1986 National League Championship Series
One of the best Postseason series in history was the 1986 National League Championship Series played between the Houston Astros and the New York Mets. The Astros' best pitcher, Mike Scott, pitched two games against the Mets, completed them both, struck out 19 and allowed only 8 hits and one earned run.
After the Mets lost Game 4 to Scott, they came back with a 12th-inning win in Game 5, on a run-scoring single by Gary Carter. Game 6 was possibly the most exciting game of the season. Tied at 3 in the 14th inning, the Mets scored on a one-out single by Wally Backman, but the score was tied again on a home run by Billy Hatcher. Going into the 16th inning, tied at 4, the Mets exploded for three runs in the top of the inning, and the Astros threatened in the bottom of the inning. Jesse Orosco, pitching his third inning of relief after two innings to win the game the night before, gave up run-scoring singles to Hatcher and Bill Doran before striking out Kevin Bass to win the game. The Mets won the series 4-2, and most importantly did not have to face Scott again in a Game 7. Scott, who eventually won the Cy Young Award, won the Most Valuable Player award for the NLCS even though his team lost the series.
|WP: Mike Scott (1-0), LP: Dwight Gooden (0-1)|
|Home Runs: HOU - Glenn Davis (1)|
- Attendance: 44,131
In Game 1, Astros ace (and eventual NL Cy Young Award winner) Mike Scott faced his New York counterpart, Dwight Gooden. The resulting pitchers' duel featured a 14-strikeout, 1-walk, 5-hit shutout effort from Scott. Gooden gave a similar performance, but Glenn Davis led off the 2nd inning with a monster home run to the Astrodome's deep center field. That would be the game's only run. Jesse Orosco relieved Gooden in the 8th inning, but the Mets were unable to escape from Scott's split-fingered fastball.
|WP: Bob Ojeda (1-0), LP: Nolan Ryan (0-1)|
|Home Runs: none|
- Attendance: 44,391
Game 2 featured Bob Ojeda, who was having a career year (18-5, 2.57 ERA) facing former Met Nolan Ryan. The Mets did not get a hit until the 4th inning, when Wally Backman and Lenny Dykstra scored on a Gary Carter double and a Darryl Strawberry sacrifice fly. The game was broken open in the 5th, as Keith Hernandez tripled home two more runs off Ryan. Houston scored in the 7th on a Phil Garner single, but the Astros were unable to come back. Ojeda completed the game and took the series to Shea Stadium tied at one win apiece.
|WP: Jesse Orosco (1-0), LP: Dave Smith (0-1)|
|Home Runs: NY - Darryl Strawberry (1), Lenny Dykstra (1); HOU - Bill Doran (1)|
- Attendance: 55,052
Astros starter Bob Knepper pitched five innings of four-hit baseball but encountered difficulties in the 6th inning. The Mets tied the game on a Craig Reynolds error and Darryl Strawberry's three-run homer. The Astros answered back in the 7th, and reliever Dave Smith entered the game trying to close out the Mets in the 9th. Wally Backman bunted his way onto base, avoiding the tag by Glenn Davis by sliding outside of the first-base line. Astros manager Hal Lanier argued the call, but umpire Dutch Rennert ruled that Backman could leave the baseline because he had already passed Davis. Lenny Dykstra came up to bat, slugging a walk-off home run and giving the Mets the series lead.
|WP: Mike Scott (2-0), LP: Sid Fernandez (0-1)|
|Home Runs: HOU - Alan Ashby (1), Dickie Thon (1)|
- Attendance: 55,038
After their heartbreaking loss in Game 3, the Astros needed to take back the momentum. Mike Scott once again took the mound, and while it was not the shutout performance he gave in Game 1, he may have pitched even better. Allowing only three baserunners and only one run in nine innings, Scott pitched spectacularly. To quote Wally Backman: "God couldn't have pitched better than Scott did tonight." The Mets contended that Scott was illegally scuffing balls, and they collected a basket of balls Scott had thrown, all of which they claimed bore an "Oreo-sized" irregular area. Keith Hernandez, however, believed that Scott's results were legal and merely a result of his split-fingered fastball. The umpires agreed, and Scott's 19 strikeouts in Games 1 and 2 set a Championship Series record. The Mets' only run came off of a sacrifice fly in the 8th inning, while the Astros scored on solo home runs from catcher Alan Ashby and shortstop Dickie Thon. Sid Fernandez was the loser, in spite of a solid performance of his own in which he only gave up four hits - but two of them were homers.
