With these acquisitions, many predicted an easy dominance within the division. For once, the pundits were right. During spring training, Davey Johnson said to his players that they were not only going to win, but that they would dominate. That meant winning the division by double digits. The Mets concluded the season winning a club record 108 games, two out of every three, and finishing the season 21 1/2 games in front of the Philadelphia Phillies.
August 24, 1986: Alex Diaz was signed as an amateur free agent by the Mets.
Month by Month
The Mets had a rocky start with a 2–3 record (including two extra-inning losses to the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies respectively). But when the Mets hosted Philadelphia at Shea Stadium a few days later, they kicked off an 11-game winning streak. Their toughest test in this stretch happened in St. Louis. On April 24, Howard Johnson hit a game-tying homer. A few games later, Wally Backman made a series-saving double-play. The Mets finished the month 13–3.
The Mets continued dominating in May. On May 23, 1986, Mookie Wilson had 5 hits in one game versus the San Diego Padres. The turning point for the Mets season came on May 27 when third baseman Ray Knight brawled with Dodgers' pitcher Tom Niedenfuer. This gave the Mets a reputation for playing hard and fighting. Many other teams hated their curtain calls. The Mets would go 18-8 in May and end the month with a season record of 31-12.
This month, the shining light came on June 10 against the Phillies when Tim Teufel hit a pinch-hit, game-winning grand slam. The Mets would go 19-9 during June and finish the month with a season record of 50-21.
On July 3 against Houston, Darryl Strawberry hit a game-tying home run. But it was Ray Knight who won the game with a homer of his own, after striking out in his first four at-bats. Dwight Gooden's first half performance was good enough for him to earn the honor of being named starting pitcher for the National League in the All-Star Game in the Astrodome. This game marked the end of a streak where the NL won 13 of the previous 14 games and served as foreshadowing for what would happen next. Later in the month, the Mets lost three of four to the Astros. During this series, four Mets were arrested at a popular nightclub in Houston. Their fortunes improved in a bizarre game in Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium on July 22. In the top of the ninth, Dave Parker dropped the ball that could have been the final out for the Reds, allowing the Mets to tie the game. In the bottom of the tenth, Eric Davis got to third and brawled with Ray Knight. Both men, along with Kevin Mitchell and Mario Soto, were ejected. Johnson was forced to alternate Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell in the outfield. In the bottom of the twelfth, Carl Willis bunted into a double-play. In the top of the fourteenth, Howard Johnson hit a home run to put the Mets on top. The Mets would go 16-11 during July and finish the month with a season record of 66-32 and be up by 15.5 games in the NL East division.
Former MVP George Foster was released. Former Mets favorite Lee Mazzilli would return. Gary Carter would be injured. While he was gone, the Mets would win 8 of 11 games. The highlight came on August 27 in Jack Murphy Stadium against the Padres when Tim Flannery would hit one into the outfield. However, it was thrown to home plate to get the runner out at home and eventually Flannery out at third. The Mets would go 21-11 in August and end with a season record to that point of 87-43 and be up by 19 games in the NL East division.
In an exhibition game against the Red Sox, Gary Carter would hit a double to test out the Green Monster. When they got to Philadelphia, droves of Mets fans were there to see if they would clinch the NL East. In fact, they seemed to take up half of Veterans Stadium. Given what had happened to them when they got swept in a three-game series in Philadelphia preceding the series and not wanting to see visiting teams win a division title on their field, the Phillies swept the Mets. During the series, Mets fans at Veterans Stadium became unruly and damaged seats in the upper deck (the 700 level). One Mets fan was arrested after striking at two Philadelphia police officers. The Phillie Phanatic summed up the Mets being swept by crushing three Mets helmets in front of the Mets dugout during the final game of the series. The Phillies ended up being the only team in the league to post a winning record against the Mets, going 10–8, with a 7–2 mark at Veterans Stadium. During the post-season awards, the Mets rivalry with the Phillies and that series was played out again, as it was Mike Schmidt of the Phillies who won the National League MVP Award, ahead of the Carter, who finished third, and Keith Hernandez, who finished fourth. It was Schmidt's third career MVP.
