Behold the blowout! The mighty aberration! My team is kicking your team’s ass like there’s no tomorrow. You don’t want there to be a tomorrow because it is obvious that your team can never hope to compete with my team, because my team is blowing your team…OUT!
Perspective is pummeled in a blowout. I can’t see the forest for the lumber. If the Mets win by a lot on a Wednesday, as they did last night, I’ve decided they’ll win by even more on Thursday (if they’re not rained out* as might be the case on this particular Thursday), and come Friday, the rest of the league will cower in the opposing clubhouse and forfeit the flag. Why even bother? We’re the Mets. We blow you out.
It never quite occurs to me that a 13-4 laugher is not normal. I’m intoxicated. I’m a big man. My team’s a big team. Too bad it doesn’t last.
The most legendary blowout in Mets history (the one they were on the walking-tall end of) was in 1964, their third year of wretched existence. The Mets beat the Cubs 19-1. A fellow was said to have called Newsday.
“How many runs did the Mets score today?”
“Did they win?”
The Mets have scored as many as 23 runs, in 1987. Beat the Cubs 23-10. That was silly. The Mets have given up as many as 26, to the Phillies in 1985. They were down 16-0 after two. I preferred to focus on the seven they scored between the third and the ninth, but that’s another story for another rainy evening.
My favorite blowout — maybe even more so than last night’s — was a 17-1 smackdown of the Pirates thirty years ago this spring. I had nothing in particular against the Pirates. They’d won more division titles than us (to that point, we were the only two kings of the National League East, founded 1969), but I wasn’t thinking about that on the third Saturday in April. The victim didn’t matter. The score did.
The 1976 Mets were nothing special, I suspected. They were managed by dishwater-dull Joe Frazier. Not the boxer Joe Frazier. The manager Joe Frazier. See? Doesn’t that sound lame? He managed at Tidewater the year before. When he was appointed to replace Roy McMillan, the papers’ reaction was, “Who?” The Mets tried to get across the idea that nobody’d ever heard of Walter Alston when Brooklyn brought him up to manage 22 years ago and he was still helming the Dodgers. That sounded like a stretch to me.
I was also as sore as Mets fan could be that Rusty Staub had been traded for Mickey Lolich over the winter. Rusty was the best player on the 1975 Mets, a team that for a few (OK, a hundred) breaks could’ve beaten the Pirates. Staub was considered a clubhouse lawyer, so M. Donald Grant had to off him. He was to be replaced by Mike Vail, who’d lit up the previous September with a 23-game hitting streak. Just staring at the name Mike Vail conjures images of hope and, as often happens where a Met prospect is concerned, dreams dashed. Rusty was traded to open up a spot for Vail. Vail broke his leg playing basketball. And Mickey Lolich was about 55.
But the Mets were off to an OK start. A couple of days earlier, Dave Kingman hit one of those Dave Kingman home runs in Chicago. He broke a window on Waveland Avenue, Ralph Kiner told us. We were over .500, we still had Seaver and Koosman and Matlack and Del Unser (a journeyman outfielder on whom I was briefly fixated). Maybe we could do something. But just maybe
My doubts did a 180 on this beautiful Saturday afternoon. Did I say beautiful? It was 96 degrees…96 degrees on April 17 in New York! The weather report that night announced we were the hottest spot in the country today. Wow! Honest to god, I assumed that if it was 96 degrees in New York, it must be, I don’t know, 125 in Florida.
It was too a nice a day to be outside once the top of the first at Three Rivers commenced.
Wayne Garrett led off against Bruce Kison and singled. My boy Del struck out but John Milner singled. Ed Kranepool, a Met as long as any of us could remember yet mysteriously merely 31 (which sounded older when I was 13), singled to make it 1-0. SkyKing struck out but then Ron Hodges walked to load the bases. Bud Harrelson singled to plate two. Felix Millan doubled and went to third on an error. Two more scored. When Jerry Koosman struck out against Kent Tekulve (brought into face one of the worst-hitting pitchers in the world), the Mets led 5-0.
5-0! The Mets scored five runs in the first inning! It wasn’t even five-nothing. It was, in the parlance of Bob Murphy, the Mets five, the Pirates coming to bat. The point is the Mets, in my 13-year-old mind, never scored in the first inning. I suppose they had. I know they had. The leadoff hitters in Game 3 of both the 1969 and 1973 World Series — Agee and Garrett, respectively — hit home runs (10 years later, Lenny Dykstra would do the same). Two sets of numbers that made no sense to me were 96 degrees on 4/17 and 5-0 in the middle of the 1st.
I wasn’t yet familiar with the quote from the Mets’ first president George Weiss, spoken in his Yankee days, that the ideal situation was for his team to score five runs in the first and then slowly pull away. For at least a few minutes, rooting for the Mets was like rooting for U.S. Steel. We’re up 5-0 and the Pirates haven’t batted. When are we going to see some more?
The top of the second looked promising. Wayne Garrett doubled. Unser singled, but Garrett was thrown out at home. The Mets were turned away in this frame. Damn! Damn Wayne Garrett! Why was Wayne Garrett still playing third? Every year we were promised a new third baseman. The great third hope of this off-season was Roy Staiger. I’d read about him every week in The Sporting News in ’75. He was tearing up the International League. Bring up Roy Staiger!
