Record: 108-54; 1st in NL East
End Result: Won World Series vs. Boston Red Sox
If 1969 was the greatest miracle ever that no one could have predicted, then the 1986 season was the greatest Mets season everyone had predicted would happen. After experiencing a down cycle from 1977-1983, the Mets were on the rise once the Davey Johnson era began in 1984.
The Mets finished second in the NL East in 1984, and second again in 1985 by just three games. Once 1986 rolled around, the Mets knew that their next championship season was due.
Unlike the 1969 team, this Mets squad dominated the National League throughout the entire season. After a 13-3 start in April, the Mets did not look back as they finished a team-record 21.5 games ahead of the second place Phillies. And they did this in a season in which none of their star players had career years.
As usual the offense was high powered, but for many, the numbers were not as good as they were in other years. Carter and Strawberry led this offense with 24 home runs and 105 RBI, and 27 home runs and 93 RBI, respectively.
Leadoff-hitting center fielder Lenny Dykstra had a breakout season with a .295 average and 31 stolen bases, which led the team.
Second baseman Wally Backman also had his best Mets season as he led the team with a .320 average in a platoon role (righty-hitting Tim Teufel started in most games against a lefty pitcher; the switch-hitting Backman consistently struggled against lefties).
Hernandez had a good year with a .310 average, 13 home runs and 83 RBI as the heart and soul of the lineup. Mookie Wilson had another solid year with a .289 average and 25 steals as he moved to left field to accommodate Dykstra.
However, his main contributions would happen later. Third baseman Ray Knight hit 11 home runs and drove in 76 RBI in his defining Mets season, and rookie Kevin Mitchell contributed 12 home runs and 43 RBI in his lone Mets season. Pinch-hitters Danny Heep and Lee Mazzilli also made some key contributions during the season.
1986 was also the final Mets season for the veteran outfielder George Foster, who got moved to the bench after the All-Star break and after a lot of complaining, got released in August and never got to experience the eventual success that he once rapped about in "Get Metsmerized."
The Mets did not need to score a ton of runs every day because they had the best pitching staff around. Gooden led the rotation and finished 17-6 with a 2.84 ERA. Darling added a 15-6 record and a 2.85 ERA, while Sid Fernandez went 16-6 with a 3.52 ERA.
But the real difference-maker was the new acquisition, southpaw Bob Ojeda, who finished with a team-leading 18 wins and a 2.57 ERA. Rick Aguilera went 10-7 as a starter, but was moved to the bullpen for the postseason, as was Fernandez.
The bullpen was led by the vicious tandem of McDowell and Orosco. McDowell had his best season this year as he won a Mets record 14 games in relief, saved 22 and finished with an ERA of just over 3.00, while pitching 128 innings, which is a lot for a reliever/part-time closer. Orosco was solid as well, with 8 wins in relief, 21 saves, and a 2.33 ERA.
The Mets faced the Western champion Houston Astros in the NLCS, led by Cy Young winner Mike Scott, a former Met, and another former Met in Nolan Ryan. Many people remember the 1986 World Series to be dramatic, but this was quite a dramatic series as well.
In Game 1, Gooden pitched extremely well, but he gave up a home run to Astros first baseman Glenn Davis, which proved to be the difference as Scott threw a complete game shutout in a 1-0 Mets loss.
The Mets evened the series in Game 2 as Ojeda threw a complete game of his own and beat Ryan as the Mets won 5-1.
Darling took the hill in Game 3 and pitched five solid innings, but after the Astros scored a run in the 7th, Dykstra belted a 2-run walk-off home run to give the Mets a 6-5 win and a 2-1 series lead. Fernandez started Game 4, but was outpitched by Scott who threw another complete game in a 3-1 Mets loss.
Game 5 was another pitcher's duel as Gooden and Ryan battled through one scoreless inning after another as each gave up just one run and while Ryan threw nine innings, Gooden went 10. The game remained tied until the bottom of the 12th when Carter singled home Backman for the winning run.
As the series went back to Houston, the Mets were one win away from the World Series. Game 6 was one for the ages. Ojeda was outpitched by Bob Knepper and the Mets faced elimination down 3-0 in the top of the 9th.
