Friday, December 30, 2016

Studious Metsimus Presents The Happy/Crappy Recap For 2016

We've reached that time of year, Mets fans.  No, I'm not talking about the time when teams overpay for a .230 hitter because his lifetime WAR is higher than his team owner's IQ.  It's time for this year's Happy/Crappy recap, where I share what made Mets fans incredibly happy but also save space for what was indelibly crappy.

When the 2016 season began, the Mets were the defending National League champions.  When the season ended, the team the Mets beat in 2015 to earn the title of N.L. champs became World Series champions for the first time since Scott Atchison read the story of Rip Van Winkle in study hall.

The Mets got to see the Cubs win it all from the comforts of their own homes because they couldn't knock off the Washington Nationals for the division title and had to settle for a do-or-die wild card game against postseason pitching extraordinaire Madison Bumgarner.  Or in other words, a loss.

But the Mets gave us plenty to hope for in the near future.  They got everyone hurt in 2016 so that only half of those players will be injured in 2017.  (I mean, Ray Ramirez can't kill them all again, right?)  They held Daniel Murphy to no home runs against them in six September games between the Mets and Nationals.  (Never mind that Murphy failed to go deep against everyone in September; that's not important right now!)  And most importantly, they allowed Eric Campbell to export his .173 batting average to Japan, where he will most likely become this generation's version of Tuffy Rhodes.

But in all seriousness, the Mets are built to remain contenders for longer than anyone thought they would be when Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins first came on the scene in 2011.  And after six years of 70-something wins per season, the Mets are poised to be far more happy than crappy well into the next decade.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it's time for the 2016 Happy/Crappy recap.

Just like they did in 2015, the Mets got off to a quick start in 2016.  By mid-May, New York had a 21-12 record and was in first place in the NL East.  The pitching staff was once again responsible for the team's early success, allowing three runs or fewer in 24 of the first 33 games.  But the most important pitcher in the first few months of the season wasn't a starter.  Rather, it was closer Jeurys Familia, who for most of the season was on pace to break the all-time National League single-season saves record.  He finished four saves short of the N.L. mark held by Eric Gagne and Hall of Famer John Smoltz but still set a franchise record by recording 51 saves.

The new double play combo of Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera was solid in the field and absolutely spectacular at the plate.  Even Cabrera's 0-for-34 stretch with runners in scoring position couldn't take away from how valuable an acquisition he was.  The new second baseman and shortstop became the first double play duo in team history to each reach 20 homers and produce an OPS over .800.  (Walker had an .823 OPS, while Cabrera's was .810; both players smacked 23 HR.)  And that's with Walker and Cabrera each spending time on the disabled list and combining to miss 70 games.  The Mets retained the services of the two steady middle infielders to ensure more pop and circumstance in 2017.

After no one thought the Mets could do it, they signed Yoenis Céspedes not once, but twice in 2016.  The first time, they allowed him to opt out of his three-year, $75 million deal after the first season was complete, which he did.  The second time, he re-signed with the team for four years and $110 million.  And this time, he's not going anywhere after year one is done.  Céspedes led the Mets in home runs, RBI, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, parakeets, horses, spring training vehicles, Lion King tributes, ... You name it, he led in it.  And he'll be trying to do the same through the 2020 campaign.

'Member Wilmer Flores?  He didn't cry on the field this year, but he did start to hit right-handed pitching better.  And even though he had 175 fewer plate appearances this year compared to his 2015 folk hero campaign, Flores still put up 16 HR and 49 RBI.  How rare is that production for a Mets player with fewer than 350 plate appearances?  Flores became just the fifth Met in club history with that many home runs in a sub-350 PA season and the fourth with that many RBI.  And to think he just turned 25 and posted career highs with a .788 OPS and 108 OPS+.  Before too long, people might totally forget about his obsession with the show "Friends" and will only remember him for being a fine hitter who makes excellent contact (165 strikeouts in 1,220 career plate appearances).

Last, but certainly not least is the legend of Noah Syndergaard, which went off the charts in 2016.  From his bromance with Yoenis Céspedes and Bartolo Colón to his hilarious Twitter account to sticking a microphone up Steve Gelbs' nose, Thor became a fan-favorite both on and off the field.  The 14-9 record, 2.60 ERA, 218 strikeouts and three homers as a batter were pretty cool, too.  As was his memorable effort against that Bum in the wild card game.  All from a guy who hadn't been born when Nirvana was at its peak.  Mets fans hope Thor can lead the team to baseball nirvana in the near future.

