Posts Tagged ‘Bob Ojeda’

A Look Back Twenty-Five Years

September 1, 2011

First Baseman Keith Hernandez

Last year I did a post about this time of the season commemorating the 1985 Kansas City Royals. It was the 25th anniversary of their single World’s Championship. Seems like a good idea to do again, so this time let’s look at the 1986 Mets, who won their second (and so far final ) World Series 25 years ago.

The ’86 Mets were a heck of a team They were built to win not just a championship, but multiple championships. They hit well, the ran well, the pitched well, they even fielded pretty well. What’s not to like? Gary Carter was an All-Star catcher and future Hall of Famer. The infield consisted of Keith Hernandez, generally considered the finest fielding first baseman of the era, a pretty fair hitter (with or without Clyde Frazier and hair tinting), the league leader in walks (the only category a Mets hitter led the NL in), and a former MVP (1979). At second New York had Wally Backman. He hit .300 for the season, had no power, stole a handful of bases, and was something of a sparkplug. Rafael Santana played short, had a good glove, and batted low in the order for a reason. Ray Knight, only a couple of years removed from Houston was the third baseman. At the time he was best known as a good fielding third baseman and the husband of golfer Nancy Lopez. The outfield had 24 year-old Darryl Strawberry  in right field. He led the team in home runs and was second in RBIs (to Carter). Len Dykstra in center was even younger at 23. If there was a man considered the spark, it was  Dykstra. He played center well, led the team in stolen bases (and tobacco spitting), and had more walks than strikeouts. Veteran Mookie Wilson was in left. He’d been there a while, had decent speed, and tended to pull the ball to right field a lot, as Bill Buckner was about to find out.

The pitching was good and was pretty typical for the era in that there were a lot of good pitchers and no real standout “ace.”  Lefty Bob Ojeda led in wins (18), former Cy Young winner Dwight Gooden was only 21 and tied with flame-thrower Sid Fernandez for the team lead in strikeouts (200). A number of  people thought Ron Darling had the best stuff and Rick Aguilera, not yet the Minnesota Twins great reliever was the fifth starter. Jesse Orosco had 21 saves from the left side and Roger McDowell had 22 from the right. It was one of the last teams to use both a right and left-handed reliever tandem. The manager was Davey Johnson, the old Orioles and Braves second baseman and the bench featured Kevin Mitchell and Howard Johnson (who didn’t run a  hotel).

The team won their division by 21.5 games over Philadelphia then played a great LCS against Houston, climaxing with the game six I detailed in the last post. In the World Series they took on Boston and won in seven games. After dropping the first two games, they won four of the next five, including the extra innings game six that featured Wilson’s roller through Buckner’s legs.

It was a team built for a long haul. They were expected to win multiple championships and dominate the NL for five or six years. They didn’t. They managed one more division title (in 1988) and that was all. No one seems to have told the St. Louis Cardinals (in 1985 and 1987) or the Los Angeles Dodgers (in 1988) that the Mets were invincible. Part of the problem was the team itself.  Carter got old, so did Hernandez and Wilson. Ojeda had a few good years but was never an ace and Backman was no Joe Morgan. Darling never panned out. Both Gooden and Strawberry ended up with drug problems and never became the transcendent players some thought they would become. Then there were the trades. Aguilera became a star reliever, but for Minnesota. Bench player Mitchell won an MVP but did it at San Francisco.  And Orosco did win another championship, he just did it two years later with the Dodgers when they beat his former Mets teammates.

This was a team that reminds me a lot of the 1984 Detroit team. Good hitting, good pitching, a powerful bullpen, and one championship. I always thought they’d do better, but was wrong. Still, it’s nice to celebrate them for their one magnificent run.

Game Six: LCS

August 26, 2011

After a short break, back to game six. This is the final installment of the series.

When baseball went to a playoff system in 1969, the playoff round was a best of five, making it impossible for a game six. That changed in 1985 when the current best of seven format began. It proved immediately successful when Toronto won game four of the 1985 ALCS and took a three games to one lead over Kansas City. In previous years that would have put Toronto into the World Series, but the new format required them to win one more. They couldn’t and the Royals won their only World Series that season.

There have been a few good sixth games in ALCS history, but most of the truly memorable ones occurred in the National League. Ozzie Smith’s home run and the “Bartman” game were both game six. But for sheer drama and length, there’s never been anything quite like game six of the 1986 NLCS.

Kevin Bass in that gaudy Astros uniform

1986

The New York Mets went into game six of the 1986 NLCS up three games to two against the Houston Astros. The game was played on Wednesday afternoon, 15 October, in Houston. The Astros looked like they were going to tie up the series when they jumped on Mets ace Bob Ojeda for three runs in the bottom of the first. With a couple of doubles and a couple of singles, Houston forged ahead. The key play of the game occurred in the first, when Kevin Bass recorded the third out trying to steal home. It ended the scoring for the Astros in the first, and as things turned out one more run would have been critical.

For eight innings the Astros held New York in check. Starter Bob Knepper threw eight shutout innings to bring the game to the top of the ninth and bring Houston within three outs of a game seven. He got one. A triple, a single, and a double gave the Mets two runs and chased Knepper. A sacrifice fly tied the game and Bass’s base running blunder now brought on extra innings.

