1986 World Series Flashback: The Mets Triumph Over the Red Sox

The New York Mets franchise began with seven losing seasons in a row, 1962–1968. But in 1969, they shocked the baseball world by going 100–62 in the regular season and winning the World Series. For the next three seasons, they won 83 games and finished third in their division. In 1973, they again shocked everyone by winning the National League pennant and almost upsetting the Oakland A’s in the World Series despite a lackluster 82–79 regular season record.

From 1974 to 1983, the team had only two winning seasons and no playoff appearances. But things changed in 1984 with the hiring of Manager Davey Johnson. Led by former Cardinal Keith Hernandez at first base, second-year right-fielder Daryl Strawberry, and Rookie of the Year pitcher Dwight “Doc” Gooden, the Mets finished the season with a 90–72 record, only 6 1/2 games behind the Division Champion Chicago Cubs.

During the off-season, the Mets traded with the Montreal Expos for All-Star catcher Gary Carter. The team improved their record to 98–64 in 1985 and finished just three games behind the Division Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Dwight Gooden Won the Cy Young Award.


Dwight Gooden (Sports Illustrated cover)
Photo courtesy Mark Morthier's collection of a Dwight Gooden (Sports Illustrated cover)

1986 New York Mets

Mets fans anxiously awaited the 1986 season. Could this be the year? They didn’t have to wait long to see if this team was for real. By the end of May, the Mets were 31–12. By the end of June, they were 50–21. First baseman Keith Hernandez, right fielder Darryl Strawberry, catcher Gary Carter, and pitchers Sid Fernandez and Dwight Gooden were chosen to play in the All-Star game.

By the end of July, the Mets had a 15 1/2 game lead in their division. Despite an injury to catcher Gary Carter, the Mets continued to play great baseball in August. The team had an 87–43 record going into September. They finished the regular season with a 108–54 record, their best record in team history.

Second baseman Wally Backman batted .320, while first baseman Keith Hernandez hit .310. Gary Carter hit 24 home runs and 105 RBIs. Darryl Strawberry hit 27 home runs and 93 RBIs. Pitcher Bob Ojeda led the staff in wins with 18 and an ERA of 2.57. Sid Fernandez and Dwight Gooden led the team in strikeouts with 200. Roger McDowell had 23 saves.

Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter (New York Mets) football cards
Photo courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter (New York Mets) football cards

Into the 1986 MLB Playoffs

The Mets would play the Houston Astros in the playoffs. The Astros finished the season with a not overly impressive 96–66 record, but they had an excellent pitching staff led by NL MVP and Cy Young award winner Mike Scott.

Game one was a matchup of the two best pitchers in the National League, Scott vs. Gooden. They pitched brilliantly, but a solo home run by first baseman Glen Davis was enough to give the Astros a 1–0 victory.

In game two, Bob Ojeda let up ten hits but only gave up one run, while the Mets rocked Nolan Ryan for ten hits and five runs. The Mets appeared to be in trouble in game three, trailing 4–0, but they tied the score in the bottom of the sixth inning when Darryl Strawberry belted a three-run home run. But Houston came back to take a 5–4 lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning. But centerfielder Lenny Dykstra won it for the Mets with a two-run home run.

Mike Scott pitched a complete game and let up only three hits, while catcher Alan Ashby hit a two-run home run, and shortstop Dickie Thon hit a solo shot. The Astros won game four 3–1.

Game five was another pitchers’ duel, with Dwight Gooden going for the Mets and Nolan Ryan getting the start for the Astros. Ryan allowed only two hits and one run in nine innings, while Gooden went ten innings, also allowing only one run. With the game tied 1–1 in the bottom of the 12th, Gary Carter hit a single to score Wally Backman, giving the Mets a 3–2 lead in the series.

Houston’s pitching once again stifled the Mets in game six as starter Bob Knepper allowed no runs through eight innings. New York trailed 3–0 until the top of the ninth when their bats finally came alive, and they tied it up 3–3. Mets relief pitcher Roger McDowell did an excellent job in extra innings, allowing only one hit in five innings.

The Mets took a 4–3 lead in the top of the 14th, but Astros outfielder Billy Hatcher tied the score again with a solo home run. In the top of the 16th, the Mets scored three runs to take a comfortable 7–4 lead. But Houston was far from finished.

They closed the gap to 7–6 with the tying run on second and the winning run on first base. But Jesse Orosco struck out Kevin Bass to end the game. The Mets were victorious in what many consider one of the best baseball games ever.

Now it was on to the World Series.

1986 MLB World Series

As often happens in the World Series, it comes down to pitching, and game one was a perfect example of that. Boston’s Bruce Hurst pitched eight innings and held the Mets to four hits and zero runs. Ron Darling was just as effective as Hurst, allowing only one unearned run. The final was Boston 1 and New York 0.

