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The 5: Dar-ryl

Last weekend the Mets officially retired Darry Strawberry's uniform number, 18.

There was a time in the late 1980's when that statement was a foregone conclusion. And even though Strawberry left New York for the bright lights of his hometown Los Angeles prior to the 1991 season, and despite the multiple off-the-field issues he's had over the years, there's something about seeing the circle with his number and the pinstripe background at the top of Citi Field that fits just right.

It would be easy to justify Strawberry's place in Mets history by sharing his statistical achievements. Impressive as they are, there was more to the Darryl Strawberry-Mets relationship than just numbers. There are a few players in baseball history who've had "textbook" swings. In Darryl's case, it was an AP textbook. It was science and it was art. It was simultaneously furious and smooth, and the results often proved it.

For this version of The 5, we take a look at Strawberry's best home runs with the Mets. There's a vital insurance run from a World Series game 7, two separate drives that each tied NLCS games, a home run that hit a scoreboard clock, and another that went...higher.

So, here are Darryl Strawberry's 5 "best" home runs with the Mets...

5. October 27, 1986 - World Series, Game 7 - 8th inning

When someone mentions the 1986 World Series, most people immediately think of the legendary Game 6. Only sometimes do people bring up the fact that Game 7 was an exciting contest in its own right. In this see-saw battle, the Mets were down 3-0, came back to tie it in the 6th inning, then went ahead 6-3 in the 7th. Still, only a few ever bring up that the Red Sox made a charge in the top of the 8th inning, and brought the score back to 6-5, which was enough to make any Mets fan nervous. Darryl Strawberry then led off the bottom of the inning with a majestic home run off of Red Sox reliever, Al Nipper, providing an important insurance run and making a statement of "Not this time," which reduced much of the fans' anxiety. The Mets would add another run in the inning and go on to win the game, 8-5, bringing home their first World Series championship since 1969.

4. October 11, 1986 - NLCS, Game 3 - 6th inning

The Mets first postseason game in Shea Stadium since 1973 did not start out so well. The Houston Astros scored 2 first inning runs, then followed that up with another 2 in the second. The Mets, on the other hand, could only muster 4 singles in the first 5 innings against Astros starter, Bob Knepper. Then, in the bottom of the 6th, things changed. After two singles and an error, the Mets found themselves down 4-1 with Darryl Strawberry stepping to the plate as the potential tying run. It did not take long for Strawberry to reach that potential. On the first pitch, Darryl launched a 3-run home run, knotting the game at 4-4. The Mets would go on to win in the bottom of the 9th when Lenny Dykstra hit a 2-run blast to give the Mets a 6-5 victory.

3. October 14, 1986 - NLCS, Game 5 - 5th inning

The fifth game of the 1986 National League Championship Series had all the ingredients for a classic. The series was tied at 2 games apiece. Two of the first four games were decided by 1-run, another by 2 runs, and all of the games were alive down to the final pitch. The starting pitching matchup was Dwight Gooden vs. Nolan Ryan, so runs were expected to come at a premium. This proved accurate, as both starters lived up to their reputations. Gooden gave up just one run in 10(!) innings pitched. Ryan certainly did his part, striking out 12 and giving up just 2 hits in his 9 innings of work. In fact, Ryan mowed down the first 13 Mets he faced and while the 'Stros only had 1 run in the 5th inning, that seemed like it could be enough. That is, until Darryl Strawberry stepped up to face him in the 5th inning. Three innings earlier, Ryan caught Strawberry looking. This time, however, Strawberry won the battle. With the count full, Darryl turned around a low fastball and parked it just inside the foul pole. It wasn't one of the "standard" majestic Straw shots, yet it was just as effective. That would be the last that either team scored until a Gary Carter single drove home the winning run in the bottom of the 12th inning, putting the Mets up 3 games 2 in the best of 7 series.

2. October 1, 1985 - 11th inning

This is the first ever repeat entry on The 5 (this moment was previously mentioned in the Mets-Cardinals post on 4/29.

The Mets began the last week of the 1985 season trailing the first place Cardinals by three games. They went into St. Louis for a pivotal 3-game second-to-last series of the season. In this first game, Ron Darling squared off against eventual 21-game winner, John Tudor, in a memorable pitchers duel. Darling pitched 9 shutout innings, giving up 4 hits and 3 walks while striking out 5. Tudor matched him, going 10 scoreless innings of his own, giving up 6 hits and 3 walks with 7 strikeouts. After that it was a battle of lefty relievers, Jesse Orosco for the Mets and Ken Dayley for the Cardinals. With the score still tied at 0, Darryl Strawberry launched a 1-1 curve ball off the right field scoreboard, an estimated 440 feet away from home plate for a solo home run. It was Strawberry's 28th, and most important, homer of the season. Orosco held onto the lead in the bottom of the 11th, and the Mets postseason hopes lived on for another day.

1. April 4, 1988 - Opening Day - 5th inning

While the other entries on this list all come from games in October, this one is from Opening Day. Before we get to Strawberry's blast, here's a quick, and important, history lesson...

Montreal's Olympic Stadium (aka Stade olympique) was built in the mid-1970's in prepaeration for the 1976 Summer Olympics. From the very beginning, it was designed to have a retractable roof. This proved harder to build than originally expected. When "the big O" opened in time for the Olympic games, there was no roof. A year later, when the Montreal Expos played their first games there, still no roof. Finally, in 1987 the roof was completed. However, when it was raised for the first time, it tore, and the retractable option was delayed further. Still, beginning that season, the Expos played in their now-indoor stadium.

In April 1988, in their 20th year in existence, the Expos hosted their first home Opening Day in franchise history. Over 55,000 fans were in attendance to celebrate. While the Expos did take a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, the festivities didn't last long. Darryl Strawberry led off the top of the second with a home run in his first at-bat of the season. The Mets would take the lead in the following inning, and increase that lead in the 4th inning, only to have the Expos tie it back up in the 5th. The Mets re-took the lead in the top of the 6th. Then, with one out in the top of the 7th inning, Strawberry stepped in to face Expos reliever Randy St. Claire. Now, people often use the word "launch" when a player hits a home run, however it is almost never as appropriate as it was on this pitch. Darryl hit a shot that went up and up, and was ultimately lost by the TV cameras, as it hit a technical ring at the bast of the stadium's roof. Bob Moore, a McGill University scientist and professor, calculated that the ball would have traveled about 525 feet (160.02 mètres in Montreal-speak) had the roof not gotten in the way. Strawberry's second home run of the day put the Mets up 8-4 and they would go on to win the game 10-6. The Mets hit 6 home runs that day (2 by Strawberry, 2 by Kevin McReynolds, and 1 each by Kevin Elster and Lenny Dykstra), although it was Darryl's roof shot that is still appreciated, thirty-six years later.

In all, Darryl Strawberry hit 252 home runs while with the Mets. It's been almost thirty-four years since his final 4-bagger in the blue and orange, and he's still the all-time Mets leader in the category.

Obviously, there was an abundance of options to choose from for this list. Please share your thoughts/memories/suggestions in the comments below.

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