Saturday, August 18, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 1989

Part 28 of our 50-year Potrzebie...
What is it: 1989 Topps #105, Ron Darling

What makes it interesting: Another classic-looking '80s set from Topps. The '89s are generally under-appreciated in the grand scheme of things, but I've always been a fan of this set.

Currently, of course, Ron Darling is best known as one third of our fine play-by-play team on SNY, who has garnered a great deal of much-deserved respect and recognition for his work. In the history books, Ron Darling can sometimes be overlooked for the work he did on the field for the Mets. A mainstay in the starting rotation for 6 seasons, Ron Darling often found himself on the mound at times when the Mets needed a big outing out of him. And more often than not, he delivered. He may not have always racked up the Ws, but he always left the Mets with a chance to win the game.

Initially, Ron drew acclaim for being a rare Yale graduate to reach the Major Leagues (only two Yale grads have played in the Majors since). A cerebral finesse pitcher, Darling's repertoire was the perfect compliment to Dwight Gooden's heat. His rookie year of '84 started out strong, but fizzled with a number of poor outings and no-decisions in the latter half of the season. It was in '85 that Darling blossomed, making his only All Star appearance and finishing with a sterling 16-6 record, and a 2.90 ERA. It was in '85 that he also gained his reputation as a big game pitcher. But it was a start that he didn't win that he was best remembered for. With the Mets in St. Louis for a crucial pennant race game on October 1st, Darling found himself matched against Cardinals ace John Tudor. And Darling matched Tudor zero for zero all night long, keeping the game scoreless into extra innings before Darryl Strawberry's 11th inning Home Run won the game, 1-0.

Darling was equally solid in 1986, winning 15 games, finishing 3rd in the National League with a 2.81 ERA, and finishing 5th in the Cy Young Award voting. Darling saved a couple of his best outings that season for the postseason. Although he was hit hard by Houston in the NLCS, he was solid in his first World Series outing, pitching shutout ball into the 7th inning before losing on Tim Teufel's error. But if he was good in Game 1, he was great in Game 4, pitching 7 shutout innings as the Mets won that game to tie the series 2-2. His start in Game 7 was, by his own admission, not very good, but as he would note, his teammates bailed him out and won the World Series over Boston.

Darling would struggle to match his success of '85 and '86 in the years that followed. Injuries would take a toll on him, among other things. The thumb injury he suffered on that fateful September game vs. the Cardinals in '87 would end a season marked by a number of no-decisions and also rob him of his ability to throw his curveball, one of his out pitches. Nonetheless, Darling rebounded with an excellent season in 1988, winning a career high 17 games with a 3.25 ERA. His record included the incredible home/road split of 14-1 at Shea Stadium, and 3-8 elsewhere. That season would end with another Game 7 start for Darling, this time against the Dodgers in the NLCS, where he was done in by errors and poor luck, and failed to last the 2nd inning. 1989 brought more inconsistency. Although he would win 14 games, marking his 6th straight season of posting at least 12 victories, and a 3.52 ERA, he also lost 14 games, and his grip on a spot in a now-crowded starting rotation became more tenuous. By 1990, he would begin to drift in and out of the rotation, and, of course, he was traded to Montreal in 1991.

Darling's Mets career has to be considered a success overall. He finished with 99 wins and a 3.50 ERA, throwing 25 complete games and 10 shutouts in a Mets uniform. One of the more literary figures in Mets history, Darling's book, "The Complete Game," ranks up there as one of my favorite Baseball reads. He also earned acclaim, early in his career, for being one of the Mets more eligible bachelors, scoring dates with Madonna, most notably, before settling down with a Wilhelmina Model (just imagine if he played in the Twitter era!). Mostly, however, Darling should be remembered as a fierce competitor who could always be trusted to deliver a strong outing. He often delivered with performances equal to the magnitude of the game, and, of course, was a key member of the 1986 World Series Champions.

Card back:

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