Lost, perhaps, in the euphoria over R.A. Dickey’s one-hitter on Friday night was the astounding arrival of Mike Hessman into the land of triples. As noted previously, Hessman’s first four Mets hits have been a veritable cycle: a double in his first start; a single the next day; a home run eight days later; and then the temporary home run that was permanently downgraded by one base eight days after that.
It only took eleven games, 29 plate appearances and one wack-ass video review to give Hessman one of the strangest quasi-cycles in Mets history. The man with the most minor league home runs among active professional ballplayers is having quite a ride. On August 6, he became the 69th Met to hit exactly one Met home run. On August 13, three umpires conspired to keep him the junior member of that particular club.
As far as the bizarre accomplishment of producing a single, a double, a triple and a homer as your first four Met hits, that’s got to be unprecedented, right?
If you think so, you haven’t met Jim Tatum, 1998 Met and — depending on how you view things — the proto-Hessman or the über-Hessman.
I learned from Elias via ESPN that Tatum was the last player to pull off the veritable cycle to begin his Met career, yet Tatum had the elegance to do it in order: a single in his fourth game; a double in his fifth game; a triple in his ninth game; and a walkoff home run to beat the Astros in his eleventh game.
A natural! And in a span of only thirteen plate appearances at that.
But that’s hardly the end of Jim Tatum’s Odyssey of oddity as a Met. Though he struck out a ton (once every three plate appearances) and didn’t hit very much in general (.180 average in 50 AB’s), he sure did sort of make his hits count.
Let’s put it this way: How many players in the trackable annals of the major leagues — since 1920 — have had as many as 50 plate appearances in a season, registered as many as nine hits, produced more extra-base hits than singles AND more triples than doubles?
According to Baseball Reference, one is the answer. And The One is Jim Tatum. In 1998, his only Met season, Tatum chalked up four singles, one double, two triples and two homers.
More XBH than 1B; more 3B than 2B. Even for a fairly limited sample, nobody does that. Nobody but Jim Tatum in his 35 games as a New York Met.
Anybody else want to join Mike Hessman and Jim Tatum (who both wore No. 19 as Mets) in a little triple-based weirdness? Remember, triples are the hard hits to get. Even in these days of Citi Field, they’re not supposed to be more common than doubles, and only noted Lance Johnson-type speedsters are supposed to get them significantly more than they do homers. At worst/best, they should hit eight triples and eight doubles in the same season with at least one homer…which describes Mookie Wilson’s 1981 to a tee. By going 8 2B/8 3B/3 HR, rookie Mookie became the only Met with at least that many triples and no more than that many doubles while also homering a little.
Try telling what you’re not supposed to do to Cory Sullivan, unlamented 2009 Mets alumnus. Last season, the worst season of all time by most Met-rics, Cory stood out, in his way, as a triple-loving, homer-hating, double-despising machine. Well, maybe it wasn’t as dramatic as all that, but he did hit five triples, two doubles and two homers.
Meaning? Meaning Cory Sullivan became the only Met with as many as nine extra-base hits in a season AND more triples than doubles and homers combined.
The only other Met in his, er, class? My blogging partner’s childhood favorite, Mike Phillips. In 1976, the utility infielder who cycled that season for real had more triples (six) than he did doubles (four) OR homers (four). It wasn’t quite Sullivan, but it was a bit more than Gilbert.
That’s Shawn Gilbert, one homer, but no triples or doubles in 32 games as a New York Met in 1997 and 1998.
Somewhere between Mike Phillips and Jim Tatum lies the unlikely Met career of Billy Baldwin. Baldwin was Phillips’ teammate late in the 1976 season. Promoted from Tidewater after coming over as the throw-in with Mickey Lolich in the dreaded Rusty Staub trade, Baldwin made hard-to-fathom history of his own.
On September 24, he came up as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the ninth and ended what had been a 3-3 game between the Mets and Cubs by homering to beat former two-time 20-game winner Joe Coleman. It would be Baldwin’s only Met homer (earlier that same month, Coleman surrendered the only Met homer ever struck by Leo Foster; he must have liked being a two-timer).
