In his first season in the National League, Howard Johnson has discovered tension comes whenever the New York Mets play the Chicago Cubs.
"I can feel it out there. Not having been here last year, I didn't know anything about it, but I could tell a lot of people did," he said after his fourth-inning home run onto the street beyond right field held up for the winning run in a 3-2 decision over the Cubs today.
It was the Cubs' 13th straight loss, tying a club record set by the 1944 team and matched by the 1982 club.
But unlike defeat No. 12 Sunday at St. Louis -- a 7-0, two-hit loss to John Tudor -- Manager Jim Frey felt intensity and saw effort as his team was being beaten by Dwight Gooden (11-3) -- a ball lost in the sun and a double base-running flub notwithstanding.
"I thought we reached back for something extra today. We were facing a good pitcher, maybe a great pitcher, but we stayed with him," Frey said. "What we need now is to get nine innings of that type of intensity and concentration for every inning of every game the rest of the year."
Losing pitcher Scott Sanderson (3-3) thinks they will.
"Let everyone laugh and have fun now, kick us while we're down. If people want to say we stink, that's just fine," he said. "But remember, we will be back. We will start winning again, and then it will be our turn to have a little fun."
Mets Manager Davey Johnson reflected upon last week's four-game sweep of the Cubs at Shea Stadium and said, "I think that series removed the psychological edge the Cubs had over some of our younger players."
The primary younger player today was Gooden, the major-league leader in ERA (1.68) and strikeouts (131).
"It was my most satisfying win," said Gooden, whose two starts at Wrigley Field last year resulted in 11-2 and 9-3 losses. "I've pitched better games. I was looking to go a strong seven (innings)."
The Mets were strongest in the first inning, starting when right fielder Keith Moreland lost Len Dykstra's fly ball in the sun for a triple. Dykstra scored on a sacrifice fly Keith Hernandez.
"I'm not going to make any excuses; I messed it up," Moreland said while holding an ice pack on his wrist where the ball struck. "I've tried to play this field for four years now, and think I've done a good job. But there are times the sun is going to win, and this was one of those times."
The Mets' remaining runs came on home runs -- by Gary Carter (No. 10) right after Hernandez's sacrifice fly, and by Johnson (No. 2) in the fourth inning.
"Those were fast balls up," Sanderson said. "Against a pitcher like Gooden, you need a low amount of runs. Three was one too many."
The Cubs thought they'd score more than two runs for only the third time in the streak, but a freak double play in the first inning dashed those hopes.
The bizarre play came after Billy Hatcher, just up from Class AAA Iowa, had singled, gone to third on Ryne Sandberg's single and scored on Gary Matthews' sacrifice fly.
After Sandberg stole second base, Leon Durham hit a one-hop shot back to Gooden. He caught Sandberg making a hesitation break for third and threw to Johnson, who ran Sandberg back to shortstop Rafael Santana so quickly that, after the tag on Sandberg, Durham was caught between first and second. A couple of quick throws and Durham also was out.
"It was not a lazy or careless play by Sandberg; if anything, he was overanxious," Frey said. "And Leon, he couldn't wait forever to see what they were going to do. If Ryno goes back and forth, and Bull's still on first, everyone's going to ask, 'Why wasn't Durham on second?' "
Most of the Cubs' fourth largest crowd of the season, 36,730, were on their feet in the seventh when Ron Cey doubled and came around on Steve Lake's sacrifice bunt and pinch hitter Richie Hebner's ground out. But the wind held fly balls by Sandberg and Matthews in the park in the eighth before Gooden wrapped things up.
"We were lucky to get away with a win. Thank goodness, Chicago's not playing that well," Howard Johnson said.