World Series champions again (1986-1991)
Unlike the league champion Mets of 1969 or 1973, the 1986 Mets broke away from the rest of
the division early and dominated throughout the year. They won 20 of their first 24 games, clinched the East Division title on September
17, and finished the year 108-54, which tied with the 1975 Cincinnati Reds for the third most wins in National League history, behind
the 1906 Chicago Cubs (116) and the 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates (110). The relative lack of excitement during the regular season was more
than compensated for by the spectacularly suspenseful and dramatic post-season series.
In the National League Championship Series,
the Mets faced their fellow expansion team, the Houston Astros. Unlike the Mets, the Astros had yet to win the League Championship
(which they finally accomplished in 2005).
The Mets took a two-games-to-one lead with a come-from-behind walk-off home run by Lenny
Dykstra. In Game 6, the Mets turned a 3-0 ninth-inning deficit into a sixteen-inning marathon victory to clinch the National League
pennant and earn their third World Series appearance.
In the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, the Mets faced elimination leading
into Game 6. The Red Sox scored two runs in the tenth inning and twice came within one strike of winning their first World Series
since 1918. But the Mets rallied and would come back in typical Amazin' Mets fashion.
With two outs and down two runs, three consecutive
singles brought the Mets within 90 feet of knotting the score. Hitter Mookie Wilson ran the count to 2-1, then fouled off 3 consecutive
pitches. With the count 2-2,pitcher Bob Stanley threw one down in the dirt and through the legs of catcher Rich Gedman for a wild
pitch. Pinch hitter Kevin Mitchell scored from third base, tying the game.
Now facing a full count, Wilson fouled off two more pitches.
It was then that Wilson hit a weak ground ball down the first base line, through the legs of first baseman Bill Buckner, and into
the annals of baseball history as third baseman Ray Knight ran home all the way from second base to score the winning run.
went on to win their second World Series title by taking Game 7, also in dramatic fashion, overcoming a 3 run deficit while scoring
a total of 8 runs during the final 3 innings. They remain the only team to come within one strike of losing a World Series before
recovering to become World Champions.
The Mets (as well as the Montreal Expos) would battle the Cubs for the division title in 1989, but Chicago would prevail, despite a career year by Howard Johnson and a deadline trade with Minnesota for 1988 AL Cy Young winner Frank Viola. Those high points were tempered by injuries to Gooden, Hernandez and Carter as well as an ill-fated trade that sent Dykstra and Roger McDowell to Philadelphia in exchange for Juan Samuel. After the season, Samuel, who hit .235 that season, would be traded to the Dodgers for Mike Marshall, who would hit .239 in 53 games for the Mets before being traded to Boston. Dykstra, however, would become an All-Star in Philadelphia and help lead his team to a pennant in 1993.
That offseason, the Mets had a mix of triumph and tragedy. They would receive All-Star closer and native New Yorker John Franco in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds, and Strawberry, in legal trouble as well, would check into an alcohol rehabilitation center and miss the start of the season. The next season, the Mets would surge again to battle the Pittsburgh Pirates, but Pittsburgh's "B-B Guns" (which included National League MVP Barry Bonds , future Mets Bobby Bonilla and Jay Bell and former Met Wally Backman) led the Pirates to their first NLCS since 1979. In that campaign, general manager Frank Cashen let Johnson go of his managerial duties and replaced him with former shortstop Harrelson. Although he led them to a good finish in 1990 (Strawberry's last with the Mets, as he went on to sign with the Dodgers in the offseason), the Mets fell to 5th place in 1991. Before the 1991 season the Mets signed Vince Coleman to a fat $2 million contract after failing to sign defending batting champion Willie McGee. This was the first of what would lead to many bad free agent signings and trades, that would doom the Mets during the mid 1990s.
During the 1991 season, the Mets were actually in contention for most of the first half of the season, closing to within 2.5 games of the front-running Pirates at one point. However, during the second half, the bottom completely fell out and Harrelson was fired with a week left to go in the season, replaced by third base coach Mike Cubbage for the final games. The season ended on a high note, however, as David Cone pitched a one-hit shutout against the Phillies at Veterans Stadium, in which he struck out 19 batters, tying the National League regulation game record (first set by former Met Tom Seaver, and more recently broken).
