It’s quite possible that no team was ever quite as intolerant of being hit by pitches as the ’86 Mets, who famously brawled nearly as much as they won in that championship season.
So I had to check in with Darryl Strawberry after the ’22 Mets were finally pushed to the limit in St. Louis on Wednesday, responding to being hit by a pitch for the 19th time in 20 games by throwing what seemed to be a purpose pitch to Nolan Arenado.
Not that the pitch from journeyman reliever Yoan Lopez was up-and-in enough to warrant Arenado’s overreaction, which triggered the bench-clearing incident, but at least it seemed to be the Mets saying enough was enough.
I thought Strawberry would appreciate the gesture. I should have known better.
“Come on, man, if they want to put a stop to their guys getting hit, somebody’s gotta charge the mound,” Strawberry said by phone. “I know the game is different now but at some point you have to let teams know that if they throw at you, they’re going to pay a price.
“That’s how we were. Teams didn’t like us because we were in New York and we were good and we took curtain calls, so they tried to test us by throwing at us and we put a stop to that real quick. We let them know we were going to fight them, all of us, and they were going to respect us.
“This team has beaten up on some teams early and I think they’re being tested. If you don’t make a statement, other teams are going to keep doing what they’re doing and think you’re a bunch of softies. You can’t have guys getting hit in the head and not do anything about it. So make your statement early: ‘You keep hitting us and we’re going to charge the mound and snap your neck.’“
As he indicated, Strawberry knows almost nobody charges the mound the way they did decades ago, in part because suspensions are so much lengthier — and costly — than they were at that time.
Still, he was emphatic in saying the need for action should supersede any concern about punishment.
“Who cares about a suspension?” Strawberry said. “You throw all that out the window when teams are throwing at you. And it doesn’t matter if it’s not intentional. Pitchers obviously are trying to throw up and in on them. You have to let them know, ‘we’re not going to allow you to keep hitting us.’
“You go out there and pop them in the face and it does a couple of things. It did for us, anyway: it forces pitchers to back off from what they’re doing, and it becomes a bonding thing for a team. Once we established that we had each other’s backs and nobody was going to mess with us, we felt like we were never going to lose. It was part of who we were.
“I’m not saying this team has to be the animals that we were. I’d just like to see the Mets win again. It’s been a long time. The fans in New York deserve another championship. I’m glad to see this team is off to a good start. I played for Buck (Showalter) in ’95 (with the Yankees), so I know they’ve got a good manager.
“But it’s up to the players to form that bond, and this is the kind of thing that can help do that. It’s up to the players to say ‘the hell with this, we’re getting hit too many times.’“
To some extent the ’22 Mets seemingly have been galvanized by all the hit-by-pitches, and Showalter has played a key role from the moment he came storming out of the dugout in Washington D.C. screaming profanities at Steve Cishek for hitting Francisco Lindor in the face with a pitch.
Players have taken their cue from the manager since then, whether it was Starling Marte saying something needed to be done Tuesday night after he took a pitch off the shoulder and Pete Alonso took one off the helmet for the second time this season, or Max Scherzer jawing with Cardinals’ players from the dugout on the same night.
As such the hit-by-pitches have become something of a timely rallying cry for a team that suffered from a lack of clubhouse leadership last season. Between that and the infectious intensity/will to win that Scherzer has brought, these Mets seem to have quite a different vibe from the underachieving teams of the last few years.
Winning, of course, cures a lot of ills and that’s what stands out most so far. Though they lost, 10-5, to the Cardinals on Wednesday, the Mets went 4-2 on the road trip, winning their first six series to start a season for the first time in franchise history.
At 14-6 they’ve got the most wins in the majors, and though it doesn’t quite match the 20-5 start by the ’86 team en route to winning its championship — the last by this franchise — it is enough to make somebody like Strawberry hopeful.
“I just remember the way the city fell in love with us,” Strawberry said. “I think part of it was our personality. Can that happen for this team? It’s a possibility. But I’d like to see them establish a little more of that personality that says, ‘don’t mess with us or somebody’s going to get hurt.’‘’