The Mets then split a two-game series St. Louis, trimming the magic number to clinch to 1 on September 16. The following day, they faced Dennis Eckersley and the Chicago Cubs. With a flu-ridden Hernandez, Dave Magadan would be the offensive source of the day. Hernandez would return in the 9th to get the final out. The champagne would be popped immediately while the fans invaded the field quickly. The Mets would win a team-record 108 games after defeating the Pirates.
The Mets would go 21-11 during the final two months and end the season with a record of 108-54 while winning the NL East division by 21.5 games.
One of the most famous games in baseball history is Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. The Mets rallied in the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 6, tying the game on a Gary Cartersacrifice fly. Reliever Calvin Schiraldi had loaded the bases with no outs and had a 3–0 count on Carter, who swung away at the next pitch to hit the fly ball. In the ninth inning, after a walk and an error put two men on with nobody out, Howard Johnson was sent to the plate to sacrifice the winning run to third. It was then, however, that Mets manager Davey Johnson made his most criticized decision of the series. After Johnson failed in his first bunt attempt, Davey took the bunt off. Johnson ended up striking out, leaving runners at first and second with one out. Lee Mazzilli followed with a deep fly to left that would have won the game had the runner been at third. Lenny Dykstra then flied out for the third out, sending the game to extra innings.
In the top of the 10th inning, Dave Henderson homered to pull the Sox within three outs of a world championship, and Barrett singled in Wade Boggs to make it a 5–3 lead. When Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez were retired to start the bottom of the 10th, the championship seemed at hand. After Hernandez made the second out, he went to the Mets' locker room, took off his uniform, opened a beer and watched the rest of the game on the clubhouse TV, thinking the game and the Series would be over soon. Hernandez, who is superstitious, never left that spot until the game ended.
Then, Carter singled to left. Pinch-hitterKevin Mitchell then singled to center and Shea Stadium started to get loud. Knight went down in the count 0–2 bringing the Mets to their last strike but he hit the next pitch into center field for a single that scored Carter and advanced Mitchell to third base, making the score 5–4 and bringing Shea back to life. Before his at-bat, Mitchell was on the phone in the locker room making plane reservations to fly home to San Diego, thinking the game would be over. He had already gotten out of his uniform and was in street clothes, and, when he was told he was batting, got off the phone and hurriedly got dressed, not even bothering to put his cup back on.
The Red Sox replaced Schiraldi with Bob Stanley to face left fielderMookie Wilson. Wilson got the count to 2–1 but fouled the fourth pitch away to bring the Mets to their last strike again. He stayed alive fouling off two more Stanley pitches. Then, the seventh pitch sailed towards Wilson's knees sending him to the ground. the ball bounced off catcher Rich Gedman's catchers' mitt and went straight to the backstop. Mitchell scored on the wild pitch (which many thought should have been scored a passed ball) uncontested to tie the game and Shea Stadium erupted while Knight advanced to second base. The Red Sox were shocked to have blown the lead with the game all but over, much as the Angels had done to them in the ALCS almost two weeks earlier.
Wilson fouled off two more pitches to bring the at bat to the tenth pitch. His next hit sent a slow rolling ground ball up the first base line, which appeared to be an easy to field situation. Bill Buckner, with his chronic bad ankles and knees, moved to field the ball in an effort to beat the speedy Wilson to first base, and finish the inning. As he bent over, the ball passed between his legs, under his glove and rolled behind him into right field. Shea Stadium exploded and the Mets' players and fans screamed in excitement. Knight needed to hold his helmet on while jumping towards home plate with the winning run. Buckner and the rest of the Red Sox appeared stunned as they exited the field.
Vin Scully's call of the play would quickly become an iconic one to baseball fans, with the normally calm Scully growing increasingly excited:
So the winning run is at second base, with two outs, three and two to Mookie Wilson. (A) little roller up along first... behind the bag! It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight, and the Mets win it!
Scully then remained silent for more than three minutes, letting the pictures and the crowd noise tell the story. Scully resumed with:
If one picture is worth a thousand words, you have seen about a million words, but more than that, you have seen an absolutely bizarre finish to Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. The Mets are not only alive, they are well, and they will play the Red Sox in Game 7 tomorrow!
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