October 19, 1986: Clemens-Gooden duel falls flat as Red Sox win Game Two
For every great World Series pitcher’s duel, there are a dozen duds that don’t live up to the hype. Game Two certainly fell into the latter category; the hype belonged in a class by itself. The game's starting pitchers had each put together 24-4 seasons by age 24 – Dwight Gooden pulled off the feat in 1985 at age 20 and the elder Roger Clemens did it in 1986, starting the year by winning his first 14 decisions and setting a major-league record by fanning 20 in an April game. Game Two of the World Series also featured the same starters from that year’s All-Star Game. The only other time it happened was in 1939 between Red Ruffing of the Yankees and Cincinnati's Paul Derringer.1 That World Series game had been a pitcher’s duel pulled out by New York in its final at-bat. This time … not so much.
Gooden’s 1986 had not been a 24-4, Triple Crown season like his 1985, but his 17-6 mark, 2.84 ERA, and 200 strikeouts all stood in the top five in the NL – along with his 250 innings, .739 winning percentage, 12 complete games, and 1.108 WHIP. Toss in 17 innings with just two runs allowed in the NLCS against Houston. But New York writers had spent much of the year postulating after almost every bad inning, “What’s wrong with Doc?” That thinking was on the mark in Game Two.
Gooden got through the first two innings allowing only one baserunner but four hard-hit outs. His luck ran out in the third. After Gooden walked Spike Owen to lead off – despite being ahead 1-2 – Roger Clemens came up for his first major-league at-bat. It was a tough assignment, with Keith Hernandez charging in full tilt as he’d done for years against National Leaguers, collecting every Gold Glove since 1978 (and winning 11 straight Gold Gloves eventually). Hernandez got to the bunt quickly enough, but he hurried unnecessarily and bounced the throw to second. Everybody was safe. The next three hitters each drove in runs with hits, including what would be Bill Buckner’s only RBI of the World Series. Boston held a 3-0 lead on the night of the full harvest moon. “So far at least it’s been the Red Sox doing the harvesting,” offered Vin Scully on NBC.2
The Mets finally scored in their 12th inning at the plate in the World Series, and even then they were frustrated by two superb plays by Wade Boggs to rob the Mets of hits – and runs. With Boston up 4-2 and two Mets aboard and two outs in the fourth, Davey Johnson let Gooden bat. Bill Buckner made a nice play on Gooden’s grounder and threw to Clemens covering to end the threat. Letting a Cy Young winner hit in the fourth inning of a two-run game didn’t seem too controversial a decision … until the top of the fifth. Then, after Jim Rice singled, Dwight Evans launched a ball on the roof of the tent over the picnic area in left field. Gooden trudged off the mound, struggling through the fifth, his night clearly done. Who would have thought he’d outlast Clemens?
Having a four-run lead and needing two outs to qualify for the win, Clemens was removed at the end of a long talk with John McNamara with two Mets on base. The eventual Cy Young winner and AL MVP gave way to middle reliever Steve Crawford. He allowed a single to his first batter, Gary Carter, to make it a 6-3 game, and then Crawford retired both Darryl Strawberry and Danny Heep. Heep in left field and Howard Johnson at third base were shake-up-the-lineup moves by Davey Johnson that didn’t work. At least on this night. That pair replaced Ray Knight and Mookie Wilson, who’d had big hits late in the marathon NLCS Game Six in Houston, and would have some magic left in them yet in October. But Heep and HoJo could have gone 6-for-6 between them in Game Two and the Mets would still have been far off the Boston hit parade. The Red Sox outhit the Mets, 18-8, including five straight singles in the eighth.
The Red Sox were looking to turn back the clock many decades. The year 1918, the season Boston won its last world championship, was brought up repeatedly in the press and on the air. Boston’s odds-defying five-game winning streak since they’d stared defeat in the face in Anaheim seemed to be gaining momentum, especially as the Series shifted to Fenway Park. The Red Sox had beaten both Darling and Gooden and now they had to face a pitcher they knew so well they’d shipped him out of town the previous winter.
This article originally appeared in "The 1986 New York Mets: There Was More Than Game Six" (SABR, 2016), edited by Leslie Heaphy and Bill Nowlin. Read more game stories from the book at the SABR Games Project by clicking here.
1 Associated Press, “Scherzer Outduels Harvey in Battle of All-Stars.” Yes Network. web.yesnetwork.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20130824&content_id=58228382&oid=0&print=true.