Game two was a matchup of two of the best pitchers in baseball. The Red Sox starter was 1986 AL MVP & Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens. The Mets starter was 1985 NL Cy Young Award winner Dwight Gooden. To everyone’s surprise, both pitchers struggled in this game, and neither went beyond the fifth inning. Dave Henderson and Dwight Evans both homered off Gooden, giving the Red Sox a 6–2 lead in the top of the fifth inning.

The Mets’ relief pitching didn’t fare much better, giving up another three runs. Boston won easily, 9–3. With Boston leading the Series 2–0 and the next three games played at Fenway Park, Mets fans had reason to worry.

Game three was a must-win for the Mets, and they came through with their pitching and hitting. Lenny Dykstra got New York off to a great start with a solo home run, and the Mets added three more runs to take an early 4–0 lead. Boston could manage only one run off Mets starter Bob Ojeda. In the 7th and 8th innings, New York added three more runs for an easy 7–1 victory.

In game four, the Red Sox were once again shut down by pitcher Ron Darling, who allowed zero runs. The Sox did manage two runs off of reliever Roger McDowell in the eighth inning, but it wasn’t enough. Len Dykstra hit a two-run home run, while Gary Carter hit two runs to give the Mets a 6–2 victory.

With Dwight Gooden slated as the starter for game five, the Mets felt their chances of winning were good, but the Red Sox thought differently. Boston took a 3–0 lead in the bottom of the fifth, knocking Gooden out of the game. The Sox added another run and led 4–0 after seven full innings. Pitcher Bruce Hurst pitched a complete game for Boston, allowing only two runs. Boston won 4–2.

The two teams got a day off to return to New York for game six. Roger Clemens got the start for Boston, while Bob Ojeda would go for the Mets. Ojeda pitched six complete innings, allowing two runs. The Red Sox took a 3–2 lead in the top of the seventh.

Roger Clemens was on deck in the top of the eighth inning, but Manager John McNamara elected to go with a pinch hitter who ultimately struck out. It was a questionable decision, considering Clemens was pitching well and had allowed only one earned run. With Clemens on the bench, the Mets tied the score 3–3 in the bottom of the eighth.

With neither team scoring in the ninth, the game went into extra innings. In the top of the tenth inning, centerfielder Dave Henderson gave Boston the lead with a solo home run. The Red Sox added another run to increase their lead to 5–3. The Mets were down to three outs, and after the first two batters flew out, things looked bleak. But Gary Carter and Kevin Mitchell singled to keep their hopes alive.

The next batter was Ray Knight, who was behind on the count 0 and 2 before singling to left-center. Carter scored, and Mitchell reached third base. With Mookie Wilson now at-bat, pitcher Bob Stanley threw a wild pitch, allowing Mitchell to score. Next came the infamous Bill Buckner play. Wilson hit a grounder to first base that went through the legs of Buckner. Knight scored from second, and the Mets pulled off an improbable win. In the authors’ opinion, it seems unfair that everyone remembers the Bill Buckner error, but few seem to remember the wild pitch that tied the game.

The next day, a heavy rainstorm put game seven on hold until the following day. The Mets starting pitcher would be Ron Darling, who had not given up an earned run in the other two games he pitched. Bruce Hearst would get the start for the Red Sox.

Things did not start well for the Mets, as Dwight Evans and Rich Gedman hit back-to-back home runs in the top of the second inning. Wade Boggs drove in another run, and it was 3–0. In the top of the fourth inning, Mets Manager Davey Johnson took the struggling Ron Darling out and replaced him with Sid Fernandez.

Sid Fernandez (Pitcher of New York Mets) football card
Photo courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of a Sid Fernandez (Pitcher of New York Mets) football card
Darryl Strawberry (New York Mets) football card
Photo courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of a Darryl Strawberry (New York Mets) football card

Meanwhile, the Mets managed only one hit against Hurst but finally got to him in the bottom of the sixth, scoring three runs. Roger McDowell entered the game to relieve Sid Fernandez, and the Red Sox went down in order. Ray Knight hit a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh, and the Mets added two more runs to take a 6–3 lead. But Boston wasn’t done yet, scoring two runs in the top of the eighth to cut the Mets lead to just one run.

Jesse Orosco came in to relieve McDowell and stopped the Red Sox rally. Darryl Strawberry homered in the bottom of the eighth, and Orosco drove in Ray Knight from second base to make the score 8–5. Orosco then retired the Red Sox in order, and the Mets were World Series Champions for the second time in their 25-year history. ESPN voted this World Series as the fourth best in MLB history.

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Mark Morthier is the host of Yesterday’s Sports, a podcast dedicated to reliving memorable sports moments from his childhood days and beyond.  He grew up in New Jersey just across from New York City, so many of his episodes revolve around the great sport’s teams of the 70s for the New York area. 

He is also an author of No Nonsense, Old School Weight Training (Second Edition): A Guide for People with Limited Time and Running Wild: (Growing Up in the 1970s)

Mark Morthier headshot - host of Yesterday's Sports podcast on the Sports History Network
Photo Courtesy: Mark Morthier

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