|WP: Jesse Orosco (2-0), LP: Charlie Kerfeld (0-1)|
|Home Runs: NY - Darryl Strawberry (2)|
- Attendance: 55,038
The series' final game in Shea Stadium was yet another pitchers' duel. Nolan Ryan and Dwight Gooden started the game, and each only surrendered a single run in the game's first nine innings. Gooden lasted ten innings (the longest game of his career), striking out four, walking two, and allowing nine hits. Ryan, however, put in the superior performance, going nine innings, walking two, giving up a mere two hits, and striking out a stunning 12 batters. Both teams scored in the 5th - the Astros on Bill Doran fielder's choice and the Mets on a Darryl Strawberry home run. The Astros could have scored another run in the 2nd inning, but with runners on first and third, Craig Reynolds grounded into an inning-ending double play, although replays seemed to indicate that first base umpire Fred Brocklander had missed the call and that Reynolds was safe; had the run scored, the Astros would have won in regulation innings, but instead the two teams were tied after 9. Charlie Kerfeld came in for Ryan in the 10th, striking out four as the game went on. But in the Mets' 12th inning, Wally Backman singled. Kerfeld attempted to pick the Mets' second baseman off first base, but his throw was wild and Backman took second. With Backman in scoring position, Keith Hernandez was intentionally walked and Gary Carter came to the plate. Carter was, until that point, 1 for 21 in the NLCS. But the former Montreal Expos catcher slapped Kerfeld's pitch up the middle, and the speedy Backman scored the winning run. In something of a preview of his 1987 season, Ryan was deprived of a win despite his fantastic performance. The Astros were now facing elimination, with the series returning to the "House of Pain" in Houston.
|WP: Jesse Orosco (3-0), LP: Aurelio Lopez (0-1)|
|Home Runs: HOU - Billy Hatcher (1)|
- Attendance: 45,718
Back in the Astrodome, the Astros took a quick lead in Game 6, scoring 3 runs off Bob Ojeda in the bottom of the 1st inning. Bill Doran led off with a single but was forced out by Billy Hatcher. The next batter, Phil Garner, hit a double to drive in the first run, Glenn Davis followed with another run-scoring single, and after a walk to Kevin Bass, Jose Cruz singled in a third run. However, the Astros could have put the game completely away at that point, but Gary Carter picked Bass off third base on a botched squeeze bunt attempt for the second out, and Alan Ashby lined out to shortstop Rafael Santana to end the inning. Bob Knepper was having a good day, and he kept the Mets off the scoreborard until the 9th inning. For his part, Ojeda recovered after his rough start and did not give up another run in the next four frames. Rick Aguilera followed him with a clutch outing, giving up only one hit and no run over the following three innings.
Knepper thus took the mound with a 3-0 lead in the 9th, having given up only two hits. But the Mets' bats suddenly woke up. Lenny Dykstra led off the inning with a triple just off the grasp of CF Hatcher, then Mookie Wilson singled him in. Kevin Mitchell grounded out to move Wilson to second, but Hernandez doubled to make it 3-2, with the tying run in scoring position. Hal Lanier replaced Knepper with his closer Dave Smith, but Carter drew a walk after Smith thought he had struck him out looking, as did Strawberry, thus loading the bases. Smith thought he had struck out Ray Knight, but home plate umpire Fred Brocklander would not budge while manager Hal Lanier came out of the dugout to argue and calm down his pitcher. Knight then lifted a ball to right field for a sacrifice fly, and the game was suddenly tied. Backman followed with yet another walk - this one intentional, as the two other runners had advanced on Knight's fly ball - to again load the bases, but Smith struck out pinch-hitter Danny Heep to end the inning.
