Dec 10, 2015

1986 World Champion Mets Relief Pitcher: Roger McDowell (1985-1989)

Roger Alan McDowell was born December 21, 1960 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The right hander was signed by the New York Mets in the third round of the 1982 draft. At AA ball with the Jackson Mets, he suffered an arm injury missing all of the 1984 season.

After the injury he converted from being a starter to being a full time relief pitcher. McDowell’s best pitch was his sinker ball which made him a right handed ground ball specialist.

McDowell made the 1985 Mets staff, earning a win on the second day of the season, as the Mets beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the 11th inning when Neil Allen walked Danny Heep with the bases loaded. McDowell earned another win two days later, in a 2-1 Mets win over the Reds.

He rolled along into mid June going 5-1 with four saves & a 2.64 ERA. Soon McDowell & lefty Jesse Orosco formed an awesome closer duo out of Davey Johnson's Mets bull pen.

In July he recorded five saves & four more in August. In September he was busy making 17 appearances earning four more saves. He allowed three rusn to the Dodgers in Los Angeles on September 7th blowing the save opportunity.

In the final week of the month he blew two saves including a game in Pittsburgh on September 29th that put New York three games behind the Cardinals with six left to play including a three game set in St. Louis. Although the Mets took two of three it wasn't enough as they ended the season 98-64 three games out.

McDowell would finish the year leading the team in appearances with 62 and matching Jesse Orosco for the team lead in saves with 17. He posted a 6-5 record with a 2.83 ERA, striking out 70 batters In 127 innings making the Topps All Star Rookie team.

In the 1986 Championship season, McDowell was most valuable out of the bullpen. He had an incredible year as a reliever, beginning with two wins in the month of April. On April 21st it was Gary Carters walk off base hit that beat the Pirates & three days later George Fosters base hit in the the top of the 10th inning beat Todd Worrell & the St. Louis Cardinals.

He started out the year going 7-0 with six saves into the beginning of July. Even when he was used as a set up man he was coming through, posting nine holds & a 2.10 overall ERA. He would be involved in 23 pitching decisions despite never starting a game in the Mets Championship season.

Over the course of the season, he would pitch three innings or more in fifteen different outings. In August he recorded seven saves, with six in six straight games, in the final two weeks of the month. Overall he finished 14-9 with 22 saves (8th in the league) and 3.02 ERA, striking out 65 batters in 128 innings pitched in 75 appearances.

The practical joker McDowell became a popular player around Shea Stadium & a star in the Mets 1986 “Let’s Go Mets “video. He gave in depth detail on how to give a “Hot Foot” with his accomplice Howard Johnson. 

The hot foot was a lit matchbook stuck with bubble gum onto the back of a player’s cleats. He instructed youngsters not to try it at home, as it was only to be done by professionals.

The prankster McDowell also had a classic stunt performed on a nationally televised game. He came out of the dugout wearing his uniform upside down, pants on his head, jersey on his legs doing a hand stand around the field. In another game he appeared on the field dressed in full attire alongside a mariachi band. He appeared on MTV’s Rock & Jocks program often wearing wigs & kilts.

Post Season: McDowell was fantastic in the 1986 NLCS against the Houston Astros, pitching in two games allowing only one hit in seven innings pitched. He pitched five of those innings in the epic sixteen inning Game #6 at Houston. In the World Series against the Boston Red Sox he closed out two innings of the Mets 7-1 win in Game #3.

He then allowed two runs in 0.2 innings pitched in Game #4 at Fenway Park earning no decision. In the classic Game #6 he allowed the go ahead run in the seventh inning, on a ground out by Dwight Evans. The run was a result of a walk & an error made by Ray Knight at third base.

In Game #7 it was McDowell who got credit for the win, pitching a scoreless seventh inning, before New York broke it open in the bottom of the inning highlighted by Ray Knight's HR. 

 All in all he appeared in five World Series games, getting one win, allowing four earned runs with two strike outs, four walks & ten hits in seven innings.

In 1987 McDowell emerged as the teams main closer ahead of Jesse Orosco. He began the year in May due to an injury but quickly posted himself eleven saves by the All Star break. His ERA was over four but he earned two wins & six saves over the next month before taking a loss. In August he posted five saves in the last week but only saved three games, with two blown opportunities in September.

On September 11th he gave up a big game tying HR to St. Louis’ Terry Pendleton during the tight pennant race. Jesse Orosco took the loss the next inning, as the game is looked back on as being a major turning point to the Mets missing the post season.

