As R.A. Dickey approached his 20th win last September, the names of the Mets’ five previous 20-game winners were continually referenced. David Cone, who turns 50 today, was an improbable member of that quintet. After all, Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden were highly touted young arms building on previous success, Jerry Koosman was a two-time All-Star who accomplished the feat in his 10th season, and Frank Viola had already done it once before.
Cone, by contrast, had been relegated to the bullpen at AAA Omaha in 1986 by the Kansas City Royals and dispatched to the Mets the following spring for a 30-year-old journeyman pitcher (Rick Anderson) and a back-up catcher (Ed Hearn). After an unremarkable inaugural campaign with the Mets, Cone spent the first month of 1988 as a long reliever. He was bumped up to the starting rotation only after Rick Aguilera went down with an elbow injury. He responded by winning all five of his starts in May, posting a 0.72 ERA, and would finish the season at 20-3, 2.22 ERA, earning third place in the Cy Young Award voting. Along the way he acquired a legion on devotees who called themselves "Coneheads," many of whom would show up at Shea looking like members of the famous Saturday Night Live alien family of the same name.
Cone’s shelling at the hands of the Dodgers (five runs in two innings) in Game Two of the NLCS that year, while widely attributed to the taunting column he wrote for the NY Daily News after the Mets won the opener, could have had as much to do with the need for an extra day’s rest. He had finished his season five days earlier with a then-career-high 231.1 IP—more than twice his total for 1987—and had two starts of 130-plus pitches in September.
"I feel that I let myself and my teammates down. 'I'd like to think I wasn't affected in the game. I had good stuff. But I know I was upset." –David Cone, after losing Game Two of the 1988 NLCS
With the Mets facing elimination in Game Six, Cone, pitching on five days’ rest (with a "tune-up" inning of relief between starts), hurled a complete-game gem, yielding a lone run on only five hits.
In six seasons as a Met, Cone struck out 200 or more batters four times (only Seaver did it more often) and, among starters with 1,000+ IP, his Mets career .615 winning PCT and 3.13 ERA are third and fifth best all-time. He would have placed even higher if not for a brief, ill-fated comeback attempt with the 2003 squad after sitting out the entire 2002 season. In between his Mets stints he earned a Cy Young Award, pitched a perfect game and collected five World Series Championship rings.
Amazin’-ly Tenuous Connection
On this date in 1965, the soundtrack to the Elvis Presley movie Roustabout reached number one on Billboard’s U.S. albums chart. Elvis had nine other number one albums, but it was another "Presley number one" that intrigued Mets fans in 1993. That June the Mets chose Tupelo (MS) High School pitcher Kirk Presley, a third cousin of "The King," in the first round (eighth overall) of the amateur draft. Unfortunately, the young right-hander never rose above A-ball, the victim of a series of arm injuries. Unlike his famous cousin, Kirk was unable to stage a successful comeback.