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Following the Doctor's orders: Dwight Gooden's 1985 season, April-May

The Good Doctor got off to a hot start in his signature 1985 campaign with the Mets.

Mike Powell/Getty Images

Let’s face it, Mets fans. As great as Matt Harvey is, there’s something extremely frustrating and unsatisfying about watching him pitch these days. There’s always this nagging fear that our heroic Dark Knight is going to put up seven or eight dominant innings, just to watch helplessly in the dugout while his offense can’t give him any run support. It’s already happened several times this season.

Those of us who were around in the 80s, though, remember a time when that wasn’t the case. We had a Matt Harvey-type of our own. His name was Dwight Gooden—nicknamed Dr. K, or just Doc. And we knew for sure that every fifth day, he was going to be on the mound and would pitch all nine innings if he could. This was way before anyone ever considered six-man rotations or imposing innings limits on pitchers.

It was this baseball world of 1985 that Doc Gooden ruled at the young age of 20. Few pitchers, if any, had a better single season than Gooden did 30 summers ago, when he won the NL Cy Young Award with a 24-4 record and a 1.53 ERA, 268 strikeouts in 276.2 innings, and 16 complete games in 35 starts. A game started by Doc at Shea Stadium that year was an event. There’s been nothing quite like it since, and Dr. K. would just get stronger and more determined as the game went on.

Let’s retrace the steps of this phenom in his greatest year, game by game. An article published this April in the Hardball Times is recommended for another perspective.

Expectations were sky-high for Gooden after being named Rookie of the Year at age 19 in 1984. Gooden was 17-9 with 276 strikeouts in 31 starts that season. The Mets seemingly came out of nowhere to win 90 games and to challenge the eventual division-winning Chicago Cubs.

A prime example of Gooden’s rookie form was a 10-0 complete game one-hit shutout of the Cubs on September 7, available on YouTube. However, nothing we saw in 1984 could prepare us for the dominance of 1985.

Doc’s Opening Day performance against the Cardinals was only so-so: six innings, four runs (three earned) on six hits with two walks and six strikeouts, making his ERA after one game an unimpressive 4.50. He gave up a solo home run to Jack Clark in the second inning, but Gooden singled and scored himself in the fourth to make up for that.

The Mets won the game, 6-5, in the tenth on Gary Carter’s walk-off home run against former Met Neil Allen. It was Carter’s first game as a Met. That game can also be watched on YouTube.

Doc’s season really got going in earnest five days later at Shea on Sunday afternoon, April 14, when he threw a complete game 4-0 shutout against the Reds on Pete Rose’s 44th birthday. Gooden gave up only four hits while walking two and notching his first double-digit strikeout game of the year, finishing the day with 10 punchouts.

On April 19, he followed up with eight more shutout innings, earning the win in a 1-0 game at Philadelphia that the Mets won on a ninth-inning RBI single by Keith Hernandez, with Jesse Orosco pitching the ninth for the save. Gooden’s ERA after that outing was down to 1.17.

The Cardinals were the Mets’ nemesis all season long, and St. Louis defeated Doc on April 24 by a score of 5-1. He pitched well, giving up two runs on four hits over seven innings, before the Cards blew the game open with three runs in the eighth against Roger McDowell.

Then, with an extra day of rest on April 30, Dr. K wrapped up April in fine form at Shea against the Astros. After a first-inning home run by Denny Walling, Doc shut down Houston the rest of the night in a 4-1 complete game victory. Gooden’s April record: 3-1 in five starts, with a 1.38 ERA.

Doc began his second month of the season by giving up two runs in seven innings in a 3-2 win at Cincinnati on May 5. Then, he was back in vintage form on May 10 at Shea against the Phillies, striking out 13 in a complete game 5-0 shutout to lower his ERA to a minuscule 1.31. May 15 in Houston was a struggle: Doc got the victory in a 5-3 Mets win, but was removed from the game during the seventh inning after surrendering three runs on eight hits and striking out only one.

Then, he lost two consecutive starts—the only time that happened to Gooden in 1985. On May 20 against the Padres at Shea, he lost 2-0. Both runs scored in the second when future-Met Kevin McReynolds led off with a home run and pitcher LaMarr Hoyt later singled in a run.

Saturday afternoon, May 25, was an NBC Game of the Week duel against the Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela. The NBC broadcast introduction to this game has been preserved on YouTube. Valenzuela won, 6-2, pitching a complete game, while Gooden gave up three runs on five hits in seven innings to fall to 6-3 on the year. Greg Brock accounted for two of the Dodgers’ three runs against Gooden with a two-run homer in the fifth.

Gooden rebounded strongly to finish May on a high note on May 30 in San Francisco. In that start, Dr. K struck out 14 batters—a season high to that point—and walked just one in a 2-1 complete game victory. However, it was his third consecutive start in which he gave up a home run, this time to catcher Alex Trevino in the seventh. Through May, Doc was 7-3 in 11 starts with a 1.79 ERA. It turned out that this was just the beginning of the Doctor’s best stretch of the season.

SPOILER ALERT: he wouldn’t lose again until August 31, after winning fourteen straight decisions.