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Smith and Messin'

Speaking of taking the Mets seriously, if you were looking for a reason to do so in 1984, there were reasons aplenty through the first month of the season.

The six straight road wins after an ugly Opening Day loss were one good one, as were two nifty comeback wins at home against the Expos. A 3-3 split over six games with the Phillies provided some optimism, though the Mets were beaten soundly on a couple of those occasions.

May began with the Mets tied for first place with the equally surprising Cubs, with the two clashing in a pair in Flushing to open the month. I seem to recall these contests being written about on another blog, but without being able to find the reference, I'll recount them for my purposes here.

The series opener put the Mets in first place by themselves, an 8-1 rout behind Dwight Gooden. Keith Hernandez and Hubie Brooks each drove in two runs and Darryl Strawberry had three doubles in what was an impressive triumph.

Things would get a little tougher the next day as the Cubs struck for three early runs against Tim Leary. One of the customs of the 1984 Mets, particularly early in the season, was their ability to rally and in this instance, they did so one run at a time. Brooks drove in a run in the 4th with a double and a wild pitch produced another tally in the 5th. The 5th was a rather adventurous inning, in which Jose Oquendo kneed Cubs catcher Jody Davis (referred to in the NY Times as "Jody Foster") on a play at the plate, causing both benches to empty, but nothing more than words to be exchanged.

It would take until the 7th for the Mets to even the score, which they did when George Foster homered off Warren Brusstar.

The newspapers the next day would cite the Mets unsung heroes, one of whom was Ed Lynch, who tossed 4 scoreless innings in relief of Leary. This gave the Mets a chance to work some magic in the last of the 9th.

Cubs skipper Jim Frey, formerly the Mets hitting coach, brought in his closer Lee Smith for the 8th inning (this sort of thing was done then) and Smith stayed in for the 9th as well. Smith earned baseball's crown as the all-time saves leader (soon to be surpassed) by working a little harder than closers do nowadays. He was a frequent foe for the Mets, appearing in 85 games against them, winning 9, losing 13, and saving 38. He was a man best known for his girth and the speed from which he walked in from the bullpen (very, very slow).

Pinch-hitter extraordinaire Danny Heep led off the frame by doing something rather unusual for a man of his speed and skill. He tripled, the first batter to do so against Smith in nearly two years. It was one of six triples in Heep's big league career.

Forced into a tough spot, Frey had Smith purposely walk both Wally Backman and Rusty Staub to fill the bases and set up force plays everywhere. The strategy failed when Hernandez lifted a fly ball to left, deep enough to plate Heep with the winning run. The victory put the Mets in sole possession of first place and again established that this team wasn't just messing around with early success. It was a club worth taking seriously

True Meths know...The Mets have 10 walk-off wins in their history against pitchers named Smith. That count includes 5 against Lee Smith, 2 against Dave Smith, 2 against Bryn Smith and 1 against Dan Smith.

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