There's still a gleam in Dwight Gooden's eye, even though the days of baseball glory are in the past, and he's fighting his most recent battle with drug and alcohol addiction. It comes through particularly when he talks about the period in which he dominated baseball as a Mets fireballer, from 1984 to 1986.
Gooden was the world's best pitcher in a stretch that culminated with a championship. Thursday, the 26th anniversary of his being the youngest pitcher to win 20 games in a season, he toured ESPN.
We caught up with him for a few minutes to reminisce about Mets victories past as he battles for off-the-field victories in the present.
On his near no-hitter against the Cubs, a one-hit shutout on September 7, 1984.
"I always thought that if I could get through five innings, I could get it. (Keith) Moreland got an infield hit (a dribbler along third base on which Ray Knight couldn't make a play),” Gooden said. “That's just the way baseball is. I think maybe if it had been the eighth inning, they might have given him an error. Ray even said afterwards that he couldn't grip the ball."
“The trivia question is about all the guys who threw one after leaving the Mets. It’s me, (David) Cone, Seaver, Nolan Ryan, and then some people don’t get the last ones (Mike Scott and Hideo Nomo).”Ray Stubblebine/AP Photo
Dwight Gooden won 157 games for the Mets in a career that spanned from 1984 to 1994
On his home-field advantage, a group of fans who formed The K Korner
“That was fun,” Gooden said. “When they would throw the ball around the infield, I’d peek up to see how many strikeouts I had. It helped because if I got two strikes, on anything close, the hitter was going to swing, or the umpire was going to ring him up.”
On going 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA in 1985
“I had a couple of games in Los Angeles against Fernando Valenzuela,” Gooden said. “The moment I remember most was in the eighth inning of one of them. Tie game. The Dodgers had the bases loaded and nobody out. Davey Johnson came out, said he had Orosco ready, and asked how I was doing. I said I could get them out.
They had three left-handed hitters in a row- Greg Brock, Mike Scioscia, and Terry Whitfield. I got them out and we won the game in the ninth.”
“I remember my first home run. That day, we had no batting practice. (Pirates pitcher) Rick Rhoden hung a slider and I hit it out. The next few starts, I didn’t take batting practice. I thought that would help me hit home runs.”
On the legendary 1986 Mets team
“We knew that was going to be something special. Everyone was shooting for the same goal,” Gooden said.
"On Opening Day, I gave up a home run on like the second pitch of the season to R.J. Reynolds, and I thought, 'This is gonna be a long year.”
"I wanted to duplicate 1985. I was 4-0, 5-0, 6-0. I think I started putting pressure on myself. I don't know if part of it was the media, where if I won 2-1 with three strikeouts, the next start, I'd try to get 10 strikeouts in the first inning.
“Clinching the division at home was incredible. I was going for the strikeout of Chico Walker (for the last out on September 17, 1986) and he grounded out. But what a feeling. It wasn’t (like being out there) for winning the World Series, but it was the next-best thing.
“For Game 6 of the World Series, I was in the clubhouse in the 10th inning. A few of us were there planning our winters. Ray Knight got the hit and I was back in the dugout. I still can’t believe that happened. I’ll say this because I get asked it whenever someone brings it up. I don’t think Bob Stanley would have beaten Mookie Wilson to first base, when the ball went through Buckner’s legs.
“There’s a funny story involving our clubhouse assistant, Vinny Greco. He told us he was going to celebrate and storm the field no matter what. He goes to the Red Sox clubhouse, puts on a Red Sox jacket, and there are pictures of him on the top step with two outs, waiting to celebrate.
Two days later, we win the World Series and we start celebrating on the field. We all started pounding on Vinny Greco.”