Garrett withstood Roy Staiger and held onto his job, much to my chagrin. Wayne Garrett was exactly what was wrong with my team in the mid-1970s. Not him specifically, but our inability to rid ourselves of boring players and replace them with exciting players. Why didn’t they just do that?
The Pirates pushed a run across in the bottom of the fourth — singles from Sanguillen, Oliver and Bob Robertson. It ended 5-1. I didn’t take that as a threat. I assumed there was no legal way the Mets could lose if they led 5-0 in the first. But it was beginning not to feel like something great was going to happen.
Oh me of little faith. With two out in the top of the fifth, Krane reached on an error by Dave Parker. Kingman doubled Eddie to third. Then Ron Hodges singled them both home. I wouldn’t swear to it, but it was probably one of the last three or four hits of any consequence Ron Hodges ever got. Ron Hodges came up from Double-A in 1973 when Jerry Grote was injured. Against these very same Bucs, the No. 79 Greatest Met of the First Forty Years put a tag on Richie Zisk in extra innings in late September, then drove in the winning run in a huge game.
Ron Hodges would play for another eleven seasons, all as a Met; only Kranepool exceeds him in team history for once a Met, always a Met longevity. I don’t remember him doing much between that magical night at Shea and this hot afternoon in Pittsburgh. I know he didn’t do anything afterwards, all the way to 1984. I doubt he ever drove in two runs with a single again, but don’t hold me to that. Ron Hodges was sort of a Wayne Garrett in training. If our roster had room for Ron Hodges, there was something terribly wrong.
Regardless, it was 7-1 through six.
What is a blowout? I don’t mean philosophically. I mean by how many runs do you have to win? That’s easy. Seven. Seven runs makes a blowout. Winning by six (or one) is fine, but it’s not a blowout. A run here, a run there, and you could win 7-1 and forget about it. If you win 8-1, however, you’re bringing the pain.
In the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, the Mets would inflict upon the Pirates a whupping worthy of a Bicentennial. Five in the seventh. Two in the eighth. Three in the ninth. Along the way, Dave Kingman hit a three-run job, Ron Hodges got another hit and Steady Eddie Kranepool went deep. Jerry Freaking Koosman doubled and scored en route to a complete game victory.
Mets 17 Pirates 1. 18-1 if Garrett’s safe at home in the second.
The 1976 Mets were going to be all right. More than all right. Unstoppable.
Except there was a tomorrow, and the Mets lost during it. Ralph or Bob or Lindsey probably said something about momentum being akin to the next day’s starting pitcher. Whoever pitched, the ruthless streak of world domination was over at one (yeah, they lost Friday night and didn’t even win the series). Though they straddled first place around the end of April, mediocrity caught up to the aging Mets in 1976. Their record was deceptively respectable (86-76) but the team of my youth, the one that had three great starters, never enough hitting and finished third almost every year, and in fact finished third that year, was done.
Where’d it all go?
Wayne Garrett and Del Unser were traded in July to Montreal for Pepe Mangual and Jim Dwyer. It was a trade that helped nobody.
Roy Staiger took over and made me miss Wayne Garrett.
Mike Vail recovered from his injury but never put together another hitting streak that I heard about.
Mickey Lolich looked lost, fat and for the first bus home to Michigan. Rusty Staub made the American League All-Stars.
Nobody accused Joe Frazier of smokin’ or even breathin’. Walt Alston retired at the end of the season. Of all the hearts and flowers sent his way, none mentioned that the logical heir to his obscurity-to-longevity career path was Joe Frazier. Pulseless Joe was fired at the end of the following May. Replaced by a guy named Torre. Wonder where he went.
Jerry Koosman won 21 games but was robbed of the Cy Young by those who voted for Randy Jones who left enough of an impression to be signed by the Mets five years later when he was more Anthony than Cy Young. Kooz continues to escape Hall of Fame consideration.
Dave Kingman hit 37 homers, 32 of them before a misguided attempt at catching a fly ball put him on the DL. After being on pace to break Hack Wilson’s National League record, Sky lost the home run crown for the year to Mike Schmidt by one. His charm, never more than tenuous, also seemed to go out the window by the spring of ’77.
Tom Seaver won 14 games. I insisted that if he pitched for the Big Red Machine, he’d have won 30. I didn’t plan on actually finding out the accuracy of that assessment.
Ron Hodges hit .226.
The Mets’ and Pirates’ exclusive hold on the National League East ended after seven seasons of one or the other winning the division, thanks to the Phillies’ not blowing their big lead, no matter how hard they tried. The Pirates would stay competitive. The Mets would go away.
There would be tomorrows for the Mets. All of them, as far as my 13-year-old eye could see, were terrible. The 1976 Mets — decrepit, flawed, torpid when not blowing out opponents — won more games and finished higher in the standings than any Mets team would for eight long years. I was in seventh grade when they pounded the Pirates. I was a senior in college the next time they posted a winning record. Given what was to come, the ’76 Mets blew out all their successors.
*It’s one hour later and raining torrentially, but it’s a half-inning too late for a rainout: Phillies 2 Mets 0, middle of the fifth. Gavin Bleeping Floyd? Where’s Bruce Kison when you need him?