This Date In Mets History: September 17 — The Bad Guys Win the Division, John Franco's Birthday

You'd smile too if your team clinched with three weeks left to play. (Otto Greule Jr. / Getty Images)

According to his book Bats, Mets manager Davey Johnson announced to the clubhouse on the second to last day of the 1985 season:

"I want you to make up your minds we're going to win it next year, that nothing is going to stop us, that we're going to win it next year."

Davey raised the stakes (and the hackles of more than a few of his opponents) during the off-season, telling anyone who would listen he wanted the Mets to "dominate" the league in 1986.

They did. By the end of April, the team was 13-3. Had the 1986 Mets crashed to earth after the All-Star break like their 2012 counterparts did, it would have taken a 29-game losing streak to drop the team back to .500. A win on September 10 put 22 games between New York and second place Philadelphia. At the time, it was the largest lead an National League team had amassed since the advent of divisional play. One week later, on September 17, 1986, the Mets invoked the mercy rule, taking the NL East pennant with a 4-2 triumph over the Cubs. Dwight Gooden went the distance in the clincher, giving up just six hits and keeping Chicago off the scoreboard until a Rafael Palmeiro homer with one out in the eighth ruined the shutout. Mets and Mets fans alike swarmed the mound after Doc coaxed a game-ending grounder from Chico Walker, though the players quickly decamped to the clubhouse for the customary champagne showers. Speaking in the place from which he issued his diktat at the end of 1985, Davey Johnson reminded his Dom Pérignon-drenched charges:

"This is one step. The next step is beating the Houston Astros."

Birthdays
A happy birthday long-standing closer John Franco, who turns 52 today. A graduate of Brooklyn's Lafayette High School and St. John's University, Franco is about as close to a "local boy makes good" story as the Mets have had in their history. The little lefty joined his hometown team midway through the 1989 and stuck around for the next 14 years, racking up a club-record 276 saves, mostly of the agita-inducing variety. Perhaps as an early birthday gift, the Mets inducted Franco into the team's Hall of Fame earlier this season.

Game of Note
Tom Seaver melted down like a hunk of iron ore fed to the blast furnace on this date in 1973. Facing the first place Pirates in Steel City, the Franchise coughed up seven hits and five runs and was on the slag heap after just three innings. The 10-3 loss dropped the Mets to three and half back in the NL East with just a dozen left to play, but in a complete reversal of fortune, Seaver would beat the Pirates 10-2 in his next start to push the Mets into the division's top slot for the first time all season.

Amazin'-ly Tenuous Connection
Baseball was probably the last thing on Brigadier General Abner Doubleday's mind as he led Union troops along the Hagerstown Turnpike at dawn on September 17, 1862. Mostly because his division was about to engage Confederate forces in the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single-day clash in American history, but also because he didn't invent baseball, didn't popularize it, and there exists little evidence that he gave much thought to the sport at all. That said, his great-great-grandnephew Nelson owned the Mets from 1986 to 2002.

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