Mar 11, 2016

The All Time Mets HR Leader: Darryl Strawberry- Part One (1983-1989)

Darryl Eugene Strawberry was born March 12, 1962 in Los Angeles, California. He was a star baseball player early on starting out in grade school. By high school baseball he was a local star in Los Angeles and a highly touted MLB prospect. In 1980 the tall six foot six left handed hitting Strawberry was signed by the New York Mets in the first round, the number one draft pick overall. 

He had a looping swing with a high leg kick eventually becoming one of the most feared sluggers in the game. He began at A ball Lynchburg in 1981, hitting 13 HRs, with 31 stolen bases & 78 RBIs in 105 games played. In 1982 he was the Texas League MVP hitting 34 HRs with 45 stolen bases, 97 RBIs batting .283 at AA Jackson. He started out 1983 at AAA Tidewater & after 16 games was hitting .333 when he was promoted to an improved New York Mets team in May, desperate for his debut. 

Strawberry debuted on May 6th 1983, at Shea Stadium in front of 15,916 fans in a 7-4 win against the Cincinnati Reds. He batted third in the line up in front of Dave Kingman. He struck out three times, but also dew a pair of walks & scored his first career run. Two nights later in a 10-5 Mets win over the Reds, he got his first career hit, a single driving in Danny Heep for his first career RBI. 


In his eighth game on May 16th, Strawberry hit his first career HR, it came in Pittsburgh off of the Pirates Lee Tunnell in an 11-4 Mets win. He hit another the next day, his first one at home in Shea Stadium, as he drove in three runs the Mets 6-3 win over the San Diego Padres. 

On June 12th he drove in three runs in a 9-1 win over the Expos & then on June 22nd, he hit a three run HR, while driving in four runs leading Tom Seaver & the Mets to a 6-4 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. During that road trip in St. Louis, Straw hit two HRs & drove in six runs with five hits. He would enjoy ten games where he drove in three or more runs that season. He was quickly becoming a fan favorite & the new face of the organization which added a lot of pressure to the young man. By the All Star break he was struggling in batting average, hitting just above the .200 mark, although he had already hit ten HRs. 


Right after the break on July 10th, he won the game with an 8th inning two run HR off The Astros Bill Dawley leading to a 7-5 win over in Houston. On July 19th he hit two HRs with four RBIs, in Atlanta in a 7-4 Met loss. On July 22nd the Mets were down 2-1 to the Reds in Cincinnati in the 9th inning. Keith Hernandez tied the game with a HR & Straw followed with a HR to give the Mets the 3-2 win, as Jesse Orosco came in for the save.

In August he opened the month with three HRs in his first four games, & hit nine in the month. During the last week of the month he had two separate multi HR games where he launched two long balls each time. That August he also had 17 RBIs in the month. He finished off the year in September with five more HRs & another 17 RBIs. 

On September 1st, he drove in four runs, leading the Mets to a 7-3 win over the Padres. From the 9th through the 13th he hit three HRs with six RBIs on the road while in Montreal & Philadelphia. On September 13th, he drove in three runs with a HR as well, leading New York to a 5-1 win over the Phillies. Then on September 28th, he hit his last HR of the season & his three RBIs lead the Mets to a 4-2 win at Pittsburgh. 


He finished the year winning the 1983 Rookie of the Year Award & made the Topps All Star Rookie team. He hit 26 HRs (7th in the NL) with seven triples, 15 doubles, 19 stolen bases, 74 RBIs & hitting .257. He struck out the second most times in the NL (128) but also posted the league's ninth best slugging % (.512%). In the right field he was third in fielding (983%) & had nine assists (4th in the NL). 

In 1984 he began the year with an opening day HR, the for Straw, the only run the Mets scored in a 8-1 loss to the Reds at Cincinnati. He would hit three HRs the first week of the season & bat .324 with 12 RBIs in the month of April.

On April 7th his HR led to a 3-2 win over the Houston Astros & then three days later his HR in Montreal helped in a 4-2 Mets win. On April 22nd, had had four hit, four RBI day at Philadelphia, led by a three run HR, although the Mets lost the game 12-5. The next day he drove in two more runs & then when the Phillies came to Shea, he tied up a April 28th game, with an 9th inning HR off the Phil's Charlie Hudson. New York went on to win it in the 9th. 

He fell into a May slump but hit better as the summer went along & the Mets were now contenders. In a series in Pittsburgh, he hit a June 4th, first inning three run HR, which led to a 4-2 Ron Darling win. Two days later his top of the 13th inning single won the 2-1 squeaker for New York. On June 17th he hit a pair of HRs in St. Louis then two games later hit a three run shot which helped Darling to another win, this one at Shea over Philadelphia. On July 1st he drove in both Mets runs in a 2-1 win over Atlanta. On July 5th at Shea Stadium, Straw hit another two run 1st inning HR leading to a 4-3 Mets win over the Houston Astros. 


