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Juan and Done

If you're reading this, it means I was successfully able to blog-on from Detroit, where I'm visiting on All-Star related business. But I don't want to talk All-Stars, at least today. I'd rather talk walk-offs, but we'll oblige with a little bit of a Motor City twist.

The Tigers third base coach is a man whose name is quite familiar to longtime Mets fans. Unfortunately it isn't someone who is thought of in a favorable manner.

Juan Samuel was traded to the Mets on the day of a walk-off, June 18, 1989, after a Mets-Phillies game in which Von Hayes beat New York with a 9th-inning home run. He had the misfortune of being traded for one of the Mets most popular players, centerfielder Len Dykstra, and part-time closer Roger McDowell. Samuel was an impact player along the lines of Jose Reyes, only he had a little more power but struck out much more frequently. He was the first player to reach double figures in doubles, triples, homers and steals in each of his first four seasons, but his numbers dipped slightly in 1988 and by 1989, after trying to switch him from second base to centerfield, the Phillies were looking to move him. They found a willing taker in the Mets, whose management team loved Samuel's game-breaking ability and ignored his shortcomings.

The Mets would have been smart to wait a few days to complete this deal. Samuel went 1-for-11 in his first three games, then left the team for a few days to be with his wife Julie, who gave birth to the couple's first child. Meanwhile Dykstra endeared himself to Phillies fans by opening his Philadelphia career with three straight multi-hit games.

While Samuel returned, and began to hit a little bit better, he never became the player the Mets expected. In his best days that season, he was an average player with above-average speed. On his worst days he was a chaser, and basically an automatic out because he swung at everything. That the Mets stayed in the NL East race that season had nothing to do with his play.

On September 5, 1989, the Mets, following a four-game losing streak, faced a must win against the division-leading Cubs at Shea. Sid Fernandez pitched very well and carried a 2-1 lead into the ninth inning. Mark Grace led off the Cubs half with a shallow fly to left-center. Perhaps Dykstra would have come up with it, as he had many times in his Mets career. Samuel came up just short, with the ball popping out of his glove when it hit the grass. A pair of fly balls, the second by current Pittsburgh manager Lloyd McClendon, brought the run home to tie the game.

Bob Murphy always said that baseball was a game of redeeming features and Samuel got the chance to recast himself as the hero of this story. Tim Teufel led off the Mets ninth with a double off Cubs closer Mitch Williams, moved to third on a flyout by Gregg Jefferies. Williams got ahead of Samuel, 0-2, but Samuel got a strike on the next one, and lined it to right field for the game-winning hit (Pinch-runner Lou Thornton scored the winning run), getting the Mets to within 3 1/2 games of first place with 25 to play.

There weren't many other positives for Samuel and the Mets the rest of the season. They went 14-11, good enough for a second-place finish, but six games back of the Cubs. Samuel closed the year with a 1-for-23 slump to finish his 86-game stint with a .228 batting average, and that offseason he was traded to the Dodgers for outfielder Mike Marshall and reliever Alejandro Pena, two players who were poor substitutes for Dykstra and McDowell.

Samuel was an All-Star with the Dodgers in 1991 and went on to play for the Royals, Reds, Tigers and Blue Jays before retiring in 1998 with career numbers of 1,578 hits and 396 steals. Apparently he was thought of highly in Detroit because in 1999, he was named the Tigers first base coach. He is in his seventh season with the Tigers and his fourth as third base coach and apparently is much more highly regarded by Alan Trammell than the Mets fans who recoil in disgust when his name is mentioned.

True Metrix know...Other current MLB coaches who had walk-off hits for the Mets include Jay Bell (Diamondbacks bench coach) and Dave Magadan (Padres hitting coach).


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