Last night R.A. Dickey got the cherry on top of his sterling year in the form of the 2012 National League Cy Young Award. The history-making knuckleballer joins Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden as the only Mets to win pitching’s most prestigious prize. So today we profile the best game New York’s most recent (until this year) Cy Young recipient ever pitched for the orange and blue. Dr. K, these are your Glory Days.
Dateline: September 12, 1984. The Mets are hosting the Pittsburgh Pirates and looking to stay in the hunt for the NL East with the Chicago Cubs. The fireballing Mets rookie has already been sensational, gathering 15 wins before this game, and is going up against Pittsburgh’s solid-but-not-great John Tudor. Doc’s game begins innocently enough as he retires the first three Pirates in order. Then the next three, the last two on strikeouts. He strikes out two more to start the third, allows his first hit (to Tudor of all people), but gets the next man on a flyout. In the bottom of that inning Gooden singles himself but makes the last out of the inning as he can’t get home on time on Kelvin Chapman’s base hit. He takes out his anger on Pittsburgh, striking out two more batters in the fourth.
In the bottom of the fourth New York finally gets some run support for their emerging ace: Keith Hernandez singles to lead off the inning, then after George Foster strikes out (typically; he was the Jason Bay of his day), Hubie Brooks wakes up the Home Run Apple with a moon shot. 2-0 Good Guys, and that’s all the run support they’ll need for the day.
Because the Doctor is in. Check that, the Doctor is real in. Gooden strikes out the side in the fifth and two more in the sixth, capping a streak of six consecutive Ks. Two more in the seventh, then two more to start the eighth. After Joe Orsulak manages a pinch-hit single and steals second, enough to bring the manager out in today’s game, Davey Johnson sticks with his young gun, who rewards his faith with strikeout #16 on the day, matching his uniform number and giving him the single-season rookie strikeout record. The ninth inning outs come not as spectacularly (groundout, flyout, flyout), but it’s not like he needs the extra numbers: complete game shutout, five hits, no walks, 16 Ks. If this Doctor was an more on his game the Shea faithful would’ve seen a TARDIS on the mound.
This performance was the crowning achievement of a season that saw Gooden strike out 276 batters, turn in a 2.60 ERA, and lead the NL with a 1.073 WHIP. The 19-year-old would win Rookie of the Year but get robbed in the Cy Young voting by Rick Sutcliffe. However, Dr. K was redeemed in 1985 with an award-winning 24-4, 1.53 ERA, 268 K campaign that is considered one of the greatest of all-time.
But while it seemed Dwight was on his way to a Hall-of-Fame career, things went south the moment he turned 21. His strikeout numbers dipped in the 1986 World Series year and he missed the team’s victory parade. His ERA went from other-worldly to simply great to good through the rest of the ‘80s to downright awful in the mid-‘90s. Drug problems marred the rest of his Mets career, which ended with a suspension in 1994. After missing the whole of the 1995 season, that other New York team gave him a shot; 1996 was the year he joined the not-so-exclusive club of ex-Mets to throw a no-hitter. But his first club eventually made peace with him, and in 2010 the Doctor was inducted to the New York Mets Hall of Fame.
September 12. A good day for Carl Yastrzemski in 1979 (3000th career hit) and Frank Bertaina in 1964 (tosses a one-hitter for his first major league win). Also a good day for future-President and Mrs. Kennedy in 1953 (they get married in Newport, RI). A bad day for the Ottoman Empire in 1683 (defeated by Austrian-led coalition at the Battle of Vienna) and whoever wanted to marry Elizabeth Barrett in 1846 (elopes with Robert Browning). A great day for Dwight Gooden in 1984.