The Mets are off today after escaping St. Louis with a victory yesterday afternoon, and today on “Glory Days,” we profile the best baseball day ever for a man whose best individual year came with the Cardinals, but who will forever be identified as an Amazin’: Mex himself, Keith Hernandez.
Dateline: July 24, 1984. A year after Whitey Herzog and the Cardinals traded their former MVP to the Mets midseason, the Redbirds were at Shea Stadium facing his new team. Hernandez was in his customary first base role on this day and hitting third in the Mets’ batting order, in between Kelvin Chapman at second and George Foster in left. His first at-bat was non-descript, as he struck out against St. Louis starter Dave LaPoint to cap a 1-2-3 1st inning.
New York first got on the board in the 3rd inning: Chapman laced a one-out RBI double, and Hernandez drove in his first run of the game on a sacrifice fly. Foster drove in another, and the Mets had a 3-0 lead. The Cardinals re-took the lead in the 4th, syphoning four runs off Bruce Berenyi, but the Mets responded in the next half inning: after Rafael Santana doubled, Berenyi singled home the tying run. Mookie Wilson reached on an error and Chapman continued to make a case for his own “Glory Days” with his second RBI of the game. Wilson went to third base on another error, making it easier for Hernandez to drive him home on a single. Foster picked up another RBI single right after Keith, and just like that New York was back up, 7-4.
Things were quiet in Flushing until the 7th inning, when two more Cardinal runs came home off an exhausted Berenyi. Down only 7-6, St. Louis recaptured the lead in the 8th when Tito Landrum launched a pinch-hit two-run home run off Tom Gorman. Pinch-hitting for Gorman in the bottom half of that inning was Jerry Martin, who did his part by punching out a leadoff single. Martin went to second on a wild pitch, but both Wilson and Chapman failed to bring home the tying run. Up came Keith Hernandez, looking to extend the game against his former manager. Mex would oblige with a clutch single that tied the game at 8.
The Cards and Mets both failed to score in the 9th, sending the ballgame into extra innings. Brent Gaff let two Redbirds get on but retired Landrum and Andy Van Slyke to end the threat. Santana and Danny Heep accounted for two quick outs against Neil Allen in the bottom of the 10th, but Mookie came through by singling and stealing second base. Wally Backman walked, bringing up the Mustachioed Man. Everyone in Shea, Herzog included, knew Whitey’s Birds were cooked. Hernandez hit his third single of the day and drove in his fourth run, sending the 36,749 Mets faithful in attendance into a frenzy.
The 9-8 victory was New York’s fifth of eventually seven in a row, and they would sweep the Cardinals the next day. The ’84 edition of the Mets, while finishing behind the Cubs in the NL East, brought excitement back to Shea Stadium, winning 90 games and setting the foundation for the magic of 1986.
As for the hero of the day, he finished second in the MVP voting to Ryne Sandberg that season and earned his seventh of eventually eleven consecutive Gold Gloves at first base. Hernandez played in New York until the end of the ‘80s and retired in 1990 after a brief stint with the Indians, collecting 2182 hits and many, many adoring fans in his illustrious career. He was inducted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame in 1997.
Keith’s life after baseball has been just as lucrative: he stumped for Just for Men, appeared on Sesame Street, and briefly dated Elaine Benes in 1992. Since 2006 he and teammate Ron Darling joined Gary Cohen as the Mets’ television announcers on SNY. While never a strong Cooperstown candidate, Hernandez was bestowed an even greater honor in 2007 when the American Mustache Institute (yes, there is an AMI) declared his facial caterpillar the Top Sports Mustache of All-Time. Rumors are now flying that the golden lip sweater’s days are numbered, however, after the New York Times reported Hernandez is considering shaving it off at the end of the baseball season. Suffice it to say, after Johan Santana’s no-hitter and R.A. Dickey’s Cy Young candidacy, this is the top story of the New York Mets in 2012.
July 24. A good day for Willie Mays in 1973 (honored in his last All-Star Game in Kansas City) and – eventually – George Brett in 1983 (the Pine Tar Game). Also a good day for O. Henry in 1901 (released from prison after serving three years on embezzlement charges). A bad day for Richard Nixon in 1974 (ordered by the Supreme Court to hand over the Watergate tapes) and Mary, Queen of Scots in 1567 (forced to abdicate her throne to her one-year-old son, eventually King James VI of Scotland). A great day for Keith Hernandez in 1984.