Noah Syndergaard clearly wanted to hear if Steve Gelbs was breathing heavily.  (SNY screen shot)

Not all was happy in the last season for the Mets.  In fact, some of the happy is intertwined with the crappy.  Time to unroll the orange and blue toilet paper and share what was crappy with 2016.

Once again, a quick start was followed by a mid-summer dry spell, especially with a lethargic offense that counted on players like James Loney, Alejandro De Aza and others of that ilk.  From May 12 to July 30, the Mets scored two runs or fewer in 35 of 70 games.  For all you kids out there, that's half the time not scoring more than a couple of runs.  That's not going to win a lot of ballgames.  (That would also explain why, by August 19, the Mets had gone 39-50 over their last 89 games to go from nine games over .500 to two games under.)

What happened to the vaunted starting rotation?  Matt Harvey went 4-10 with an ERA approaching 5.00 and a WHIP just under 1.50.  That's almost Mike Pelfrey in 2009 territory (Big Pelf had a 5.03 ERA and 1.51 WHIP in that sad, sad season).  And Jacob deGrom never found his fastball.  He must have left it wherever he left his winning record, as he went 7-8 with a career-high ERA and WHIP.  Let's not even talk about Steven Matz, who couldn't lose early on, then couldn't even get his grandpa to jump out of his seat during an 11-start stretch in which he posted a Harvey-esque 4.81 ERA and allowed opposing hitters to slash .303/.353/.472 against him.  The most consistent starter other than Syndergaard was Bartolo Colón, and now he's an Atlanta Brave.  Let's hope Zack Wheeler's unexpected two-year vacation has him ready to replace Big Sexy on the big stage.

As of this writing, the Mets still have Jay Bruce on their payroll.  He is a lefty-swinging outfielder with power.  They also have Curtis Granderson.  He also swings from the left side and patrols the outfield.  And you may have heard of this Michael Conforto guy.  Guess which side of the plate is his favorite and where he plays on the field?  Here's another thing about those guys.  They make outs.  Lots of them.  In fact, Granderson's .237 batting average was the highest among the three, with Conforto batting .220 and a late-season hot streak propelling Bruce all the way up to .219.  But hey, at least Granderson can draw a walk, and walks put fannies in the seats, right?

Jeurys Familia did a bad thing this off-season.  Something that was even worse than allowing that home run to Conor Gillaspie in the wild card game.  And because he couldn't control his temper off the field, he'll have to stay away from the field for a significant portion of the early 2017 campaign.  So either the Mets will have to score a ton of runs in April and early May or they'll have to depend on people not named Jeurys Familia to hold a slim lead when the starters are taken out of the game.  I hope the Mets paid their phone bill, because that bullpen phone is going to get quite a workout early on in 2017.

Finally, how does Ray Ramirez still have a job?  Sometimes it seems as if he spends more time on the field than the players do.  The disabled list welcomed a ton of Mets players in 2016, which has been par for the course since Ramirez became the head trainer.  Having him as the head trainer has become a head scratcher for most Mets fans.  Just don't scratch too hard while pondering why the players never seem to come back after injuries that began as day-to-day aches and pains turn into season-long nightmares.  Your head might end up in a walking boot if Ramirez finds out.

That's all she wrote, Mets fans.  You've just read what was happy and crappy about the 2016 season just in time to start thinking about what could possibly go wrong (and right) in 2017.  Can the 2017 top the two-season run the Mets have been on?  Will the offense finally hit in June?  And how will Noah Syndergaard antagonize Steve Gelbs next?

The answers will all be here in the coming year, as brought to you by your friendly neighborhood Studious Metsimus staff.  And if for some reason, the staff is on vacation or at an all-you-can-eat buffet when breaking Mets news hits, you can be sure that other members of the blogosphere - those who don't take vacations or eat - will be there to fill you in.  Blogs such as A Gal For All Seasons, Faith and Fear in Flushing, Mets Merized Online, MetsMinors.Net, Amazin' Avenue, Metstradamus, Remembering Shea, The Daily Stache, Mets360, Rising Apple, Mets Plus, Mets Police, MetSilverman, Converted Mets Fan and Mets Daddy, just to name a few (or 15, to be exact) always have compelling stories to share, day or night.  Check them out some time.  I'd say "tell 'em Ed sent you" but I'm not sure they all know who I am.

