13: Sunday, September 7 vs Phillies
It is not exactly a family secret, ladies and gentlemen, that the Mets who took up residence in Shea Stadium 44 years ago weren't worldbeaters. Their records in the Polo Grounds? 40 and 120, 51-111. The trend continued for the first two seasons at Shea: 53 and 109, 50 and 112. Saying the Mets finished tenth four straight years was a nice way of saying they couldn't finish twentieth. That is why as much as the fans were in love with their team, they also came out to admire some of the great stars the National League had to offer in those days.
Today we have one of the greatest with us. Simply put, he personifies pitching — inconceivably excellent pitching — for a generation of baseball fans and remains the standard by which every flamethrowing lefthander who comes along is evaluated. A native of Brooklyn and a good friend of the Mets organization every spring, please welcome back to Shea Stadium, Sandy Koufax.
Now, as happy as we are to have Sandy visit us today, we have to admit he is not here solely for his own accomplishments, as plentiful as they are. You see, Sandy inadvertently became a yardstick for measuring what, in retrospect, may have been the first significant leap of progress in Mets history. You might even call it the first Mets miracle.
Not that Sandy Koufax didn't pitch well against all comers, but he enjoyed an incredible hold over Mets hitters from 1962 on, racking up a 13-0 mark over his hometown team by the latter portion of their fourth season, a résumé that included his first no-hitter. The idea that a ragtag bunch like the Mets could ever defeat Koufax…well, that seemed impossible to Mets fans who could only dream of competing on anything approaching his level.
But the impossible turned actual on August 26, 1965 when Sandy Koufax was outlasted — it seems blasphemy to say outpitched — by another lefty, this one just shy of his 21st birthday. The southpaw the Mets sent to the Shea mound that Thursday had all of one major league victory to his credit, but his performance earned him another. The great Sandy Koufax and the eventual world champion Dodgers were beaten 5-2, the first loss ever taken against the heretofore hapless New York Mets by the indomitable immortal.
The winning pitcher? An up-and-comer named Frank Edwin “Tug” McGraw.
As you know, ladies and gentlemen, it wasn't the last time Tug McGraw would have something to do with miraculous events at Shea Stadium. Tug would eventually convert from starter to reliever, become one of the best in the National League at closing games and then, in the summer of 1973, begin spouting a phrase that helped inspire the Mets on an Amazin' journey from the bottom of their division to the top of the flagpole.
Nobody pitched like Tug McGraw did down the final weeks of 1973 and nobody ever believed the way he did…or made Mets fans believe so wholeheartedly that anything is possible.
No individual in the history of this franchise or this ballpark represents the spirit of the New York Mets like Tug McGraw. Nobody ever showed a love of life or baseball more in or out of a Mets uniform. To honor his memory today in our Countdown Like It Oughta Be, we ask his onetime opponent, Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, and his son, one of the most beloved recording stars in the music world, Tim McGraw, to take down number 13 for someone who brought this team better luck, greater hope and deeper faith than any Mets fan could have ever aspired to before he came along.
Number 14 was revealed here.