It was 22 years ago today on a lazy Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The Mets were battling the St. Louis Cardinals for the division title and needed to win the finale of their four-game series against the Cubs after being defeated in the first three games. They were in the throes of a six losses in eight games streak after cutting the Cardinals’ lead from 10½ to 3½ games. In those eight games, they had scored only 20 runs. They needed to bust out of their slump quickly if they were going to continue to stay in the race with St. Louis. Fortunately, the wind was blowing out at Wrigley Field that day and the Mets’ bats were far from lazy.
The starters for the game were Ron Darling for the Mets and a pitcher for the Cubs who had just been recalled from the minors after being sent down two weeks earlier due to a poor 6-10 start for the big club. You may have heard of him. It was a scrawny kid by the name of Greg Maddux.
The Mets came out of the box quickly, scoring three runs in the first inning to take the early lead. The lead had extended to 7-0 when the Cubs came up to bat in the bottom of the fourth inning. However, Ron Darling struggled in the fourth, giving up a grand slam to catcher Jody Davis. That was followed up by a home run from the next batter, a rookie who was pinch-hitting for Cubs’ reliever (and former Met) Ed Lynch. That rookie was Rafael Palmeiro, who hit the tenth of his 569 career home runs to cut the Mets lead to 7-5.
Fortunately for Darling, manager Davey Johnson did not remove him from the game despite the poor inning. He was allowed to put out the fire he started and pitch the minimum five innings required to qualify for the victory. Because of that, Darling was able to stick around to reap the benefits of the additional fireworks displayed by his teammates as they continued to ride the jet stream out of Wrigley Field.
The Mets immediately responded to the Cubs’ five-run fourth inning by scoring three runs in the fifth inning and seven additional runs in the sixth inning. They now had a commanding 17-5 lead, but the Cubbie carnage continued. Not satisfied with a lead of a dozen runs, they scored three more in the seventh and eighth innings. Jesse Orosco relieved Darling in the seventh inning and gave up four runs in his inning of work, but by then, the Mets had already put the game away. A run by Chicago in the ninth inning off Jeff Innis produced the final tally in the Mets’ 23-10 shellacking of the Cubs.
The offense was powered by Lenny Dykstra and Darryl Strawberry. Eights were wild for the two Met outfielders, as they combined for eight hits, eight runs scored and eight runs batted in. Strawberry in particular smoked the Cubs’ pitchers, as all four of his hits were for extra bases (two doubles, a triple and a home run).
Greg Maddux collected almost 10% of his 355 career victories against the Mets, as his 35 victories (against 19 losses) are the most by any pitcher against New York. However, one of his worst pitching performances against the Mets took place 22 years ago on this day.
Throughout his major league career, which will surely result in a much-deserved call to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Maddux was always known as a control pitcher, as he walked fewer than 1,000 batters in over 5,000 innings. On August 16, 1987, Maddux pitched 3.2 innings and was charged with seven earned runs allowed. He gave up six hits and a very un-Maddux-like five bases on balls.
The Mets were in a hitting slump and got out of it in a major way. They scored more runs in that one game than they did in their previous eight contests. By doing so, they established a new franchise record with their 23-run outburst in Chicago and were able to use that game as a stepping stone that carried them all the way until the last week of the season, when they were eliminated from playoff contention by the Cardinals. It all took place 22 years ago on August 16, 1987.