March 6, 2011

My Best Dar Rell Memory

In reply to my pal Ed (@lagranderusty) from "The Real Dirty Mets Blog" posting his story on Darryl Strawberry being the 4th Greatest Met of All Time (based on votes submitted to him) I regale you with my own "Straw" story. Thanks Ed for giving me something to write about ...

Darr-Rell Dar Rell…the exact spelling on the sign I observed at Veterans Stadium in September 1987.

Darryl Strawberry, the tall, lean, strong, fast promise of hope for the dying Mets franchise. The can’t miss top draft pick who was indeed “rushed” to the big leagues at the ripe old age of 21 to be the power hitting savior for a club which had experienced little success over the previous decade. “Straw’ assumed his position in right field and immediately put his stamp on envelopes of Hall of Fame voters and stars in the eyes of Mets fans, A player with Cooperstown written all over him. As he became the charismatic slugger for a group that in the next few years, blended with the likes of Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Ray Knight, Mookie and Nails became the most dominant and thus hated lineup in the National league from 1986-1989. Darryl’s contributions were often counted by the rise and fall of Shea’s Home Run Apple although the stability and leadership he brought as a 3 year veteran to the 1986 championship run is often overlooked. Certainly, by all accounts, this was Mex’s team and Kid and the young pitchers did their parts, but through just about every up and down there was Darryl Strawberry batting fourth in Right Field, as feared as any slugger in the game. Through his Mets career Darryl averaged better than 30 Hrs, 90 RBI and 20 steals per season. His inclusion as the 4th Greatest Met of All Time is absolutely irrefutable.

I take you back to the sign in Philly. As the 1987 season was drawing to a close and the Mets were chasing down the hated St. Louis Cardinals, a couple of my buddies and I from the local tavern decided to take a road trip down to Philly on the last day of September since after that game the club would be heading to the Gateway City for the final and hopefully “deciding’ series of the year. At about 1 PM, after blowing off work for the rest of the day, 3 of us piled into Jerry’s ’78 Monte Carlo and left Caldwell, NJ for “The Vet” along with some “beverages” wearing our Mets gear.
We got into the Philly area in about 3 hours after stopping for more “supplies” and set about getting tickets. This proved easy enough as we parked in the lot amid a group of what we perceived as Mets fans. They had Mets bumper stickers. We shared a few brews with these folks and asked if tickets were available. Sure enough one guy pulled out a handful of tix he’d gotten from other fans who weren’t making the trip since the Mets were 3-1/2 games out with 4 to play. We offered to pay him, but he said they weren’t good seats and just take them. We hung out until the gates opened up and told our new friends we’d see them inside. Once inside the stadium and seeing that our seats were way up in Bob Uecker land my buddy Gabe, quite the salesman and smooth talker convinced some female usher to let us sit down low for batting practice along the 3rd base line. Once the park started to fill up we moved back a few rows and sat apart from each other for the first inning or so until this same usher came down to tell us that a regular ticket holder who had 4 seats in the front row just past the visiting dugout and had told her he was going to spend the game in a meeting with a client in a suite. We couldn’t thank her enough; she just told us to have fun and not antagonize anybody. She did mention that she hated the way Phillies fans acted. Looking at the Phillies fans now, I can say not much has changed. As the game started we heard the chants from down the right field line and noticed the sign/banner reading Dar- Rell…we all immediately said and thought ignorant and dumb. We spent the game enjoying our Mets behind Doc Gooden and homers from Darryl and Timmie Teufel, battle back to tie the game at 3 in the sixth after a Mike Schmidt homer in the 4th inning had given the home team a 3-0 lead. Surprisingly, many of the “Phaithful” had left by the time Darryl hit his homer in the 5th off Shane Rawley who’d faced the minimum number of hitters through 4 innings. This had allowed us the chance to be directly behind the Mets dugout and we were drunkenly pounding on the dugout roof when Darryl came back after his HR and he took the time to look up and semi wave at us. After Teufel hit his 2 run shot in the sixth to tie it and Hernandez had doubled, I swear Straw looked back at us and grinned a little. He proceeded to strikeout and McReynolds grounded out, ending what would turn out to be the Mets last chance to drive in a runner from scoring position. The Mets sent Darryl, McReynolds and Carter to the plate in the 9th and went down in order. Doc had pitched very well allowing only the 3 runs (2 on Schmidt’s 2 run shot) and proceeded to strikeout the side in the bottom of the ninth (giving him 10 K’s for the game) to keep the score knotted at 3. As the game headed into extra innings and we saw on the scoreboard that the Cardinals had lost to the Expos our spirits rose as we held out hope that we could win and maybe the Cards would lose the finale against the Expos the next day meaning we would head into St. Louis only 2-1/2 games back with a chance to still win the East over the weekend. By this time our friend the usher had come down to remind us to “behave”. I think she was hot 4 Gabe. Anyway as our Mets came in for the top of the 10th we were on our feet yelling at our guys that we still had a chance. Our guys , Hojo, Raffy Santana and Bill Almon, pinch hitting for Doc, went down with a whimper in the tenth though we were on our feet screaming for something to happen and banging on the dugout roof. As he Mets took the field for the bottom of the 10th unbelievably, Darryl stopped on the top step of the dugout and turned to us and pulled 2 balls out his glove and rolled them to us along the dugout roof. To say we were thrilled is an understatement. We cheered wildly as our 1986 saves hero Jesse Orosco took the mound knowing that the bottom of the Phils order was due up and that our top was due up in the 11th. After getting a pop up to Carter from pinch hitter Ron Roenicke, Luis Aguayo, pinch hitting for Steve Jeltz, took Orosco’s 3rd pitch over the left field wall to pretty much put a dagger in our hopes for a return trip to the playoffs for our Mets to defend the World title. As our dejected Mets solemnly walked off the field we stood and applauded them heartily and offered the encouragement that the Cards could still lose tomorrow and we’d go into Busch Stadium with a chance to tie. As they ducked into the dugout Rafael Santana looked up at us, the few Mets fans still there, and held up his finger as if to say wait. A few moments later he reappeared and motioned us to the end of the dugout where he met us and handed us 3 Mets caps, 2 signed by Darryl and 1 from himself. (I still have his cap) He shook our hands and thanked us in some broken but understandable English, for being there. As we attempted to look into the dugout Darryl and Lee Mazzilli were looking out and waved at us with smiles. We stood applauding as the bullpen guys walked in getting a few nods and smiles as our boys headed home before leaving for St. Louis and hopeful of having a chance that we now know never came to fruition as the Redbirds beat Montreal on Thursday to open an insurmountable 4 game lead over the Mets, end the 1987 season. Yet another Mets memory I’ll never forget though I may not have the exact details of the end of the game correct. Adult beverages may or may not have had something to do with that or the pure excitement of this great moment in my Mets history.
Darryl was and will always be, one of the Greatest Mets of all Time. While his later battles with booze, drugs and other demons basically railroaded his life and potential Hall of Fame career, he was able to win another World Series as a member of the dreaded Yankees thanks to a gesture of faith from George Steinbrenner. While it seems Straw still has his problems, it sure is fantastic to see him being a participant in many Mets events.

After losing to the Braves yesterday in Disney ..
Let's Go Mets today as they host the Red Sox back home in Port St. Lucie..

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