The New York Mets finished the 1989 season in second place. Six weeks into the 1990 season Davey Johnson was fired. He won 1,012 games as manager of the Mets, one World Series and two division titles. Johnson’s teams won an average of 95 games from 1984-1990. But, amidst all those wins, history defines the Mets as a disappointment.
By the time I arrived at Shea Stadium in mid-June, a Dwight Gooden start had become a New York event. I had been watching Gooden baffle opponents on television over the first two months of the 1985 season. The first month he shut out the Philadelphia Phillies twice and the Cincinnati Reds. From May and early June he pitched into the seventh inning in all seven of his starts. He was four days younger than I was for goodness sakes. It was time to see this with my own eyes, in person.
When the day arrives, and it’s clear Zack Wheeler has “figured it out,” this will be the day he will appreciate most. New York Mets fans will prefer to reflect on Wheeler’s first MLB start, six shutout innings vs. Atlanta, but Sunday will be one of those starts that will educate the Mets rookie most as he moves forward.
Thousands of baseball books have been published. Millions of baseball stories have been told, every one of them starts with the same basic understanding: two teams, nine innings, balls, strikes, runs, hits and errors. Along the way there are various twists and turns ending in perfect games, no hitters, walk off home runs and everything in between.
No two games are the same, but many are alike. They all come back to the final out. Strike three. Game over. But what happens when a game goes on and on and on … with no apparent end in sight? Then, when the moment seemingly arrives, hope is dashed by improbability. There was a major league game like this. It was played on July 4 (and July 5), 1985. This is the story, as told by those who played, reported, broadcast, watched and witnessed it.
Don’t, OK? Save your breath – and Anthony Young’s time. Just get to the question. That’s right, the question; the inevitable query about losing. He won’t mind answering because, well, the reply is always the same. I pitched well during the stretch. It just happened. I don’t feel like I deserve it. I will be known for this forever. It was destiny. He accepts his place in history, yet, he reveals nothing about his true feelings.
A pair of Chicago Cubs centerfielders, Jimmy Qualls (1969) and Joe Wallis (1975), stole two of Tom Seaver’s early bids for a no-hitter. One year after being traded from New York to Cincinnati, Seaver threw a no-hitter for the Reds. Nolan Ryan never pitched a no-hitter – as a New York Met – but after being traded to the California Angels in 1971 he nudged Mets fans every couple years, throwing seven no-hitters. “Every time he pitched you expected a no-hitter – or 15 strikeouts,” said Jay Horwitz, Mets VP/Public Relations, referring to Dwight Gooden. In May 1996, Gooden tossed the only no-hitter of his career – as a member of the New York Yankees. Even Duffy Dyer had to leave the New York Mets to catch his first no-hitter (John Candelaria, Pittsburgh, 1975), 11 years before Josh Thole was born.
The last time I spoke to R.A. Dickey it was 2010. It was a late spring morning in Port St. Lucie and he was sitting, legs crossed, on a wooden stool, Mets pinstripe pants, three-quarter sleeved t-shirt, stirrups, no shoes, quietly gnawing on a hot dog and eating baked beans off a paper plate in front of his temporary “space” in the New York Mets locker room. From a distance, Dickey appeared lost and alone amongst the anxious rookies and loud overconfident veterans. In hindsight, he probably was — at that moment in time.
New York Mets president Al Harazin was less than two years removed from watching a ball roll through Bill Buckner’s legs; he didn’t need to be reminded just how fragile a post-season lead is. The Mets trailed by two runs and were reduced to a skinny strike on that fateful October night at Shea Stadium in 1986. No reminiscing necessary. The celebration of that World Series title season of 1986, lingered for days, weeks, months and years after.