That summer he made the first of his eight All Star appearances, getting a hit (1-3) in the National League's 3-1 win at San Francisco's Candlestick Park. At the end of the month Daryl had a stretch hitting four HRs with, four straight multi hit games driving in 11 runs winning the Player of the Week award. During a four game stretch in Cincinnati he helped the Mets to wins with RBIs in three one run victories. On July 22nd, his 8th inning two run HR off Keefe Cato broke the 5-5 tie & led to the Mets win. 

Overall Straw had an incredible July bashing eight HRs with 30 hits & 28 RBIs, hitting safely in 21 of 29 games. In August he went into a drought not hitting any HRs at all, as his average fell to .247. In September he started the month better, hitting HRs in each game of a September 1st double header sweep of the San Diego Padres. In the night cap he had a four RBI day leading to the 10-6 win. Straw would then hit two more HRs that same week as well. He had nine muti RBI games in September, including a big day at Wrigley Field on September 16th, where he had three hits, with five RBIs, bashing a long HR as well.

He would finish the 1984 season leading the team in HRs with 26 & RBIs 97 (both 4th best in the NL). He stole 27 bases hit 26 doubles & posted a .354 on base %. 

He developed into one of the leagues best sluggers by 1985, known for his monstrous HRs, run production & base stealing. He struck out often once again, 131 times (3rd most in the NL).

In the third game of the 1985 season, he blasted a 9th inning HR off the Reds; John Franco, for his first career walk off game winner. He started out with six HRs in the month of April, driving in 12 runs. Five more HR would follow that month as well. On April 28th he hit a grand slam HR, off Pittsburgh's Mike Bielecki, leading the team to 5-4 win over the Pirates. Then he missed 40 games with a thumb injury from May until the end of June. When he returned, he raised his average fifty points during the month of July, driving in 23 runs. 


On July 20th he had a huge day in Atlanta, hitting a 1st inning grand slam off the Braves, Steve Bedrosian. Daryl added a three run HR off Len Barker in the fourth inning, giving him a seven RBI day. Later that week he hit two more HRs in a 7-4 loss to the Astros, driving in all four Mets runs.

That week he won another the Player of the Week Award & then would earn the same honor the award again two weeks later. On august 5th he hit three HRs at Wrigley Field, driving in five runs against the Cubs, leading Ed Lynch to a 7-2 victory. He drove in runs in the next three games as well.

He would hit nine HRs & have two more four RBI games that month, both coming at Shea during the week of August 22nd. On August 22nd, he hit a two run HR off the Giants Vida Blue, in San Francisco, as his four RBIs helped Terry Leach in a 7-0 win. On August 25th, hit hit his 20th HR of the year, while driving in four runs at Shea, leading Dwight Gooden to his twentieth win of the season. 


During the pennant race of September, Strawberry he hit eight HRs driving in 22 runs, but the Mets still fell short, losing out the rival St. Louis Cardinals in the NL East. He hit a mammoth HR off the clock tower at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on October 1st, that is still talked about to this day. It came in the top of the 11th inning in a scoreless game off Ken Dayley. The Mets won the game 1-0 and were only trailing the Cards by two games at that point, but there were only five games to go. He went hitless the next night as the Mets won 5-2 but were still unable to catch the Cards in the final three games. 

Strawberry finished the year with 29 HRs (6th in the NL) 15 doubles, 73 walks, 4 triples 79 RBIs, a .277 batting average, a .389 on base % and stole 26 bases. He struck out 96 times & it was the only year in an eleven year stretch he was under the 100 mark. In right field he posted a .994 fielding % which was second in the league.


 In the 1986 Mets championship season, Strawberry started out going 1-1 with a double & three walks, on Opening Day. That day Dwight Gooden beat the Pirates 4-2 at Pittsburgh. Just as the Mets team did that season, Straw got off to a great start in April by hitting safely in 20 of his first 25 games.

At the end of the month he had a huge series in Atlanta, first-driving in four runs with a three run HR on the April 29th series opener 10-5 Mets win. The next day he had a five hit day, with another HR, three RBIs & a stolen base in the Mets 8-1 win. In that three game series he had seven hits two HRs & seven RBIs. In the start of May, on that same road trip, he closed it out with a pair of HRs in Cincinnati in a 7-2 Mets win. He was hitting but not without drama. 

Drama:  At times he was late or didn’t show up for work outs. He disrupted team meetings and argued with his team mates. He got into a shoving match with Keith Hernandez on Mets picture day, and then had another highly publicized battle with Wally Backman. 


 Story goes he threatened Backman, saying "I’ll bust that little redneck in the face" after he had heard Backman was saying negative things about him. Then the media jumped on him as well, calling his play in the outfield lax & that he was being lazy with his work ethic. Through all the drama, like many superstars, Straw would still hit and was a key figure in the Mets Championship season & their success in the eighties. 

After his HR on May 7th, he didn't hit another for a month, then hit four in all of June. On June 13th he singled home the game winning run, for a walk off 6-5 win against the Pittsburgh Pirates. On July 3rd, he hit two HRs against the Houston Astros, (giving them a taste of what the NLCS was going to be like) as he drove in in four runs, including a bottom of the 10th inning game tying HR, off Frank Dipino. Ray Knight would win the game with a walk off HR three at bats later. 

