Today is the 25th anniversary of the “Nice Game, Pretty Boy” game from the Keith Hernandez episodes of Seinfeld. You might recall that Kramer and Newman held a grudge against Keith Hernandez for spitting on them after Newman had taunted Hernandez. As it turns out, though, it was Roger McDowell all along.
As told by Kramer and Newman, that infamous game took place on June 14th, 1987, against the Phillies. Keith Hernandez committed a costly error, and the Phillies scored 5 runs in the 9th to win it. Also, Roger McDowell was warming up in the bullpen and got a beer thrown on him by Newman as he and Kramer were sitting in the right field bleachers.
The only problem? The Mets weren’t even at home on June 14, 1987, and they did not play the Phillies. They won at Pittsburgh 7-3 that day, in a game where Keith Hernandez had a home run and a double. The Mets did play Philadelphia at Shea a week later, but swept that series, so there was no Keith Hernandez collapse against the Phillies anywhere that month.
In fact, looking through the home games against the Phillies during the Keith Hernandez years, there is no real candidate to serve as the backdrop for the “spitter”. The closest did come in 1987, I suppose, though much later. New York only lost one game at home to Philadelphia that year, and it came in September. 5-3, Hernandez committed an error. Of course, that error came earlier in the game, and the Phillies rallied with 3 in the 7th, not 5 in the 9th.
So, while we know that the game didn’t really occur on June 14th and doesn’t appear to involve the Phillies, there is usually some basis in fact behind the crazy story lines that appeared on Seinfeld. Larry David is a Yankees fan, but perhaps this was a recounted story that involved a Mets fan from that season, and the details got merged.
There was a 1987 game where the Mets gave up 5 in the last inning, and which featured a Hernandez error that inning. It just didn’t involve the Phillies. On May 2, 1987, the Mets had a 6-4 lead going to the 9th against the Expos. Montreal rallied with 2 in the 9th, then scored 5 runs in the top of the 10th to win the game. Keith Hernandez committed an error in that inning. Of course his error came after Tim Raines had already hit a grand slam, allowing in the final run. A rational Mets fan, though, would have certainly blamed that game on Hernandez. After all, he also went 0 for 6 at the plate with 2 strikeouts. It is entirely plausible that someone associated with the show exchanged a sharp barb with Keith Hernandez post-game on May 2nd, 1987.
There is one other problem with that being the stand alone game used as inspiration (other than the team and date): Roger McDowell started the year on the DL with a hernia, and made his first appearance two weeks later.
We know that McDowell was warming up — we don’t know that he came into the game, though since he had 25 saves that year, it was likely he would come in with the lead once he got up in the bullpen, particularly in a game the Mets still led. Two other games provide opportunities for McDowell to be involved, and a big inning late by the opponent.
On August 19, 1987, the Giants scored not 5 runs, but 4 in the 10th to beat McDowell. There was no error that inning, though (Howard Johnson did commit his 23rd error on the season earlier in the game to start a big inning).
Finally, on September 11, 1987, in a heated pennant race trying to chase down the Cardinals, the Mets gave up a combined 5 runs in the 9th and 10th innings to lose the game. McDowell pitched the 9th and blew the save. Keith Hernandez committed an error in the 8th, though the runner was erased on a double play.
The most likely inspiration for the “nice game, pretty boy” was against the Expos on May 2nd, but perhaps two other games contributed with the angst toward Roger McDowell. Considering these occurred in May, August, and September of 1987, I suppose June 14th is just as good a day as any to celebrate the brilliance of “Roger McDowell, behind the bushes, over by that gravelly road.”
[photo via US Presswire]