If Aguilera had pitched well in relief to allow the Mets to get back into the game, his successor on the mound, Roger McDowell, was simply outstanding. He pitched from the 9th through the 13th inning, facing 15 batters and retiring 14 of them. Bass reached on a single in the 12th, but was caught stealing by Carter. For Houston, Smith pitched a scoreless 10th, then Larry Andersen succeeded him and gave up only a walk in three innings of work. In the 14th, veteran Aurelio Lopez took the mound for Houston, and was immediately greeted by a Carter single; Strawberry then drew a walk. Knight tried to bunt the two runners over, but Lopez fielded the ball and threw out Carter at third. However, Backman followed with a single, and the Mets were ahead, 4-3. The Mets threatened to add more when Knight and Backman both took an extra base on Bass's wild throw home, but Howard Johnson, pinch-hitting for McDowell, popped out in foul territory, and after Dykstra was given an intentional pass, Lopez struck out Wilson swinging, leaving the bases loaded. Jesse Orosco tried to close out the series, but after one out, Hatcher hit a solo homer for the Astros' first run since the 1st inning, and the game was tied again at 4-all.
After a scoreless 15th inning, the Mets exploded for three runs off Lopez in the 16th inning. Strawberry led off with a double and Knight singled him in. Jeff Calhoun replaced Lopez and, pitching for the first time of the series, immediately uncorked a wild pitch, moving Knight to third. Calhoun then walked Backman and threw a second wild pitch, scoring Knight. Orosco executed a sacrifice bunt to move Backman to third base, then Dykstra followed for a single and a third run before Wilson grounded into an inning-ending double play. A tiring Orosco now had to close the game with a 7-4 lead, and started out by striking out Craig Reynolds. Veteran Davey Lopes pinch hit for Calhoun and drew a walk. Doran followed with a single, as did Hatcher, driving in a run. After Denny Walling grounded into a force out, Davis singled to cut down the lead to one run, with Walling representing the tying run on second. But Orosco managed to find enough strength to strike out Bass swinging on a full count to end the threat. The Mets had won a wild 7-6 game to reach the World Series in what was immediately called one of the greatest postseason contests ever.
Even though the Mets won the series, Astros pitcher Mike Scott was the winner of the MVP award for his two dominating pitching performances that gave Houston its only two wins in the series. In fact, the Mets absolutely wanted to win Game 6, because they wanted nothing to do with facing Scott again in a potential Game 7. However, Jesse Orosco, who won three games in relief and is still the only pitcher ever to win three games in a postseason series other than a World Series, would have been a worthy winner as well.
- Ron Briley: "The Greatest Game Ever Played ? October 15, 1986", in Cecilia Tan, ed.: Baseball in the Space Age: Houston since 1961, The National Pastime, SABR, 2014, pp. 77-85.
- Howard Burman: Season of Ghosts: The '86 Mets and the Red Sox, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2013. ISBN 978-0-7864-7042-6
- Jeff Pearlman: The Bad Guys Won: A Season of Brawling, Boozing, Bimbo Chasing, and Championship Baseball with Straw, Doc, Mookie, Nails, the Kid, and the Rest of the 1986 Mets, the Rowdiest Team Ever to Put on a New York Uniform - and Maybe the Best, Harper Collins, New York, NY, 2004. ISBN 0060507330
- Eric Sherman: Kings of Queens: Life Beyond Baseball with '86 Mets, Berkley Publishing Group, Penguin Books, New York, NY, 2016. ISBN 978-0-425-28197-0
- Mookie Wilson and Eric Sherman: Mookie: Life, Baseball, and the 86 Mets, Berkley Publishing Group, Penguin Books, New York, NY, 2014. ISBN 978-0425271322
|Major League Baseball National League Championship Series