This article was written by Brian Frank
Kevin McReynolds and Rich “Goose” Gossage were teammates for three years with the San Diego Padres and were major contributors to a Padres team that played in the 1984 World Series. After McReynolds was traded to the New York Mets during the 1986-87 offseason, Gossage had some unkind words for his former teammate. The outspoken closer suggested McReynolds was lazy, and reportedly said, “I wonder about his work habits.”1 McReynolds would have the opportunity to face Gossage nine times in his career after leaving San Diego. Their most notable meeting came on an afternoon in 1988 at Wrigley Field with the game hanging in the balance.
Despite being in first place in the National League East, the Mets entered their final game of a three-game series with the Cubs on a bit of a slide. The Cubs won the first game of the series, the first nine-inning night game at Wrigley Field, 6-4.2 After dropping the second game, the Mets saw their division lead shrink to five games over Pittsburgh and 5½ over Montreal. Trying to avoid a sweep in the series finale, New York sent Dwight Gooden to the mound to face Cubs right-hander Al Nipper.
The game got off to a good start for the Mets, when Gary Carter blasted his 300th major-league home run in the second inning. Carter had spent 225 at-bats chasing the milestone home run after hitting number 299 on May 16. After the game he said, “I feel as though a weight has been lifted off me.”3 Carter became the 59th player to hit 300 home runs, and just the fourth catcher to do so.
The Mets lead was short-lived, as the Cubs jumped on Gooden in the bottom of the second for a pair of runs. The low point of the inning came when Darryl Strawberry misplayed a fly ball by Andre Dawson, pulling up shy of the brick wall and turning what could have been an out into a triple. Strawberry, who was slumping at the plate, explained the play after the game, saying, “It was lack of concentration in the field, when I’m going bad at the plate.”4
The Mets retook the lead in the third, scoring a pair of runs, highlighted by a run-scoring single by Kevin McReynolds. But Strawberry’s rough day continued. He was thrown out when he rounded too far off second base after McReynolds’ single. He then misplayed another ball in the outfield that turned a Mitch Webster double into a triple in the bottom of the inning. The play, along with a two-run single by Vance Law, an RBI single by Ryne Sandberg, and an RBI double by Angel Salazar, put the Cubs in front, 6-3. After just three innings, the Cubs already had three triples and everyone in their lineup except the pitcher had a hit. Gooden managed to tough it out through the fifth before giving way to the bullpen. The fireballer described his atypical outing: “It was hot, it was frustrating. I had no rhythm, pitching so much from the stretch. And I made some bad pitches.”5
Terry Leach relieved Gooden and held the fort admirably, allowing just three hits in three shutout innings. New York inched closer in the seventh, when leadoff hitter Lenny Dykstra hit a ball over the ivy to cut the Cubs lead to 6-4.
Trailing by two runs entering the ninth inning, the Mets got their first two men on against southpaw Frank DiPino, with singles by shortstop Kevin Elster and pinch-hitter Mookie Wilson. Cubs manager Don Zimmer brought in a fresh lefty, Pat Perry, to face Lenny Dykstra. Dykstra hit a single to left, scoring Elster and cutting the Cubs’ lead to one. With runners at first and second and nobody out, Tim Teufel was unsuccessful in a sacrifice attempt, popping out to first baseman Mark Grace. But both runners advanced when, with Keith Hernandez at the plate, Wilson and Dykstra pulled off a double steal to put the tying and winning runs in scoring position. Hernandez was then hit by a pitch, loading the bases.
Strawberry came to the plate with a chance to redeem himself after his rough day in the field and on the bases. But the Mets cleanup man struck out chasing a 2-and-2 slider. With the Mets down to their last out, and right-handed batter Kevin McReynolds due up, Zimmer brought in right-hander Rich “Goose” Gossage. Once the game’s preeminent closer, the 37-year-old Gossage was no longer as dominant as he once was. As Zimmer quipped, “Goose doesn’t throw the ball like he did six years ago, but who the hell does?”6
As Gossage entered the game, Mets manager Davey Johnson recalled his derogatory comments about McReynolds when the outfielder left San Diego. Johnson remarked after the game, “I really liked that matchup, I remember what Goose once said about Kevin.”7 McReynolds himself tried to downplay the comments, saying, “Goose came over and told me it was written out of context.”8
McReynolds stepped to the plate with two outs, the bases loaded, and the Mets trailing by one. He was the only man standing between the Mets and a four-game losing streak. The always intimidating Gossage stared in from the mound, with the Wrigley Field faithful on their feet, imploring the closer to end the game and complete the series sweep. Gossage threw a slider for strike one and then another slider for ball one. McReynolds jumped all over the next pitch, sending it an estimated 415 feet “three rows up into the vacant center-field bleachers” for a grand slam to give the Mets the lead, 9-6.9
After Gary Carter grounded out to end the ninth for the Mets, the Cubs did not go quietly in their half of the ninth. Lefty Randy Myers recorded the first two outs of the inning, but also allowed a pair of singles to Mitch Webster and Mark Grace. Right-hander Roger McDowell entered the game to face Andre Dawson, who represented the game’s tying run. McDowell induced Dawson to hit a comebacker to the mound for the final out of the afternoon.
After the game, Davey Johnson, frustrated by his team’s sloppy play during the series, disclosed that he had been ready to call a team meeting if Gossage had retired McReynolds. “We played terrible,” the manager said. “… I was thinking if I should have a meeting, because I thought some things needed to be said. We played like Little Leaguers. We didn’t execute, we didn’t run the bases, we were down three runs and swinging at 2-and-0 pitches over our heads. … I can’t be upset after that effort to come back, but we were all embarrassed out there. If you watched the three games here, you would have thought (the Cubs) were in first place and we were in fourth. But we managed to salvage a win instead of a disaster.”10
The hero of the day, Kevin McReynolds, was a bit more diplomatic in his assessment, saying, “Will this wake us up from our daze? … I have no idea.”11
Despite the Mets’ lackluster play, they managed a late rally to allow the game to come down to a matchup of two former teammates. As Gossage said of the dramatic at-bat, “I get paid to get McReynolds out and that’s the bottom line. … I didn’t get him out.”12
This article was published in “Met-rospectives: A Collection of the Greatest Games in New York Mets History“ (SABR, 2018), edited by Brian Wright and Bill Nowlin. To read more articles from this book at the SABR Games Project, click here.
1 Bob Klapisch, “Mac’s Slam Salvages Sloppy Mets,” New York Daily News, August 12, 1988: 69.
2 The Cubs played a 3½-inning rain-shortened contest against the Phillies on August 8, 1988, but the Mets game was the first official nine-inning night game at Wrigley Field.
3 Joseph Durso, “McReynolds Slam Saves the Day,” New York Times, August 12, 1988: B13.
5 Durso: B15.
6 Joe Goddard, “Cubs Are Slammed,” Chicago Sun Times, August 12, 1988: 84.
8 Goddard: 104. It’s highly questionable whether Gossage’s comments were out of context. In his 2000 autobiography, he didn’t mince any words about McReynolds, calling him the “poster boy for indifference and nonchalance,” “as contented as a pig in slop,” and “the quintessential couch potato.” Richard Gossage with Russ Pate, The Goose Is Loose (New York: Ballantine Books, 2000), 216.
9 Alan Solomon “Mets Cook the Cubs Goose,” Chicago Tribune, August 12, 1988: Section 4, 1.
10 John Harper, “McReynolds’ Slam Cooks Cubs’ Goose,” New York Post, August 12, 1988: 81.
12 Solomon: Section 4, 7.