No. 5 – Todd Pratt (1999 NLDS Game 4 vs Diamondbacks)
Matt Mantei got it right.
Watch the Diamondbacks pitcher as soon as Todd Pratt hits the ball in the 10th inning. Significant chagrin is probably the best way to describe it.
The funny thing is that Todd Pratt didn’t know. The fans didn’t know. Steve Finley had a reputation for being a great defensive center fielder who could pull back would-be home runs. He looked like he had a pretty good chance at this one, but for a leap that wasn’t quite Finley-caliber.
Much like Finley, I missed Pratt’s home run. I was at a football game in Schenectady N.Y. between my alma mater, The College of New Jersey and Union College. I was TCNJ’s broadcaster then and I errantly didn’t pack a Walkman to keep tabs.
I found out what happened when I went to the Sports Information Director’s office and I popped up ESPN.com on my Netscape Navigator browser. My screams of delight were met with the SID running back into the office to ask what was going on. Turned out he was a big Mets fan too and I got to break the news.
Pratt captured our mood with his postgame quote, saying “I just wanted to cry.”
Give Mantei credit for being philosophical about it. He simply said “All good things come to an end eventually.”
Just not yet for these Mets
My favorite stat: This was the 4th series-ending walk-off home run in postseason history. The other 3 were hit by Bill Mazeroski (1960 Pirates), Chris Chambliss (1976 Yankees) and Joe Carter (1993 Blue Jays). There have been 7 series-ending homers hit since then.
No. 4 – Len Dykstra (1986 NLCS Game 3 vs Astros)
Again, I’m separating the person from the baseball action here. I can both hate almost everything that Len Dykstra has said and done in his post-playing career and also acknowledge that this is one of my all-time favorite Mets moments.
I rewatched this game recently as part of a live-tweeting session and I noted that I can remember two moments in my childhood in which my dad got so excited that he lifted me off the ground in celebration.
One was Don Maloney’s game-tying goal for the Rangers in Game 5 of the Patrick Division semifinals against the Islanders in 1984 (frickin’ Ken Morrow). The other was when Dykstra hit his game-winning home run against Dave Smith and the Astros in Game 3 of the NLCS.
"I had a great feeling he was going to throw a forkball and I was right," Dykstra said.
What was so great about this home run was how unexpected it was. Dykstra hit eight home runs that season, but had only one in his last 106 at-bats that season. This wasn’t like having Gary Carter or Darryl Strawberry up. Dykstra was a little guy who beat you with his on-base ability and his speed.
"I've got confidence in Lenny no matter what the situation," Wally Backman said.
He wasn’t the kind of player you figured to hit ninth-inning game-winning home runs in the pressure of the NLCS.
Until he did.
My favorite stat: This was the first walk-off home run hit in a postseason game that came with the team trailing. The other 2 were hit by Kirk Gibson (1988 Dodgers) and Joe Carter (1993 Blue Jays).
No. 2 (tie) – Al Weis and Donn Clendenon (1969 World Series Game 5 vs Orioles)
Continuing the theme from No. 3, when it comes to unexpected home runs, Al Weis rates right up there with any in Mets history. Yes, that includes Bartolo Colon.
And when it comes to World Series heroes, he’s right alongside any of the Mets. He had the go-ahead hit in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the 1969 World Series and the game-tying home run in the seventh inning of Game 5. “The Mighty Mite” as Lindsay Nelson called him on the broadcast, went 5-for-11 in that World Series after hitting .215 that season.
“I got lucky,” Weis told Kevin Kernan of the New York Post in 2018, noting that a war veteran retrieved the ball and gave it to Weis.
Weis’ home run wouldn’t have meant much nor would the famous Shoe Polish Incident have been remembered were it not for Donn Clendenon homering after Cleon Jones (maybe) got hit on the foot by a Dave McNally pitch.
Clendenon hooked a McNally curveball – a pitch that hung so much that you could see Clendenon hit it off his back foot, but took the swing that was needed to make sure the ball stayed fair. Clendenon was clearly going for the home run. On the 1-1 pitch he took an overpowering cut but missed. The next time around he made solid contact.
One of the cool things about both of these home runs, as well as the go-ahead hit by Ron Swoboda in the eighth inning is that the ball went to left field, over the head of or, in the case of Swoboda’s hit, in front of Orioles left fielder Don Buford.
You might remember that it was Buford who hit the leadoff home run in Game 1 of the World Series, telling the Mets “You ain’t seen nothing yet” as he rounded the bases.
I suppose he turned out to be right. No one had seen anything like the Miracle Mets.
My favorite stats: Al Weis has the lowest career batting average of any position player with at least 500 at-bats in Mets history (.191).
Donn Clendenon is 1 of 9 players to homer in at least three consecutive World Series games.
No. 1 – Ray Knight (1986 World Series Game 7 vs Red Sox)
One of the best things about baseball is that it’s entirely possible to go from your lowest point to your highest point. Sometimes you can do it in the same game. Sometimes it takes a little longer. As Bob Murphy would always say, it’s a game of redeeming features.
Ray Knight hit .237 in 1984 and .218 in 1985 with sub-.600 OPS’ in both seasons. It would have been fair to conclude that his career was all but done. But Knight had a lot of fight left to give (literally, as Eric Davis and his Reds teammates learned).
It just about all came out in 1986, when he repeatedly came through in big spots. Knight hit .325 in situations deemed late-and-close by Baseball-Reference (7th inning or later with the batting team tied, up one or the tying run at least on deck).
He had a big home run against the Pirates in April that set the tone for his season (he gained confidence because Davey Johnson didn’t pinch-hit for him with a righthander pitching). He had walk-off hits against the Astros (a home run) and Expos (a single). He had the tying RBI in the ninth inning of Game 6 of the NLCS and an RBI single in the 10th inning that kept Game 6 of the World Series and the season alive.
So it seems just right that it was Knight delivered the season-winning home run in the seventh inning of Game 7 of the World Series against Calvin Schiraldi, earning MVP honors and providing a moment that will be forever historic to Mets fans.
“I think you pretty much saw how I felt,” Knight said, referencing his boisterous trip around the bases. “Pro athletes don’t lay down. That’s one thing you have to understand. You never die.
My favorite stat: There have been 3 home runs in the 7th inning or later of Game 7 of a World Series that held up as the game-winning home run. They were hit by Bill Mazeroski (1960 Pirates), Ray Knight (1986 Mets), and Howie Kendrick (2019 Nationals).