May 6, 1983 - Brian Berness

By - Brian Berness

When people talk about moments and times in the Mets history, they often quickly refer to the obvious ones... the 1962 season, the night in May 1969 when they went over .500 for the first time that late in the season, catching and passing the Cubs and the black cat in September 1969, the World Championship, Ya Gotta Believe, the Buddy-Rose Brawl in 1973, the Midnight Massacre of 1977, the rebirth of 1984, the 1986 dominance and miraculous postseason, Generation K, the 1999 postseason, the 2000 playoffs, 2006 into today’s misery and so on and so forth. One of the great nights that tied all of these together, where past and future met occurred on May 6, 1983.

     May 6, 1983? Why would anyone pick a game in which a 6-15 team took the field on a Friday night in May? Well, as a 10-year old watching on Channel 9 from my Staten Island home, the significance wouldn’t dawn on me for years to come. The night exorcised many demons past, torches were passed to the future, and the ghosts and angels from the past, present, and future took center stage. The most important thing that a Mets fan gleans from that night is that a 21-year old Darryl Eugene Strawberry made his debut that night. May 6 was also the 52nd birthday of another African-American ballplayer who electrified New York a generation earlier, Willie Mays.

While the very talented Straw, the first draft pick of the Doubleday-Wilpon regime, who succeeded Joan Payson's daughter Lorinda DeRoulet and her henchman M. Donald Grant, took the field for the first time. Shea Stadium was a time warp. That night, the Mets took on the Cincinnati Reds, a team struggling toward the end of its own golden era. They won an exciting back and forth game 7-4 in 13 innings.

The starting pitcher for the Mets was The Franchise, Tom Seaver, who at 38, was returning to the Mets from Cincinnati where he had been traded on that horrible night of June 15, 1977, the Midnight Massacre. He took a 1-1 record to the hill at Shea that night. The game started quietly enough, and there was no scoring until the top of the 6th inning. Darryl had an uneventful debut going 0-4 with 3 strikeouts and 2 walks and a run scored. But the electricity felt through the television from the 15,916 fans in attendance that night was palpable.

• The memorable part of his performance that night was that in the 9th inning, he rapped a foul ball into right field high along the Queens night and Bob Murphy made the comment that Mets fans would witness this power for many years to come. The Reds struck first, a 6th inning homer by Gary Redus staked the Reds to a 1-0 lead. They went up 3-0 an inning later on back to back singles by former Met Alex Trevino (part of the trade for Seaver), who had taken over as every day catcher when the Mets’ seemingly lone all-star John Stearns went down in 1980, and Soto. Seaver was lifted after 8 innings with the Mets down by the same score.

• In the bottom of the 8th, Danny Heep, traded to the Mets the previous winter for Mike Scott, a Mets pitcher who would come to dominate the National League and the Mets in 1986 in the NLCS, homered to right to put the Mets on the Board. In the bottom of the 9th inning, with the Mets down 3-1, a 24 year old second baseman named Wally Backman would single to right to put the tying run at the plate. One batter later, a big guy named Dave Kingman, the Mets all-time home run leader, came to the plate and hit bomb into the Mezzanine to tie the game at 3. Of course Kingman had been a Mets star of the 1970s before being traded to the Padres that same night as Seaver was traded. Kingman was traded during the Midnight Massacre for a little used 4th outfielder named Bobby Valentine who would come back to manage the Mets to the 2000 pennant and become the second winningest manager in team history.  He was also traded back to the Mets for Steve Henderson, a cornerstone of the Seaver trade during the same horrible day in 1977.

• In the top of the 10th, the Reds took the lead off of Carlos Diaz, who 6 months later would be traded for a talented but undisciplined lefthander named Sid Fernandez, when Eddie Milner, the younger brother of the Hammer, John Milner, the Mets first great left-handed power hitter (the second one made his debut that night) doubled to right scoring the go ahead run. In the bottom of that inning, with two men out, the Mets tied the game when Hubie Brooks homered to left. Brooks would be a large part of the energy of the resurgent 1984 season with a team record 24-gamehitting streak, and later traded for the widely acclaimed final piece of the puzzle, all-star catcher, Gary Carter.

• In the 13th inning, with the score tied at 4, and two out Darryl Strawberry drew a walk and stole second. Mike Jorgensen, a Mets prospect of the 1960s, who was traded along with Kenny Singleton and Tim Foli to the Expos in 1971 for Rusty Staub, also drew a walk. Staub would also appear in this game as a pinch hitter for Seaver in the bottom of the 8th. With two on and two out, up stepped George Foster.

Foster was the first major acquisition of the Doubleday-Wilpon regime after the 1981 season. Foster was the Mets pronouncement that they were back in the baseball business. While he was a failure in many respects, he signaled hope for Mets fans starved for a winner. George promptly deposited a pitch into the left center field bleachers to cap the 7-4 Mets win.

 As I mentioned, Rusty Staub appeared in the game- one of the great offensive acquisitions made in Mets history 11 years earlier.  Mookie Wilson was the Mets leadoff hitter that night. We all know and cherish Mookie's role in Mets history. The Reds starting pitcher was Mario Soto. Two years later, Soto would surrender a homer to another Met outfielder making his major league debut. That guy was Lenny Dykstra, who would go on to hit one of the biggest home runs in team history to win game 3 of the 1986 NLCS, and then in 1989 be the centerpiece of a trade that would accelerate the crashing of the Mets organization in the early 1990s.The Mets catcher that night was Ron Hodges.  Hodges was also the starting catcher who tagged out Richie Zisk of the Pirates in the ricochet game of September 20, 1973 when the Mets went into first place in the most improbable of pennant winning seasons. The Mets winning pitcher that night was a 26-year old left-handed reliever named Jesse Orosco. Once trade to the Mets for Jerry Koosman and looking to still be active in the 2004 season, Orosco would forever be remembered for being on the mound first to win the NLCS and then tossing his glove into the New York night after striking out Marty Barrett to end the 1986 World Series. He would ultimately be traded to the Dodgers for pitchers the Mets would use to bring Frank Viola to New York-- Viola was another failed acquisition. Orosco in1983 also became the first Mets pitcher to garner any Cy Young votes since Seaver with 13 wins and 17 saves. John Franco would eventually surpass his team save record. 9 days later, Mets manager George Bamberger, who replaced Joe Torre, who beat the Mets in the 2000 World Series, would retire. 40 days later, the Mets would acquire first baseman Keith Hernandez from the Cards in one of the great thefts in baseball history. That winter, Seaver would be plucked by the White Sox in a free agent compensation deal. That move forced the Mets to move quickly to bring up their young pitchers, Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, and Sid Fernandez who would accelerate their ascent to greatness in the NL. Strawberry would leave after the 1990 season after surpassing Kingman as the Mets all time home run leader. A place where he still sits at 252.


David Rubin said...

LOVE it Brian!! Please send more posts- we love hearing from long-time Mets' fans!! Great to re-live even the worst of times, especially when they led to greatness not long afterwards!

Mack's Mets © 2012