Inspired somewhat by the comments on yesterday's post, I'm going to take a look at the five best starts in Mets postseason history. Obviously, there are far fewer postseason games to select from, but that didn't really make the task much easier for me. There were no nineteen-strikeout affairs, but despite only 74 playoff games in their 46 year history, the Mets have had a good number of truly memorable starting performances.
One minor difference between the criteria for this list and yesterdays: Context is very important. I didn't really pay much attention to the meaning of particular regular season games when I put together yesterday's list because I didn't really care. For postseason games, the later the round and the stickier the situation, the more important the start becomes. A one-hitter when your team is up 2-0 in the LDS is not a better performance, necessarily, than a 2-1 six-hitter in the deciding game of the World Series (hypothetical!).
With that in mind, I give you the five best postseason pitching performances in Mets history.
- Dwight Gooden, 10/4/1986
Only a game score of 72 for the Doctor, but this game was insanely well-pitched and tremendously important in the context of the 1986 postseason. Up two games to one on the Astros in the NLCS, this game is usually overshadowed by the Dykstra walk-off in Game 3 and the epic, series-clinching marathon in Game 5. However, Game 6 might have shaped up differently had Gooden been off his game on this particular afternoon in Queens.
Coming off a 1-0 loss to Mike Scott in Game 1, Gooden took the mound against Nolan Ryan and matched him inning-per-inning, with both hurlers allowing a single run through nine frames. Not content with nine great innings, Gooden went back to the mound for the tenth and set the Astros down again. He finally gave way to Jesse Orosco in the eleventh and the Mets ultimately won the game 2-1 when Gary Carter plated Wally Backman from second in the bottom of the twelfth.
- Mike Hampton, 10/16/2000
It's easy to forget this one in light of the way Hampton left New York after the 2000 season, but this was the game that sent the Mets to the World Series in 2000 and secured Hampton's NLCS MVP trophy. The Mets were up 3-1 in the series and the game was a 7-0 blowout, but this was still an incredible performance by Hampton. Complete game shutout, three hits, one walk and eight strikeouts. The lasting memory of the game was Rick Wilkins' game-ending flyball to center and Timo Perez's baseball-is-fun hop-de-hop before closing his glove around the final out. Forgotten, perhaps, was the Hampton gem(s) that got them to that point.
- Bobby Jones, 10/8/2000
You could make the argument that this was the greatest context-independent postseason start the Mets have ever had. The circumstances of the game make it less than that in my mind, but that shouldn't take away from Jones's masterful performance. Jones held the Giants to one hit and two walks in a 4-0 shutout that clinched the LDS for the Mets and sent them to the NLCS to face the Cardinals. The only hit Jones allowed was a Jeff Kent double to lead off the fifth inning. Both walks came in the fifth inning as well, and Jones would load the bases before Giants' starter Mark Gardner, somewhat inexplicably allowed to bat by Dusty Baker, popped out to end the threat.
The Mets scored two runs in the first on a Robin Ventura homerun and two more in the fifth on an Edgardo Alfonzo double, and that was it. Jones retired the final thirteen batters he faced, ending the game -- and the Giants' season -- by getting Barry Bonds to line out to Jay Payton in center.
- John Matlack, 10/7/1973
Matlack's 89 game score in this contest is the highest for any Met in a postseason start, and this one was definitely a gem. Tom Seaver tossed a beauty in Game 1 against the Reds, striking out thirteen before serving up a game-winning solo shot to Johnny Bench in the bottom of the ninth to give the Reds a 2-1 win and a 1-0 series advantage.
Matlack came back the next day and did his rendition of "anything you can do I can do better" by besting Seaver's performance and thrusting the Mets back into the series. Matlack allowed just two hits -- both singles -- and three walks in a 5-0 shutout of the Reds. He fanned nine and didn't let any runners beyond second base, and even managed to pick up a walk and a sacrifice bunt at the plate to help his own cause. The Mets won the series in five games, and this incredible start was one of the biggest reasons.
- Tom Seaver, 10/15/1969
After losing Game 1 of the World Series to the Orioles at Shea, the Mets squeaked out a win with a run in the ninth to take Game 2 and then won Game 3 decidedly by a score of 5-0. Seaver started that Game 1 loss, an uncharacteristically bad showing for the Mets' ace, as he allowed four runs on six hits in just five innings. He took the mound in the pivotal fourth game with plenty to prove and plenty on the line.
Don Clendenon led off the bottom of the second with a homerun, giving the Mets a 1-0 lead that they would carry all the way into the ninth. Seaver had allowed just three hits and a couple of walks through the first eight innings, but allowed back-to-back one-out singles in the ninth to Frank Robinson and Boog Powell to put runners on the corners. Two outs from a 3-1 World Series edge, Seaver induced a flyball to right-center off the bat of Brooks Robinson that was deep enough to score Frank Robinson from third to tie the game. Catcher Ellie Hendricks lined out to end the inning.
The Mets threatened in the bottom of the ninth before Art Shamsky, pinch-hitting for Ed Charles, grounded out to second with runners on first and third to end the rally and send the game into extra innings.
In the top of the tenth, an error, a single, and a sacrifice fly put runners on the corners again for the Orioles and brought center fielder Paul Blair to the plate looking to do some damage with two outs. Seaver struck him out to end the inning. In the bottom of the tenth, a Jerry Grote double, an intentional walk to Al Weis, and a J.C. Martin sacrifice bunt-turned-Dick Hall throwing error scored pinch-runner Rod Gaspar from third with the winning run. The Mets won the next day to clinch the World Series for the Amazins.
Lost in the chaos of the frantic winning run was Seaver's ten-inning, six-hit, one-run performance that gave the Mets some breathing room in the series. One slip-up in that game and it's a 2-2 series and things maybe turn out a whole lot differently. Tommy was Terrific
That's my list. Am I forgetting any? If you attended any of these games, please share your memories in the comments.