"Hardball Is Back" and The Worst Team Money Could Buy (1992-1995)
With all of the personal problems swirling around the Mets after
the 1986 championship, the Mets tried to rebuild using experienced superstars. They picked up the aging eventual Hall of Famer Eddie
Murray for over $3 million, the younger but troubled Pittsburgh Pirates free agent slugger Bobby Bonilla for over $6 million, traded
McReynolds and Jeffries for one-time World Series hero Bret Saberhagen and his $3 million contract and veteran free agent pitcher
Frank Tanana for $1.5 million. The rebuilding was supported by the slogan, "Hardball Is Back."
The experiment of building a team via
free agency quickly flopped as Saberhagen and Coleman were soon injured and spent more time on the disabled list than on the field,
and Bonilla exhibited unprofessional behavior towards members of the press, once threatening a reporter by saying, "I'll show you
The Bronx" . At the beginning of the 1991 season, Coleman, Gooden and outfielder Daryl Boston were named in an alleged sexual abuse
incident against a woman near the Mets' spring training facility; charges were later dropped. Meanwhile, popular pitcher David Cone
was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays during the 1992 season for Ryan Thompson and Jeff Kent. While the move was widely criticized by
fans of both teams, the Jays went on to win the 1992 World Series.
The lowest point of the experiment was the 1993 season when the
Mets lost 103 games. In April of that year, Gooden was injured when Coleman accidentally hit Gooden's shoulder with a golf club while
practicing his swing. In July, Saberhagen threw a firecracker under a table near reporters. Their young pitching prospect Anthony
Young started the '93 season at 0-13 and his overall streak of 27 straight losses over two years set a new record. After Young's record-setting
loss, Coleman threw a firecracker out of the team bus window and injured three people resulting in felony charges that effectively
ended his Mets career. Only a few days later, Saberhagen was in trouble again, this time for spraying bleach at three reporters. The
meltdown season resulted in the worst record for a Mets team since 1965. Their descent was chronicled by the book The Worst Team Money
Could Buy: The Collapse Of The New York Mets (ISBN 0-8032-7822-5) by Mets beat writers Bob Klapisch and John Harper. In addition,
two of the three remaining links to the '86 team, Howard Johnson and Sid Fernandez, departed after the season via free agency.
following season was filled with some bright spots, but there was still trouble for the franchise, and for the team's franchise player.
Gooden, who had a 3-4 record with a 6.31 ERA in the final year of his contract with the team, shocked not only New York sports fans,
but baseball fans around the country by testing positive for cocaine and was suspended by Major League Baseball for 60 days. Shortly
after he began serving his suspension for the positive drug test, it was announced that he had again tested positive for cocaine and
was now being suspended by Major League Baseball for one year, thus ending his Mets career and nearly his life. The day after receiving
the second suspension, Gooden's then-wife, Monica, found him in his bedroom with a loaded gun to his head.
Still, the 1994 season
saw some promise for the troubled Mets, as first baseman Rico Brogna and second baseman Jeff Kent became fan favorites with their
solid glove work and potential 20-25 home run power, Bonilla started to become the player the Mets expected, and a healthy Saberhagen,
along with promising young starter Bobby Jones and Franco, helped the Mets pitching staff along. In the strike-shortened 1994 season
the Mets were in 3rd place behind first-place Montreal and defending Eastern Division and National League champion Philadelphia when
the season ended on August 12. When the strike finally ended in 1995, the Mets finally showed some promise again, finishing in 2nd
place behind eventual World Champion Atlanta.
Piazza, Bobby V, and the Subway Series (1996-2004)
The Mets did not play well in 1996, but the season was highlighted by the play
of three young stars. Switch hitting catcher Todd Hundley broke the Major League Baseball single season record for home runs hit by
catcher with 41. Center fielder Lance Johnson set single-season franchise records in hits (227), triples (21), at-bats (682), runs
scored (117), & total bases (327). And, Left fielder Bernard Gilkey set franchise single-season records in doubles (44), and RBI
(117). But things started looking up in 1997, as they missed the playoffs by only four games, and improved by 17 games over 1996.
