No Mets pitcher started his career with more fanfare or success than Dwight Gooden.
He made his big league debut on April 7, 1984, and embarked on one of the greatest debut seasons of all time. With his blazing fastball, "Dr. K" set down opposing hitters at an astonishing pace. His 276 strikeouts in '84 set a major league rookie record. Those strikeouts and 17 victories earned him Rookie of the Year honors and placed him second in the NL Cy Young Award voting.
One could argue that Gooden reached his peak in a game on September 7 at Shea Stadium. That night, the second place Mets faced the Chicago Cubs, who led the division by seven games. With so little time left in the season, the Mets could not afford to fall any further behind.
Gooden was up to the task. Although he walked the leadoff hitter, Bob Dernier, he fanned four of the first six Cubs he faced.
The Mets’ offense gave him more support than he needed. After scoring a run in the first, they exploded for five in the third. George Foster chased Cubs starter Dick Ruthven with a three-run home run that gave Doc a 6-0 cushion. In the bottom of the fourth, Gooden helped his own cause with a one-out single, later scoring on a hit by Mookie Wilson.
From that point on, it was all Gooden. He surrendered his first and only hit to catcher Keith Moreland in the fifth inning. The next six Cubs went down in order. Never losing his velocity, Gooden struck out one batter in each of the final three innings, bringing his total for the night to 11.
Davey Lopes was walked to start the ninth inning, but Gooden stayed on the mound. Since the beginning of the season, Davey Johnson showed complete confidence in Gooden's ability as a starting pitcher, and it was no surprise that Johnson let his phenom complete this masterpiece. The leadoff walk was rendered meaningless as the next three were retired in order as Gooden completed a one-hit shutout.
Despite his age, Gooden did not appear to be fazed by the pressure of a pennant race. He won eight of his last nine starts and racked up 41 strikeouts with just one walk in his final three outings. Despite his efforts, the Mets were unable to catch the Cubs.
Amazingly, he improved upon his rookie campaign with a phenomenal sophomore season. In 1985, Gooden went 24-4 with a 1.54 earned run average and 16 complete games on his way to winning the NL Cy Young. He was a vital part of the franchise, going 157-85 as a member a Mets team that took the NL East twice and won the 1986 World Series.
Gooden left the Mets after the strike-shortened 1994 season. He would go on to pitch for the Yankees, Indians, and Devil Rays, finishing with a 194-112 record. Of course, he threw a no-hitter as a member of the Yankees in 1996. But in the end, his career is thought of as a disappointment.
Drug problems and other off-field issues prevented Gooden from living up to the lofty expectations bestowed on him after his magnificent rookie year. The raw talent and determination that mesmerized baseball fans may have never been more evident than on Sept. 7, 1984.