Monday, April 22, 2013

Kevin McReynolds revisits the Mets NL East championship team twenty-five years later

Kevin McReynolds figured prominently in the New York Mets' quest for the National League pennant in 1988. The 28-year-old left fielder was in his second season with the Mets after a trade in December 1986 brought him to New York in exchange for Shawn Abner, Stan Jefferson, and Kevin Mitchell. Coming to the Mets fresh off of their World Series victory, he had lofty expectations for his time in Flushing.

Kevin McReynolds / N. Diunte
“You had high hopes with a team that strong,” said McReynolds during an appearance at a baseball card show at Hofstra University this Saturday. “[They] had great pitching at the time. You think it was going to be … almost like a dynasty in the making. You look back now; of course it didn’t turn out to be that. It was always an interesting team and [there was] a lot of good baseball too.”

McReynolds, who was known for his private nature off the field, came out in a major way in 1988, finishing third in the MVP voting behind teammate Darryl Strawberry and the Kirk Gibson of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He blasted 27 home runs, drove in 99 runs, and set the single-season record for the most stolen bases without a single caught stealing, going a perfect 21-21.

“They just saw a fat ol’ white boy over there, so they didn’t pay attention to me,” McReynolds joked. “As long as I didn’t run in situations where I could hurt us with an out … they gave me the green light.”

The Mets faced off with the Dodgers in an unforgettable National League Championship Series, with the Mets taking the first two of the three games. During Game 4, McReynolds launched a fourth inning home run to put the Mets up 3-2. Going in to the ninth inning leading 4-2 with Dwight Gooden on the mound, Mets fans felt confident that the potential for a series clinching Game 5 would take place at Shea Stadium; however, Dodgers’ catcher Mike Scioscia had plans otherwise.

After a leadoff walk in the top of the ninth inning, Scioscia blasted a home run to right field to tie the game, hushing the boisterous Shea Stadium crowd. The two teams battled in extra innings, until Gibson homered off of Roger McDowell in the top of the 12th to put the Dodgers in front 5-4. The Mets would not go quietly, as
as they put the first two batters on base with consecutive singles off of Dodgers reliever Tim Leary, forcing manager Tommy Lasorda to bring in ex-Met Jesse Orosco. The lefty specialist walked Keith Hernandez and recorded the second out of the inning when Strawberry popped up to second base.

Just as McReynolds approached the plate with the bases loaded, Lasorda called upon Orel Hershiser, who pitched seven innings in the Dodgers' loss the night before. He encountered a pitcher in Hershiser who refused to give in. He flew out to center field ending the four-and-a-half hour marathon.

“I ended up making the final out," he said. "We had beaten LA so many times during that year, but Hershiser was on that phenomenal streak at the time. You always hate to be the last guy to make the last out, but unfortunately someone has to win and someone has to lose.”

The Mets lost Game 5 at Shea Stadium, but forced the deciding game in Los Angeles when David Cone pitched a complete game 5-1 victory aided by a McReynolds home run. Hershiser was too much for the Mets to handle in Game 7 and the Dodgers advanced to the World Series, which they won in convincing fashion over the Oakland Athletics.

McReynolds played with the Mets through 1991 when he was traded to the Kansas City Royals as part of the Bret Saberhagen deal. He played two seasons in Kansas City until the Mets reacquired him in 1994 in exchange for Vince Coleman. He played half of the 1994 season before knee injuries ended his baseball career.

Spending the bulk of his major league career in New York, McReynolds said the fans captured his attention while playing in Queens.

“There were always a lot of fans, [but] they weren’t always fans for you at times," he said. "They were always very verbal and they [expected] a good product on the field. [The fans] were just one of the things to look forward to.”

The 53-year-old McReynolds lives in Little Rock Arkansas, and when he is not playing golf, he is pursuing a wide range of business interests.

“I play golf a lot, run a commercial duck hunting operation during the winter time, and a couple of friends and I own some pizza restaurants in Memphis.”


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