This date in '86: Those lucky Mets

Ray Stubblebine/A.P. Photo

The rally hats brought some much needed good luck to the Mets during the 1986 postseason.Over the next three weeks, Mark Simon will reminisce here about the 1986 postseason. The 1986 Mets won the World Series in an exhilarating fashion. Today, Mark looks at how fortunate the Mets were to win the League Championship Series.

Sometimes you have to be a little lucky.

The 1986 Mets were a great team, but they were very, very fortunate to escape the 1986 NLCS, arguably the best of the LCS’s that have been played since the format began in 1969.

NLCS Review

As we look back 25 years later, we have to acknowledge that the Mets were very lucky just to get past a very good Astros team.

Why do we say they were that?

In the history of postseason play, which dates back to 1903, only two teams have won a postseason series in which they finished with an OPS below .500.

One is the 1918 Red Sox, a team most famous for being the last to win the World Series before the Curse of the Bambino set in. That team played in what was known as the Dead Ball Era, the pre-1920 days when home runs were a rarity and the game’s shape was considerably different from modern day baseball.

The other is the 1986 Mets. They won the NLCS with an on-base percentage of .234 and a slugging percentage of .264, for a .498 OPS. The next-closest series-winning team to them in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) is the World Series-winning 1948 Indians at .548, a 50-point differential.

A few other Amazin’ tidbits that tie in to the Mets winning in spite of an offensive offense…

• The Mets never led in Games 1 or 4 of the NLCS, which they lost, never led in Games 3 or 5 until the game-ending plays, and didn’t lead in Game 6 until the 14th inning, an advantage that lasted for a total of two hitters.

• The Mets were outhit, outwalked, outhomered, allowed more extra base hits, had fewer walks, fewer steals, and struck out 17 more times in the 1986 NLCS. Yet they somehow outscored the Astros, 21-17 because they got a few timely hits (see Len Dykstra’s walk-off home run, the anniversary of which we’ll honor tomorrow) and got a few breaks (that would foreshadow those they would get in the World Series).

• Within the first nine innings of the six games played, the Mets managed a total of 32 hits. They were held to five hits or fewer three times, tying the most by any team in an LCS, and would have broken that mark had Bob Knepper been able to finish the two-hitter he carried into the ninth inning of Game 6.

• Only one Mets hitter had an NLCS batting average better than his regular-season batting average. Dykstra hit .304 in the LCS, nine points higher than he did in the regular season.

• The 1986 Mets are one of only two teams to lose a postseason series opener, 1-0, then go on to win that series. The 1948 Indians did that as well against the Boston Braves. The 1986 Mets did it twice, in both the LCS and the World Series. The six other teams that lost a postseason series opener, 1-0, all lost the series.

• The 1986 LCS was the bizarro-world counterpart to the 1969 NLCS. The 1986 Mets were the best offensive team in the NL throughout the regular season, but didn’t hit at all in the NLCS.

The 1969 Mets were a below-average team offensively, but posted the best LCS OPS of all-time, the fifth-best in any postseason series in major league history.

Alas, these were two cases in which the postseason didn’t quite go as expected. But that’s the beauty of the game and being a Mets fan, right?