April 18, 1986: Ron Darling shuts down Phillies as Mets begin 11-game winning streak

This article was written by Russ Walsh

Ron Darling (TRADING CARD DB)After finishing second in the National League East in 1984 and 1985, the New York Mets were looking to take the next step and win the division in 1986. The Mets were a formidable club with an offense anchored by Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, and Gary Carter, an excellent all-around defense, and the pitching of 24-game winner Dwight Gooden and other solid starters like Ron Darling and newly acquired Bob Ojeda. The bullpen was in the good and seasoned hands of Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco.

The Mets’ season got off to a frustrating start when three of the first seven games, including two dates with the Cardinals during their first series of the season at Shea Stadium, were rained out. The one game they did manage to play against the Cardinals, they lost 6-2 in 13 innings. After the first week and a half of the campaign, the Mets were just 2-3, in fifth place, 2½ games behind the division-leading Cardinals. They had lost three in a row.

Particularly frustrated was the Mets’ “second best [starting] pitcher,”1 Darling, who was the scheduled starter for consecutive rainouts on April 16 and 17. “It’s definitely tough,” he told the New York Daily News’ Jim Naughton. “Everybody’s got their own little things they do. This is the third time I’ve done this. You can’t get your running in. You can’t really throw because you anticipate throwing the next day. When you have too much rest, you tend to be too strong sometimes.”2

Finally, on April 18, the skies cleared over Flushing Meadows and Darling took the mound against the Philadelphia Phillies. Darling had faced the Phillies in the Mets’ second game of the season and pitched poorly, giving up six runs on eight hits in 4⅓ innings in a game the Mets eventually won, 9-7.

Darling’s mound opponent for this game was fading Phillies lefty Steve Carlton. Carlton, the future Hall of Famer and perhaps the greatest Phillies pitcher of all time, was coming off an injury-plagued 1985 campaign and, at 41, hoping to regain some of his earlier form. The Phillies lineup still contained the powerful bat of Mike Schmidt, but the other players who made up the great Phillies teams of the recent past were gone.3

In the top of the first, Darling struggled. Whether it was a case of being “too strong” or just being rusty after seven days’ rest, he gave up solo home runs to Milt Thompson and Schmidt. For Thompson, it was his first home run as a Phillies player and just the third of his career. Schmidt’s blast to deepest center field was the 460th of his career.

Down 2-0, the Mets took advantage of Carlton’s wildness to respond with three runs in the bottom of the first. Lenny Dykstra led off with a single, took second on a wild pitch, and then moved to third on a passed ball. Tim Teufel struck out, but Carlton walked Hernandez, Carter, and Strawberry in succession, forcing in Dykstra with the Mets’ first run. After George Foster struck out for the second out of the inning, Ray Knight blooped a single to the outfield grass, scoring Hernandez and Carter. Carlton then walked Rafael Santana before striking out Darling — on his 47th pitch of the inning — for the third out.4 After one frame it was Mets 3, Phillies 2.

From there, both pitchers settled down considerably over the next few innings. Darling, in fact, allowed only two baserunners from the second inning to the sixth, a second-inning walk to John Russell and a fifth-inning single by Steve Jeltz.

Carlton also allowed only one hit over that stretch but was in constant trouble due to walks. A Knight double-play ball got him out of a two-on, one-out jam in the third. In the sixth, Strawberry reached third with none out on a walk and first baseman Von Hayes’s errant throw after a pickoff attempt. But Carlton got Foster to ground out to second against the pulled-in infield, struck out Knight, and, after an intentional pass to Santana, escaped the inning by inducing a groundball from Darling.

In the top of the seventh, it was Darling’s turn to pitch out of a jam, after Schmidt led off with a single and Glenn Wilson was hit by a pitch. Phillies manager John Felske called for a bunt, but Russell failed to get it down and fanned for the first out. Darling then got both pinch-hitter Joe Lefebvre and Jeltz to fly out to right field, preserving the Mets’ 3-2 advantage.

