Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden tips his hat to a standing...

Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden tips his hat to a standing ovation as he leaves the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the seventh inning at Shea Stadium in New York, June 5, 1987.  Credit: AP/Susan Ragan

Dwight Gooden’s memorable transformation to Dr. K took place during those epic 1980s seasons at Shea Stadium, but he’ll achieve Mets’ immortality Sunday when his No. 16 is retired at Citi Field.

Gooden was so consistently dominant over this Flushing era, his greatness so impenetrable for long periods of time, that it’s actually difficult to isolate specific examples. Through his first five seasons, the making of the “Doc” legend, he pitched 52 complete games, with 19 shutouts, meaning that Gooden went the distance in 33% of his 158 starts over that span.

Those numbers read like a fairy tale these days, coming off more as mythology than real life. But only now is Gooden getting the storybook ending everyone imagined when he first showed up as that 19-year-old flamethrower at the Astrodome in 1984. There were some tragic missteps on the journey to this Sunday’s special afternoon at Citi, but the highlights were magical, and here are a handful — numbered one through six for the No. 16 — to reflect back on. (Mets only, so the Yankees’ no-hitter wasn’t included).

1. Doc’s debut at the Astrodome (April 7, 1984). Gooden figured to start the ’84 season at Triple-A Tidewater, despite his 300 strikeouts in only 191 innings the previous year in the minors, but Davey Johnson — just promoted from the Tides to Flushing himself — insisted the 19-year-old pitching prodigy was coming to the Mets, too. With that hurdle cleared, Gooden had another waiting in Houston: he walked three miles to the Astrodome and arrived so early he climbed a chain-link fence to get into the stadium. But once Gooden got to the mound, he retired the first six Astros he faced, then later earned his first career W with the five-inning stint (1 run, 3 hits, 2 walks, 5 Ks). “After you’ve faced him once,” Astros third baseman Ray Knight said that day, “you respect him immediately.”

2. Stealing the All-Star spotlight (July 10, 1984). At 8-5 with a 2.84 ERA and 133 strikeouts at the break, Gooden easily earned an invite to San Francisco’s Candlestick Park for the All-Star Game. And at 19, he was the youngest player in history to receive the honor. The American League probably wished he stayed home. Gooden, pitching to then Expos’ catcher Gary Carter in the fifth inning, struck out the side, whiffing the Tigers’ duo of Lance Parrish and Chet Lemon before ending with the Mariners’ Alvin Davis. It was the first of four All-Star appearances for Gooden, two of them starts.

3. Dazzling again, but Mets’ no-hit jinx holds (Sept. 7, 1984). Tom Seaver threw a one-hitter for the Mets five times. Jon Matlack and Gary Gentry each did it twice. But if anyone was perfectly equipped to end the franchise’s stunning inability to pitch a no-no since their creation in 1962, it figured to be the overpowering Gooden, whose blistering fastball and 12-to-6 curve were, on most nights, nearly untouchable. Gooden struck out 11 Cubs and outhit Chicago himself with a pair of singles, but Keith Moreland led off the fifth with a slow grounder to third that Ray Knight couldn’t muster a throw on as he ranged toward the foul line. Incredibly, it turned out to be the only one-hitter of Gooden’s Mets career. “He's just an outstanding pitcher, what can you say?” Cubs manager Jim Frey said then. “You're going to hear that for 15 more years.”

4. Put it in the books! (Oct. 2, 1985). Gooden became baseball’s youngest 20-game winner when he beat the Padres with a relatively lackluster (for him) six-inning performance (four Ks) on Aug. 25 at Shea Stadium. But he was far from finished in what still stands as one of the greatest pitching seasons in history. Gooden went nine innings in five of his last six starts (three complete games, two shutouts), compiling a 0.34 ERA over that stretch while the opposition hit just .175 against him. Gooden wrapped the season by winning four straight, including a showdown with another 20-game winner, the Cardinals’ Joaquin Andujar, in the finale. He struck out 10 in the Mets’ 5-2 victory and claimed the pitching Triple Crown by leading both leagues in wins (24), ERA (1.53) and strikeouts (268).

5. More Gooden? Why not? (Oct. 14, 1986). Perhaps the one inexplicable glitch in Gooden’s Flushing resume was him looking almost human in the playoffs rather than being the invincible Dr. K (0-3, 3.25 ERA, 43 hits in 44 1/3 innings). But that didn’t apply to Game 5 of the NLCS against the Astros, as Gooden locked up in a marquee duel with Nolan Ryan and outlasted the Hall of Famer by pitching 10 innings before the Mets prevailed, 2-1, in the 12th. Gooden only struck out four and allowed nine hits, but Houston probably shouldn’t have scored at all if not for Bill Doran’s apparent double-play grounder getting stuck in Wally Backman’s glove, a delay that got the Astros a run in the fifth instead of ending the inning. “I think I could have gone longer,” Gooden said afterward.

6. Prodigal son welcomed back to Shea (June 5, 1987). Following the ’86 World Series title, Gooden spent the first two months of the next season at the Smithers Institute in drug rehab, the result of him testing positive for cocaine during spring training. It was a stunning fall for the Mets’ pitching phenom, and Gooden’s self-sabotaging behavior stirred mixed emotions among fans. Mostly, however, they just wanted to have him back. And when Gooden finally did return to face the Pirates at Shea, a sellout-crowd of 51,402 was there to welcome him, showing unconditional love to their troubled ace. The fans threw their arms around Gooden with numerous standing ovations, and he responded with 6 2/3 solid innings in a 5-1 victory. “I was trying to relax, but I had butterflies all day,” Gooden said then. “Getting that first out was the biggest part, and the crowd was tremendous.”


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