Saturday, September 17, 2011

25 Years Ago: Mets Clinch NL East Division Title

Do you remember where you were 25 years ago today?  If you were alive and a Mets fan, you definitely should.

On September 17, 1986, the Mets became champions of the National League East for the first time in 13 years, riding the arm of a young Dwight Gooden en route to a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs.  The game marked the first career start for Dave Magadan, who went 3-for-4 with two RBIs.

The Cubs scored both of their runs on the "strength" of Rafael Palmeiro's two-run HR.  It was only the second home run of Palmeiro's career, a career that saw him blast 584 more longballs and wave one finger at Congress.

Despite Palmeiro's homer, manager Davey Johnson kept Gooden in the game for the ninth inning, when he could have used either of his co-closers (Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell).  He also inserted Keith Hernandez at first base for the final inning.  It was Hernandez's bout with the flu that kept him out of the starting lineup and allowed Dave Magadan to get his first major league start at first base.

Gooden began the ninth inning by walking Cubs catcher Jody Davis.  Shawon Dunston (who himself had a key moment in Mets history during the 1999 NLCS) then grounded into a fielder's choice, with Davis retired at second base.  Pinch-hitter Chris Speier then singled to put the tying runs on base.

Two on, one out, no call to the bullpen.  It was Doc's game to win or lose.

Dwight settled down after the single to Speier, striking out pinch-hitter Jerry Mumphrey.  With two outs, Chico Walker stepped up to the plate.  Let's go to Steve Zabriskie and Rusty Staub for the play-by-play:

As Rusty Staub said, it was "13 years of waiting" for the Mets and their fans (Rusty himself was a key member of the last Mets team to win a division title in 1973), but the team finally clinched the National League Eastern division crown 25 years ago today, on September 17, 1986.

By losing four straight games on the road to Philadelphia and St. Louis (the Mets did win the final game of their two-game series in St. Louis on September 16), the Mets allowed themselves the opportunity and luxury of winning the division title in front of the Shea faithful.

Although millions of fans will now claim to have been there, a total of 47,823 fans tore into the field after the final out was recorded.  We don't know if any of those fans caught the flu from coming into close contact with Keith Hernandez after he caught the final out of the game, but we do know that the city had caught Mets fever.

On September 17, 1986, the Mets were champions again.  They'd go on to win the championship of the National League 28 days later and the World Series 12 days after that, but it's that first taste of champagne that's the sweetest.

Can you believe it's been 25 years already?

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