When the Mets went to Houston, Strawberry would drive in runs in three of the four games at the Astrodome, although they lost three of four, as Houston showed how tough they can be. On July 17th, He had a three RBI day in the Mets big 13-2 win in the first game at the Astrodome. He came back with a two run HR two days later in the 5-4 loss to reliever Dave Smith. This was the famous road trip where Mets players were involved in a brawl with off duty police officers posing as security guards at a Houston night club. 

 At the ALL Star break Strawberry had 13 HRs and made another start for the NL in right field. In the 1986 All Star Game held in the Houston Astrodome, Straw went 1-2 in the National Leagues 3-2 loss to the AL. As he ended the month of July he was batting a strong .285. In August he drove in runs in four straight games early on, then on August 18th he carried the Mets with a two run HR, 7 three RBIs to beat the Dodgers in his home town of Los Angeles. He went on to drive in runs in the next three games as well, as New York swept the entire West Coast road trip in California. 

On August 27th, he drove in two runs with a single in the first inning & then added a two run Hr off the Padres Eddie Whitson, as the Mets beat San Diego 6-5 to complete the sweep during an eleven game win streak. On September 17th, centerfieldmaz & a full house at Shea Stadium, was on hand to witness the Mets capture their first NL east title since 1973.

After a young Dave Magadan (playing for an injured Keith Hernandez)drove in the first run of the game, Straw followed with another RBI single, putting the Mets up 2-0 over the Chicago Cubs. That night the Mets clinched the East as Doc Gooden won his 15th game of the year & the Mets fans celebrated by taking over the field. As he closed out the season, he drove in thirteen runs in the final six games of the year, while hitting four HRs. 


On the 1986 season he would lead the club, with 27 HRs (5TH in the NL) 93 RBIs (7th in the league) 27 doubles & five triples. He would score 76 runs, steal 26 bases (second on the club to Len Dykstra), post a 358 on base %, & bat .259. He also struck out a career high 141 times, which second most in the league. In right field he had ten assists (5th most in the league) posting a .975 fielding %. 

 1986 Post Season: In the NLCS against the Houston Astros, Strawberry went 1-7 in the first two games at the Astrodome, striking out twice against Mike Scott. In Game # 3, the first playoff game at Shea Stadium in 13 years Strawberry went 2 for 4, blasting a three run HR off Bob Knepper, tying the game in the 6th inning. 


He went hitless in Game #4 then had another memorable HR in Game #5. Afer the rain stopped, & the sun began to break through, Strawberry hit a long shot down the line that cleared the foul pole, off Nolan Ryan tying the score 1-1 in the 5th inning. It was a classic among classics, one of the best games I ever had the pleasure to attend as Dwight Gooden matched Nolan Ryan 1-1 going into extra innings. The Mets went on to win the game on Gary Carters walk off RBI single in the 12th inning. 


In the epic Game # 6, Daryl went 1- 5 but scored two very important runs. First in the 14th inning, he walked, advanced to second then scored the go ahead run, on Wally Backman's base hit. He then doubled to lead off the 16th inning, & scored the go ahead run on Ray Knights base hit. Overall he hit .227 (5-22) with two HRs five RBIs three walks in the Series with four runs scored & 12 strikeouts.

1986 World Series: In the 1986 World Series agaisnt the Boston Red Sox, Daryl continued to struggle at the plate. In the first two games he was hitless & by the time he got to Fenway Park, the Red Sox fans let him have it. 

As he was playing in right field they began to taunt him with the chants of “Daaaarryl”"Daaaaarryl" that soon became legendary on the road & at home in Shea Stadium. He jokingly even tipped his hat to the Fenway Faithful that night in right field. This incident led to the Mets fans taunting chants of “Caaaalvin” "Caaaalvin" toward Red Sox relief pitcher Calvin Shiraldi at Shea Stadium in Games six & seven. 


 Straw would get five hits in the next four games going 5-24 (.208) only driving in one run in the entire World Series. In Game #3 he got his first base & scored on Ray Knights double in the 8th inning. In Game #4 Straw doubled in the 4th inning following Gary Carters two run HR. He scored on Ray Knights single. He would single again in the 8th, as the Mets went on to even the series at two with the 6-2 win.

In the classic "Game #6"  Straw went 0-2 with a  pair of walks, scoring the Mets 1st run in the 5th inning. In the 9th inning with the score tied at 3-3, Manager Davey Johnson made a double switch putting Lee Mazzilli in right field & bringing in Rick Aguilera to pitch.

Straw was upset that Johnson had pulled him out of the game, and complained to the Manager, then went off to pout in the locker room. Although the move ended up working well for the Mets as they had one of the nest World Series comebacks in history, Straw was still upset & missed the celebration on the field since he was already out of uniform. 

In Game #7 he had perhaps his biggest hit, it came on the bottom of the 8th inning. The Mets entered the inning tied 3-3 but a Ray Knight HR & Rafael Santana RBI single made it 5-3 Mets. Darryl sealed the victory with a solo blast off reliever Al Nipper.

Strawberry celebrated with the team on the field & made it to the celebration Parade in New York City the next day as well. It was a great time to be a Met even with all that drama that surrounded it.






No comments: