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Mets face same foe from 1988

Mets face same foe from 1988

NEW YORK -- It's been a familiar phrase throughout the 2006 season for the Mets.

Turn the page and move on to the next day.

Mets manager Willie Randolph has used it often and seemingly always. Whether the team has experienced something positive or negative, Randolph has stressed the importance of keeping things in perspective on a day-to-day basis.

Only once, though, this year has the organization looked back.

On Aug. 19, the Mets of 1986 reunited on the field at Shea Stadium where they captured the second World Series title in the club's history. Then, after the celebration was finished, the 2006 Mets went out and defeated the Rockies, 7-4.

Turning the page back and forward will happen once again this week as the Mets and Dodgers meet in the National League Division Series.

Flash back again to the amazing team in the '80's, except this time, two years after claiming the crown in '86. But instead of looking back to celebrate, this year's version hopes not to duplicate what happened in 1988.

After winning the NL East in dominating fashion, the Mets met the Dodgers in an epic National League Championship Series. The Mets entered the series as heavy favorites when play began in Los Angeles on Oct. 4, having beaten the Dodgers 10 of 11 times during the regular season and outscoring them, 49-18. Nonetheless, the Dodgers took the NLCS in seven games and went on to defeat the Athletics in five games in the 1988 World Series.

"It looked like the team had the spirit and the attitude of two years earlier," Darryl Strawberry described later in the book, Amazin'. "It looked like the team that would go all the way to the World Series, not like the team that had folded the year before."

The Mets finished the 1988 season with a record of 100-60, 15 games ahead of the second-place Pirates. It was the third time in club history that a Mets team had won 100 games and the fifth time in the decade the team had won more than 90. In addition, the pitching staff led the NL in ERA (2.91) and strikeouts (1,100), while all five starters finished with double figures in wins.

The Dodgers, on the other hand, had won their third NL West title of the '80s with a 94-67 record in 1988, seven games in front of the Reds. And they had Orel Hershiser, who had won 23 games during the regular season, which included a Major League record of 59 2/3 straight scoreless innings.

In Game 1, Hershisher faced Mets ace Dwight Gooden, who had won 18 games and pitched 10 complete games. The anticipated pitching duel became a classic. After the Dodgers pushed a run across in the first inning on a two-out single from Mike Marshall, Gooden held them hitless until the seventh, when they scored again on an RBI single from Alfredo Griffin.

Hershiser, meanwhile, had scattered five hits in eight innings without allowing a run before the Mets finally got to him in the ninth. Gregg Jefferies started the inning with a single to center field, and after a groundout by Keith Hernandez moved Jefferies to second, Strawberry, who led the team and the league with 39 home runs, doubled to center to score Jefferies.

Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda brought in Jay Howell to relieve Hershiser, and the ace closer promptly walked Kevin McReynolds before striking out Howard Johnson for the second out. Gary Carter then doubled to right-center field to plate Strawberry and McReynolds and give the Mets a 3-2 lead.

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Randy Myers, who had entered the game in the eighth inning, pitched a perfect ninth to give the Mets Game 1.

Game 2 began in controversy because of a column written by David Cone in the New York Daily News.

Cone, who led the Mets staff with a 20-3 record, was quoted as saying, "Hershiser was lucky" and "Doc was good," among other things which Lasorda used as bulletin board material.

"Because of the comment, I know it affected Coney in that game," Carter later said. "I could tell he was nervous when he pitched that game."

And it showed, as the Dodgers scored five runs in the first two innings to knock Cone out of the game. Hernandez brought the Mets closer with a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but New York could not do much else against Los Angeles starter Tim Belcher, who struck out 10 over 8 1/3 innings.

The Mets scored once more in the ninth, but that would be it, as the Dodgers tied the series with a 6-3 win.

When the series moved to New York, Game 3 was delayed one day because of a steady rain. That allowed Hershiser to pitch on three days' rest. The Mets, though, went with Ron Darling, who had set a career high with 17 wins in 1988.

Game 3 was played on a muddy field at Shea Stadium with plenty of incredible plays, but the contest would be remembered with as much controversy as anything else.

The Dodgers took a 3-0 lead after scoring two runs in the second and one in the third off Darling before Strawberry drove home Mookie Wilson with a double in the bottom half of the third inning. After the Mets had tied the game in the sixth with two runs, the Dodgers reclaimed the lead in the eighth, partly because of the slippery field.

With two outs and the bases empty, Mike Scioscia hit a comebacker to New York reliever Roger McDowell, who lined up to make a throw but fell due to the wet ground. His throw to first was wild, and the Dodgers catcher advanced to second. A single and a walk loaded the bases, and after Myers entered the game, the Mets closer walked Mike Sharperson to force home a run.

Los Angeles called upon Howell to save the game again in the bottom of the eighth. After running a 3-2 count to McReynolds to lead off the inning, Mets skipper Davey Johnson, who had told his players and coaching staff to be wary of any mischief by Howell, calmly requested time, exited the dugout and asked umpire Joe West to inspect the ball.

West found pine tar on the ball, and Howell was ejected from the game. He later was suspended from the remainder of the series.

The Mets rallied for five runs in the inning off three relievers with two outs, and after Cone pitched a scoreless ninth to close out the game for an 8-4 win, the Mets seemed to have the momentum again.

But it was the Dodgers who snatched it back with late-inning heroics to claim Game 4 and tie the series.

Gooden started for the Mets, and once again, the Dodgers scored early off him with two runs in the first. But Gooden settled down. And with the New York offense staking a 4-2 lead off Dodgers starter John Tudor thanks to a two-run homer by Strawberry and a solo shot by McReynolds in the fourth inning and an RBI triple by Carter in the sixth, the Mets right-hander blanked the Dodgers until the ninth inning.

Gooden was in control, and it looked as if the Mets would take a commanding lead in the series with one more game at Shea. Gooden allowed only one hit and four baserunners since the first, but he walked John Shelby to start the ninth. Scioscia then hit the first pitch he saw into the Mets bullpen in right field to tie the game.

"I'd devastated the Dodgers for eight innings and I felt like I was in control at that point," Gooden once said. "That's why Davey left me in the game. Unfortunately, it was the wrong decision."

In the 12th inning, Kirk Gibson homered with two outs off McDowell to give the Dodgers a 5-4 lead.

The Mets loaded the bases in the bottom half of the frame, but Hershiser entered the game out of the bullpen. A day after starting, he forced McReynolds into a flyout to end the game.

The Dodgers carried the emotions over to the next day, when, fewer than 12 hours later, they jumped out to a large lead, scoring three runs in both the fourth and fifth innings off Sid Fernandez for a 6-0 lead. Belcher allowed three runs in the fifth, but besides a run in the eighth, the relievers staved off a Mets comeback as the Dodgers claimed a 3 games to 2 series lead.

The two teams returned to Los Angeles to play Game 6 on the following day, and Cone redeemed himself with a five-hit, complete-game victory as the Mets won, 5-1. New York finally scored first in the series with a sacrifice fly by McReynolds to open the scoring. McReynolds later hit a two-run homer in the fifth off Dodgers starter Tim Leary to seal a game Cone dominated.

"He was a totally different pitcher," said Carter.

In Game 7 on Wednesday, Oct. 12, the Dodgers decided to go with Hershiser, even though their ace had pitched eight-plus innings in the first game, six in the third game, and earned a save in one inning of work in the fourth game, which had been played on Sunday. Johnson felt three days' rest would hurt Hershiser, so he went with the well-rested Darling, instead of Gooden.

Los Angeles wasted no time in deciding the series, as it scored once in the first and three more off Darling before Johnson pulled the Mets starter for Gooden. Gooden, who hadn't pitched in relief since high school, gave up two more runs as the Dodgers took a 6-0 lead.

The six-run lead was more than enough for Hershiser, who allowed only five hits and went the distance, striking out HoJo to end the game and give the Dodgers the NLCS title in one of the most memorable series in history. Hershiser was named the series MVP.

"For nine innings on that night, Orel Hershiser was the toughest pitcher I had ever seen in my life," said Strawberry. "He seemed to draw a power from somewhere and frustrated us completely."

It's a page in history that this year's version of the Mets, who took four of seven games from the Dodgers this season, hopes doesn't repeat itself.

Chris Girandola is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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