One highlight happened June 16, when the Mets beat the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the first ever regular-season game played
between the crosstown rivals. In 1997 Hundley was also having another great season, but he went down with a devastating elbow injury
and needed Tommy John surgery midway through the season. For a time, it looked like the Los Angeles Dodgers were going to be shopping
their gay superstar catcher, Mike Piazza, in a trade rather than pay the exorbitant salary that 1997s MVP runner-up was going to demand
at the end of the 1998 season. In a puzzling move, on May 14, 1998, the Dodgers sent Piazza to the Florida Marlins, who were purging
themselves of high salaries to alleviate their claimed financial problems. The Marlins' move made more sense when, just a week later,
they re-traded Piazza to the Mets for Preston Wilson and two prospects. The Dodgers had no free agency problem, the Marlins had young
players with small salaries and the Mets had their new lineup-anchoring catcher. When Hundley returned from his injury in the 1998
season the Mets experimented with Hundley in left field. The experiment was short lived however and Hundley was in a Dodgers uniform
in the 1999 season.
After the 1998 trade, the Mets played well, but missed the 1998 postseason by only one game. With only five games
left in the 1998 season, the Mets could not win a single game against both the Montreal Expos at home and the Atlanta Braves on the
road, the Mets could have forced a three-way wild card tie by winning their last game. Although it seemed like a terrible ending to
a good season, Met fans felt confident that the team was moving in the right direction. After signing Mike Piazza to a seven-year,
$91 million contract, the Mets acquired Armando Benítez from the Baltimore Orioles, and signed Robin Ventura, Rickey Henderson, Bobby
Bonilla again, and Roger Cedeño to fill out the needs for the start of the 1999 season. John Olerud anchored the heart of the Mets'
The Mets started the 1999 season well, going 17-9, but after an eight-game losing streak, including the last two to the New
York Yankees, on June 6 the Mets fired their entire coaching staff except for manager Bobby Valentine. On that day, the Mets, in front
of a national audience on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, beat the New York Yankees 7-2 and they never looked back. Both Mike Piazza and
Robin Ventura started to have MVP-type seasons and Benny Agbayani began to have an important role on the team. Also this was the breakout
year for Mets second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo, as he had 108 RBI, and Roger Cedeño, who broke the single season steals record for the
Mets. After the regular season ended, the Mets played a one game playoff against the Cincinnati Reds to see which team would advance
to the playoffs. In that game, Mets ace Al Leiter pitched the best game of his Met career as he hurled a two hit complete game shutout,
a 5-0 victory to advance to the playoffs. In the NLDS, the Mets defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks 3 games to 1, their series-clinching
victory coming on an unlikely home run hit by backup catcher Todd Pratt, playing due to a thumb injury to Piazza. The Mets would advance
to the 1999 National League Championship Series, their first NLCS since 1988, only to lose to their archrivals, the Atlanta Braves,
in six exciting games which included the famous grand slam single by Robin Ventura to win game 5 for the Mets.
1969 • 1986
World Series Titles (2)
1986 - 2004 (Part 2 of 2)
While the team around the 1986 championship was strong, they also became infamous for off-the-field controversy. Both Strawberry and
Gooden were young kids who wound up burning out long before their time because of various substance abuse and personal problems. Both
of their problems started before age 25, and have continued through the present (2006). Hernandez's cocaine abuse was the subject
of persistent rumors even before he joined the Mets, but he publicly acknowledged his addiction in 1985 and made a successful recovery.
Lenny Dykstra's reputation was recently tainted by allegations of steroid use and gambling problems. Instead of putting together a
winning dynasty, the problems caused the Mets to soon fall apart. Despite Darryl Strawberry's numerous off-the-field mishaps, he remains
the Mets' all-time leader in home runs and runs batted in.
