'Mets win the ballgame'

Mets centerfielder Lenny Dykstraswings through his bottom of

Mets centerfielder Lenny Dykstraswings through his bottom of the ninth, two-run homer against Dave Smith of the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. The Mets won, 6-5, on Dykstra's home run. (Oct. 11, 1986) Photo Credit: AP

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How Newsday covered NLCS Game 3 on Oct. 11, 1986.

With a one-handed swing at a Dave Smith forkball that didn't fork, Len Dykstra created an implausible ending to a rather implausible game.

His dramatic two-run, ninth-inning home run was the ultimate blow in the Mets' electric 6-5 victory over the Astros yesterday at Shea Stadium.

The home run climaxed a double-jolted comeback and stung a team renowned for 11th-hour reversals, and it gave the Mets a 2-1 lead in the National League Championship Series.

As dramatic as it was, it determined only the outcome of the third game of a best-of-seven playoff series. But if the Mets overcome Mike Scott tonight in Game 4 and if they make it to the World Series, Dykstra's home run will gain in significance and stature.

For now, it is "the greatest thing I've seen,'' Keith Hernandez said. "My favorite hit of all time,'' according to Ray Knight . . . and "the biggest hit I can remember,'' according to Gary Carter. Ed Hearn called it "the most important hit in my career . . . and I didn't even do it."

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The Mets, trailing 4-0 after 11/2 innings, had scored four times in the sixth inning against lefthander Bob Knepper, climaxed by Darryl Strawberry's three-run home run that tied the score at 4 and removed some of the sting from Ron Darling's disappointing pitching performance.

An error by Knight had allowed the Astros to regain the lead 5-4 with an unearned run in the seventh.

"I thought we showed them something when we went right ahead after they tied it up,'' said Bill Doran, who had hit a two-run home run against Darling in the second inning. "We could have come back again, but that's one of the disadvantages of playing on the road."

Wally Backman, Dykstra's "Partner in Grime,'' led off the ninth inning with a bunt single that was disputed by the Astros. They claimed Backman, in an effort to avoid being tagged, ran outside the baseline. First-base umpire Dutch Rennert and home-plate umpire Frank Pulli disagreed.

After Danny Heep, pinch hitting for shortstop Rafael Santana, failed to sacrifice Backman to second on the first pitch, a passed ball on the second did the trick. Heep then flied out, but Dykstra came through. The last time he had hit a ninth-inning, game-winning home run, he said, was "in a Strat-O-Matic game against my little brother.''

Dykstra's home run ranks among the most dramatic in the Mets' 25-year history and as the single most memorable achievement for the 23-year-old. "I've been trying to think of something else I did that comes close,'' Dykstra said. "Nothing. The only thing that could be better would be to do it again tomorrow.''

Thirty minutes after he had struck a blow for the little man and the favored Mets, Dykstra said he couldn't put the emotion into words.

"I think my mind went blank when I got to first base,'' he said. But the 360-foot victory lap he performed certainly demonstrated his exhilaration. Dykstra, playfully ridiculed by his teammates because of his "weak trot,'' jumped over invisible hurdles and raised his hands in joy. "He 'Carlton Fisked' it,'' Tim Teufel said.

When he arrived at the plate, he was assaulted by his teammates. "It was like fourth-and-goal when I tried to get to the plate,'' Dykstra said, and he was hailed by the 55,502 (a number certain to increase over the years) who paid to witness the first postseason game in New York since 1981.

"He made a lot of people happy,'' Darling said. "He did something that will never be forgotten.''

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