Daaar-ryl, Daaar-ryl," sang the faithful, and Darryl Strawberry came out of the dugout to acknowledge the cheering after his two-run homer in the first inning. "Mooo-kie, Mooo-kie," the fans crooned after Moookie Wilson hit a home run in the second, and Wilson's wife, Rosa, sitting behind home plate, hugged the guy next to her, who happened to be Richard Nixon. "Ho-Jo, Ho-Jo," the crowd bayed at the man standing on second base in the fourth, and Howard Johnson tipped his cap after a successful steal that made him the eighth player, and first balding infielder, to join the 30/30 Club for those players who amass 30 homers and 30 stolen bases in a season. "Sweep, sweep," they chirped.
Chops were being licked all over Shea Stadium last Friday night as the New York Mets, leading the St. Louis Cardinals 4-1 in the ninth, closed to within one out, one strike even, of slicing the Cards' first-place lead in the National League East to a measly half game. "I hadn't given up," St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog would say later, "but I was up in the clubhouse having a Budweiser." Somewhere, someone was singing that song by Keith Hernandez's friend Carly Simon: Anticipation.
But nooo. The tip-off had come in the eighth inning. Cardinal pinch hitter Mike Laga hit a routine ground ball to first that went through the sure-handed Hernandez's legs. Hmmmm. Where had we seen that before? Ah, it was on this same Shea turf 11½ months ago, when the Boston Red Sox came within one out, one strike even, of a world championship. In this instance, the horror of Hernandez's error was eased by a double play, but the reminder that anything can happen lingered into the ninth.
The Mets' reliever, Sudden Roger McDowell, walked Ozzie Smith to open the ninth, but then got two quick outs. McDowell had Willie McGee 1 and 2, the fans were on their feet, and...McGee hit the next pitch up the middle just past McDowell's outstretched glove for a run-scoring single. Terry Pendleton, the elliptic third baseman for the Cards, stepped to the plate, a Louisville Slugger R161 (32 ounces, 35 inches) in his hands. He fouled McDowell's first pitch, a sinker, straight down. "I figured I'd get another sinker," Pendleton would say later, "so I crept up in the batter's box to hit the ball before it sank. I was thinking home run." And it is, after all, the thought that counts. The ball sailed over the wall in dead center, and a hush fell over Shea as the red and gray PENDLETON shirt circled the bases.
September 20, 1987
After that, a St. Louis victory was foregoing, -going, -gone. The Cards scored two in the 10th to win 6-4. After an 8-1 victory over Dwight Gooden on Saturday and a 4-2 loss on Sunday, St. Louis was in first place by 2½ games over New York and by 3 over Montreal.
The Cards and Mets had split their previous 12 games this season, with five decided by one run, four by two runs and three going into extra innings. But the animosity the teams once felt for each other has given way to mutual respect. Hernandez was quoted as saying, "I guarantee we'll take two out of three," but vehemently denied he ever uttered such words.
But Hernandez had cause to be confident. The Cardinals had limped into Shea Stadium, figuratively and literally speaking. They had just lost three straight to the third-place Montreal Expos, and in the third of those losses their MVP, Jack Clark, badly sprained his ankle. Replacing Clark as both first baseman and cleanup hitter was 36-year-old Dan Driessen, recently called up from Triple A Louisville, where he had hit an unresounding .243. When someone asked Herzog before the series opener his thinking in batting Driessen cleanup, he said, "Nothing. I'm not thinking." The White Rat proceeded to go down his lineup: "Let's see, my lead-off hitter has one home run, my No. 2 man has none, No. 3 has two, my cleanup batter has no homers, the fifth- and sixth-place hitters have 10 apiece, No. 7 has three and No. 8 has two. What's that, 27 homers in all?" Actually, it was 28, but that was still seven fewer than Clark had by himself.
On the other side of the field sat New York manager Davey Johnson, Herzog's partner in Celebrity Fish Camp, an off-season venture on Orange Lake near Ocala, Fla., where campers can fish and talk baseball with the stars. Johnson had a book on his desk, Unlimited Power by Anthony Robbins. The book is about inspirational management, but its title wouldn't be bad for the story of the 1987 Mets, who had already set a club record with 171 homers. "We finally have all our ammunition," said Johnson. "All our parts are coming together at the right time." Indeed, with the return to the roster of lefthander Bob Ojeda, New York finally had the pitching staff it had counted on in spring training to take it to another world championship.
