Posts Tagged ‘Mookie Wilson’

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: 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.