Game 4 of the 2017 ALCS wasn’t the first time the Houston Astros have blown a four-run lead in the playoffs to a New York team.
While the New York Yankees history of postseason success is rich and deep, filled with wonderful comebacks and incredible moments, the Astros’ history has been the opposite.
When the Astros blew their four-run lead in Game 4 it matched their largest blown lead in franchise postseason history, something they did for the fourth time last night.
In Game 4 of the 2015 ALDS against Kansas City, the Astros were unable to hold a 6-2 lead, allowing seven combined runs in the eighth-and-ninth innings to the Royals. Houston went on to lose Game 5—and the series—in Kansas City by a score of 7-2. Six outs away from the World Series, the Astros were sent home.
While that loss was devastating, my memories of blown leads in Houston Astros took me back to the first time the Astros and their fans suffered through a postseason meltdown like that.
Except in this flashback, the Astros were in the National League—and they were facing the New York Mets in the 1986 NLCS.
Writing this story is strange enough because it would seem like an impossibility that the two New York MLB franchises would ever share postseason memories against the same team in the LCS. However, when the Astros went from the National League to the American League in 2013, that scenario became possible.
When the Astros and Mets met in the 1986 NLCS both teams had very little postseason experience. The Astros were in the postseason for just the second time, while the Mets made it for just the third time. The memories generated in that series lingered for a long time in Astros history because of the many chances they had to win but failed to capitalize on.
Game 3 took place on Oct. 11, 1986, almost exactly 31 years before last night’s Game 4 collapse against the Yankees. While Game 4 of the 2017 ALCS took place in the Bronx, Game 3 of the 1986 NLCS transpired in Queens at Shea Stadium.
Ron Darling started for the Mets and promptly allowed four runs to the Astros on RBI singles by Denny Walling and Jose Cruz in the first and a two-run home run by Bill Doran in the second. Darling eventually settled down after that, as did the pitchers that followed.
Bob Knepper started for Houston on that rainy day, and he had the Mets’ number. In his previous 21 starts against the Amazin’s, the southpaw threw four shutouts and posted an ERA of 2.29 He was especially dominant against the Mets in 1986, allowing just 12 hits and three earned runs in his final three starts against them that season. Needless to say, facing a four-run deficit against Knepper seemed like an overwhelming task to overcome.
Needless to say, a four-run deficit against Knepper seemed like an overwhelming task for the Mets to overcome.
To make matters worse for these Mets, losing Game 3 would mean that they would be facing Astros’ ace Mike Scott again in Game 4 with the very likely possibility of then facing elimination in Game 5. The former Met had psychologically destroyed them with his split-fingered fastball—a pitch the Mets desperately tried to prove was illegal, claiming that he was scuffing the ball. No matter what the Mets did, they couldn’t prove it, and Scott embarrassed them on the field. In Game 1 of the 1986 NLCS, Scott had thrown a complete-game, five-hit shutout, striking out 14.
But something happened as the game entered the bottom of the sixth inning. The anthem of the season—“Let’s Go Mets”—crackled through the stadium speakers. It riled up the fans, and it inspired the team.
However, the Astros answered back, helped by a Ray Knight error, to take a 5-4 lead into the ninth inning.
Mets outfielder Lenny Dykstra, who had entered the game in the eighth inning on a double-switch, stepped to the plate with one out and Wally Backman on second base. He took the second pitch he saw from Astros closer Larry Smith into the Mets’ bullpen for a game-winning, two-run blast.
After the game, Dykstra told a story of him hitting a game-winning HR off Smith in a Strat-o-Matic baseball game. A vision of things to come, I guess.
What makes the Astros Game 4 loss to the Yankees so scary to their fans is what happened to the Astros after they lost Game 3 of the 1986 series to the Mets. While history might have nothing to do with different teams and circumstances, it does have an odd way of repeating itself from time to time.
The Astros initially recovered from that devastating loss, beating the Mets in Game 4 with Scott on the hill. However, needing a win in Game 6 at home to force Game 7 for Scott, Knepper was once again unable to hold a lead. The two teams played a 16-inning epic, one the Mets won, 7-6, to close out the series.
Those painful memories haunted the Astros franchise for years. Could they suffer the same fate after yesterday’s trip down memory lane? We’ll find out soon enough.