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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
It was 1988, one of those years of imperfect glory for the New York Mets, before the upper deck of Shea Stadium was closed for lack of interest and before any of the team's players were slapped with felony charges. Deep into the chilly night of Oct. 9, Dwight Gooden stood on the mound with the baseball in his hands and a two-run ninth-inning lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Three outs and the Mets would lead the National League Championship Series three games to one.
"It's in the bag," thought Met senior vice-president Al Harazin. Gooden had permitted the Dodgers only three hits—all singles, none of them after the fourth inning. "Doc's going to win his first post-season game."
Gooden quickly had an 0-and-2 count on John Shelby, the easiest hitter in the league to strike out. Yes, the Mets were nearly a lock to play the Oakland Athletics in a titanic World Series, the first matchup of 100-win teams in 18 years. Except something began to go wrong. Gooden walked Shelby in what turned into an eight-pitch at bat. He seemed to labor on the last two deliveries, fastballs high and away. He had thrown 125 pitches.
Reserve in fielder Dave Magadan squirmed in the Met dugout and thought, "Scioscia's up, Myers is in the bullpen.... Please put him in the game." But the lefthanded Randy Myers was not ready to face the lefthanded Mike Scioscia. Myers wasn't even warming. No one was.
"He's still in control," manager Davey Johnson thought about Gooden. "If I bring in Myers, they'll pinch-hit Rick Dempsey anyway. He's more of a home run threat than Scioscia."
Scioscia had hit three home runs all year, only one since June. Met catcher Gary Carter, knowing Scioscia liked to take a pitch or two with a runner on first, flashed his index linger to Gooden. After walking Shelby, the pitcher knew exactly what was needed: just a good get-ahead fastball squarely over the plate. It was 11:02 p.m. when Gooden threw the pitch. It arrived slightly above belt high. It would have been strike one, absolutely.
But then Scioscia swung.
There is a line of demarcation that runs roughly along the crest of the Rocky Mountains through North America. Water on one side of the line flows toward the Pacific. On the other it flows in the opposite direction. The moment Scioscia hit that two-run home run, the Mets had reached their Continental Divide. "If we had won that game, we would have won that series," says Joe McIlvaine, then the Met vice-president of baseball operations and now an executive vice-president with the team. "There's no doubt in my mind. It was a flash point."
The Mets lost that night in 12 innings and again the next afternoon. They lost the series in seven games, and they have not played another postseason game since. The course of the franchise's fortunes began flowing the wrong way, first in a trickle and then in a rush.
Two second-place finishes followed, though those turbulent years were more corrosive than anyone knew. It was the end to the dynasty that never was. The Mets were one of eight teams ever to finish first or second for seven consecutive seasons, but the only one of that group to not emerge from such a run with more than one pennant. Then came three losing seasons, each worse than the last. No team in baseball has been worse over those past three years, especially the most recent, a 103-loss horror in which the Mets, with conduct even more odious than their play, were reduced to being pathetic objects of late-night television humor. Baseball's Buttafuoco.