Just about anyone who has been a Met fan for more than six seconds has seen the clip. Mookie Wilson’s dribbler tying up Bill Buckner behind the first base bag and then rolling into the grass in right field. Meanwhile, Ray Knight rounds third and scores the winning run –barely beating third base coach Bud Harrelson to the plate. The Mets improbably win Game Six of the 1986 World Series. Two nights later they finish off the Red Sox and capture their second and to date their last, world championship. I know, I was there.
Let’s go back to that fateful Saturday night at old Shea. The Mets trail the Red Sox three games to two and have watched in disbelief as the Sox plated a pair of runs in the top of the 10th inning. The Mets had romped through the 1986 season, winning 108 games, survived a tough Houston Astros challenge in the NLCS and where heavily favored to beat the then still-cursed Red Sox in the Fall Classic. October 1986 was to be culmination of a five-year process that started with the franchise as the laughing stock of baseball and culminated with this superb season. That all seemed lost on October 25 with the Mets down two runs in the 10th and with their first two batters making outs. Everyone knows what happened next.
The improbability of that comeback has been dissected over and over since then. So why not again? In this version, the ghost of Casey Stengel, a kind of baseball version of Dickens’ Jacob Marley, appeared to owner Fred Wilpon and GM Frank Cashen before the bottom of the 10th and told them he could get it fixed, but it would cost’em. Maybe he told Fred the swap was for his first born son (that would be Jeff), but Fred, ever the canny real estate negotiator, instead settled on a 30-year mortgage. The document was quickly drawn up and signed. In a twinkling the Ol’ Perfessor vanished and the ball went between Buckner’s legs.
Then the 30-year payment plan began.
There has been Dwight Gooden’s drug rehab, Terry Pendleton’s homer, Mike Scioscia’s homer, Lenny Dykstra for Juan Samuel, Bobby Bonilla, Jeff Torborg, the rape scandal, the Worst Team Money Could Buy, Dwight Gooden’s second drug rehab (and subsequent rebirth in the Bronx), the Generation K fiasco, the Kenny Rogers walk, the 2000 Subway Series, the Beltran Strikeout, two collapses, Jeff running the team, Jerry Manuel, Jason Bay, a Ponzi scheme, Lucas Duda’s errant throw and finally Conor Gillaspie. Maybe Fred should have agreed to Stengel’s first offer.
This month marks the 30th anniversary of that fateful night.
In my mind, the Mets enter the offseason with two burning objectives. The first is to ascertain that Yoenis Cespedes stays a Met. He is this era’s Daryl Strawberry or Mike Piazza; the centerpiece of the batting order around which everything else hangs. I get the sense that everyone in the Met hierarchy from Jeff all the way down to the lowliest clubhouse attendant, understands Cespedes’ importance to the team. Unlike the acrimony that surrounded Strawberry’s 1990 departure, both Cespedes and the Mets seem to appreciate each other. I am somewhat confident that he will be back next year.
The other task is to trade and replace Jeurys Familia. Yeah he’s saved over 90 games in the past two years, but he has coughed up some doozies, last year’s World Series and this week’s Wild Card game being chief among them. He has now twice choked in the clutch, an unforgivable sin anywhere, but especially here. Given the recent haul teams like the Yankees, Phillies and Braves have gotten for their closers in the past few years, I’m betting the Mets could find similar gold for Familia. As to the new closer, Addison Reed could be one alternative, as could one of these suddenly surplus rotation arms. They could pick up a veteran for a stopgap. A bit more improbable, but not entirely impossible would be last year’s #1 draft pick Justin Dunn. He was Boston College’s closer, so the experience isn’t entirely new to him.
The Mets should enter 2017 deeper and more experienced than any Met team that I can remember. Thanks to some unlikely late-season heroics, they have an apparent surplus of capable players and can assemble a 25-man roster of players that can handle playing in New York. By most accounts, they still have a few more good pieces on the way as well. They have a manager, who love him or hate him, has proven equal to the challenge of a pennant chase and a front office that while making a few missteps here and there, has been willing and able to add the necessary components. The Mets window of contention is still open.
It’s been 30 years, so maybe the mortgage on the 1986 championship has finally been paid in full. For all our sakes, let’s hope so.