On this date in 1988, the New York Mets opened the season at Montreal. There used to be major-league baseball up in the frozen north; it is also rumored to have once been played in Toronto, but archaeological evidence is equivocal.
Here’s another thing we know only from the scant leavings of a once and distant time: The New York Mets used to be good—really, really good.
Dennis Martinez took the hill against Dwight Gooden, but “El Presidente” (he's a mid-career bout with alcoholism shy of the Hall of Fame) just didn’t have it. He gave up three home runs on the day, and the Mets hit six altogether: Lenny Dykstra and Kevin Elster hit one each and new left fielder Kevin McReynolds and Darryl Strawberry each hit two.
Strawberry’s second shot was one of the longest ever seen in the history of the game, hitting off a bank of lights on the upper rim of Olympic Stadium. The ball was hit so high and so far that the television cameras could not turn tilt far enough to show the entire flight of the ball. It simply leapt off Strawberry’s bat and disappeared, going up but not coming down. It was only years later when I visited Montreal during one of the Expos’ final seasons that I saw the spot and realized just how far the ball had gone. According to physicist Bob Moore, had the ballpark not gotten in the way, it would have traveled 525 feet.
The Mets won 10-6. I called it “the last good day,” but truly, 1988 was more of the last good year—and even that came to a screeching halt somewhere along the way. The Mets had 99 more wins that year and won the National League East by 15 games. McReynolds and Strawberry had huge years, the 25-year-old David Cone emerged as an ace—going 20-3 with a 2.22 ERA—and hard-throwing lefty Randy Myers became the closer.
Yet the second pennant the Mets of the 1980s needed to have become the dynasty the club’s talent demanded never did happen. They fell just short of the postseason in 1984, 1985, 1987 and 1990. In 1988 they clearly had the best team in the National League, but fell to the Dodgers, the eventual World Series winners, in a heartbreaking seven-game NLCS that cast a pall over the entire season.
That core would never come so close again.