For 1987, he posted a career high 25 saves (5th best in the league) going 7-5 in 56 games with a 4.16 ERA. After the season, Jesse Orosco was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers after saving 16 games with the '87 Mets. McDowell platooned with the new young fire ball pitcher; Randy Meyers in the closer roles.

In the Mets 1988 NL Eastern division winning season, McDowell saved 16 games with a much better ERA (2.63) while putting up a 5-5 record. In 62 appearances he pitched 89 innings with 46 strike outs, 31 walks & getting credit for seven holds in a set up role to Meyers. 

That season he moved into third place on the All Time Mets save list behind Tug McGraw & Jesse Orosco. But Meyers was better, saving 26 games with a 7-3 record & a 1.72 ERA. It was clear he was the new closer & had a bright future ahead of him. McDowelll already had posted ten saves by the All Star break & saw less action in the second half.

Post Season: In the 1988 NLCS he pitched in four games of the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. In Game #4 at Shea Stadium he came on to pitch the 12th inning after Mike Scioscia had tied up the game hitting his infamous HR off Dwight Gooden. 

McDowell then gave up the game winning HR to Kirk Gibson taking the loss. Overall in the Series he gave up three runs, with six hits, five strikeouts & two walks in six innings pitched going 0-1.

By June of 1989 McDowell was 1-5 with four saves and a decent ERA of 3.31. The Mets then made another bad trade sending McDowell & Lenny Dykstra to the Phillies for Juan Samuel. Samuel was a huge disappointment, while Dykstra became a league MVP. McDowell posted a 1.11 ERA while saving 19 games for the last-place 1989 Phillies, finishing with 23 overall (9th in the league). 

In 1990 he went 6-8 with 22 saves moving up to 6th best in the league. By June of 1991 he had only three saves & a 3.20 ERA when he was traded to the Dodgers for two minor leaguers. He went 6-3 with seven saves and a 2.55 ERA in Los Angeles for the remainder of the season.

In 1992 his ERA ballooned to over four while leading the league in relief losses and having the lowest save percentage of closers. That year the Dodgers finished with their only last-place finish of the 20th century.

By 1993 McDowell had become a middle reliever playing in Los Angeles for two more seasons. He signed with Texas in 1995, and was second in the A.L. in appearances (64) going 7-4 with four saves & a 4.0.7 ERA. He signed on with the Orioles for 1996 under his old manager Davey Johnson, and with team mate Jesse Orosco. A shoulder surgery ended his season in mid-August & two more shoulder surgeries forced him to retired in 1997 at age 37. 

Career Stats: In his 12 year career he was 70-70 with 159 saves, 524 strikeouts and 1050 innings pitched in 723 games. 

In his five seasons with the Mets he was 33-29 with 84 saves (6th all time on Mets list) posting a 3.13 ERA in 280 games (13th all time on Mets list).

Retirement: In 1992 he made a cameo appearance on the Seinfeld Show with his pal Keith Hernandez. McDowell began his coaching career in the Dodgers minor league organization in 2002.

In 2006 McDowell replaced Leo Mazzone as the pitching coach of the Atlanta Braves and has held the position through 2011. His staff has improved each year, 

In 2011 his staff was first in innings & strikeouts, fourth in ERA & fifth in victories. They allowed the third most HRs & runs scored.

In 2010 they were third in wins, ERA, walks & earned runs as well as being first in HRs allowed. In April of 2011 in San Francisco a fan claimed McDowell used foul language, homosexual slur & obscene gestures after being heckled before a game at AT & T Park. The person making the claims also said McDowell said "kids don't belong at a ball park" & threatened them with a bat.

McDowell apologized two days later but Commissioner Bid Selig said his actions were inappropriate. He was placed on leave by the Braves & then suspended two weeks by MLB. He returned in his role as pitching coach later that season.

In 2012 his second place Atlanta Braves staff was third in the NL in wins (94) & complete games (5). They were first in shut outs (4) & fourth in ERA (3.42). In 2013 McDowell's staff led the NL in ERA (3.18) & Craig Kimbrel helped his bullpen be second in the league in saves. But the 96 win Braves were eliminated by the Dodgers in the NLDS.

Over the past two seasons the Braves have fallen under .500, in 2015 McDowell's staff was 13th in ERA, runs, hits & wins.

Trivia: In the classic Seinfeld episode in which Keith Hernandez stars, Roger McDowell makes a vido cameo & is blamed for the spitting upon Kramer & George Castanza. McDowell claims he get a check for $13.52 every time it airs.

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