1988 Anniversary: The most unloved 100-win team in Mets history
Added by Guy Kipp on October 21, 2013.
Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry, and Keith Hernandez. (Ray Stubblebine/Associated Press)
When the Dodgers fell apart on Friday night with the best pitcher in the league on the mound for them, it assured them of a quarter-century of failing to reach the World Series.
Mets fans remember well the last Dodger success before that streak of futility began, as the Dodgers and Orel Hershiser took out the Mets in seven games in the 1988 National League Championship Series.
A few words are in order about that 1988 Mets team. The Mets’ tone-deaf ownership, which has contempt for its own fans and no awareness or appreciation of the franchise’s own history, had the chance to commemorate two special Met teams from the past this season, and they typically dropped the ball on both. Much has already been written on other blogs about the fact that no formal observation took place of the 40th anniversary of the beloved underdog 1973 pennant winners that won just 82 games, then upset the Reds (in one of the greatest playoff series for which there is almost no video record beyond the famous Pete Rose-Bud Harrelson fight) and took the A’s to seven games in the World Series.
But this was also the 25th anniversary of the last Met team to win 100 games. There was also nothing to celebrate that 100-60 Mets team. But, oddly enough, most Mets fans might not be so upset about that oversight. See, the 1988 Mets might be the most unloved great team of all-time by its own fans.
Many of the cast members from the 1986 World Series champions were still in the fold, with Kevin McReynolds and David Cone (the Game 6 heroes who forced a Game 7 against the Dodgers in the NLCS) key additions. And the 3,055,445 fans who passed through Shea Stadium’s turnstiles that season were, to that point, the most in franchise history. But so many of those nights at Shea, the 40,000-plus fans in attendance would sit in silence waiting for McReynolds, Darryl Strawberry or Howard Johnson to hit a solo home run or two, knowing that would be enough of a lead for any one of the team’s terrific starting pitchers to hold.
But, despite ample power and arguably the best starting rotation in team history (Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, David Cone, Bob Ojeda and Sid Fernandez; Cone, who was nominally the fifth starter and who began the year in the bullpen, finished 20-3), there was a strong sense of complacency that replaced the wonder and excitement around the ballclub and in the stands as the championship team was being built in 1984, 1985 and 1986.
There was no pennant race to speak of in 1988, but, by the same token, the Mets really didn’t play well at all for much of the season. How is that possible, one may ask, when the team finished 100-60? Well, the Mets got out of the gate ridiculously fast, building a 38-17 record by June 6. But, from June 7 through Aug. 21, the summer months when attendance is the largest and the most attention is paid to baseball, the Mets were just 33-35. Then, with Mookie Wilson being reinserted into the starting lineup to spark the offense and rookie phenom Gregg Jefferies summoned from Triple-A and batting .321 in 29 games, the Mets closed with a rush, going 29-8 the rest of the way.
But for more that 40 percent of the season, the 1988 Mets did play any better than the 2011 Mets.
The Mets were 10-1 against the Dodgers in the regular season, and were an inning away from taking a 3 games to 1 lead on L.A. in the playoffs when Mike Scioscia hit a game-tying two-run homer off Gooden in the ninth inning of Game 4, and the Dodgers went on to win in 12 innings. That only tied the series, but the Mets had to come back just 11 hours after that game ended and try to right the ship in a noontime start in Game 5 at Shea, and they spit the bit, losing, 7-4, and heading back to Los Angeles down 3 games to 2, knowing even if they won Game 6—which they did—they’d have to face the untouchable Hershiser in Game 7.
Darling took the mound and turned in the very worst start of his career, unable to get an out in the second inning, as the Mets lost, 6-0, and Hershiser pitched a five-hitter.
The Dodgers went on to win Game 1 of the World Series on Kirk Gibson’s legendary one-legged home run and beat the A’s 4 games 1 in that series.
And, since then, it’s been mostly a quarter-century of futility …for both the Dodgers and for the Mets.