OK, Baldwin is hot, so Joe Frazier inserts him in the lineup on September 25. What does he do? He triples in his first at-bat, doubles in his second at-bat and singles in his third at-bat. Billy Baldwin thus accomplished the Two-Day Reverse Natural Cycle: homer, triple, double, single. When all was said and done for Baldwin in the Bicentennial year, he had finished his Met career with exactly one of each kind of extra-base hit.
Three other Mets can say that: David Newhan (Lord, he was useless), Pat Tabler (also useless, but not here as long as Newhan) and, of course, Mike Hessman — though Hessman hopes there are more two-, three- or four-baggers in his blue and orange future. Dude’s batting .167.
We couldn’t leave the subject of Hessman and triples without a little Mets fan pathos. You might recall that after Mike’s home run was diminished to a leadoff triple Friday, he was not driven in from third, which left the score dangerously tied, as Cole Hamels was just about as effective as R.A. Dickey Friday night (to say nothing of just lethal enough with a bat). Not driving in a runner who had led off an inning in a tie game with a triple brought back memories of one of Metsdom’s most haunting dates, September 24, 2008.
While Billy Baldwin celebrated the 32nd anniversary of his walkoff blast the Mets commemorated it by again playing the Cubs at Shea and by again going to the bottom of the ninth tied. Bobby Howry surrendered a leadoff three-base hit to Daniel Murphy (whose t-shirt you can get a good deal on at the Citi Field team store). My goodness, we were excited out there in the Picnic Area! We get this win, it will be huge in our dual races versus Philadelphia for the division lead and Milwaukee for the Wild Card.
Murphy on third, nobody out, tie game…all we need is a fly ball.
Well, you know I’m not bringing this up (again) to relive the triumph of the moment. David Wright struck out, Howry intentionally walked Delgado and Beltran, Church grounded to second and Castro struck out.
Not that it still haunts me.
Anyway, I got to wondering, what with Hessman’s jury-rigged triple and all so top of mind, how common is that sort of thing? I did a little checking (a little?) and divined the following:
Post-9/24/08, the Mets have five times begun an inning in a tie game with a leadoff triple. Three times they scored the tripler, most notably two weeks ago when Jesus Feliciano chugged to third against the Diamondbacks to open the bottom of the ninth. Jose Reyes hit a short fly ball that Feliciano didn’t tag on, but after the ol’ double intentional walk to Pagan and Wright, the ghost of Carlos Beltran arose and hit a long-enough fly ball to score Jesus and win the game.
It was only two weeks ago, but it seems lost to the mists of time. Feliciano came home, we won…who remembers? Murphy didn’t come home nearly two years ago, we lost…who can forget?
For the record, there was a game at Citi Field in September 2009, almost a year to the day since Murphy was stranded at third in the future Citi Field parking lot, when Murphy led off another inning with a triple and he did score. No kidding: Josh Thole brought him home on an infield hit. The Mets were a million games out of first at the time. And the inning in question was the second inning. You’re excused for forgetting it ever happened.
Jose Reyes led off the home half of the first on June 23 of this year with a triple in a scoreless game and wasn’t brought home. Didn’t matter — the Mets beat Jeremy Bonderman and the Tigers easily. Ten days later, Alex Cora led off the top of the eighth at Washington with a triple and was brought home by none other than David Wright. It put the Mets up by a run, which looked huge at the time. The Mets would go on to score three in that eighth inning.
But y’know what? It wasn’t huge enough. That was the notorious Stephen Strasburg game, the one R.A. Dickey was in line to win until Bobby Parnell (a little) and Frankie Rodriguez (a whole lot) conspired to give it back.
Then, Friday, Hessman, trotting around the bases, then being ordered to trot back one, then standing at third as Jeff Francoeur struck out and Henry Blanco struck out and Ruben Tejada was intentionally walked and R.A. Dickey tapped out to the pitcher. Tie game still. Yet eventually a win…a one-hitter win…a one-hitter win when R.A. Dickey was the star of the show and Mike Hessman was, per usual, something else.