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More Managerial Maneuvering Minutiae

We're working on our reminiscences of Mets postseason walk-off wins and promise to share some stories next week, but for now we stick with a topic that's garnered a little attention this week.

So a former Mets nemesis, Jim Leyland is back in the dugout again, taking over the Tigers after a six-season hiatus. He says he's ready to withstand the day-to-day grind and hopes to bring prominence back to the city of Detroit, where it has long been absent, in the form of a championship like the one he won for the Marlins in 1997. We'll see how he does after a few walk-off losses, like some of those he had managing against the Mets.

I always thought of Leyland as the picture of managerial misery in his stints with the Pirates, Marlins and Rockies. He always looked pretty unhappy his face drained of pleasure from a few too many thousand cigarettes. This was someone far too stressed from something that's supposed to be a fun game. I also thought of him as a worthy foe and a pretty good manager, who sometimes got the better of the individual matchups that led to some key Pirates wins.

Leyland managed the Pirates during a stretch in which, at least in 1988 and 1990, they were the Mets chief rivals. The Mets got the better of a tough, up-and-coming Pittsburgh team, which had young stars like Bobby Bonilla, Barry Bonds, and Andy Van Slyke in 1988, and the Pirates had the Mets number during the division race of 1990.

In between came 1989, a year in which the Mets came up short in their battle with the Chicago Cubs, but maneuvered valiantly through the standings after a sluggish start. It was a frustrating season, one in which the Mets lost some games they certainly should have won. On June 2, they won a game they probably should have lost.

John Smiley was a lefty who gave the Mets a lot of trouble, beating them 14 times in his career. If he pitched against the Flushing 9, it usually meant you were in for a pretty good pitchers duel, which took place on this day between Smiley and Doc Gooden. Both starters went eight innings, each yielding one run and turning away numerous scoring opportunities (23 LOB combined).

The Pirates had a great chance to win, and drop the Mets record to a meager 25-25, against Randy Myers in the ninth inning, but the Mets good a bit of good fortune from their own bad defense. With one outs and a runner on first, second baseman Keith Miller got caught out of position on a Gary Redus double, but Tim Teufel backed up the throw to second and was able to trap Pirates baserunner John Cangelosi in a rundown between third base and home plate. Myers, after walking Bonds, retired Jose Lind to end the threat.

The Pirates did go ahead in the 11th against Rick Aguilera, who was in the midst of a Heilmanesque hot streak in the bullpen that preceded his days as an elite closer. Glenn Wilson's pinch-single gave the Pirates a 2-1 edge going into the bottom of the frame.

One of the problems that haunted Leyland's Pirates teams, and one that his Tigers team will have to deal with, is the lack of a super-elite closer. Shortly after this game, Leyland would turn to Bill Landrum to fill that role, but he didn't have that luxury in this contest. After getting two innings from Jeff Robinson, Leyland tried to get the last three outs from swingman Randy Kramer. The karma for Kramer wasn't good.

Mackey Sasser led off with a single to center and was sacrificed to second by Kevin Elster. That put Dave Magadan in a good spot, giving him a shot to tie the score with a hit. He went one better. Magadan's power had a reputation for surfacing at unlikely times. The Mets first baseman, inserted in a double-switch in the top of the inning, made manager Davey Johnson look smart, whacking the first pitch from Kramer over the right field fence for his second home run of the season, and his first career walk-off shot.

While the win didn't do much to buoy the Mets, it was the second of seven straight Pirates defeats, which basically buried Pittsburgh in the standings for the remainder of the season. Jim Leyland probably has had his share of recurring dreams about games like this (Francisco Cabrera has most likely snuck into his thoughts frequently), but apparently they weren't enough to halt his return to a prominent role in the sport.

True Metlands know...The Mets have had 9 walk-off wins against teams managed by Jim Leyland. Eight came while he managed the Pirates. One came during his two-year run as Marlins manager.


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