Notes: Straw back to toss first pitch

Notes: Straw back to toss first pitch

NEW YORK -- His left shoulder isn't what it used to be -- not free of pain and hardly a hinge of the powerful, though erratic throwing arm it once was. So Darryl Strawberry wondered how he would handle his assignment for the night, throwing out the first ball for Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals on Thursday night.

"I haven't picked up a ball since I played," Strawberry said. And the record book says his last innings as a big-league outfielder happened in 1998, the season before his last appearances with the Yankees as a designated hitter.

So what was a former Mets right fielder to do? Well, someone wondered, instead of throwing out the first ball, why not hit it out? Just have some batting practice pitcher lay one in there and hit the thing.

For a brief instant, Strawberry lit up. His eyes widened as if Al Nipper or Ken Forsch was tomorrow's probable pitcher. The outside-the-(batter's-)box idea had appeal and merit -- until reality reminded him of how many years had passed since his last swing in anger, the one that produced a strikeout against John Smoltz in the sixth inning of Game 4 of the 1999 World Series.

"Nah, can't swing any more either," he said, contradicting the notion popular among the current Mets players in Spring Training when Strawberry looked Rickey Henderson-fit.

Even the name Ken Daley and the image of the monstrous home run he hit off the Cardinals reliever -- and the clock in old Busch Stadium -- in 1985 couldn't persuade him.

So Strawberry sought assistance from an old mate. He asked Ron Darling to "warm me up." Darling declined and playfully admonished his friend: "And don't go throwing off the mound. Stay off the mound. The last time you were on the mound, you hurt you elbow."

And Darling preceded to tell the tale. It was 1985 again, he said. The Mets were in Montreal, and Strawberry, a hard-throwing pitcher in high school, wanted to measure himself -- and his heat -- against Dwight Gooden and the Doctor's fastball. Eight years before Jose Canseco blew out his elbow pitching in a big-league game, Strawberry hurt his elbow. Already assigned to the disabled list, Strawberry spent a few extra days in the DL because of the elbow.

Though fully recovered by Thursday night, Strawberry threw an eephus pitch -- from 10 feet in front of the mound -- to Mets coach Sandy Alomar.

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FYI: Strawberry is one of five players who rightfully could have provided the same service for the Yankees or Mets before an LCS game. He, Gooden, David Cone, John Olerud and Kenny Rogers are the only five to have played in the LCS for both New York teams.

Hey, lefty: The pregame introductions of the Mets lasted a tad longer than those of the Cardinals because players not on the roster were named. Most notable, of course, was Pedro Martinez. A week removed from surgery on his right shoulder, Martinez had his right arm in a sling. He waved left-handed.

More alumni news: More alumni news: Also in attendance were Mookie Wilson and George Foster, who played in the same outfield as Strawberry from 1983 through midsummer in '86. They were joined by their respective wives, Rosa and Shelia.

Their concern was not necessarily Mets-related. Preston Wilson, the Cardinals' No. 2 hitter and left fielder in Game 2, the stepson of Mookie Wilson and the godson of the Fosters.

"We're very interested parties," Shelia Foster said.

And when Rosa Wilson declined to identify her allegiance, her friend chimed in. "When you give birth to them... " Shelia said.

Finally, Rosa Wilson provided a hint.

"I'll say this, if Mookie were managing the Mets, it would be real hard. I'd be torn."

TV time: Cardinals announcer and former third baseman Mike Shannon, a St. Louis restaurateur, is understandably disappointed that all three NLCS games scheduled for new Busch Stadium -- Saturday, Sunday and Monday -- are night games. Not good for the dinner business.

"That's why I'm disappointed the Yankees are out of it," Shannon said. "They always get the night games for TV. I always root for the New York teams when we're in the playoffs. ... Except now."

This date in Mets postseason history -- Oct. 13: The one that got away was Game 1 of the 1973 World Series. The Mets lost, 2-1, to the A's in Oakland. The only runs the A's scored came in the third inning. A ground ball from Bert Campaneris bounced through the legs of Mets second baseman Felix Millan, and the runs that followed were unearned.

The Mets lost the only other game they played on this date. It was a 4-2 loss to the Braves in Game 2 of the 1999 NLCS in Atlanta. Leading, 2-0, the Mets -- with Rogers pitching -- allowed four runs in the sixth inning. Brian Jordan and reserve catcher Eddie Perez hit two-run home runs. After the Mets scored their third run, with one out in the eight inning, John Rocker and Smoltz struck out three of the final five batters.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.