News Flash: 1986 was a great year to be a Mets fan. A lovable band of a-holes take the country by storm -- on and off the field -- in a season that culminates in a dramatic, storybook championship so fanciful that, to quote a great thespian, it could have spewed from the Power Book of the laziest Hollywood hack.
Beyond that, multiple young stars further cemented themselves as cornerstones for a franchise on the rise. Several weathered vets assumed long-term leadership roles, acting every bit the part of the invaluable rudder. The city of New York seemed to almost entirely forget about it's tired old ball-and-chain in favor of a new and exciting young mistress as Mets fever swept over the five boroughs.
Even when things went wrong, it would just provide all the more melodrama for when they'd invariably end up going right. When the starter got knocked around, the offense rallied late. When the charter jet was trashed, the manager picked up the tab. When the team took an uppercut, they'd bounce back with a knockout blow, quite literally.
Yeah, things were great in '86. Best season ever, definitely. Not a thing to complain about. Not a damn thing.
Oh, except that All-Star Game.
Despite a then club record of five representatives, the Mets wouldn't fare well at all in the Midsummer Classic.
Honestly, it makes sense. The thing took place in the Astrodome. That 'Eighth Wonder of the World' which would prove to be the site of one of the biggest potential deterrents to a championship run that seemed fated from the start. In hindsight we may as well look back on the mess that took place on July 15th, 1986 as one big, heaping dish of foreshadowing.
Why you ask? Well for one the game's starter, Dwight Gooden, who just two seasons earlier had burst onto the all-star scene as a brash, young 19-year old with nothing to lose and everything to prove.
In that '84 appearance, Gooden became the youngest pitcher to ever appear in an ASG. And not only did the good doctor blow away the competition over two scoreless innings, he would also pair with Fernandomania himself to break Carl Hubbell's consecutive strikeouts record, set fifty years earlier to the day.
However, two things were different for the '86 festivities: One, astronauts kept the grounds between innings in that lamentable 'stadium of the future'. And two, this time the brash, young fireballer who stole the mid-season spotlight was a 23-year old starter from Boston by the name of Roger Clemens.
While a young Rocket would go on to dominate, requiring just 24 pitches over three perfect innings -- 21 of which were strikes -- Gooden was, how you say, less effective. Unlike his historic '84 performance, Doc looked quite mortal in Houston, allowing a leadoff single on the very first pitch of the day, followed by an uncharacteristic balk later in the first frame. The AL lineup upped the ante in the second when Detroit's Lou Whitaker followed a Dave Winfield double with a long home run deep into the cavernous expanse of the dome.
Things weren't much better for the other Mets on hand.
Three of the Mets top hitters in Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter and Darryl Strawberry made up the heart of a vaunted NL lineup, but didn't live up to their billing. The 3-4-5 hitters combined for a punchless 1-for-9 at the dish with a lone single their only contribution.
El Sid provided shaky relief in the eighth, promptly walking the first two men to face him and then compounding the problem by allowing a double-steal soon thereafter. Ultimately, the AL would defeat the NL by the score of 3-2 on a night to forget in Houston. Yet how could we?
Exactly four months later, the NLCS raged on into the 16th in a Game 6 that felt more like a seven, all on that very same air-conditioned stage. Ten days after that Mets fans wished they could forget, forget the 23-year old fireballer from Beantown as he held their club's feet to the flames, only to receive a pardon directly from the baseball gods themselves.
There was no way to forget that game because it foretold the story of a playoff run the likes of which hadn't ever been seen before and likely won't ever be seen again. It foreshadowed a World Series championship that would decisively establish the 1986 club as the greatest Mets team ever. And there's just no forgetting that.