Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
March 3, 2004
BASEBALL: Not Really 1987
As great as the Yankees and Red Sox appear, they are a string of injuries away from missing the playoffs (remember the 1987 Mets?). It's this uncertainty, this vulnerability that helps make the game so compelling.
Well, there are few seasons I remember better (or more bitterly) than 1987 . . . the '87 Mets were actually well-equipped to deal with injuries, just not injuries so concentrated on one part of the team, including all 7 of their quality starting pitchers (Gooden, Darling, Fernandez, Ojeda, Aguilera, Cone and Leach) and their relief ace. To summarize:
*Dwight Gooden: Missed April & May in drug rehab.
*Ron Darling: Tore thumb in critical September 11 game (on a Vince Coleman bunt that broke up Darling's no-hitter in the sixth inning); the Cards won the game and Darling missed rest of the season.
*Sid Fernandez injured his knee running out a triple in late May, missed several starts and wasn't quite right thereafter.
*Bob Ojeda and Rick Aguilera suffered arm injuries when Davey Johnson pushed the team to a 4-man rotation in April in Gooden's absence; Ojeda, who'd gone 18-5 the prior year, missed most of the season (starting just 7 games on the year), and Aguilera didn't return until late August.
*David Cone, a rookie pressed into the rotation in April when Ojeda went down, had just gotten in a groove for a few starts when his finger was crushed while bunting. He did not return until August.
*Terry Leach stepped in brilliantly to the rotation, but Leach also went on the 14-day DL in late July with a knee injury.
*Closer Roger McDowell missed the first six weeks with a hernia operation, leading as well to a subpar year for Jesse Orosco, who was heavily overworked in McDowell's absence. McDowell wasn't the same after his return and gave up the Terry Pendleton homer that turned the season in that same September 11 game.
Add it all up, and a team with 7 outstanding starting pitchers wound up giving 19 starts to raw rookie John Mitchell, 5 to hopeless cases Don Schulze and Tom Edens, 1 to rookie reliever Jeff Innis (who lasted 4 innings; Innis hadn't started since high school), 3 to an ineffective John Candelaria, and even tried to drag Tom Seaver out of retirement.
Besides, if there had been a wild card and current divisional alignments, the Mets (with the same record) would still have won their division every year from 1984 to 1990. It would take a monumental catastrophe to keep the Yankees out of the postseason. If this Yankee team loses Rivera for six weeks and has serious injuries to Mussina, Brown, Vazquez, Lieber, Contreras . . . well, they'll just be the 1999 Indians.