In 1985 Dwight Gooden pitched one of the most statistically dominating single seasons in baseball history. Leading MLB with 24 wins, 268 strikeouts, and a 1.53 ERA (the second lowest in the Live Ball Era, trailing only Bob Gibson‘s 1.12 in 1968) Gooden earned the major leagues’ pitching Triple Crown. He led the National League in complete games (16) and innings pitched (276⅔). From his second start onward, Gooden’s ERA never rose above 2.00. At age 20, he was the youngest pitcher of the last half-century to have an ERA+ above 200. Gooden’s ERA+ was 229; 23-year-old Dean Chance (200 ERA+ in 1964) was the only such pitcher under the age of 25 to do so.
From August 31 through September 16, Gooden threw 31 consecutive scoreless innings over 4 games, and through October 2, threw 49 consecutive innings over 7 games without allowing an earned run.
Even in the eleven games when Gooden didn’t earn a win, he was still dominant. In September, he pitched back-to-back 9-inning games allowing no runs, but received no-decisions in both games. In his four losses, Gooden allowed 26 hits and 5 walks in 28 innings, with 28 strikeouts and a 2.89 ERA. The Mets finished second in the 1985 NL East, and teammates jokingly blamed Gooden for having lost 4 games, thereby mathematically costing them the division title. That year, Gooden became one of only 14 African-American pitchers ever to win 20 games, the most recent of whom was CC Sabathia. Gooden became the youngest-ever recipient of the Cy Young Award. There was even media speculation about Gooden’s Hall of Fame prospects. That November, Gooden turned 21.
While Gooden would be an effective pitcher for several more seasons, he never again approached such heights. 1985 would prove to be the only 20-win season of Gooden’s 16-year career. Many reasons have been offered for his decline: early overuse, cocaine addiction, the league catching on to some of his pitches (notably a fastball that rose out of the strike zone, which hitters increasingly avoided), or the influence of Mets pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, who convinced Gooden to change his pitching motion in the hopes of prolonging his career.
However brief, Gooden’s period of dominance was memorable. In a span of 50 starts from August 11, 1984, to May 6, 1986, Gooden posted a record of 37-5 with a 1.40 ERA; he had 412 strikeouts and 90 walks in 404.6 innings.