center off Knepper, scoring Wilson from second base and cutting the Astros' lead to one.  In doing so, Mex became the second lefty to collect an extra-base hit against Knepper in the ninth after the Mets' left-handed hitters had gone 0-for-7 against him through the first eight innings.  That was the end of Knepper's day, as he was removed from the game after throwing 101 pitches.  Knepper was replaced by Dave Smith, the salt-and-pepper haired reliever who had been tormented by the Mets all season.

Although Smith had an outstanding campaign in 1986, making his first All-Star team and finishing the year with 33 saves and a 2.73 ERA, the Mets were never intimidated by him.  Smith faced the Mets three times during the regular season, allowing five runs and eight base runners (four hits, three walks and one hit batsman) in three innings.  That continued in the postseason, as Smith allowed the game-winning two-run homer to Lenny Dykstra to give the Mets the victory in Game Three of the NLCS.  Four total appearances.  Four shoddy outings.  Might as well go five-for-five.

The first two batters against Smith both walked on 3-2 pitches, as Gary Carter and Darryl Strawberry showed patience at the plate which helped the Mets load the bases against the Astros.  The next batter was Ray Knight, who worked the count to 2-2 before becoming the fifth batter in the inning to produce with two strikes on him.  Knight hit a sacrifice fly to right, scoring Hernandez with the tying run and moving Kid and Straw into scoring position.  The next batter, Wally Backman, was intentionally walked to bring up pinch-hitter Danny Heep.  Heep worked the count full, but instead of becoming the sixth Mets batter to come through after strike two, the mighty Danny struck out, swinging at ball four, which would have given the Mets the lead.

Alas, the game was tied.  But the fun was just beginning.

Roger McDowell came in to pitch the tenth inning, as the Mets needed a new pitcher to replace Rick Aguilera, who had been taken out of the game when Lenny Dykstra pinch hit for him in the ninth inning.  McDowell would end up giving the Mets one of the best relief efforts in club history.

Perhaps it was a higher power that allowed Roger McDowell to pitch the game of his life in Game Six.

The Mets had hoped that McDowell would only have to pitch one or two innings, thinking that they would score against the Astros' bullpen.  But that was easier said than done, as the Mets failed to pick up a hit over the next four innings against Dave Smith and Larry Andersen.  Fortunately for the Mets, McDowell matched zeroes with the Astros' relievers, allowing only one base runner (a 12th inning single to Kevin Bass) over five innings of work.  The jolly Roger had gotten the Mets to the 14th inning, and the Astros were bringing in a new pitcher.  The time for zeroes had come to an end.

Aurelio Lopez was on the mound for the Astros to start the 14th inning.  Like Dave Smith, Lopez had also performed poorly against the Mets during the regular season.  His 7.36 ERA against New York was his highest earned run average against any team in 1986.  When manager Hal Lanier inserted Lopez into the game, he was hoping to get the reliever who allowed National League opponents to hit only .221 against him.  Instead, they got the reliever who couldn't get anyone out.

Gary Carter led off the inning with an opposite field single.  Darryl Strawberry then walked on four pitches.  After Ray Knight failed to sacrifice Carter to third (the Mets' catcher was thrown out by Lopez at third base), Wally Backman stepped up to the plate.  With one swing from the scrappy second baseman, the Mets had taken the lead, as Backman's single scored Strawberry from second base.  The Mets actually had a chance to do more damage against Lopez in the inning, as Lenny Dykstra was walked intentionally with two outs to load the bases for Mookie Wilson.  However, just as Danny Heep had done five innings before him, Mookie struck out against a struggling pitcher.  Nevertheless, the Mets had taken a 4-3 lead against the Astros and were now only three outs away from winning their third National League pennant.  But the Astros had the top of their order up and were not about to go quietly into the off-season.

Jesse Orosco was called upon to pitch the bottom of the 14th for the Mets, as McDowell had been removed for pinch-hitter Howard Johnson in the top of the inning.  After his five-inning, 58-pitch effort, McDowell was done for the late afternoon/early evening and it was up to Orosco to deliver the pennant.  His first batter was Bill Doran.

Doran was a speedy second baseman for the Astros who made excellent contact and was one of the best judges of balls and strikes in the league.  With 42 stolen bases in 1986, Doran placed fifth in the N.L. in that category.  He also finished fifth with 81 walks and was one of the toughest batters to strike out (57 Ks in 550 at-bats).  Doran's eye for strikes became even better in the postseason, as he had fanned only once in his first 25 postseason at-bats up to that point.  So what did Doran do as he faced Orosco in what quite possibly could have been his last at-bat of the season?  He struck out on four pitches.

Billy Hatcher
The next batter was center fielder Billy Hatcher.  Hatcher had just finished his first full season with the Astros after playing in 61 games for the Cubs in 1984 and 1985.  He had never been considered a power threat and was not a top candidate to get on base, as evidenced by his eight home runs in his first 641 career plate appearances and his .297 on-base percentage.  Hatcher had gone 5-for-23 in the series and should have been an easy out for Orosco, as he had never gotten a hit off the Mets' reliever in four career plate appearances.  But with a full count on him, Hatcher hit one of most memorable home runs in postseason history, crushing Orosco's offering to deep left field.  The ball was hit far enough, but would it stay fair?  That question was answered as the ball hit the screen attached to the foul pole, rolling down said screen, washing away the Mets' 14th inning pennant hopes.  The game was now tied, 4-4, and Orosco's save situation had now turned into a "let's get out of this inning alive" situation.

With the three and four hitters coming up, including the dangerous Glenn Davis, Orosco had to settle down or else a seventh game against Mike Scott would become a shocking reality.  The Mets' veteran got back on the mound and promptly retired Denny Walling and Davis on a weak grounder to first and a pop-up to second, respectively, to end the inning.  The game, which had already reached epic proportions, would go on.