From all of us here at Studious Metsimus headquarters (which is basically just a desk that's equidistant from the kitchen and the bathroom), we'd like to wish you and yours a happy New Year.  And by "we", that's yours truly (Ed Leyro), our roving reporter/culinary expert (Joey Beartran) and queen of all social media (Taryn "The Coop" Cooper).

And remember, Mets fans, it's not how you play the game, it's how you managed to stay on the field when your head trainer is Ray Ramirez.

Thanks so much for your support!

The Studious Metsimus staff raises a glass to our readers!  (That guy on the top right needs to shave.)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Joey's Letter To Sandy Claus (2016)

I figured a sandy setting would be appropriate for a letter to Sandy Claus.  Plus, it reminds me of summer and baseball.

Dear Sandy Claus,

Are you there, Sandy?  It's me, Joey Beartran.  You may remember me from the letters I've sent you in each of the last five holiday seasons.  Other teams' fans have gotten some of their wishes already, such as Cardinals fans getting World Series champion center fielder Dexter Fowler under their tree, Boston lovers getting the Sale of the century and ChiSox supporters getting almost every other team's young prospects to fill their ChiStockings.

As for me and my fellow Mets fans, we're not really asking for much this year.  After all, you've given us two consecutive postseason appearances and have us in position to make an unprecedented third straight October run in 2017.  You've also somehow managed to get superstar slugger Yoenis Céspedes to shun other teams' offers not once, but twice, which has made the loss of former Mets farmhand and current American League Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer a little more palatable.

That doesn't mean we wouldn't want a little something extra from you this holiday season.  I mean, don't get me wrong.  We're quite pleased with the riches you've given us on such a tight budget, but at the same time, we're Mets fans.  That means we're never satisfied.

So since I seem to be the only one here writing you a letter, I figure I'd speak on behalf on my fellow Mets fans so that you know what we'd like this year.  Considering that we've all been nice this year - except for Ray Ramirez, who should probably receive a lump of coal in his stocking, just sayin' - I don't think our wishes are all that unreasonable.  Here goes.

What should I ask for?  This would be a pretty inopportune time to get writers' block.

I'd like a trading partner for Jay Bruce.  It's clear that the Mets have a glut of outfielders.  One is the team's best offensive threat (Céspedes), one is supposedly the star of the future (Michael Conforto), one is a former Gold Glove winner (Juan Lagares), one always says hi to me when I'm sitting in my Right Field Reserved seats (Curtis Granderson) and the other is Jay Bruce.  I don't really care who you trade him for.  Trade him for a new head athletic trainer for all I care.  Actually, if you trade Bruce AND the team's current athletic trainer in the same deal, you'd be killing two birds with one stone, which is probably a good thing for the birds because if they weren't killed by that single stone, the trainer might have to take a look at them and that would be a fate worse than death.

I would also like a shutdown bullpen, you know, like the Nasty Boys that helped the Reds win their last championship in 1990 or the relievers that helped propel the Cubs and Indians to the World Series last year.  (I'd mention the Royals' bullpen that led the team to two World Series appearances in 2014 and 2015, but it's a little too soon for me.)  With Jeurys Familia possibly missing some time to start the season due to his domestic violence incident (and he should also get coal for what he did), the Mets will need someone with late inning experience to complement Addison Reed.  I'm well aware that relievers can go from Mariano Rivera domination to Mel Rojas abomination in a matter of minutes, but I trust you to find someone with the talent to fill the hole left by the impending absence of Familia.  Oh, and make sure the guy you get us isn't named Armando or have a second cousin once removed in the Benitez family.

Without question, I want good health for the players who lost time in 2016 due to injuries.  You know, like Lucas Duda, Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera, Wilmer Flores, Jose Reyes, David Wright, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz...  You know what?  Just keep those guys away from the players who managed to stay healthy in 2016 until it's been determined that their injuries aren't contagious.  Though I suppose you wouldn't have to worry about that much with Wright, since he breaks more than wind at a bean burrito eating contest.

