World Series champion and beloved SNY analyst Keith Hernandez will have his No. 17 retired by the Mets on Saturday, becoming just the fourth player, plus managers Casey Stengel and Gil Hodges, in the history of the franchise to be bestowed that honor. This is the ninth of a 10-part daily countdown of Hernandez’s greatest moments and accomplishments following his 1983 arrival in Flushing.
No. 2: The comeback kids
The fabled World Series comebacks wouldn’t have occurred for the Mets in 1986 without an earlier recovery against the Astros in Game 6 of the NLCS.
Houston lefty Bob Knepper carried a 3-0 lead and a two-hit shutout into the ninth inning with a chance to force Game 7, in which Astros ace Mike Scott — who deeply was in the Mets’ heads with two wins and a 0.50 ERA earlier in the series amid accusations he was scuffing the ball — was set to pitch for a trip to the Fall Classic.
Keith Hernandez finished 1-for-7 in what would turn out to be a series-clinching, 7-6 Mets victory in 16 innings, but the one hit was a key double that chased Knepper and cut the deficit to 3-2 in the ninth.
Hernandez often has credited an in-game phone call he placed from the visiting clubhouse to his brother, Gary, in California after the seventh inning for advice on facing Knepper.
“I was 0-for-3, and Knepper was tough. Elias [Sports Bureau] sent me my numbers once and I hit like .325 off of him lifetime, but he was no fun. He was work,” Hernandez told The Post last week. “I always just choked up a little more against him.”
Gary Hernandez had told his younger brother that he could tell the veteran lefty was tiring, and Keith recalls the advice during the pep talk “to get on top of one and drive it to the alley.”
Lenny Dykstra tripled to lead off the inning and scored on Mookie Wilson’s single for the first run to bring up Hernandez, who ripped a 2-1 pitch to right-center to pull the Mets within one before Ray Knight tied the score with a sacrifice fly off closer Dave Smith.
The sides traded runs in the 14th, including a game-tying homer by Houston outfielder Billy Hatcher, but the Mets plated three in the top of the 16th for a 7-4 advantage. The Astros got two back in the bottom half against Jesse Orosco, in his third inning of work. But the lefty struck out Kevin Bass for the final out to set up an infamously wild celebration on the plane ride back to New York ahead of the matchup with Boston in the World Series.
“That was the greatest game I ever played in,” Hernandez said of the marathon comeback in Houston. “I was so emotionally spent after that game. Then we had the crazy four-hour flight home, but that game, for 16 innings, was so exhausting, very stressful. It felt like going into a jungle waiting to be ambushed. But our team was so clutch with our backs against the wall.”