Only now could New York Mets' Manager Davey Johnson admit it.
It probably was fate that the Mets had their worst road trip of the season so they could return home Wednesday night to clinch their first National League East Division title since 1973.
"I think it was fate that we would come back here," Johnson said. "These fans have been so supportive, and they deserved to see us clinch the division. I think that's why we didn't play well on the road."
Dwight Gooden, who began the 1-4 road trip with a loss in Philadelphia last Friday night, pitched a six-hitter in the division clincher as the Mets beat the Chicago Cubs, 4-2. Rookie Dave Magadan, starting in place of the ailing Keith Hernandez, went 3 for 4 with two runs batted in, both times driving in Lenny Dykstra.
Gooden said he was more nervous in the postgame pandemonium than he was before the game. Even before second baseman Wally Backman completed the final out by throwing to first to get Chico Walker on a groundout, hundreds of fans in the crowd of 47,823 swarmed onto the field at Shea Stadium.
"I got knocked down on the ground," Gooden said. "I didn't know who was on top of me. It was really a scary feeling. You don't know what's going to happen."
Gooden said last Friday night was a case of "everybody trying to do too much. It was good experience for me, good experience going into the playoffs."
Magadan found out Tuesday that he would be making this start because Hernandez came down with a mild virus.
"I was just concentrating so much on not screwing up," Magadan said. "I wanted to have a decent game, no errors, maybe a knock here and there. But the opportunities were there, and it worked out for me. You never know how you'll react in that situation."
New York City police began to clear the confusion off the field about 15 minutes after the game ended, and within a half hour, the field was emptied. There remained only debris and patches of bare ground in the infield and outfield where souvenir hunters removed pieces of sod.
"I just started jumping over people to get off the field," Backman said. "But the fans were really pretty good. A bunch of them said to me, 'Follow us and we'll get you off. Just give us your hat.' I gave them my hat. 'Just don't take my glove,' I said."
Backman said the final out was the toughest of his career.
"The ball jammed Walker and he hit a weak ground ball to me, but it was the hardest play I ever made," Backman said.
Gooden (15-6) struck out eight and walked five--at times looking like the unbeatable Gooden of old. He lost his shutout bid when Rafael Palmeiro hit a two-run homer in the eighth.
"It was great to be out there," Gooden said after the game in a wild clubhouse celebration. "I wanted to finish . . . I wanted to be out there."
At other times Gooden looked like the pitcher who lost two of his previous three decisions. In his last outing Friday night, Gooden worked only five innings, giving up four runs on eight hits in a 6-3 loss to start the trip in Philadelphia.
On the trip, the Mets went 25 consecutive scoreless innings until getting three runs in the third inning of a 4-2 victory in St. Louis on Tuesday night as they reduced their magic number to one. That victory broke a four-game losing streak and was only their second in eight games.