On June 27, 1985, the Houston Astros and the New York Mets played a doubleheader at Shea Stadium in New York. The second game was a pretty straight-forward 7-3 Mets victory that saw Houston starter Charlie Kerfeld give up six runs in 3.1 innings to take the loss in his Major League debut.
The first game, however, was anything but normal. In that game, the Astros made five errors, leading to 16 unearned runs as the Mets won 16-4. That’s right: the Astros allowed 16 unearned runs and zero earned runs. Before we get to a breakdown of the scoring, a quick reminder: there are four basic ways a run can be unearned:
- Any run that scores on an error is unearned.
- Any run scored by a runner who got on base on an error is unearned.
- Any run that scores in an inning that would have already been over if not for an error is also an unearned run.
- Finally, any run that scores because a runner moved up on an error is unearned if he would not have scored otherwise.
The easy way to think of it is this: replay the inning in your head without any errors; any runs that score in that hypothetical replay are earned; any that don’t are unearned.
This particular game was scoreless until the bottom of the third inning, when Lenny Dykstra led off with a single and went to second on an error by Astros’ first baseman Glenn Davis. Astros starter Bob Knepper got Wally Backman to ground out to shortstop for the first out, moving Dykstra over to third. (In our hypothetical replay, the Astros get a force at second, so instead of a runner at third with one out, there would have been a runner at first with one out. The rules do not allow us to assume a hypothetical double play.) Keith Hernandez followed with a single to score Dykstra, with the run counting as unearned because he was only on third due to the error. Gary Carter then hit into a double play to end the inning.
In the bottom of the fifth, Rafael Santana led off and reached base on an error by Houston third baseman German Rivera. Mets pitcher Sid Fernandez bunted Santana over to second, which counts as the second out in the hypothetical inning. Dykstra doubled in Santana for the second unearned run of the game, and Backman singled to put runners at first and third. Hernandez hit a sacrifice fly that would have been the third out, so Dykstra’s run and any subsequent runs that inning are unearned. Carter singled to move Backman to third, and Backman scored on a wild pitch. The score is 4-0 Mets, with all four runs unearned.
After the Astros tied the game in the top of the seventh, the wheels came off. Howard Johnson led off with a walk from Astros reliever Frank DiPino. Dykstra bunted Johnson over to second, but an error on the first baseman left Johnson on third and Dykstra safe at second. Backman struck out for the first out, which should have been the second out. Hernandez hit a ground ball that should have been the third out, but because there was only one out, the Astros tried unsuccessfully to keep Johnson from scoring the go-ahead run at home. It’s 5-4 Mets, but the Astros should have been out of the inning with no runs scored. Carter hit a two-run double, George Foster walked, and Ray Knight hit a three-run homer. When the dust settled, the Mets had six unearned runs in the seventh for a 10-4 lead.
Dykstra led off the bottom of the eighth with a grounder to Astros shortstop Dickie Thon, who made an error to put Dykstra on first. Backman singled to put runners on first and second, and Hernandez’s flyout to center moved Dykstra over to third. (So instead of a runner on first and two outs, there are runners on first and third and one out.) Carter doubled to score Dykstra and move Backman to third, and Foster reached base on an error by third baseman Phil Garner. Backman scored on the error, which also represents the third out in our hypothetical situation. Doubles by Knight and Tom Paciorek and a single by Santana scored four more runs, giving the Mets their second consecutive inning of six unearned runs.
In the end, Knepper got a tough no-decision after allowing four unearned runs in five innings. DiPino took the loss, allowing two hits and six unearned runs in one-third of an inning, and Mike Madden allowed six unearned runs of his own in 1.2 innings pitched.
To this day, this is the only game in Major League history in which a team allowed zero earned runs and more than ten unearned runs. In 1923, the Boston Red Sox allowed 18 unearned runs to the Cleveland Indians, but they also allowed nine earned runs in losing 27-3.
Interestingly enough, earlier that same day, Vin Scully referred to that day’s NBC Game of the Week between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs as “the wildest game this side of Barnum and Bailey” (see 6:33 in the video below). If only Vinny had known what was coming.