Twenty three years ago right now, those of us old enough to remember were pretty excited. For fans like me, who were toddlers in 1969, and had clear, but what were at that age ancient, memories of the bitter loss in 1973 (I vividly remember how despondent my father was after that Game 7 loss; sorry dad, it was NOT Yogiâ€™s fault), 1986 was the Metsâ€™ first postseason appearance in what may as well have been forever.
I agreed with Davey in the spring of 86; it seemed as though the team was absolutely primed to dominate. Yes, the Cards would surely be pesky again, the Expos had talent, and the Phils did as well. But Doc, Darling, El Sid, McDowell, Aguilera, Darryl, and Lenny were all 25 or younger, we were anchored by Keith and Carter, as well as Jesse and Mookie, we had HoJo and Kevin Mitchell on the bench, we had a great platoon at 2B, and we added Bobby O to fill out an awesome rotation.
Think about all of that on one team for a second. 1984 was a truly thrilling season after watching 1977â€”1983. 1985 was also fantastic, as the team was clearly developing into something seriously good, but it was still disappointing, as I think many of us were ready for the postseason that year. But the baseball Godsâ€”and Don Denkingerâ€”seemed to have a KC title in mind that year.
Then came 1986.
Davey set the tone in the spring, as Gil did before him, and as many great leaders do. The team started off the season 2â€”3, and had there been a Metsblog back then, I am sure we would have indeed seen people calling for Daveyâ€™s head. Ron and Sid got shelled, the pen blew two games, and after five outings, they had lost two extra-inning games, and allowed 28 runs. They then won 11 straight, including a four game sweep in St. Louis against their archrivals, and allowed a total of 26 runs in those 11 games. After a loss in Atlanta, they won 7 more in a row, sat at 20-4, and were beginning to draw comparisons to the incredible 1984 Tigers, of the 35â€”5 start. They would never be less than 3 games up again.
The Mets never had had a regular season like 1986; few teams do. The 1969 team roared to the finish with an incredible run later in the year. They threw 9 shutouts in their last 21 games, and 4 in a row in games 157â€”160! The 1973 team scratched and clawed their way to a division title. Later on, the 1988 team was very good, but not as dominant as the 86 group. 1999 and 2000 were very enjoyable seasons, but nothing like 86. 2006â€”a fine regular season to be sure, but, well, letâ€™s move on.
As the playoffs started, I think most Met fans clearly felt as though this was â€œour year.â€ Everything had gone beautifully, and the team was strong to extremely strong in just about every way. The offense was first in the league in R, H, BB, BA, OBP, SLG, and TB, and third in HR. The pitchers were in the top three in CG, SHO, SO, H, BB, R, ER, and SV, and allowed the least HR. And they were first in wins of course. They were tenth in SB, but with Mookie, Lenny, and Wally at the top of the order combined with Darrylâ€™s speed, they did have threats on the bases in key spots. They were fourth in fielding pct. and sixth in errors, but with the unmatched Keith at first, with Carter behind the plate, with Strawâ€™s arm in RF, and with the solid Santana at SS, they were a good fielding team overall.
We split two in Houston and I attended Game 3 at Shea, the Metsâ€™ first postseason home game since Game 5 of the 1973 World Series. The stadium was truly rocking. Shea was never a pretty place, never a comfortable place, never an amenity-laden park that one would be proud to take mom to, but when the team was winning, it was electric and it rocked. When Lenny hit the 2-run HR down by 1 in the bottom of the 9th, 55,000+ screamed and jumped in unison. I will never forget how the place shook that day.
The specter of one of baseballâ€™s more successful cheaters, Mike Scott, loomed over this entire series. Scott himself once said that he would finally tell the truth about his scuffing of the balls when he wrote his autobiography. When the reporter asked when he would be writing it, he replied, â€œNever.â€
Game 6 truly had a life of its own, with amazing clutch hits by amazing clutch players, and the kind of attitude and determination that the team would show throughout the postseason when really needed. Hell, some might even call it grit.
They avoided Mike Scott, they trashed the team plane, and then they lost the first two to the Red Sox. As he had done with the leadoff triple in the top of the 9th in Game 6 in Houston, Lenny led off Game 3 in Fenway with a homer when a big hit was so sorely needed. Once we won Game 4 in Boston and assured a return to Shea, many felt that the long-awaited successor to the 69 team was about to be coronated. We were so good that our home and road splits were very even that year, but who could have imagined the 1986 Mets losing the title on their home field at this point?
Roger Clemens for one. The picture of his silly smiling face before The Rally still is one of the great indelible moments of that game and that season.
Sometimes, when I watch replays of the bottom of the tenth of Game 6, I have Twilight Zone moments. I get nervous, and half expect to see Carter, Mitchell, or Knight make an out. Then I see the surreal sight of the Sox mobbing Schiraldi, and I run to my shelves of baseball books, take out a reference book, quickly flip to the 86 postseason, and see that the Red Sox won in 6! Then the camera closes in on my contorted screaming faceâ€¦
OK, that has never really happened. But I really think about it when I watch that inning. After 23 years, I still get nervously excited watching those at bats, which will forever be the most exciting sports moments I can imagine.
Game 7, as many Met players have said, was in the bag before it started. How could they lose? They couldnâ€™t. I think Keith ground away part of that bat, he was gripping it so hard before the 2-run single off of Hurst to make it 3â€”2. For my money, about the biggest hit in Met history that did not take place in Game 6 of that series. Knight homered, Darryl homered, Jesse put down six straight, and it was over. The greatest moment in Met history for any fan not old enough to remember 1969.
Hard to believe it has been 23 years. We have had some great players and been back to the WS, but we have seen nothing come close to 86. I would argue that that was a truly special season, and a truly great and special team. We do not have the Yanksâ€™ history, but that 86 group is definitely one of the more memorable championship teams of the last few decades (as was the 69 team.)
So as we close the curtain on a truly horrific year, which is all the more disappointing as it comes on the heels of the misery-inspiring finishes of 2007 and 2008, we can look back on that year and realize that we do have some things to be proud of when it comes to our teamâ€™s history, despite the recent disappointments and setbacks. This franchise is not all Casey Stengel, M. Donald Grant, Aaron Heilman, Ryan-for-Fregosi, Kazmir-for-Zambrano, etc., even thought it may sometimes seem that way.
The lack of Met history in Citi Field is a reflection on basically two peopleâ€”Fred and Jeff Wilpon. It is absolutely not a reflection on the team, its history, its players, or its incredibly large base of dedicated, knowledgeable fans. An ownership with more love and respect for its own teamâ€™s history could have made Citi a shrine to Met glory, with orange and blue everywhere, and aÂ fitting tribute to the great New York and American hero Jackie Robinson, but with a giant rotunda honoring two of the most memorable and beloved New York teams of the last half century. Their decision to neglect the history does not belittle it one iota.
Not every sports franchise has two titles, even though it has taken us 48 years to win those two. Many have less than two in that span, and even more lack an all-time great title team like the 108-win regular season monster and heroic king of postseason comebacks that the 1986 team was. Instead of mourning a third lost season in a row, this might be a nice time to reflect on a season and a team that a huge number of fans of many teams in many sports might be very jealous of and might love to call their own.
Hereâ€™s to the 1986 Mets, and hereâ€™s to the hope that someday we will look back on David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Johan Santana, and Francisco Rodriguez in the way that we view Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and Jesse Orosco.