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Dykstra Homer Nails Astros in 9th, Gives Mets a 6-5 Win

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Times Staff Writer

Ray Knight, alone in a crowd of New York teammates, sat in the Met dugout in the bottom of the ninth inning Saturday afternoon, praying.

“A very selfish, silent prayer,” said Knight, the former Houston Astro whose seventh-inning error had put the Mets in jeopardy of losing Game 3 of the National League playoffs.

“I was praying, ‘Let’s do something, so the onus isn’t on me.’ ”

When Wally Backman, the Met baserunner who was standing on second with one out in the ninth, saw the big swing on which Len Dykstra fouled back the first pitch to him from Astro reliever Dave Smith, Backman shook his head in disapproval.

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“When he swung at that pitch, I was thinking, ‘Lenny, don’t try to hit it over the fence,’ ” said Backman, who originally reached base by his own creation, diving into first to beat out a bunt on a play that caused some dispute.

“Then I was thinking, ‘Lenny took this guy deep once before.’ I thought, ‘OK, go ahead and do it.’

“Sure enough, he did.”

Nails Dykstra, as he is nicknamed, nailed one, all right. His you-gotta-believe-it, two-run home run gave the Mets a 6-5 win and transformed Shea Stadium--as polite as Carnegie Hall for most of the overcast afternoon--into a high-fivin’, Astro-defyin’, bring-on-the-World-Series-jivin’ madhouse .

The World Series will have to wait, of course. The Mets, who lead the playoffs, 2 games to 1, still need two more wins to close out the Astros. But this may have been a heart-shattering stake that Dykstra drove through the Astros, who first lost a 4-0 lead in the sixth inning on a four-run Met rally capped by Darryl Strawberry’s three-run homer off Houston starter Bob Knepper, then lost the game with their ace reliever on the mound.

“We were in exactly the position we wanted to be in,” Houston catcher Alan Ashby said, “and Dykstra showed us we weren’t.”

Strawberry said that before he connected off Knepper with his towering home run into the lower deck of the right-field stands, Dykstra--who didn’t even start this game--was prodding him.

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“Lenny was telling me on the bench that I’ve got to hit a home run to get us back in the game,” said Strawberry, who hadn’t managed a hit of any type off Knepper in more than a year.

But Strawberry laughed at the idea that he had reminded Dykstra--who had a total of nine big league home runs before Saturday--to reciprocate with a homer of his own in the ninth inning.

Lenny Dykstra, the midget Met who used to sneak into Anaheim Stadium as a kid, hitting a home run? Keith Hernandez, sure, or Gary Carter. But not Dykstra, not now, not off Smith, who had 33 saves during the regular season.

“The last time I hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning was in Strat-O-Matic,” Dykstra said. “It’s a board game where you roll the dice.

“I played against my brother (Kevin) a couple of years ago and rolled some big numbers.”

Dykstra also had Smith’s number once before--on the Fourth of July here when he doubled off the wall for a game-winning RBI.

“That time, he threw me a fastball,” Dykstra said. “I didn’t think I’d see a fastball from him today. But the first pitch he threw me was a fastball (the pitch Dykstra fouled off).

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“The second pitch, I had a real gut feeling it would be a forkball.”

It was. Dykstra swung and sent the ball on a line toward the right-field bullpen. Three steps down the line, Dykstra thrust his fists into the air. Backman, watching between second and third, did the same. The Met dugout exploded, two dozen men in uniform converging on home plate, where little Lenny Dykstra disappeared from sight in the jubilant mob.

Dykstra: “I touched (the plate). It was like going for a first down on fourth-and-goal, but I got it.”

Dykstra was home free--and so was Knight, the third baseman whose throwing error on a bunt enabled the Astros to score the go-ahead run without the benefit of a hit in the seventh.

“Because of my involvement, this is the most dramatic win I’ve ever seen,” Knight said. “Here I am, and all of a sudden I don’t have anything to worry about. It was . . . a great relief, knowing I wasn’t going to be the goat.”

The Astro seventh began when Billy Doran, whose two-run homer in the second put Met starter Ron Darling in a 4-0 hole, drew a walk on four pitches from Met reliever Rick Aguilera.

The next batter, Billy Hatcher, dropped a bunt that Knight fielded on the run, fumbled and then threw away. Doran reached third and scored on a forceout.

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“When I jerked my glove up, I felt the ball bobble and when I reached for it I got it back here,” Knight said, pointing to his palm. “I should have never thrown it. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

The Mets, who showed few signs of life in the first five innings against Knepper, exploited an Astro glitch to tie the score, 4-4, in the sixth. After singles by Kevin Mitchell and Hernandez gave the Mets two base-runners with none out, Carter topped a roller toward short that went under Craig Reynolds’ glove for an error. Mitchell scored, and Strawberry crushed Knepper’s next pitch.

After Houston regained the lead, rookie reliever Charlie Kerfeld pitched a 1-2-3 eighth, then turned the game over to Smith. After Backman beat out a bunt, diving past Astro first baseman Glenn Davis in a disputed play in which the Astros argued that Backman went out of the baseline, Dykstra turned the game into legend.

Said Hernandez: “I’ll be lying on my deathbed, dying deliriously, saying, ‘Lenny, Lenny, Lenny.’ ”

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