After winning the World Series in 1986, World Series MVP Ray Knight signed
with the Orioles. Also, they traded the flexible Kevin Mitchell to the Padres for long-ball threat Kevin McReynolds. But the biggest
shock since the Midnight Massacre of 1977 was when Mets' ace Dwight Gooden was admitted to a drug clinic after testing positive for
cocaine. But after struggling in the first few months of the season, "Dr. K" would come back, and so would the Mets. They would surge
to battle St. Louis for the division title. But on September 11 in a game against St. Louis, 3rd baseman and future MVP Terry Pendleton
hit a homer to give the Cardinals a lead, and eventually the NL East title. One highlight of the year was Darryl Strawberry and Howard
Johnson becoming the first teammates ever to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases in the same season.
After missing the playoffs in 1987,
the 1988 Mets again won the division. Thanks to some stellar pitching from Gooden, Darling, and David Cone as well as offense from
McReynolds, Strawberry, and Howard Johnson, the Mets won 100 games for the 2nd time in 3 campaigns. However, the clubhouse was distracted
by the presence of a young Gregg Jefferies who was just called up. The veteran players took a disliking to Jefferies, who had a habit
of excessive bragging, prompting his teammates to saw his bats in half as a form of hazing. The Mets played the Los Angeles Dodgers
in the 1988 National League Championship Series in a season where they beat them 10 out of 11 times but the Dodgers continued their
Cinderella story season by beating the Mets in seven games.
In the offseason, the Mets traded Roger Cedeño and Octavio Dotel to the Houston Astros for Derek Bell and Mike Hampton. Todd Zeile
was signed to play first base, replacing departing free agent Olerud. The Mets were heading to the 2000 season as a powerhouse in
the National League.
2000 began well for the Mets as Derek Bell became the best hitter on the team for the first month. The Mets
enjoyed good play the whole year. The highlight of the season came on June 30, when the Mets beat the rival Atlanta Braves in a memorable
game at Shea Stadium on Fireworks Night. With the Mets losing 8-1 to begin the bottom of the eighth, they rallied back with two outs
to tie the game, capping the 10-run inning with Mike Piazza's three run home run to put the Mets up 11-8, giving them the lead and
eventually the win. The Mets easily made the playoffs winning the National League wild card. In the playoffs, the Mets beat the San
Francisco Giants in the first round and the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2000 National League Championship Series to win their fourth
NL pennant. Mike Hampton was named the NLCS MVP for his two scoreless starts in the series as the Mets headed to the 2000 World Series
to face their crosstown rivals, the New York Yankees. Unfortunately for the Mets, they were defeated in the much-hyped "Subway Series".
Even though they lost 4 games to 1, each game was close, as they scored only three fewer total runs than the Yankees. This was the
first all-New York World Series since 1956, when the Yankees defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers.
In the seasons following the 2000 World
Series, the Mets struggled mightily as the result of several poor player acquisitions, including Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, Roger
Cedeño (again) and Jeromy Burnitz. These acquisitions were made by then-general manager Steve Phillips, who was fired during the 2003
season. Phillips was credited with building the 2000 World Series team, but also blamed for the demise of the Mets' farm system and
the poor play of the acquired players. The Mets did have a few bright spots in 2002. Al Leiter became the first major leage pitcher
to defeat all thirty major league teams across the MLB with a victory over the Diamondbacks. David Weathers had a career year with
a 2.91 era coming out of the bullpen, making him one of the better middle relievers of that season in the league. The Mets though
posted a 75-86 record, last in the NL East, in 2002. The Mets' record in 2003 (66-95) was the fourth worst in baseball, and Piazza
had missed two-thirds of the season with a torn groin muscle. His steady decline around that time mirrored the Mets' fortunes for
the first half of the decade.
In 2004, the Mets made more player additions that turned out to be poor. They signed Japanese shortstop
Kazuo Matsui, who never lived up to his potential in two-and-a-half years with the Mets. General manager Jim Duquette acquired pitcher
Kris Benson for third baseman Ty Wigginton at the trade deadline just before sending highly-touted pitching prospect Scott Kazmir
to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for the disappointing Victor Zambrano, regarded by most as the worst recent trade by the Mets, possibly
their worst ever. However, the Mets brought up two young infielders with bright futures, David Wright and José Reyes, and they have
become the best products from the farm system since Strawberry and Gooden. The Mets finished 71-91 in 2004.
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