25 years ago, around this time, the Mets served notice to the rest of the National League that they meant business. They ripped off wins in 18 of 19 games and set the tone for the remainder of the '86 season. The highlight of this stretch came April 24-27 when the Amazins went into St. Louis and swept 4 games from the defending NL champ, and Mets nemesis, Cardinals. The first game was the most dramatic. Trailing 4-2 heading into the 9th, George Foster lead off the inning with a double and one out later Howard Johnson came to the plate against Cards closer Todd Worrell. As Tim McCarver called it, "2 and 2 to Johnson...The Mets need a long ball... and they might have it! That ball is out of here and this game is tied!" HoJo turned on the Worell fastball and took it deep into the St. Louis night. Tied at 4, Whitey Hertzog left Worrell in to bat in the 9th and pitch in the 10th. It didn't work out as Foster singled with 2 outs to score Backman and the Mets won 5-4.
|The Boys of Spring (and summer and fall)|
Game 3 was the NBC Game of the Week. The Mets offense picked up where it left off with 4 runs in the 1st inning. That was enough for Sid Fernandez who went 8, struck out 10 and only allowed 2 hits. The defense sealed it with a beauty of a 4-6-3 DP started by Backman. He made a diving stop of a 1-hop smash up the middle, flipped it to Santana who relayed it to Hernandez to get the batter, Terry Pendleton, who did the rarely seen feet-first slide into first base. The Mets held on, 4-3, and their win streak had reached 8.
Game 4 was a matchup of former Red Sox teammates, John Tudor and Bob Ojeda. Ojeda was brought to the Mets to balance the rotation with another lefty, and, more specifically, attack a Cardinals lineup that featured speed and 5 switch-hitting regulars. Ojeda went the distance, giving up 9 hits and 2 homers but quelled a potential 1st inning rally. After giving up a run and having runners on 1st and 3rd, Ojeda got the final two outs with no more runs scoring. Kevin Mitchell (leading off and playing SS, by the way) and Tim Teuful provided the offense, both taking Tudor deep.
When the 18-1 run was over, so was the NL East. The Mets were 20-4. They had punched the Cardinals right in the nose and never looked back. It was a breathtaking stretch of baseball. In 14 of those games the Mets held their opponent to 3 runs or fewer. The starting pitching was awesome. Their lines looked like this
Doc Gooden: 4-0, 35 IP, 27 H, 6 BB, 27 K, 3 R, 0.51 ERA
Bob Ojeda: 4-0, 31 IP, 25 H, 6 BB, 17 K, 6 R, 1.45 ERA
Sid Fernandez: 4-0, 28.3 IP, 14 H, 13 BB, 25 K, 6 R, 1.91 ERA
Ron Darling: 3-0, 30.3 IP, 22 H, 15 BB, 18 K, 13 R, 3.26 ERA
Closer Jesse Orosco pitched in 8 games, saving 5 and didn't allow a run in 10.3 innings
On offense, Wally Backman played in 10 of the 19 games, hit .432 and scored 10 runs. Keith Hernandez hit .338 with 24 hits over that stretch. He scored 14 runs, drove in 11 and walked 12 times. Darryl Strawberry had 20 hits, 6 of them long balls, while driving in 19. The team hit .291 and scored 105 runs, which is 5.5 a game.
By this time 25 years ago the expectation of a Mets win every day was intoxicating. In April of 1986 the Mets sucked in their fans, blew away their their competition and set sail on a season of domination.