Thank you to everyone who shared Dana Brand’s work at the Tappan Free Library last night. Greg Prince and I had the opportunity to read with a wonderful group.
It was a terrific evening, and as I drove with Greg and the lovely and talented Zoe Rice to the train station, we even heard the Mets take the lead.
Naturally, the mind immediately wonders- did this ever happen before? I remembered the game on May 29, 2007, when Jose Reyes forced a game-tying Armando Benitez balk before Carlos Delgado sent the fans home happy with a game-ending home run. But a balkoff loss? You scan your memory banks, hope that tidbit is forthcoming in someone’s postgame story. And it turns out, yes, the Mets lost on a walkoff balk before- in a crazy baseball twist, the man responsible (Roger McDowell) is in the ballpark, 22 years later, when it happens again, this time as Atlanta’s pitching coach.
On May 28, 1989, the Mets lost in 12 innings to the Los Angeles Dodgers, 4-3. The game featured a marquee pitching matchup on a Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles- Fernando Valenzuela against Dwight Gooden. Both pitched serviceably- Gooden allowing three runs over six innings, allowing a pair of RBI hits to Mike Davis and one to future Met Mike Marshall. The Mets battled back in the seventh against future Met Alejandro Pena, who came to the Mets in the same trade as Marshall that December (for Juan Samuel, not yet a New York Met at this time). Gregg Jefferies had the game-tying blow, a two-run double.
But in the twelfth, after tremendous work out of the bullpen from Rick Aguilera (2 1/3 innings, no runs, six strikeouts) and Randy Myers (2 2/3 scoreless frames), Roger McDowell entered. He walked Dave Anderson, hitting .132 at the time. Willie Randolph singled. Barry Lyons then had Anderson picked off second, but his throw sailed into center field, giving the Dodgers second and third with nobody out. And on a 2-1 count to John Shelby, McDowell was called for the game-ending balk. The umpire? Yes, Bob Davidson. What a shock.
It was a fascinating time of transition for the Mets, detailed in this Dave Anderson (not the .132 hitter) column that ran in the Sunday New York Times the day of this game. Anderson laments the trade that almost was: Mark Langston, Jay Buhner and a minor leaguer to the Mets for Howard Johnson, Sid Fernandez and top prospects David West and Kevin Tapani. And he is broadly dismissive of what the Mariners got instead-Brian Holman, Gene Harris and some gawky kid named Randy Johnson. It is one of the rare instances Dave Anderson got something wrong.
But tucked within the column is another deal the Mets nearly made- West and Lenny Dykstra for Von Hayes. Clearly, the two teams weren’t finished talking- three weeks later, the goat of the last balkoff, McDowell, along with Dykstra, headed to Philadelphia for Juan Samuel. Coincidentally, it happened just after Von Hayes beat the Mets at Veterans Stadium with a walkoff home run. (I happened to be in the stands that day, and heard about the Dykstra deal on Mets Extra.)
It may be that the Mets are at a similar fulcrum in their history- chances are quite good on that count, incidentally. And it is worth remembering that oddball losses are no recent development for the Mets, nor for any other team. It keeps baseball interesting. Is the balkoff some kind of mystical sign that huge changes are ahead? I’ll leave that conclusion to the more spiritual among us.
All I knew on this night was that somewhere on the LIRR, Greg Prince was angry, and that I’d have enjoyed hearing what Dana Brand thought about one of the odder games in recent years for a team that’s played plenty of them.