I want the Michael Conforto from April 2016 to become the Michael Conforto of every month of the 2017 baseball season.  We've had several one-month wonders in the past.  Does Derek Bell and his red hot start in April 2000 ring a (ahem) bell?  No one expects Conforto to put up the .330/.402/.522 slash line he's produced in 166 career minor league games.  But I do think we should expect more than his .238/.319/.448 performance in 165 contests with the Mets.  Considering that after the 2017 campaign, the Mets won't have Bruce or Granderson on their payroll, Conforto will have to step up to prove that he is going to be a top contributor on this team.  And while I'm at it, can you get Terry Collins to trust him a little more against southpaws?  l know Conforto is probably never going to be a .300 hitter versus left-handed pitchers, but TC has shown as much faith in him against lefties as I have in myself becoming a vegan.  It's time to cut Conforto loose against the world.

Palm trees go with things that are Sandy.  Just hope "Exotic Canadian" isn't a euphemism for Jason Bay.

Speaking of cutting loose, it's time to finally see the Fab Five in action.  I'm talking about having Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler take over this rotation and not let it go until Scott Boras gets Harvey a nine-figure deal to underachieve somewhere else.  Unfortunately, this has yet to happen because Wheeler took a two-year injury sabbatical, Harvey never quite recovered from the ninth inning of Game Five and deGrom and Matz couldn't make 30-plus starts, leaving Syndergaard to do all the heavy lifting in 2016.  And what heavy lifting he did!  Thor basically carried the staff on his back and nearly led them past Madison Bumgarner and the Giants in the Wild Card game.  Imagine if the Mets had several pitchers who could do the same over a full season.  Wait.  They do.  As long as they stay healthy and Yoko Ono doesn't try to break up the band.

I'm a fan of Kelly Johnson.  I really am.  I'm not a fan of losing future major leaguers every time the Mets decide to acquire him during the season.  In 2015, the Mets reeled in Johnson from Atlanta with a package that included John Gant and Robert Whalen.  Both pitchers made it to the majors in 2016 and Gant recorded his first big league victory against the Mets in June.  (It came just three days before my birthday, which was not exactly an ideal gift for me.)  Then after re-signing with the Braves prior to the 2016 campaign, the Mets once again traded for Johnson, sending pitcher Akeel Morris to Atlanta in return for the utility man.  Morris posted a 2.27 ERA for the Braves' Double-A affiliate in 25 appearances following the trade so I wouldn't be surprised if he made it back to the show at some point in 2017.  Therefore, on my wish list, I'd like the Mets to keep Johnson around for the entire 2017 campaign rather than having to sacrifice their young for his services.  We can't keep stuffing the Braves' stockings with so much talent year after year just to get half a season of Kelly Johnson each time.

Finally, I'd like more of those delicious steak frites that you can only find at the Pat LaFrieda joint on the Promenade level.  Why aren't they offered on the field level?  I didn't even know they were an option until we were well into the season.  Also, why was there no Rao's pasta in the Foxwoods Club in 2016 like there was when the area was called the Caesar's Club in previous seasons?  That was my go-to dish when I didn't want to stand in a long line of people who only wanted hot dogs and beer and could have purchased said items from any vendor walking around the ballpark instead of taking up so much space on the line in front of me!  On a related note, I'd also like you to help me control my temper, especially when I'm hungry.

More places in the stadium where these are available would be most welcome.

So that's pretty much what I'm asking you for, Sandy.  Just dump the latest outfielder with the initials J.B. that failed to impress in New York, add a piece or two to the bullpen, keep the players as far away from Ray Ramirez as possible and remind Conforto that his Olympian mom is still the best athlete in the family until he learns how to hit a baseball on a consistent basis.

In addition, all I am saying is don't play Plastic Ono Band music near the starting pitchers and give Kelly Johnson a chance for an entire season.  Oh, and more stands with steak frites around the ballpark and the return of Rao's pasta dishes would be most welcome.  I'm speaking for all Mets fans, of course, not just myself.

Thanks so much for reading my letter, Sandy.  And thank you for what you've done to take this team from a perennial 70-something win squad to a club that has to cancel golf plans in October because playing ball for a title is much more fun than playing with a Titleist ball.

I wish you and your merry little elves a happy holiday season and I can't wait to see what you leave under my tree.  And remember, just because my tree is small doesn't mean you can't put everything I asked for under it.  You're a baseball maverick.  You'll figure out a way.

Love and Shake Shack forever,
Joey Beartran

Hope you get my letter, Sandy Claus.  And my tree really isn't that small; it still towers over me!

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.