Howard Johnson, a disappointment this season, made amends Tuesday night at New York when he hit a grand slam home run in the first inning to lead the Mets to a 5-4 victory that gave them a one-game lead in the National League East.
Johnson hit his ninth home run moments after George Foster was hit by a pitched ball, which precipitated a bench-clearing altercation.
Emotions were high as the teams prepared to open the important three-game series. When Danny Cox hit Foster after the Met hitter took a long time to settle in at the plate, he and Foster exchanged words and both benches emptied, but no punches were thrown.
The umpires conferred with the two managers and then Johnson, a .233 hitter who had only one hit in his previous 11 at bats, cooled everybody off with his slam. A little later, there was an hour delay because of rain. There were no more incidents.
Although Johnson hit the game-winning home run, Keith Hernandez, who drove in the Mets’ first run earlier in the inning, felt Foster won the game.
“I have never seen George step out for such a long time,” Hernandez told United Press International. “I have to think George did it on purpose in an attempt to rattle Cox. And, I have to think he succeeded.”
Cox said the ruckus did not disturb his concentration. “I pitched well after grooving that pitch to Johnson.”
Ron Darling (15-5) had a three-hitter and a 5-2 lead going into the seventh, but two walks and a double by Vince Coleman brought in a run and brought in Roger McDowell to pitch.
With runners on second and third, the league’s leading hitter, slumping Willie McGee could only get a groundout and cut the lead to 5-4, where McDowell made sure it remained.
It was the Cardinals’ fourth straight loss. And tonight, the Mets send Dwight Gooden (20-4) against John Tudor (17-8). Many people rate Gooden the best pitcher in baseball, while Tudor, winner of 16 of his last 17 decisions, is the hottest.
But the Cardinals are in a hitting slump. McGee is 1 for 12, and Jack Clark, the team’s one power hitter, hasn’t played since Aug. 23, when he injured his ribs taking a big swing at a pitch.
Pittsburgh 2, Chicago 1--Rick Reuschel has just about nailed down Comeback Player of the Year honors. Reuschel pitched an eight-hitter at Pittsburgh, struck out 12 and improved his record to 12-7 with his sixth consecutive complete game.
After a 5-5 record last season with the Chicago Cubs, the 36-year-old right-hander languished in the minors until late May, when the desperate Pirates brought him up.
Reuschel is 5-1 in his last six starts. His loss was 1-0. In eight starts from July 12 through Aug. 18, he didn’t win, although he pitched real well in three of the games and gave up only three runs in each of three others.
Houston 4, San Francisco 1--Bob Knepper pitched a three-hitter, and Kevin Bass singled in two runs in the three-run fourth at Houston that gave the Astros their 11th win in the last 13 games.
Chris Brown hit his 15th home run to open the fourth inning, but that was the only problem Knepper (13-10) had. It was the Astros’ ninth win in a row over the Giants at the Astrodome.
Philadelphia 5, Montreal 2--Mike Schmidt blasted a three-run home run with nobody out in the 11th at Philadelphia to give the Phillies the victory. It was the 27th home run for Schmidt but only his eighth game-winning RBI.
Montreal rookie Mitch Webster hit a home run in his fourth consecutive game to help the Expos build a 2-0 lead.