''We will have to live with what we've got,'' he (Johnson) said. ''We lose Dwight Gooden, and it's a great loss. But it's also an opportunity for David Cone to become a big-league pitcher. We lose Bob Ojeda and it's a great loss. But it's an opportunity for John Mitchell to become a big-league pitcher.''
Then June comes and the strangest thing happens. You didn't expect it at the time, and you kids probably don't even know this. Tom Seaver almost came back to the Mets for a third go-around.
The Mets said last night that they would hold a news conference today, at which they will announce an agreement with Seaver, a 42-year-old free agent who has spent the first two months of the season at his home in Connecticut.
Speaking from his home, Seaver said he would be at Shea Stadium for the 10:30 A.M. news conference, but added, ''I'm not confirming or denying anything.''
The Mets, who traded Seaver to Cincinnati in 1977 and left him unprotected in the 1984 free-agent compensation pool, had shunned the pitcher from the time he announced last season that he would retire unless the Chicago White Sox traded him to a team close to his home. The White Sox traded him to Boston, but the Red Sox failed to re-sign him when he became a free agent last November. Series of Injuries
Now the 20-year major leaguer has become attractive to the Mets because they have encountered a series of disabling pitching injuries to Bob Ojeda, who is out for the season following elbow surgery; David Cone, who is not expected back before September because of a badly broken little finger on his pitching hand, and Rick Aguilera, who is on the disabled list with a sore elbow.
Tom Seaver stood in Shea Stadium yesterday and made it official. He announced that he was ending his 16-day comeback and his 20-year career in baseball, and said farewell with the thought that ''I can say for the rest of my life, I got every ounce out of it.''
''In my heart,'' he said, ''I feel the time has come for me not to play anymore. I've used up all the competitive pitches in me. I want to thank the New York Mets for giving me the opportunity to find that out.''
The Mets gave him the opportunity when they invited him to pitch for the team for the third time since he arrived as a rookie in 1967 and became the symbol of the club's rise to success. But this time wasn't the right time. At the age of 42, after a nine-month layoff with a bad knee, George Thomas Seaver struggled through three practice games and then decided it was time to leave. Uncharted Future.
Now it's June and the manager is calling John Mitchell "indespesnable"
''Mitchell has got to be the key to this team,'' Manager Dave Johnson said. ''We've lost four starting pitchers, we've gone through some rough times. He had some rough luck today, but he's capable, and he indispensable to us the way our rotation has been shot through.
Here's a great recap from August 22 1987 in the Times.
This is Johnson's master plan for survival:
* Sid Fernandez, disabled for three weeks with a sore left shoulder, will return and pitch tonight against the Padres. To make room for him on the roster, the Mets will farm out John Mitchell, one of several rookies who became emergency replacements this season. Mitchell will return to Tidewater, which has a seven-game lead in the International League.
* Rick Aguilera, disabled for nearly three months with an inflamed right elbow, will return and start Monday night's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He has recently pitched three times for Tidewater, and threw for 15 minutes in the Shea Stadium bullpen last evening. Johnson's verdict: ''He was exceptionally sharp.''
* David Cone, the rookie who was disabled for nearly three months with a fractured finger, will rejoin the rotation and start Tuesday night's game against the Dodgers. He will replace Terry Leach, who won 10 games and lost only one this season in the dual role of reliever and emergency starter. Leach will return to the bullpen on an aching right knee (torn cartilage). ''It's no secret.'' Johnson said, ''that I like him better in the pen.''
Not mentioned there are McDowell (6 weeks with a hernia) and Darling (the final three weeks with torn ligaments in his hand).
The season eventually comes down to one day. Before 9/11 "September 11th" meant something else to Mets fans. (I'm not making light of 9/11 - but 9/11/87 is ingrained in your brain any time you hear the words Terry Pendleton).
The Mets had clawed back all summer. They had hunted down the Cardinals, were about to catch them, had a lead, and Dwight Gooden was pitching tomorrow. After all this, we'd finally be just a half game from first place - with Doc pitching! The New York Times will take it from here...
It was the opening round of the battle for first place, and it sizzled for 3 hours 40 minutes before a sellout crowd of 51,795 fans in Shea Stadium. And the Mets seemed in absolute command, especially since the Cardinals had generated only one hit in eight innings, and that was a bunt by Vince Coleman.
But with the crowd standing and howling for the kill with two down in the ninth, the Cards nailed Roger McDowell in a stunning sequence: Willie McGee singled for one run and Terry Pendleton hit a home run over the center-field fence for two more and a tie. And in the 10th, they nailed Jesse Orosco with singles by Coleman, Ozzie Smith and Tommy Herr, and the Mets suddenly fell two and a half games behind with 22 to go.
That sentence will never do the pain justice. It wasn't quite being on the wrong side of Buckner but it was close. This one hurt. I was at Shea that night, and it was absolutely stunning. In the bad way.
The next day Gooden stunk up the joint and gave up five runs in the first.
We didn't realize it yet but the dynasty was over. The stories after the season had Davey Johnson managing just one more year (1988) then leaving. The Davey watch had begun - the rap on him being that he was too soft on his players. Buddy would come in, have half a good season and then the wheels came off this franchise until Piazza showed up. 23 years later we're still waiting for that World Series.
So kids, that's the 1987 Mets for you. Don't feel so bad if you see a bunch of rookies and no-names in the lineup tonight. The Mets have had it far worse.
Next time I will tell you about the time the Mets went 10 and 1 against the Dodgers in the 1988 regular season.
The Mets Police at www.metspolice.com