Stunningly, despite his best efforts to blow the game for the Astros in the 14th inning, Aurelio Lopez was still on the mound for the 15th, but this time he fared better against the Mets, allowing only a two-out single to Gary Carter.  With Darryl Strawberry at the plate, Lopez threw a 1-1 pitch wildly, but Carter was thrown out at second base by catcher Alan Ashby to end the inning.

Orosco also went back to the hill for the bottom of the 15th, and he did even better than Lopez, striking out Kevin Bass and Jose Cruz to start the inning, before getting Alan Ashby to ground out to Wally Backman for the final out.  The 16th inning was upon us, only one day and 2,000 miles after the Mets and Astros had played 12 scintillating innings in New York.  Something had to give after 27 innings of pulse-pounding baseball.  Something did give when the Mets came to bat in the top of the 16th.

After his relatively easy 15th inning, Lopez was given the ball again to start the 16th, but this time he wouldn't be so lucky.  Darryl Strawberry, who was given a fresh turn at-bat after Gary Carter ran his way into the final out in the previous inning, led off the 16th with a double.  He was followed by Ray Knight, who delivered an opposite field single to score Strawberry from second.  That was it for Aurelio Lopez, who was removed from the game for Jeff Calhoun.  With Wally Backman at the plate and an 0-2 count on him, Calhoun uncorked a wild pitch, sending Knight to third.  Backman fought back from the 0-2 hole and was able to draw a walk.

Next came Jesse Orosco, who was allowed to stay in the game to sacrifice Backman over to second.  On the very first pitch to Jesse, who had already squared around to bunt, Calhoun threw another wild pitch, scoring Ray Knight and moving Wally Backman to second.  The Mets were now up by two runs in the 16th, but they were not done yet.  Orosco laid down a successful sacrifice, with Backman taking third on the play, and Lenny Dykstra drove him in with a single to right, giving the Mets a 7-4 lead.  Even though Mookie Wilson ended the inning by grounding into a double play, the Mets surely had to be happy with their three-run lead.  This time, they weren't going to give up the lead like they did in the 14th, especially with the Astros riding on fumes, right?  Unfortunately for the Mets and their fans, those fumes had one more rally left in them.

The bottom of the 16th began as the 14th inning had, with Jesse Orosco striking out the first batter (in this case, it was Craig Reynolds) to bring the Mets within two outs of winning the National League pennant.  But then Orosco started showing fatigue of his own, allowing the next three batters to reach base.  Pinch-hitter Davey Lopes started the rally with a walk, followed by consecutive singles by Bill Doran and Billy Hatcher.  The latter single scored Lopes from second base and put the tying runs on base for Denny Walling.

Davey Johnson could have taken Orosco out of the game there, especially since both singles by Doran and Hatcher were hit on the first pitch, but the Mets' manager stayed with his veteran closer, hoping he would reward his faith in him by getting the final two outs of the game.  It seemed as if Orosco would get out of the jam and deliver the pennant to New York when Denny Walling hit a ground ball to Keith Hernandez, who attempted to start an inning-ending double play.  However, the ball wasn't hit hard enough and the only out the Mets could get was a forceout of Billy Hatcher at second base.  The Astros now had runners on first and third and Glenn Davis was coming up.  A home run by the Astros' slugger would give Houston the improbable victory, adding more suspense to an already tense moment.  Although the left-handed Orosco didn't give in to the right-handed Davis, he still wasn't able to send him back to the dugout, as Davis produced a run-scoring single to center, scoring Doran and moving Walling to second base.  The game was now 7-6, and the tying and winning runs were on base for Kevin Bass.

Bass had already committed a mistake in the game way back in the first inning (hence the "more on him later" 21 paragraphs ago) when he got tagged out trying to scamper back to third base on a failed suicide squeeze attempt.  Had Bass not been caught, the game might have ended after nine innings.  Instead, the Mets and Astros were playing on into the Houston night in a game that seemingly did not want to end.

Baseball is a game of redeeming features, and Bass was being given a second opportunity to make up for the Astros' costly first-inning base running blunder.  Orosco was one out away from giving the Mets a hard-fought pennant, but was not making it easy for himself or his team.  After going to a 3-2 count on Bass, Keith Hernandez came over to the mound to deliver an ultimatum to Orosco.

"If you throw him another fastball, we're going to fight."

With those words, Jesse buckled down, looked in at catcher Gary Carter's signs and threw Kevin Bass a full-count slider.  In a moment that will forever live on in the minds and hearts of Mets fans, Bass flailed wildly at the pitch, striking out on the 3-2 offering and touching off a wild celebration on the Astrodome mound and on the streets of New York.

After four hours and forty-two minutes, the Mets had finally won their first pennant in 13 years.  They had overcome eight masterful innings by starter Bob Knepper and two furious extra-inning rallies by the Astros' hitters to come out on top.  Despite the game lasting 16 innings, the Mets only used four pitchers in the game, with none of them lasting fewer than three innings.  Davey Johnson put faith in his pitchers' arms and that faith was now taking the Mets to the World Series.

The Mets would go on to play the Boston Red Sox in that World Series, and they would play in another memorable Game Six, one that has become even more memorable than the one played in the NLCS.  But without that first epic Game Six, there might not have been a World Series appearance for the Mets in 1986.

Thirty years ago today, the Mets and Astros gave us baseball theater in Houston.  The curtain did not come down for 16 innings, but in the end, the players all came through with the performances of their lives.  It might now be known as "the other Game Six", but it'll always be one of the most amazing baseball games ever played.

YouTube video courtesy of nyknick4life