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Stars in Alignment

Check back in this weekend, as I'll have another "Minutiae Break," albeit a rather sad one related to Dwight Gooden's arrest on Thursday.

The Mets have had more than their share of unusual walk-off moments against the San Francisco Giants. A cursory glance at my database shows the presence of the five-run rally, the muffed pop up, the 1-0 14th-inning triumph and a bunch of walk-off walks. For whatever reason, it seems that when these two teams meet, the stars align with the rest of the baseball world to produce something memorable.

On August 31, 1990, the Mets were 1 1/2 games behind the Pirates for first place in the NL East and hosting San Francisco, while Pittsburgh was visiting Houston. This was right on the eve of the postseason roster deadline, one in which, on the cusp of the trade deadline, the Mets obtained Tommy Herr, Charlie O'Brien and Pat Tabler in separate last-minute deals, but the events on the field proved to be more important. Both games turned into pitchers duels. At Shea, Mets ace Frank Viola battled Don Robinson, while in Houston, Pirates southpaw Zane Smith faced Astros ace Mike Scott.

The outlook didn't look brilliant for the Flushing 9 that night, The scoreboard showed them down by two, 3-1, while the Pirates led, 2-0, with the help of a home run by future Met Jay Bell, and both games were running not quite simultaneously, but close enough that it looked like Pittsburgh would add a game to its lead as the season headed into September.

It looked like the Mets would go meekly in the ninth as Robinson retired Tom O'Malley on a flyout, then struck out Darryl Boston to position himself and batterymate Gary Carter within one out of a win. Then the Mets staged a rally, reminiscent of October 25, 1986. Dave Magadan singled, and scored when Greg Jefferies' double chased Robinson in favor of closer Steve Bedrosian. Giants manager Roger Craig decided to gamble, walking Darryl Strawberry to put the winning run on base. Still, Bedrosian, the closer, needed only one more out. He didn't get it. Kevin McReynolds whacked a fastball away past diving shortstop Mike Benjamin, for a base hit that scored Jefferies, tying the game at three.

Next up was shortstop Howard Johnson, who wasn't having a great season after a terrific 1989, but had shown flashes of brilliance enough to finish the campaign with 90 RBI. Johnson was a big-time pull hitter and turned on a Bedrosian offering, that hung in the air for nearly five full seconds along the right field line. Giants rightfielder Mike Kingery, inserted in the ninth for defense, sprinted towards the ball, turning the scene into a high-speed chase. Kingery dove, but hadn't reached full stretch as he reached out with his glove. The ball landed a few inches to his left, about a foot inside the foul line. Strawberry came home, arms raised, with the winning run.

"What a game! What a game for the Mets!" shouted TV broadcaster Rusty Staub.

Meanwhile, a ways south of Shea Stadium, the ninth inning began in Houston, where Pirates manager Jim Leyland pulled Zane Smith in favor of Stan Belinda, hoping to finish a 2-0 win. That didn't look like it was going to be an issue as Belinda set down Ken Caminiti and Glenn Davis to move within an out of victory. But this was one of those bizarre nights in which the Baseball Gods appeared to be working in tandem. Astros catcher Craig Biggio singled, then scored when pinch-hitter Casey Candaele doubled, making it a 2-1 game. The ever-nervous Leyland made a pitching change, getting the lefty-lefty matchup he wanted by bringing in Bob Patterson to pitch to Franklin Stubbs. That was foiled when Stubbs singled to right, bringing in Candaele with the tying run.

This was one of those days when not having a great closer really cost the Pirates (another would be in 1992 when the Braves beat Pittsburgh with a three-run ninth in Game 7 of the NLCS). Leyland again made a pitching change, bringing in Bill Landrum after Dave Rohde singled to advance Stubbs to second. Pinch-hitter Glenn Wilson didn't mind facing the righty. He was a tough out regardless, and on this occasion, he singled to right field. Bobby Bonilla scooped the ball up with that sarcastic sneer Mets fans would come to know, as Stubbs scored uncontested, giving the Astros a win, the Pirates a crushing loss, and putting the Mets within 1/2 a game of first place.

True Metfranciscos know...Howard Johnson is the only Mets player with two walk-off hits against the Giants. Ron Swoboda won two games via walk-off for the Mets against the Giants, but one came via walk-off walk.

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