Former Met recalls foray in outfield
Now pitching coach for Braves, McDowell dips into past
As he watched the 10th-inning shuttling of relievers to and from the outfield on Thursday night from the Atlanta dugout at Turner Field, former Mets reliever and current Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell must have thought he was going back in time, specifically to July 22, 1986.
On that fateful July night, the Mets' roster was stretched to the breaking point in the 10th inning after third baseman Ray Knight was ejected following a brawl with Eric Davis of the Reds. Catcher Gary Carter took over at third base and McDowell and Jesse Orosco alternated in the outfield, with center fielder Lenny Dykstra covering them after right fielder Kevin Mitchell was ejected.
"It was depending on the hitter's strength and where he was most likely to put the ball in play," McDowell remembered. "So if it was a right-hander pull guy I'd go to right field and vice versa for Jesse. It was Davey Johnson playing the odds and, again, it was a situation where he had a limited bench and he hoped Jesse and I were capable of playing the outfield."
The gamble paid off as McDowell and Orosco combined for four innings of shutout ball, allowing only four hits, as the Mets, who were down 3-1, with two out and nobody on in the ninth before then-Red and future Met John Franco blew the save, rallied for three in the 14th (one of them scored by Orosco, who drew a walk) to win, 6-3.
"I didn't know you could do that," said then-first baseman Keith Hernandez, whose two-out fly ball to right in the ninth was dropped by Dave Parker, allowing the tying runs to score. "I thought it was a great idea. I'd never seen it before."
McDowell, who would later play the outfield in similar fashion for the Dodgers, had only one regret, that he didn't get a ball.
"I would have been excited," he recalled with a smile. "I know Jesse got one, because I remember the pitch to Tony Perez. It was a sinker, down and in, that Tony lined to Jesse in right field. Max Venable actually hit a ball to left-center when Jesse was pitching and I moved over to make the catch and Lenny came in front of me and caught it. That was my closest call to making a catch in the outfield."
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.