Vin Scully hooked me before the game ever started. He recited both team’s lineup cards and said, “There you have the characters. Now sit back and watch as the story unfolds.”
It was the Montreal Expos visiting the New York Mets in the merry month of May, 1987; May 2 to be exact, a regular season game brimming with story lines.
The Mets were the defending World Series Champions. Dwight Gooden was making his much-anticipated return from the “controlled substance” disabled list. Doctor K wasn’t pitching this day, but all eyes and cameras were on him. Word around the clubhouse was that he had shut out teammates, fans, and media.
Last year’s batting champion-switch hitter, stolen base king Tim Raines was also making a comeback of sorts. He had sat out all of spring training and the first 21 games of the season because of contract squabbles. The only preparation Raines made were some aerobics and one Class A game in which he led off every inning. Nonetheless, there he was batting third in the Expos lineup.
Any game at Shea stadium in Queens New York was unmistakably Shea. The stadium was located very close, some say way too close to Laguardia International Airport. Remember this is New York City. I counted 2 planes on average for each at bat. The noise was Shea’s signature like a singer or guitar player no one can duplicate, dissonant as it may have been.
David Cone was on the mound for the Mets. It was his second career major league start. His previous outing was one of the worst debuts of any pitcher in recent memory. He threw 5 innings and gave up 7 hits, 5 walks, 7 earned runs. The Mets lost to the Astros 11-1, but there he was 4 games later and as he took the mound, the camera flashed to Dwight Gooden in the dugout as if to say, the only reason you stand on this Shea Stadium mound Mr. Cone is because the great one- Dr. K himself is having trouble handling success.
Gooden never regained the complete dominance of his first few years. He was young, vulnerable and living in New York. The temptations got to him, but whatever! He still pitched for 16 years, won 194 games, threw 2800 innings, allowed 2564 hits and struck out 2293 batters.
David Cone was a kid from Kansas City, had been drafted by the Kansas City Royals and pitched out of the bullpen for them the previous season in 1986. The Royals traded him to New York and he worked as a reliever in April and he wasn’t that good, but Dwight Gooden’s dark side happened and the Mets had no choice but to make him a starter.
Davey Johnson watched as Cone began this game in similar fashion to the previous disaster. He was horribly wild, pitching behind hitters and getting shelled by an Expos team that no longer had Andre Dawson or Gary Carter. The Expos recorded 6 solid hits and 3 runs off Cone in the first 3 innings, but Johnson kept Cone in the game, part out of necessity and part out of “let the kid figure it out.”
Cone went on to pitch real well the rest of the year. It was the beginning of a 17-year career in which he won 196 games, pitched 2898.2 innings and allowed 2504 hits. He also struck out 2668 batters. Cone and Gooden shared identical career WHIP’s (hits and walks allowed divided by innings pitched) at 1.256.
The game itself was a see saw affair with the Expos jumping out to an early 3-0 lead. Daryl Strawberry hit a long high towering home run towards the big apple sign in right field to put the Mets ahead. The score stayed 4-3 in favor of New York into the 6th inning Then it was as if a second game began. Both starting pitchers were gone and the Raines really started to fall.
Remember, this was the first game of the season for Tim Raines. The batting champion finished the day with four hits including a go ahead grand slam off Mets reliever Jesse Orosco in the top of the 10th inning. So much for spring training!
The Mets trailed 11-7 in the bottom of the tenth, but loaded the bases on three consecutive singles. Andy McGafigan of the Expos was summoned from the bullpen. That’s all I can say….
The recording of the game ends in the top of the ninth with the score tied 6-6, but a second video shows the Raines grand slam in the top of the tenth. The bottom of that inning is no where to be found on you tube, but the Mets did load the bases. It appears Atlantis has entered the picture. This game never ends.