The Mets were also playing well, having won eight of their last 10 games. At the All-Star break they were 9½ games behind the Cards and bickering among themselves. Then Strawberry started to make rap music at the ballpark, not just in the studio, and New York had its HoJo working.
Friday night the weather turned crisp, and so did the baseball. Darling kept the Cardinals hitless until, with one out in the sixth, Coleman dragged a bunt toward first. Darling dove in an attempt to scoop the ball to Hernandez, in the process jamming his right thumb on the ground. At the time the injury didn't appear serious—Darling continued to pitch and picked Coleman off second with a beautiful 270-degree move—but by the seventh his thumb was throbbing and swollen. The next day the Mets got the news that he was out for the year with torn ligaments.
The Mets had struck quickly against John Tudor with three runs in the first, on a run-scoring double by Hernandez and Strawberry's 35th homer of the year. Wilson added another run in the second on the homer to left, which is when Tricky Dicky and Mookie's cookie embraced. The Cardinals looked as if they didn't have a chance. But then the ball went through Hernandez's legs, and before you could say Bill Buckner, the Cards were out on the field, shaking hands with one another. After the game McDowell was asked if he had ever seen a game turn around so quickly. "Yeah," he said. "Game 6 of the World Series."
The next day Hernandez said he hadn't slept well. "I woke up at six and couldn't get back to sleep. I kept mulling the game over, where it went wrong. I nodded off at nine, and then realized I had to get to the park."
While Hernandez was tossing and turning, his old manager, Herzog, was sleeping like a baby. And while the Mets' captain was hurriedly getting dressed, Herzog was...well, let's put it this way. You've just gotten off the lobster shift at a Manhattan printing plant, and you're heading home to Queens. You board the No. 7 train, and at Grand Central Station you notice that the guy getting on is awfully familiar. Blond brush cut. Barrel chest. Say, isn't that Whitey Herzog? "Ride the subway all the time," says Herzog. "People are nice. Sure, they recognize me, but they never bother me."
The Mets were counting on Gooden to help them get back on track on Saturday. But after striking out Coleman to start the game, Gooden, who had the flu, gave up five runs before New York even got to bat. He lasted only another inning and made the earliest exit of his career. "We flattened out after that," Hernandez would say. "I know I did."
Certainly the Mets played dispiritedly. Shortstop Rafael Santana, who had looked sensational the night before, made two errors. Even Davey Johnson gave up. In the fifth, with the score 6-0, he pulled a double switch, taking catcher Gary Carter out in the middle of an inning. Johnson said he was only trying to save Carter, but he was clearly conceding the game to the Cardinals. St. Louis starter Greg Mathews said after the game, "That was like taking Jack Clark out of the game. I'm a lefty, and I'm thinking. Thank you very much."
Afterward, Davey Johnson downplayed the significance of the game with a flurry of sporting metaphors. "This just means that we'll have to catch them on the final turn," he said. "We had 'em on the ropes last night. Now we just have to tee it up again tomorrow." There was also another book lying on Johnson's desk. This one was entitled All Fall Down.
The rain fell down on Sunday, and under normal circumstances the game would have been called. But the Mets wanted 1) the gate receipts. 2) a last shot at the Cards at Shea and 3) a last shot at the Cards without Clark. So they played. In the fourth inning, the Mets scored twice—as St. Louis outfielders swam through the outfield after balls that might have been caught on dry land—and the Mets held on for a 4-2 victory.
"This win was big," said the Mets' Wally Backman. "But the weekend wasn't good. Everything goes back to Friday. The roof didn't Cave in. It got demolished. We blew an opportunity."
Sweep, sweep? "We could have been swept," said Backman. "We're going to watch the scoreboard a little more closely the next three weeks." And, with the Mets and Cards finishing the season with three games in St. Louis, who knows what will happen? Ground balls have a way of going through first basemen's legs.