Dwight Gooden pitched another complete-game victory tonight, 4-2, for the National League East's overwhelming pennant favorites, the New York Mets, over those 104-game losers of 1985, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Keith Hernandez got another game-winning RBI.
Ho-hum? Oh, no. There were R.J. Reynolds' booming drive of 400 feet plus into the right center-field seats off Gooden leading off the home first, and the Pirates putting the tying runs on base with none out in the ninth before going under. But for the Pirates' new manager, Jim Leyland, almost is not enough.
Yet there was moral victory here tonight for Pittsburgh and for baseball. What was reaffirmed by the roar of the 48,953 in Three Rivers Stadium had been affirmed beforehand by Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who was present for the occasion.
"Last fall when I was here, this was a franchise in jeopardy," he said. "If I had to guess at that time, I would have guessed that by this time, there would not be a major league team in Pittsburgh."
And, yes, he said, he did feel he should be here because this was the locale of baseball's nadir, the 1985 drug trials. "I say the drug problem is gone," the commissioner said, reiterating his recent theme. "It is out of baseball. The players don't want it. We are the first sport to be rid of it. I think the problem is behind us."
He appeared with Malcolm Prine, chief executive officer for the Pirates' new ownership consortium of corporate and private investors that saved the franchise for the city after the Galbreath family wearied of low attendance and financial losses.
With the council committed to a $21 million bond issue urged by Mayor Richard Caliguiri to seal the deal, no wonder Syd Thrift, the new general manager, could say: "Everybody's working in concert, . . . That's why you can see interest from people in the streets. It's their team now."
Their team indeed is a new team. Only catcher Tony Pena and second baseman Johnny Ray started the 1985 opener and the 1986 opener.
"The New Bucs -- We Play Hardball," the team trumpets in the campaign that produced advance sales of 600,000 tickets -- compared to 382,000 in preseason 1985, which turned out to be more than were sold the entire regular season.
Tonight, the hardball-playing Pirates ran into Mr. Hardball himself, Gooden, when he was just a shade shy of his "Dr. K" persona. The Cy Young award winner coming off the 24-4 sophomore season trailed his pitching opponent, 1985 comeback pitcher of the year Rick Reuschel, 15 years his senior, in strikeouts through six innings, 6-2.
But Gooden, 21, began with a 2-0 lead provided by a walk, Keith Hernandez's double to the fence and Gary Carter's sacrifice fly. He shrugged off Reynolds' homer off an 0-2 pitch and worked out of small difficulties in the early innings. Given insurance by a sixth-inning run on doubles by Darryl Strawberry (who walked his other three times up) and George Foster, and an RBI single by Hernandez in the seventh, Gooden was good enough.
He came on with four strikeouts in the last three innings, the big one coming after Leyland had cleanup hitter Sid Bream sacrifice for the first out after Gooden issued his only walk and gave up Ray's second single.
The victim was Steve Kemp, for the third time in the game. Pena bounced to the mound and it was over.
Even Hernandez praised the Pirates: "They're looking a lot better. They're hungry. I saw it in September; they got good young talent; didn't waste their veterans."
But nobody has a Dwight Gooden but the Mets. "I wanted to be nervous," Gooden said, "but, well, it felt like the middle of the season."