And it brought on extra inning after extra inning. The game went on for 4 hours and 42 minutes. Not being a particular fan of either team, I was, by the end, beginning to root for it to go 18 so I could get in a strange double-header. I thought the Mets were going to mess it up for me when they scored a run in the 14th, but Billy Hatcher homered in the bottom of the inning to give me another chance at my hoped for double-header.  

The fifteenth was scoreless, then the Mets scored three on a double, two singles, two wild pitches, and a sacrifice fly. Up 7-4 it looked like World Series time for the Mets. Houston decided not to make it easy. On a couple of singles and a walk, the Astros got two runs back, then Kevin Bass came to the plate with two outs. He struck out to end the game, the series, and my shot at a double-header. The Mets went on to win the World Series.

It was more an interesting than exciting game for most of the time. There was the drama extra innings always gives, but for much of the game it looked like the Mets were in trouble. They made it exciting finally in the ninth, then it became a long drama through a 14th inning tie then the finale of the Astros getting within one run to send it to sixteen. The game had some individually good performances. Jesse Orosco picked up the win, his third in the series, Knepper threw eight shutout innings before losing it in the ninth. Ray Knight had two critical RBIs, and Glenn Davis and Billy Hatcher both had three hits for the Astros, one of Hatcher’s being the game’s only home run. Then there was Kevin Bass who went one for six with the out at home and Astros manager Hal Lanier who left Knepper in to start the ninth.

It was a heck of a game, and a heck of a game to end this series on. I still wish I’d gotten that double header out of it. Oh, well.

Game Six: Wickets

August 8, 2011

One interesting thing about baseball is that you can track stats over time. For instance, you can make a list of the men who held the single season home run title from 1876 all the way through 2010. Another stat that’s easy to follow is errors. If you track them, you’ll notice that, as a rule, there has been a distinct improvement in fielding through the years. That doesn’t mean there aren’t still errors. Some are infamous. Fred Snodgrass in 1912 made an error that modern baseball fans know about. In 1941 Mickey Owen let a ball get passed him to open up a Yankees rally that won a World Series game. But if I  had to pick one error to put at the top of the infamy list, it occurred in 1986.

1986

Ray Knight scores, game six, 1986

The Red Sox and Mets squared off in game six of the 1986 World Series at Shea Stadium on 25 October. The Red Sox needed one win to grab their first championship since 1918. For the Mets, they needed two wins to secure their second championship ever. Both teams sent aces to the mound: Roger Clemens for Boston and Bob Ojeda for New York. Clemens started off well, Ojeda was shaky, giving up single runs in both the first and second innings. After that he settled down and pitched shutout ball through the sixth inning. Clemens did fine through four, then gave up the tying runs in the fifth on a walk, a single, an error (making one of the runs unearned), and a double play. Boston retook the lead on an unearned run in the seventh, but New York tied it back up on a Gary Carter sacrifice fly in the eighth inning. No one scored in the ninth, so the game went to extra innings.

Boston seemingly won the Series in the top of the tenth with a home run, a double, and  a single to give them a 5-3 lead. But of course the home team gets one last at bat, so down two runs, the Mets came to the plate in the bottom of the tenth. Pitcher Calvin Schraldi (an ex-Mets player) got two quick outs, then gave up three consecutive singles, giving the Mets one run back. Out went Schraldi, in came Bob Stanley, who promptly threw a wild pitch tying the game and sending the potential winning run to second. That brought up left fielder Mookie Wilson, who hit a slow roller to first baseman, and one-time batting champ, Bill Buckner, who let it go between the wickets for an error. Ray Knight, the runner on second (and husband to golfer Nancy Lopez), scored the winning run, which set up a game seven. The Mets won it 8-5 to secure the World Series championship.

Fans called Buckner all sorts of things. That went on for years, and I still know people who blame him for the loss. I never did. First, it was game six. So what if Boston loses it? Go out and win game seven. They actually led in game seven 3-0 going into the bottom of the sixth, when Bruce Hurst and the bullpen blew it again. BTW, Buckner went 2 for 4 in game seven, scoring one run in the eighth inning. You want to blame somebody? I got a lot of suggestions. First, blame the Mets. They played good ball, got timely hitting, and took advantage of the opportunities offered. Second, blame the Boston pitching. Bruce Hurst won 2 games and Clemens pitched well despite getting no decisions. The rest of the staff was weak (and I’m being kind to some of them). Oil Can Boyd and Al Nipper had 7.00 ERA’s.  Bob Stanley threw a critical wild pitch and closer Schraldi was 0-2 (one save) with a 13.00 ERA. Also blame the manager, John McNamara. All season he had replaced the largely immobile Buckner with Dave Stapleton late in games with Boston leading. He had done so in all three of the Red Sox wins prior to game six. For some reason (and I’ve never heard a definitive answer from McNamara) he left Buckner in the game on the 25th. Some people say he wanted to give Buckner the thrill of being on the field when the Sox won the Series, but I’ve never heard McNamara actually say that.

For the Red Sox it took until 2004 to win a World Series. The Mets have never won another. They had a couple of chances but came up short against the Cardinals in the regular season, the Dodgers in the playoffs, and against the Yankees in the one World Series they managed to get back into. Ya know, maybe there’s a curse of Bill Buckner.