The New York Mets arrived in St. Louis with a 35-37 record. They also brought their clubhouse turmoil with them. Bobby Bonilla had been accused of calling the press box to speak with the Mets public-relations director. He wanted to complain about the official scorer’s ruling of a Greg Maddux double. Bonilla misplayed the ball and was charged with an error.
Bonilla became angry when he learned that several of his teammates spoken with the press. They said they were disappointed in his handling of the situation. “Why would I be upset with one error when we were getting our asses kicked? I led the league in errors so why would I complain about one error?,” Bonilla said as he denied making the call.1
Meanwhile, the Cardinals were struggling to stay in contention with the Pittsburgh Pirates. They had gone 8-18 over the past month and hoped to turn things around against the Mets before the division-leading Pirates arrived in town.
St. Louis sent Mark Clark to the mound for an unplanned start. Scheduled starter Rheal Cormier had been sidelined by an injury. It had been a difficult season for Cormier. He was injured in spring training when he was struck by a line drive. Then he came down with a stomach illness and missed several weeks. “It’s bothered me all day,” he said when asked about his most recent injury. “If I twist a certain way or move, it’s killing me. It’s like I pulled a muscle or something.”2
Clark got himself into trouble in the first inning. He walked leadoff batter Vince Coleman, who stole second on the first pitch to Willie Randolph. Clark then walked Randolph. Bill Pecota’s sacrifice put both runners in scoring position but Clark struck out the next two batters.
Clark’s inability to find the strike zone caught up with him in the second inning. He walked Dick Schofield with one out, and Todd Hundley, who was batting .188, hit a home run over the right-field wall to give the Mets a 2-0 lead.
The Mets built on that lead in the fourth inning. Howard Johnson led off with a single and stole second. Schofield hit into a fielder’s choice that moved Johnson to third. After Hundley was intentionally walked, David Cone’s squeeze-play bunt brought Johnson home for the Mets’ third run.
Cone started for the Mets. He had allowed six runs while striking out 27 in his three previous starts against the Cardinals in 1992. Cone kept the Cardinals in check through the first four innings. Although the Cardinals got at least one hit off him in every inning, Cone struck out seven batters to get himself out of trouble every time.
The Cardinals finally got the best of Cone in the fifth. Todd Zeile led off with a single. With one out, Felix José took one deep to score two runs. “I was looking for a ball in the strike zone and I wasn’t trying to take a big swing,” he said later. “I don’t really think too much about hitting home runs. All I want to do is hit the ball hard.”3
José DeLeón relieved Clark in the fifth and pitched two perfect innings to keep the Cardinals close. He was removed for a pinch-hitter in the sixth and Cris Carpenter took the mound in the seventh. Carpenter walked Coleman, who stole second on Carpenter’s first pitch to Willie Randolph, then stole third two pitches later, his fourth theft of the game and his 600th in the majors.
After Carpenter hit Randolph with a pitch, the Mets attempted another squeeze play. When Pecota missed the bunt, Coleman was caught between home and third and was tagged out by catcher Rich Gedman. The play proved costly as Coleman left with a cramp when the Mets took the field in the bottom of the seventh.
Busch Stadium had not been friendly to Coleman since he left the Cardinals. When the Mets opened the season in St. Louis, Coleman suffered a pulled hamstring and missed 18 games. Coleman gave Mets fans hope that he would return quickly when he told reporters after the game: “Based on what I felt the last time, the last time was worse. This time it didn’t grab.”4
In the bottom of the seventh, Zeile led off with a triple, his eighth hit in 20 at-bats. Ray Lankford hit a sacrifice fly to deep center field to bring Zeile home with the tying run. “[Cone] is tough. But he also makes you turn it up a notch,” Zeile said. “He makes you concentrate and makes you a little more intense. Tonight we were able to use that to our advantage.”5
Cone did not return for the eighth inning. He was disappointed with his performance, especially since he had dominated the Cardinals in his previous outings. “I made 130 pitches and a couple of mistakes,” he said. “It was a struggle all night. I fought myself.”6
After Carpenter kept the Mets from scoring in the eighth, Cardinals manager Joe Torre sent his closer, Lee Smith, to the mound in the ninth. Smith got the first two batters out in nine pitches. Dave Gallagher then doubled to put the go-ahead run on base but Smith snuffed out the Mets opportunity when he got Randolph to fly out to right field.
Jeff Innis relieved Cone, who had left the game with 12 strikeouts. Innis got the Cardinals out in order in the eighth. He threw eight pitches and got the Cardinals out on groundballs.
Mets manager Jeff Torborg kept Innis in the game in the ninth although he had closer John Franco ready in the bullpen. Innis got leadoff batter Tom Pagnozzi to ground out. Then Geronimo Pena singled up the middle and stole second on the next pitch. Innis walked Zeile and Lankford to load the bases. Although Franco was ready, Torborg still did not go to his closer.
Felix José came to bat and he hit Innis’s first pitch up the middle. Pena scored and the Cardinals won the game, 4-3. “That was great,” said Torre after the game. “That perked up the ballclub. Everybody loves Jose and that gave us a lift to see him have an outing like that.”7
Defending his decision to let Innis pitch to José, Torborg said, “I didn’t like the numbers,” meaning that he liked Innis’s record against Lankford. When Franco was asked about the decision, all he would offer was, “What can I say?”8
Innis tried to explain how he pitched the inning. He said of Zeile, “I tried to make perfect pitches to Zeile with the base open at first. He had a great at-bat. It was as good as I can throw to a guy.” As for José: “The pitch to José was as good a pitch as I can make. It was a sinker he got off the end of his bat.”9
Although the game may have been important to the Cardinals, their success did not last long. They won the series against the struggling Mets but lost two of three to the Pirates. The Cardinals were never able to catch up to the Pirates. They finished in third place with an 83-79 record.
As for the Mets, they continued to struggle on the field and off through the rest of the season. The team finished with a 72-90 record, 24 games out of first place. Their problems were described in a book titled The Worst Team Money Could Buy.11
Cone was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for Jeff Kent as the Mets ownership dismantled the team late in the season. Coleman became a disruptive force in the dugout as the season progressed. He never achieved the stolen-base numbers he had with Cardinals. Coleman finished the season with just 24 steals, the fewest of his career.
As for Bonilla, he never lived up to expectations after signing a $24 million contract with the Mets before the 1992 season. His lack of production and moodiness led to Mets fans showing their displeasure every chance they could.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author used Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org for box-score, player, team, and season information as well as pitching and batting game logs and other pertinent material.
1 Bob Klapisch, “Mets Dial E for Error,” New York Daily News, June 26, 1992: 28.
2 Dan O’Neill, “A Rally Is in the Cards,” St. Louis Post Dispatch, June 27, 1992: 28.
6 Joe Sexton, “Gateway to the West Slams Shut on Mets,” New York Times, June 27, 1992: 33.
11 Bob Klapisch, The Worst Team Money Could Buy: The Collapse of the New York Mets (New York: Random House, 1993).