Wednesday, August 16, 2017

30 Years Ago Today: Mets Score Club Record 23 Runs in a Game

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 C├ęspedes 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 C├ęspedes 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 3 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.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Michael Conforto Could Join an Exclusive OBP Club

Make way for Michael Conforto, the OBP Machine!  (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

In Wednesday's 10-5 victory over the Colorado Rockies, Michael Conforto reached base twice in five plate appearances, holding his on-base percentage at an impressive .401.  Despite Conforto's inability to crack the starting lineup early on (he started just four of the team's first 15 games), his 359 plate appearances currently qualify him for all full-season leaderboards, and as such, allow him to rank seventh in the National League in OBP.

Should Conforto maintain his .400-plus on-base percentage and reach the minimum 502 plate appearances to qualify for the batting title (or OBP title), he would join a very exclusive club of Mets players to accomplish that feat.  In fact, during the team's first 55 seasons, only seven players have reached base in at least 40% of their plate appearances when they had a sufficient number of trips to the plate.

1Cleon Jones1969.42255848392164254127564713.340.482.904
2Keith Hernandez1984.40965755083171310159497109.311.449.859
3Keith Hernandez1986.41365255194171341138394403.310.446.859
4Dave Magadan1990.41754145174148286672742410.328.457.874
5John Olerud1997.4006305249015434122102851308.294.489.889
6John Olerud1998.44766555791197364229396417.354.551.998
7Rickey Henderson1999.42352643889138300124282213.315.466.889
8John Olerud1999.42772358110717339019961251106.298.463.890
9Edgardo Alfonzo2000.425650544109176402259495506.324.542.967
10David Wright2007.4167116041131964213010794607.325.546.963
11Michael Conforto2017.4013593026189191215647802.295.573.974
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/3/2017.

Cleon Jones became the first Met to do so in 1969, reaching base at a .422 clip and propelling the team to a World Series title.  It wasn't until the Mets' 23rd season that Jones had company in this formerly one-man club, as Keith Hernandez produced a .409 on-base percentage in 1984; the Mets' first 90-win season since Jones and his teammates won it all 15 years prior.

Hernandez repeated his .400-plus OBP feat two years later, when he helped the Mets take home their second World Series trophy.  Keith's fill-in at first base in the 1986 division clincher became the third Met to play a full season with an on-base percentage greater than .400, as Dave Magadan flirted with a batting title in 1990 before settling for third place in that race, but still managed to produce a lofty .417 OBP in 541 plate appearances.

After Magadan's one-year wonder campaign, the Mets played musical chairs at first base.  From 1991 to 1996, the Mets had a plethora of players who became their everyday first baseman, including Magadan himself in '91, future Hall of Famer Eddie Murray in '92 and '93, David Segui in '94, Rico Brogna in '95 and Butch Huskey in '96.  It wasn't until they made one of the most one-sided trades in club history that they found a starter for more than two seasons, and he became the team's all-time OBP king.

John Olerud was a Met for only three seasons, but he reached base at least 40% of the time in all three campaigns.  In 1997, he became the first Met with a .400 OBP over a full season in seven years.  He then followed it up with a .447 OBP in 1998, which remains a single-season franchise record, and a .427 OBP in 1999, when he helped the team advance to within two victories of a World Series berth.  His 1999 teammate, Rickey Henderson, didn't want Olerud to party alone in the .400 club, so he crossed the velvet rope and put up a .423 on-base percentage of his own.

A year after Olerud and Henderson became the team's first pair of .400 OBP players, they were both gone, as Olerud signed a free-agent contract to return home to Seattle and Henderson played his way out of New York, earning his release from the team in May.  But a new man took over the reins as the team's resident .400 on-base guy in 2000, as Edgardo Alfonzo posted a career-high .425 OBP in helping the team win its fourth National League pennant.

In the 16 seasons since Fonzie went over .400 in the OBP column, only one Met has joined him in the .400 club.  That would be David Wright, who in 2007 became the most recent player to achieve an on-base percentage of .400 or greater, as he reached base at a .416 clip for the 88-win Mets.

For the past ten seasons, Cleon Jones, Keith Hernandez, Dave Magadan, John Olerud, Rickey Henderson, Edgardo Alfonzo and David Wright have been the only seven players to post a .400 OBP over a season of at least 502 plate appearances.  Now Michael Conforto and his .401 on-base percentage are threatening to make this an eight-man club.  But one other thing stands out among the members of the .400 club that Conforto could have a tough time duplicating.

When Jones became the first Met to post a .400 OBP over a full season in 1969, he did so for a 100-win team.  Hernandez had his .400 seasons in 1984 and 1986 when the Mets won 90 and 108 games, respectively.  Magadan's 1990 campaign ended with 91 Mets victories, while Olerud's three .400 OBP seasons occurred during 88, 88 and 97-win campaigns.  (Rickey's season gave us 97 wins as well.)  When Fonzie did it, the Mets won 94 regular season games.  And Wright's high OBP helped the Mets win 88 games.

See a pattern forming there?  Every player who produced a .400 OBP over a full season played for a Mets team that finished with a winning record.  In fact, the worst record by a Mets team that had such a player was 88-74.  That's a far cry from the current Mets team, which is currently seven games under .500 at 49-56.

This year has been an anomaly for the Mets; a year in which the pitching has been the team's greatest disappointment when it was supposed to be an asset.  If Michael Conforto finishes the season with an on-base percentage above .400, it will be anomaly for another reason.  Barring a late-season push in the standings, it would mark the first time a Mets team employed a player with a .400-plus OBP and failed to produce a winning record.  Even with a surge in August and September, the team would be hard pressed to reach 88 victories; the minimum number of wins produced a Mets club that had a .400 OBP player.

Michael Conforto has been a steady presence in the field and at the plate.  He's also been a steady presence on the basepaths, reaching base more than 40% of the time in 2017.  However, his team hasn't been able to take advantage of his keen ability to not make outs.  The potential to join an exclusive seven-man club that includes several all-time Mets greats is a fine accomplishment.  It would be far better if Conforto could match Jones, Hernandez, Magadan, Olerud, Henderson, Alfonzo and Wright by joining that club while playing for a competitive Mets team.