But the Mets were resilient and tied the game as Dykstra tripled, Wilson singled him in, Hernandez doubled home Wilson, and Knight tied the game with a sacrifice fly. McDowell then came in to pitch and threw five nearly perfect innings, the longest he had ever went.
Finally, in the top of the 14th, Backman drove in the go-ahead run and the Mets were up 4-3. Orosco came in and tried to finish the game, but it was not easy. He gave up a solo shot to Billy Hatcher, and the game was tied again until the 16th inning.
The Mets scored 3 runs to take the lead, but Orosco remained in the game and was visibly tired. He then gave up 2 runs, but managed to strike out Kevin Bass to end the series and send the Mets to the World Series after an almost five-hour game that was intense from the beginning. More importantly, they did not have to face Scott again in a Game 7.
The Mets faced the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, who were trying to break the Babe Ruth curse and win a championship for the first time since 1918. They had a solid lineup with Wade Boggs at third base and Jim Rice and Dwight Evans in the outfield.
Their pitching featured a young Roger Clemens, Bruce Hurst, and Oil Can Boyd. Darling faced Hurst in Game 1 and pitched brilliantly, but ended up taking the loss in a 1-0 game as the Mets defense gave up an unearned run in the seventh inning.
Gooden struggled badly in Game 2 as he gave up six runs in five innings and the Mets lost this one 9-3. It did not look good for the Mets as they traveled to Boston, already down 2-0 and losing twice at home.
In Game 3, Ojeda pitched well for seven innings and the Mets scored four runs in the 1st inning thanks to a leadoff home run from Dykstra, and clutch hitting from Backman, Hernandez, Carter and Heep.
In Game 4, the Mets evened the series 2-2 as Darling threw seven strong innings, and Carter homered twice, while Dykstra added his second home run in just as many games.
However, Gooden struggled again in Game 5 as he was again outpitched by Hurst in a 4-2 Mets loss. Fernandez pitched four scoreless innings in relief and Teufel added a home run. The Mets went back to Shea for Game 6, which became arguably the greatest game ever.
The Red Sox were one win away from their first championship in almost seventy years, but it was not to be. Ojeda pitched well, but Clemens was just as good and the score was tied 3-3 after nine innings.
In the 10th, Aguilera gave up a home run to Red Sox outfielder Dave Henderson and the Sox scored another run to take a 5-3 lead.
The Mets faced elimination with two outs when Carter went to the plate and promptly hit a single, followed by another single from Mitchell, and then Knight hit a single that scored Carter with Mitchell at third as the tying run.
Up came Wilson, who soon had to leap away from a wild pitch that scored Mitchell and moved Knight to second. All of a sudden, the game was tied! Then, Wilson hit a bouncing ball that somehow went through first baseman Bill Buckner's legs and Knight surged home with the winning run, which forced another game.
As Game 7 approached, the Mets' mojo was back and Darling took the hill against Hurst. Darling however did not pitch well as he gave up two home runs and another run as the Red Sox led 3-0.
Fernandez relieved him in the fourth inning and threw two dominant innings, which was crucial as the Mets scored three runs to tie the game in the sixth.
One inning later, Knight continued his hot streak with a leadoff home run, and after hits by Dykstra, light-hitting shortstop Rafael Santana, and Hernandez, the Mets led 6-3. After the Red Sox scored two runs, Strawberry belted a long home run to make the score 7-5.
By then, Orosco had come in and even batted in the eighth. To surprise everyone even more, Orosco swung the bat and had an RBI single to increase the lead to 8-5. He then retired the Red Sox 1-2-3 and finished by striking out Marty Barrett. It was over.
The mission was complete: the Mets had delivered the championship they had promised and the World Series was as memorable as any World Series will ever be. It was even more fitting that the Mets' greatest season ever happened during their 25th season as a franchise.
Although the next few years were not as successful, the Mets' 1986 season has become more memorable to the team than any other season, and it's no surprise that many of these Mets now work for the organization in various coaching capacities.
Time will tell whether the Mets will have a season even more memorable than this. But until then, 1986 will be the defining season for the Mets.