The Mets are in Pittsburgh for the first of five games with the Pirates, and the humidity in Three Rivers Stadium is so palpable that it feels as if one of the three rivers has come through the turnstiles. The Mets' wily skipper, who has been pushing all the right buttons this year, is in Florida to attend his daughter Dawn's graduation from Lake Howell High School in Winter Park. If tonight is to be looked upon as some kind of test of the Mets' ability to compensate for the loss of key personnel, the rest of the league is in trouble. Third base coach Bud Harrelson and Stottlemyre have been left in charge, but with lefthander Bob Ojeda pitching a 7-0 shutout, there is nothing for Harrelson to do. He later concludes that the most important move he made all night was getting to the bathroom behind the dugout when his queasy stomach finally got the better of him in the third inning.
Foster hits a line drive two-run homer in the second inning to give Ojeda all the support he needs, then intones thoughtfully in the clubhouse, "I think things have finally come around." It has not been a game for the archives. "I was bored to death," says reliever Niemann. "I started to spit on myself just to have some fun."
FRIDAY, JUNE 6
Bill Robinson and several of the black players from the Mets often wait to have their hair cut in Pittsburgh because they know a woman there who, according to Robinson, "kind of fluffs it out nice for you when she cuts it." The Mets will need all the fluffing they can get because tonight they are to play a doubleheader with the Pirates that begins at 6 p.m. and won't end until more than six hours later at 12:37 a.m.
Robinson, who is not only fluffy but also puffed up today because his son, Bill III, has just signed with the Mets as a 23rd round pick, is having a pleasant evening until the fifth inning of the first game. After twice telling his players to have the home plate umpire examine balls for scuffs made by Pirate pitcher Rick Rhoden, Robinson crosses paths with Rhoden as the two are walking off the field at the end of the inning. Robinson tells Rhoden he doesn't have to cheat, Rhoden swears at Robinson and finally Robinson shoves him. That precipitates a brawl that clears both benches, the second rumble for the Mets in the past 10 days.
What apparently bothers Johnson later is not that Rhoden was doctoring the ball, but that he was insulting Johnson's intelligence by doing it so openly. "If he would do it where everybody couldn't see him," Johnson says, "it would be less aggravating."
Johnson does not like to have his intelligence insulted or taken for granted or, for that matter, surpassed. There is a feeling among the Mets that the feud between the manager and Ron Darling, the Mets' No. 2 pitcher, whom Johnson has criticized publicly on several occasions this year, stems not so much from any real grievance Johnson might have about Darling's pitching, but rather from the fact that Darling attended Yale and is bright in his own right. Darling, who gives a lackluster performance and is beaten 7-1 in the opener tonight, thinks that Johnson has simply become so enamored of Gooden that he expects everyone to pitch as effectively. "I think maybe Davey has been spoiled by this Dwight thing," Darling says. "You know—blowing people away every five days."
New York gets a split by winning the nightcap 10-4. The unlikely hitting star is starting pitcher Rick Aguilera, who clubs a two-run homer in a six-run fourth. Aguilera, however, is not the pitching star, failing to last through the fifth. Aguilera has been something of a mystery this year, as has Strawberry, who is struggling with a sprained thumb. In the second game, he hits his first homer since May 7. The most amazing thing about the Mets' season is that they have yet to fire on all cylinders.
SATURDAY, JUNE 7
Barry Bonds, son of Bobby Bonds and now a talented Pirates prospect, is quoted in Thursday's
Pittsburgh Press to the effect that it is not he who should be worried about facing Gooden tonight, but Gooden who "has to face me." Bonds has chosen the occasion of the end of his first full week in the majors to issue this challenge and it is readily accepted by the Mets' fireballer, who admits later that the quote from Bonds "got me up for the game." It may have actually gotten him a little too up, because in his eagerness to throw smoke past Bonds, Gooden is overthrowing the ball and winds up walking his nemesis twice. He also allows him to steal second twice on the high leg kick that makes Gooden sometimes appear to be eating his own foot. Gooden eventually settles down and gets the 6-4 win, bringing his record to 8-2, striking out five in seven innings. Jesse Orosco, the Mets' savior, gets out of a ninth inning jam by striking out Bonds.