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Gooden becomes youngest 20-game winner in history

On August 25, 1985, New York Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden becomes the youngest 20-game winner in Major League Baseball history. Gooden was 20 years, nine months and nine days old when he led his Mets over the San Diego Padres 9-3–a month younger than “Bullet” Bob Feller was when he racked up his 20th win in 1939. Although Gooden was one of the best young pitchers in baseball history, his star burned out quickly as a result of substance abuse.

Dwight “Doc” or “Doctor K” Gooden burst into the National League in 1984. His explosive fastball and sharp, tight curveball combined to frustrate hitters, and at just 19 years old in his rookie season, Gooden won 17 games and led the NL with 276 strikeouts. He performed even better the next year, and took the mound on August 25 with 19 wins to just 3 losses. With 37,000 of the Mets faithful anxiously standing by to cheer on the young star at Shea Stadium, Gooden struggled to establish a rhythm, and had trouble gripping the ball in the wet weather. Fortunately for Gooden, his Mets teammates took up the slack. Right fielder Darryl Strawberry hit a home run in the fifth and drove in four runs, while Gooden’s catcher, future Hall of Famer Gary Carter, had three hits. When Gooden left the game after the sixth inning, the Mets led 4-3. Roger McDowell pitched three scoreless innings in relief and the Mets offense racked up five more runs to give their ace his 20th win overall and 14th win in a row.

Gooden finished the 1985 season in impressive fashion with a 24-4 record, 1.53 ERA and 268 strikeouts, good for the pitching triple crown (leading the league in wins, strikeouts and earned run average). Gooden then helped the Mets to victory in the 1986 World Series, but trouble was brewing, and he entered drug rehab for the first time after testing positive for cocaine during 1987 spring training. The rest of his career was rocky: He pitched inconsistently after 1988 and was suspended for 60 days in 1994 and for all of the 1995 season after failing drug tests.

Gooden returned to baseball in 1996 with the New York Yankees alongside fellow former Mets superstar Darryl Strawberry, whose rapid rise and fall due to drug abuse paralleled Gooden’s. Though he never quite returned to his earlier form, he did manage one final hurrah: a no-hitter on May 14, 1996, against the Seattle Mariners. Gooden retired after the 2000 season.

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