Much has been made about the 2009 Mets resembling the 1987 team because of the injuries. The difference is that this year’s injuries have mainly cost the Mets their offensive spark plugs while the 1987 team lost their starting pitchers to various injuries. I have done extensive research on the 1987 team and I will try to show why the current team is not dead yet. For those of you who already know the ending to the saga of the 1987 season, please don’t spoil it for our younger readers. I’m trying to give them a little bit of hope here.
If you’re a Mets fan who’s thirty-something like I am, you might remember the 1987 season. It was the year the Mets were supposed to repeat as World Champions. They entered the season on such a high. Unfortunately, for Dwight Gooden, he entered the season on a different kind of high. His stay at the Smithers Rehabilitation Facility for cocaine abuse started the Mets DL merry-go-round that year.
The starting staff from the 1986 World Champion Mets (Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Bobby Ojeda, Sid Fernandez) were all back with the team in 1987. Gooden’s time in rehab kept him out for the first two months of the season, moving Rick Aguilera from spot starter/fifth starter into the core of four. Also moving up into the fifth spot was recently acquired David Cone. As with the 2009 Mets, April went by without any additional injuries to the main guys. All that changed once the calendar turned to May.
The 2009 Mets lost two of their best hitters in May when Carlos Delgado and Jose Reyes succumbed to the injury bug. Similarly, the 1987 Mets lost two of their starting pitchers in May when Bobby Ojeda and Rick Aguilera went down. Ojeda was out for four months and Aguilera was out for three. The Mets tried to fill their shoes with rookies, career minor leaguers and journeymen pitchers. Players like John Mitchell (19 starts, 3-6 record) and Terry Leach (12 starts, 7-1 in those starts, 11-1 overall) were called upon to be key players in the Mets title defense. Don Schulze, John Candelaria, Tom Edens and Jeff Innis also started games for the Mets in 1987. By the All-Star Break, the Mets were a mediocre team trying to stay close to the red-uniformed rival of the day, the St. Louis Cardinals. They were 10½ games out of first place before winning the final series before the All-Star Break. The fans were disenchanted with the team and it appeared as if the injuries had led the Mets to a lost season.
Do you see where this is going? Do you notice a parallel yet? But wait, there’s more…
While we were all dancing to “La Bamba”, the 1987 Mets started to overcome their injuries. Even with another starter going down in late July (Sid Fernandez), the Mets were coming together as a team. They took advantage of a number of games played against second division teams and started to creep up in the standings. Dwight Gooden had already come back from his rehab stint and Rick Aguilera returned in August. Soon afterwards, Bobby Ojeda came off the disabled list and the team was whole again. The Mets had cut the Cardinals’ lead in the division to 1½ games by early September and appeared to be ready to make their move into first place when St. Louis flew into New York for the start of a three-game series on September 11, 1987. That’s when the injury bug returned to the Shea Stadium mound. On that night, Ron Darling took one small dive for man, one painful leap for Mets-kind and Mets fans were introduced to Terry F. Pendleton. (Before the game, he was just Terry Pendleton to Mets fans. The middle initial was added after the game ended. You figure it out.)
Darling had been superb that night, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning while protecting a three-run lead. Then Vince Coleman tried to bunt his way on, forcing Darling to dive in vain for the ball. Coleman broke up the no-hitter with his bunt single. That wasn’t the only thing broken on the play, as Darling injured his thumb while trying to protect his no-hitter, although he did not come out of the game until the seventh inning. Had Darling not injured himself, he might have been allowed to stay in the game. After all, he had been shutting down the Cardinals all night and pitchers in the 1980s were more apt to finish what they started. Because of his injury, the bullpen was pressed into action. Still nursing a 4-1 lead in the ninth inning, Roger McDowell was called upon to shut the door on the Cardinals. With three more outs, the Mets would have cut St. Louis’ lead in the NL East to a scant ½ game. McDowell had recorded two outs but then gave up a run-scoring single to Willie McGee. Up stepped Terry Pendleton to the plate as the tying run and he homered to straightaway center, earning his middle initial in perpetuity. The Cardinals went on to score two runs in the tenth inning off Jesse Orosco to defeat the Mets 6-4 and open up a 2½ game lead in the division. For all intents and purposes, the 1987 season ended when Roger McDowell’s sinker to Terry F. Pendleton didn’t sink.
Now let’s walk like an Egyptian back to the present day. It’s no longer 1987. It’s the beginning of the second half of the 2009 season. Once again, the Mets are putting together a team of rookies and journeymen players to fill in for key players who have gone down for extended periods of time. Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado’s positions are being kept warm by Alex Cora, Jeremy Reed and Daniel Murphy. The team has struggled but is still only 6½ games out of first. Whether it’s by Minaya’s machinations or the imminent (or not so imminent in some cases) return of the injured players, this team will find a way to improve itself. The 1987 team remained afloat for months until the stars returned to help them make a run at first that ultimately fell three games short. The 2009 team is trying to repeat that feat. The pessimist will see this team and think of it as an epic fail, making poor baserunning decisions and not playing fundamentally sound baseball. The optimist will look back at the 1987 Mets who had to face similar injuries and come back from a larger deficit at the All-Star Break. Which one am I? Let’s just say that I expect to see meaningful games in September at Citi Field. The Mets might fall short at the end like they did in 1987, but I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet.
The big hair might have been replaced by dreadlocks and the acid-washed jeans might have decomposed by now, but I’m still a believer in 1987. We don’t have to be “Livin’ On A Prayer” to make it this season. I believe the Mets still have what it takes to “Push It”. Why, I even think they can push it real good! Starting with their first game in Atlanta, the Mets must also believe, not in 1987, but in themselves. Who knows? If they go on a little run, they might get their confidence back just in time to say “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.”
Okay, enough of the 1987 references. I hope you all enjoy the second half of the 2009 baseball season! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to lie down and try to catch a rerun of ALF. I hope it’s one of my favorite episodes. Where’s the VHS tape when you need it?