Much like David Bowie admitted all those years later on Conan O’Brien, the Mets would much rather not be in Cincinnati. The team followed up a 2-4 homestand by dropping the first two to the Reds, Joey Votto-less yet still one of the best teams in the National League. So to help ease the sting of a fourth straight series loss, let’s reminisce on two ’86 Mets’ greatest triumphs in the Queen City. Today on “Glory Days,” we profile the two men who helped slammed the door shut on a combined 43 of New York’s 108 wins during their most recent World Series championship run: Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco.
Dateline: July 22, 1986. The Mets responded to a tough series loss in Houston by taking the first from Pete Rose’s Reds the day before at Riverfront Stadium. Cincinnati was poised to even the series, up 3-1 with 2 outs in the 9th. With two runners on, Keith Hernandez hit a lazy fly ball to right field for a sure third out. But Dave Parker, foreshadowing Luis Castillo in 2009, dropped the ball, allowing the tying runs to score. Oops. New life for New York, and the game would go to extra innings.
In the bottom of the 10th, Jesse Orosco gave up a one-out single to Pete Rose. Eric Davis pinch-ran for Rose and promptly stole second. He then swiped third, but not before sliding right into Ray Knight at the bag. An angry Knight took a swing at Davis and ignited a massive bench-clearing brawl that would make Pedro Martinez and Don Zimmer look like 8-year-olds roughhousing when Mom wasn’t looking. By the time the melee ended, there were so many ejections that Davey Johnson didn’t have a full roster of available position players left. He did, however, have a relief pitcher to spare. So when they finally got back to playing baseball, Met fans saw Ed Hearn behind the plate, Gary Carter manning the hot corner, Roger McDowell on the mound and Jesse Orosco…out in right field, as if he had been trotting in from the bullpen and somehow gotten stuck in the Riverfront turf. Nevertheless, there was a game to be played, and Orosco would have to do.
McDowell got the final outs of the 10th and retired the first two of the 11th. But with left-handed-hitting Max Venable coming up to bat, the matchup did not favor right-handed Roger. Where, oh where, to get a left-handed pitcher? Orosco then “finished” his trot to the mound and took the ball from McDowell, who turned around and took Jesse’s place in right field. Orosco struck out Venable to finish the inning. New York went down 1-2-3 in the 12th (they had two pitchers batting, for crying out loud), then when Orosco gave up a single to lead off the bottom half, McDowell switched places with…Mookie Wilson, sliding over to left field so Mookie could field the tougher position with a man on. Jesse got out of the inning and the game entered into inning #13. At this point the whole charade started to resemble that Marx Brothers scene when Harpo and Chico were kicking around the hats, as McDowell came back in to pitch, Orosco went back out to right, and Wilson resumed playing in left. The Reds went 1-2-3 in the 13th, including an actual fly out to Orosco in right. In the top of the 14th, Howard Johnson (in the game at shortstop) blasted a 3-run homer that would provide the game’s final margin, as McDowell finished off Cincy with three groundouts to put this wild one in the books, 6-3.
McDowell finished the season 14-9 with a 3.02 ERA and 22 saves in 75 appearances, finishing 17th in the MVP voting, one of five Mets to finish in the top 20 in 1986. He was traded to Philadelphia and played for four more teams until the end of 1996. Today he is the pitching coach for the Atlanta Braves. Orosco went 8-6 with a 2.33 ERA and 21 saves in 58 appearances in ’86 and became the face of the world champions by striking out Marty Barrett to end the World Series. He was traded to Los Angeles before the 1988 season and played for just about every other team in the bigs before retiring in 2003 as the all-time leader in games pitched with 1252 over the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s.
Pitchers have been known to transition to the outfield when it’s discovered they make much better hitters (see one George Herman Ruth). McDowell and Orosco were definitively not those kinds of hitters: they combined for zero home runs and 10 RBIs in their major league careers (although Orosco somehow managed to plate the team’s final run of the 1986 World Series). On this day, however, their skills in the field were more than good enough.
July 22. A good day for Walter Johnson in 1923 (became the first pitcher to strike out 3,000 batters) and Ron Swoboda in 1966 (found out he was a father on the Dodger Stadium scoreboard). Also a good day for Soviet dogs Dezik and Tsygan in 1951 (first dogs to make sub-orbital space flight). A bad day for William Wallace in 1298 (lost the Battle of Falkirk to English forces) and his future followers in 1706 (Act of Union between England and Scotland is passed, establishing Great Britain as a formal entity). A great day for Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco in 1986.