A little dishing on sports

Say It Ain’t So, Doc

In the summer of 1985, the resurgent Mets were playing a crappy Pittsburgh Pirates team, before they got good, before they got crappy for a generation and counting.  On the hill for the Pirates was the immoral immortal Larry McWilliams; for the Mets, Doc Gooden.  I was 16 at the time and Gooden was in the midst of a season every sixteen year old fan should have the opportunity to experience.  I always loved the Mets, but the feeling of warmth and pride that washed over me that year, watching the Mozart of the Mound, a pitcher so preternaturally gifted as to seem too good to be true, is something I will never forget.

That summer, Gooden was on his way to a 24-4 season with a 1.53 ERA and 268 strikeouts.  And no, I didn’t have to look that up.  He carved through teams both good and bad, but on a night like this, an evening game against the pathetic Pirates — Gooden was always markedly better in night games — all knowing fans were on high alert for something special.

McWilliams, who was kind of a poor man’s Ed Lynch, couldn’t throw a baseball through a damp paper towel, but for some reason, he decided that he would retaliate against Gary Carter for homering off of him earlier in the game.  Williams drilled Carter with a pitch, Carter got a little ticked, but ran to first and the game went on.

It just so happened that the bottom third of the Pirates lineup was up in the next inning.  Gooden, working with surgical precision, dispatched the first two hitters with nary a foul tip, bringing McWilliams to the plate.  Doc buzzed a 95 mph heater under McWilliams’s chin with his first pitch, putting the sorry journeyman on his butt, then fired three blazing fastballs by his befuddled opposite number.  What he did next gave me chills.  In the first indication – other than the cold-bloodedness of his work that inning – that Gooden was retaliating in any way for his catcher having been plucked, Gooden nodded subtly to Carter as he walked off the mound looking like a cross between Jay-Z and James Bond, and never mentioned the incident again.

That was the moment I decided that the career possibilities for my new hero were limitless.  A 30 win season; 400 wins; 4 or 5 World Series MVPs.  Anything was possible for that super talented teenager.

How did we ever get to yesterday?


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