Let’s call it the Spirit of ’86. The Mets pulled off an amazing 3-to-2 victory against one of the most talented pitchers in the Major Leagues, Dodgers’ ace Zack Greinke, when everything was on the line in Game 5 of the National League division series.
It was one for the ages, certainly propelling Daniel Murphy, the quirky second baseman, into the Mets pantheon with the great outfielder Mookie Wilson.
As generations of New Yorkers know well, in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, Mookie Wilson hit a dribbler up the first-base line that improbably found its way between the legs of the Red Sox veteran Bill Buckner and allowed the winning run to cross the plate in the bottom of the 10th inning. His single illustrated once again that in America’s pastime it’s the small things that can have the most impact.
That lesson was repeated Thursday night. In the post-game brouhaha in the Mets locker room, with champagne spraying and players yelling, an obviously inebriated pitcher Jon Niese barged into a television interview with Murphy to proclaim that Murphy “is the hottest man in baseball!”
Yes, he’d won the game with a home run off the Dodgers ace, and gone 3-for-4 with two RBIs. But more tellingly, he’d tied the game when the Mets’ best pitcher, the lanky long-haired Jacob DeGrom, was struggling just to keep the Metropolitans one run behind in the perils of Chavez Ravine, where so many outsiders’ dreams of victory have gone to die.
But not this week in LA. The pivotal play wasn’t Murph’s blast to the stands—that came later, thank the gods—but his lackadaisical jog between first and second base that turned into a mad dash for third when the Dodgers had fallen asleep at the wheel. They’d just formed their exaggerated defensive shift to put more players on the right side of the field to thwart Mets’ slumping first baseman Lucas Duda, who almost always hits that way—when he hits, that is.
This time, instead of striking out and looking clueless, Duda eked out a walk, but more tellingly, he lingered a moment to chat with the home-plate umpire before sauntering to first. It was just enough of a distraction, intentional or not, so the Dodgers didn’t pay attention to Murphy until it was too late. He’d noticed that no Dodger was covering third, just our third-base coach Tim Teufel, a key player on the ’86 Mets, who happened to be idly kicking the bag with his toe. In a New York minute, Murph joined him there and subsequently scored on a sacrifice fly from catcher Travis d’Arnoud.
As WOR710’s sports announcer Josh Lewin enthused, it was a monumental “Murphilicious” night for our second baseman, who spent 15 days on the DL back in June, another reason for the team’s horrible July when all hope seemed lost.
It’s too soon to say that manager Terry Collins will join the ’86 manager Davy Johnson in Mets mythology but he’s headed in the right direction. Sandy Koufax, the Hall-of-Fame Dodger pitcher (and New Yorker) reportedly complimented Collins to a couple of sports reporters before Game 2, telling them, “Is he the manager of the year? I don’t know. I’m not voting. But I think so.”
In Game 5, Collins made all the right moves, including one he didn’t make. Four times he said he’d come close to removing DeGrom from the game, and he had our rookie starter Noah “Thor” Syndergaard warming up in the bullpen as a reliever. Usually, when the manager comes out of the dugout to visit the pitcher on the mound, he’s sending him to the showers. But not this time.
Collins renewed DeGrom’s confidence, and our pitcher induced a key double-play to end the sixth inning when the Dodgers posed yet another serious threat.
Many in Mets nation may have let out howls of protest and dismay—a not unheard of response when watching the team from Queens—when Collins had the mighty Thor start throwing his hammers and fireballs in the seventh. But the savvy 66-year-old manager proved them wrong, once again.
Syndergaard did something that had eluded DeGrom all night: He struck out LA’s Justin Turner, the mangy red-head who’s been batting above .500 in the series—an amazing stat, and frustrating, too, since he never got the chance to prove his prowess when he was in a Mets uniform because he was a backup infielder playing behind our captain David Wright and Daniel Murphy.
Yet another Collins’ decision may have caused Mets fans huge amounts of agita when he brought in our super-talented closer, Jeurys Familia, in the eighth inning. That meant our formidable closer would have to get six outs, not three, before they could “put it in the books,” as the great announcer Howie Rose says after every Mets victory.
The doubters could also be forgiven their misgivings in the ninth inning when it looked like the Dodgers would come back on a deep fly off the bat of pinch-hitter Chase Utley on a 1-2 pitch. Fortunately, he’d gotten under it and the ball was caught.
As Mets fans will never forget, Utley’s illegal slide into second base in Game 2 broke the leg of our short stop, Ruben Tejada. Subsequently, the Dodger infielder was suspended but he was able to play in Game 5 because his appeal won’t be heard until Monday. Now he’ll have plenty of time to spend at the hearing because his team won’t be facing the Chicago Cubs in the pennant race that begins this weekend.
The cosmos has spoken. Ruben Tejada is avenged and the Mets advance.
In Chicago, people say that the Cubs have the best chance in years to finally lift the Curse of the Billy Goat, which has bedeviled the club since 1945.
Whether the Mets’ luck will hold up against them is anybody’s guess. But then who would have thought that Mookie Wilson’s squibbler up the first base line—that looked like a sure out when the ball left his bat—would have helped the Mets go on to win the 1986 World Series?
You never know, but you always gotta believe.