In the home half of the seventh, the Mets added to their lead. Carlton got the first two outs as Dykstra grounded to short and Teufel struck out for the fourth time in the game — Carlton’s 10th strikeout of the night. “He had my number,” Teufel lamented after the game.5 Hernandez then lifted a foul popup down the third-base line, Schmidt gave chase but stumbled twice and the ball dropped safely.6 Given another chance, Hernandez singled. Carter followed with a single, and Carlton walked Strawberry to load the bases. It was Carlton’s eighth walk of the game, and his 140th pitch of the night.7

Felske brought in veteran reliever Kent Tekulve to face the struggling Foster, who had heard some boos from Mets fans after he struck out in the first inning.8 Foster singled, scoring Hernandez and Carter, and turning the boos to cheers. The two RBIs brought Foster’s career total to 1,200. Mets 5, Phillies 2.

To start the eighth inning, Mets manager Davey Johnson called on lefty Orosco to relieve Darling after Darling’s shoulder stiffened. “When he stiffened up after the seventh,” Johnson said, “I told him that it’s still early. There’s no sense trying to be a hero. I’ve got a bullpen.”9

With one out, Gary Redus reached Orosco for a single, stole second, and with two out, got to third on a wild pitch. Redus died there, however, as Hayes popped out to catcher Carter. Phillies pitcher Don Carman set the Mets down in order in the bottom of the eighth. In the ninth, Orosco made quick work of the Phillies, getting Schmidt to ground out and striking out Wilson and Russell to earn his second save of the season. Orosco had begun the year with four shutout appearances covering seven innings.10

After this routine win evened their record at 3-3, the Mets did not lose another game in the month of April. The victory launched them on an early season 11-game winning streak. Those 11 wins included a four-game road sweep of the defending National League pennant-winning Cardinals. By the time the streak ended on May 1 with a 7-2 loss at Atlanta, the Mets had a 4½- game lead over the Montreal Expos. They would not relinquish first place the rest of the season and finished 21½ games in front of the second-place Phillies on their way to the World Series championship.

Darling steadied himself after the frustrating start to his season to post a 15-6 record with an excellent 2.81 ERA. He was shaky in his one start in the National League Championship Series against the Astros but pitched very well in three starts in the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, going 1-1 with a fine 1.53 ERA. He lost the opening game of the Series 1-0 to Bruce Hurst but beat Al Nipper 6-2 in game Four and then started Game Seven as the Mets took the thrilling Series four games to three.

 

Sources

In addition to the Sources cited in the Notes, this article relied on the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites for pertinent material and the box scores noted below. Source materials also included game coverage in the New York Daily News, New York Times, Philadelphia Daily News, and Philadelphia Inquirer newspapers.

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYN/NYN198604180.shtml

https://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1986/B04180NYN1986.htm

 

Notes

1 John Stapleton, “The Inquiring Photographer,” New York Daily News, March 2, 1986: 157.

2 Jim Naughton, Mets’ Parade Rained On Again,” New York Daily News, April 18, 1986: 63.

3 Only Carlton, Schmidt, Gary Maddox, and utilityman Greg Gross remained from the Phillies’ 1980 World Series champions and both Carlton and Maddox would be gone by July.

4 Peter Pascarelli, “New York Walks to 5-2 Victory Over Phillies,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 19, 1986: 35.

5 Michael Martinez, “Foster Draws a Few Cheers,” New York Times, April 19, 1986: 47.

6 Pascarelli.

7 Rich Hoffman, “Carlton’s Stuff Not Enough for Phils.” Philadelphia Daily News, April 19, 1986: 42.

8 Martinez.

9 Martinez.

10 Martinez.

Additional Stats

New York Mets 5
Philadelphia Phillies 2


Shea Stadium
New York, NY

 

Box Score + PBP:

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