The 1990 New York Mets have been fighting an uphill battle for the majority of the season. After starting off 20-22 in their first 42 games, Manager Davey Johnson is let go, replaced by 3rd base coach Bud Harrelson. While the Mets don’t immediately turn it around, they go on a 20-3 run, including an 11-game winning streak, that puts them right in the thick of the National League East hunt. After a 10-1 win against the Cardinals on September 10 at Shea, the Mets enter the 2-game series finale 3 1/2 games behind the Pirates with 21 left in the season.
On the mound for the New York Metropolitans is Julio Valera, the 21-year-old, 6’2″ right-handed September call-up from San Sebastian, Puerto Rico. He was effective in his Major League Debut on September 1, earning himself his first Big League win, but got shelled in his next start, giving up 4 runs on 8 hits in only 2 innings. He will first face the left fielder for the Red Birds, Mr. Milt Thompson. On 6 pitches, Valera puts Thompson on 1st with a base on balls. Up next is the Wizard, shortstop Ozzie Smith. On the 2nd pitch he sees, Ozzie flies it high in the air to short center field for the 1st out of the ballgame. Center fielder Ray Lankford walks to the plate looking to get something going early for the Cards. Thompson takes off for 2nd, but catcher Charlie O’Brien, brought over in a trade with Milwaukee in August, guns him down to put a damper on the Red Birds’ plans. Valera does not comply, however, handing a 2-out walk to Lankford. While 1st baseman Pedro Guerrero singles up the middle, sending Ray to 2nd, right fielder Felix Jose flies out to his position to end the inning and the threat.
On the mound for St. Louis is Ken Hill, the 6’4″, 24-year-old right-hander from North Adams, MA. He will first face 3rd baseman Gregg Jefferies, who flies out to center on the 2nd pitch he sees. While both 2nd baseman Tom Herr and 1st baseman Dave Magadan get their counts to 3-1, they unfortunately ground out to 1st and line out to center, respectively, to end the inning.
The score is scoreless no more as Cardinals 3rd baseman Todd Zeile leads off the 2nd with a homer to deep left-center. Valera sets the next 3 batters down, though, to limit the damage.
The Mets respond in the bottom half with a couple of their own. While right fielder Darryl Strawberry leads off by popping up to 2nd, left fielder Kevin McReynolds singles to left-center to get something going for New York. Though Howard Johnson, who is at short today, strikes out swinging, McReynolds steals 2nd with center fielder Daryl Boston at the plate, who gathers up a Base on Balls. Time for the catcher to shine once more, as O’Brien sends one to down the right field line, scoring both runners for the first 2 Metsie runs of the day. Valera flies out to center, but the Mets have handed him a 1-run lead.
In the top of the 4th, it’s that Zeile guy again. After a Felix Jose single, Todd sends it down the right field line for a double, scoring the baserunner all the way from 1st to tie the game. Valera settles down and sends it into the bottom half still tied.
The Mets open the frame up with 3 straight singles by Straw, Mac and HoJo. Though Boston grounds into a force at home, O’Brien picks him up with deep sac fly to straight-away center, moving all runners up as well. The Mets take a 3-2 lead. With 2 out and Valera up at the plate, he delivers for his own cause with a single to right-center. Jefferies pops up to short, but they leave the inning with a 5-2 lead.
Julio makes it into the 6th having only allowed those 2 runs, but Bud removes him from the game after he gives up a lead-off single to Guerrero. Bob Ojeda enters looking to hold it for his new teammate, but unfortunately, the bottom falls out. It only takes a double, a groundout, a single, a groundout, a single, a single and another single for the Redbirds to have a 6-5 lead. Bobby certainly isn’t in the O-zone (badum CHA!!!) Lankford mercifully ends the inning by just missing a home run to deep right field.
It doesn’t take long, though, for the Mets to strike back. Mac leads off the bottom half with a No-Doubt-About-It game-tying home run to left field. The rest of the batters in the inning cannot follow suit, however, and it ends with a 6-6 tie.
Ron Darling enters the game in relief of Bobby O and does his job in the top of the 7th, working around a Felix Jose walk (whom he picks off) to give the Mets a chance to take the lead in the bottom half. Though Zeile has been a thorn in the Mets’ behind all day, he helps them out to begin the frame by mishandling a Jefferies grounder at 3rd. Manager Joe Torre heads on out for a double-switch, sending Terry Pendleton to 3rd and putting Frank DiPino on the mound to face Tom Herr. The move backfires on the Brooklyn native, though, as Herr comes through with a double, plating Greg to give the Mets a 7-6 lead. They go rather quietly the rest of the inning, however, and with the way the game has been, this certainly doesn’t leave the 25,126 Shea fans feeling like they’re on Easy Street.
After another shutdown inning by Mr. Darling, the Mets score an insurance run in the bottom of the 8th. They hand the ball over to John Franco, who has saved 17 straight games dating back to July 1. Today, though, isn’t his day. No big blow. Just a double, single, single and groundout, and the patrons who left early are cursing John on the Grand Central Parkway. The game is tied, Darling’s win is gone, and Lee Smith is on his way in, trying to send the game to extra innings for St. Louis.
” ‘Anytime I get a two-run lead and I blow it,” Franco said. ”I think I stink.’
When he returned to the dugout, Franco walked up and down telling everyone that he did indeed stink.
‘He was walking all over the place,’ said Strawberry, trying to suppress a smile.”
–Jack Curry, September 12, 1990, New York Times
Herr gets things going against the closer with a lead-0ff walk. Though Magadan pops out to the catcher trying to bunt Herr over, Straw, the Mets MVP, walks up to the plate with a very specific strategy against the regularly dominant pitcher:
“Strawberry noticed that Smith…did not have his exploding fastball. Strawberry said Smith’s heater usually sails away from a left-handed hitter. It wasn’t… so Strawberry looked for a fastball that was inside. He got it.”
On the first pitch he sees, Straw crushes the ball into the Mets bullpen, sending Shea, the remaining fans and the Mets’ bench into a frenzy. They all start chanting, “Daaaarryllll…Daaaaarrylllll….”
“…(it’s hard) for the front office to ignore their reaction or what the unsigned Strawberry can do for a team.”
“Franco left the dugout and went to the clubhouse (after his performance). He threw two tables, a chair and a can of deodorant. He did not witness the dramatic home run.
‘I was in here drinking a can of beer because I was so ticked off at myself,’ Franco said. ‘I’m still ticked off at myself. Straw picked me up.’ “
–Jack Curry, NYT
It is the Mets’ 9th straight Shea win and the 34th in their last 44 Flushing games. They stay 3 1/2 out as the Pirates come into town for 2. They beat the Bucs both times to pull within a game and a half of 1st with 19 to go. Though they are a half-game out as far into September as the 18th, they lose steam and end up 5 games out with 4 to play. Still, Harrelson leads the franchise to its 7th straight winning season, and will certainly get another chance come 1991.
Now, hopefully, they will keep a hold on to their star right fielder…
The 1990 New York Mets.
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