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Dojo Domination

Elaine: Kramer!
Kramer: Oh, hey.
Elaine: What are you doing?
Kramer: Oh, well, I-I-I'm dominating.
Elaine: You never said you were fighting children.
Kramer: Well, it's not the size of the opponent, Elaine, it's, uh, the ferocity.

Seinfeld episode, original airdate, September 19, 1996. A scene in which Elaine visits Kramer's karate class.

The most dangerous team for a pennant contender is a last-place team because it can spoil many a hard-earned victory with a couple of cheap triumphs. We've referenced in print previously how the bottom-feeding Mets have served as super spoilers in seasons in which the end result has been less than impressive. We've seen some pretty good seasons (see 1998) wrecked by the actions of basement-dwellers.

One of the nice things about the first eight games for the Mets was their dominance over the teams they should beat, i.e. the "children" of the National League East. Gary Cohen said it on SNY after one of the first few games, that if the Mets really want to be a great team this season, that has to start by pounding on some of the lesser foes.

Looking back through past seasons, I can't recall many Mets teams that had the kind of success of which I speak, until I work my way back to the way the 1986 squad performed against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The 1986 Pirates were a young, rather mediocre group, a few years from contention, which explains the 64-98 record. They recalled one outfielder, a guy named Barry Bonds, in midseason. Another, a guy named Bobby Bonilla, also got a look-see, and was the team's final out that year (better known as Sid Fernandez's 200th K).

The Mets and Pirates clashed 18 times during the season. They met on Opening Day and they met on Closing Day, the perfect bookend to the Mets season. The Mets scored 99 runs in the 18 games. The Pirates tallied 45. The Mets won 17 times. The Pirates won but once.

The second meeting of the season took place on April 21, 1986. The Mets were ordinary, not extraordinary, at that point in the season, and entered with a 5-3 mark after a sweep of the Phillies. Pittsburgh was off to a hot start at 6-2, with six straight wins, not realizing what lay ahead.

This game is singled out on the 1986 highlight video, "A Year to Remember" as representing the turning point of Ray Knight's season because of what happened in the eighth inning, but through the first seven frames, the story of the game was Pirates pitcher Larry McWilliams. The crafty southpaw (who beat the Mets 10 times, more than he defeated any other franchise) carried a 4-2 lead into the eighth inning by outpitching Rick Aguilera. The only damage done was Gary Carter's game-tying two-run home run in the third.

In the eighth, rookie skipper Jim Leyland decided that McWilliams night was done and replaced him with Cecilio Guante. With two outs and nobody on, Guante walked George Foster, bringing Knight to the plate. On "A Year to Remember" Knight recalled that he expected Howard Johnson to be sent up as a pinch-hitter, but manager Davey Johnson decided to give Knight a chance against a tough righty. Knight rewarded that with a two-run game tying home run, for which he sprinted around the bases and gave a rousing curtain call. With the homer, Knight was hitting .391 with three long balls and seven RBI.

The Pirates were undaunted by the Mets comeback efforts and scratched out a run against Roger McDowell in the top of the ninth when Joe Orsulak's two out bunt scored Lee Mazzilli from third base.

So it was left to the Mets to rally from a 5-4 deficit in the last of the ninth and Lenny Dykstra led off the inning with a single ("like a good little leadoff man," wrote Jack Lang of the Daily News)against soft-tossing (but not crafty) southpaw Pat Clements. After Kevin Mitchell's successful sacrifice (the only time all season he did so), Tim Teufel tied the game with a double into the left field corner. Clements next walked Keith Hernandez, giving the Mets two on with one out for Gary Carter. Leyland, who probably stuck with Clements too long to begin with, finally pulled him to get a righty-righty matchup with Jim Winn.

Winn couldn't live up to his name. On a 1-0 pitch, Carter lashed a single to left. Teufel scored easily as Carter high-fived first-base coach Bill Robinson. That hit gave the Mets a win by a score that would become rather familiar in 1986, 6-5.

The carryover effect from this game lasted, if not overnight, than perhaps for the next 5 months. The Mets scored five runs in the first three innings the next day and cruised, behind Bob Ojeda, to a 7-1 victory. The five-game win streak stretched to 11 games after a four-game road sweep of the Cardinals and wins in two games over the Braves. The NL East race was effectively over before it began.

Bill Madden, in the collection of Daily News stories that documented the 1986 campaign referred to this particular walk-off win as "both a prelude and a microcosm of their entire postseason." Maybe that will help you understand why I picked the Seinfeld episode titled "The Foundation" (albeit a word that has multiple meanings) from which to quote at the beginning of todays entry.

True Metination know...Seven members of the 1986 Pirates played for the Mets at some point in their careers. They were Bill Almon, Bobby Bonilla, Barry Jones, Lee Mazzilli, Joe Orsulak, Junior Ortiz and Rich Sauveur.


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