Welcome to The Happiest Recap, a solid gold slate of New York Mets games culled from every schedule the Mets have ever played en route to this, their fiftieth year in baseball. We’ve created a dream season consisting of the “best” seventh game in any Mets season, the “best” eighth game in any Mets season, the “best” ninth game in any Mets season…and we keep going from there until we have a completed schedule worthy of Bob Murphy coming back with the Happy Recap after this word from our sponsor on the WFAN Mets Radio Network.
GAME 007: April 20, 1967 — METS 6 Cubs 1
(Mets All-Time Game 007 Record: 24-27; Mets 1967 Record: 3-4)
Someday he’d be an attraction. But on an inconspicuous Thursday afternoon, he was just a rookie making his second major league start and seeking his first major league win. No wonder no more than a typical-for-the era crowd of 5,379 gathered to watch. Whatever those Shea Stadium attendees’ motivation was, they picked a good day to go to a Mets game, for they bore witness to the birth of the Franchise.
Tom Seaver was 0-0. His first start was a no-decision — a win for the team, but nothing to show from a bottom-line pitching perspective, even if he did impress: two runs over five-and-a-third versus the powerful Pirates, striking out eight. For his second start, against the Cubs, that little bit of big league experience the former Jacksonville Sun, Alaska Goldpanner, USC Trojan, United States Marine and, most critically, disallowed Atlanta Brave prospect had accumulated against the Bucs served him well. After two scoreless frames, Billy Williams reached 22-year-old Seaver for an RBI triple in the third, putting Chicago up 1-0. But Tommy Davis evened matters in the fourth with a solo home run off veteran Curt Simmons.
From there, it was mostly Seaver. He retired the Cubs in order in the fifth and again in the sixth. With a two-run lead by the seventh, he got fly balls to center out of Ernie Banks and Randy Hundley, both nabbed by Don Bosch. Two singles followed, but pinch-hitter Clarence Jones popped to Buddy Harrelson at short. Through seven, Seaver had given up just the one run on seven hits, with five strikeouts to his credit.
The eighth would be Seaver’s last inning. Don Kessinger singled to lead off. Glenn Beckert then lined a pitch deep to left, which headed toward the wall. It took a leaping, spearing catch by Davis to turn it into an out. Then the rookie did something that impressed one of his most experienced teammates. Third baseman Ken Boyer visited the mound and asked Tom how he was feeling.
“I’m pooped,” he admitted. Young pitchers rarely came clean so readily, but Seaver wasn’t just about a promising fastball. He brought maturity to his job, and this may have been the first tangible sign of it. With Williams about to come up, and Tom’s hard stuff losing a little something late in the game, he didn’t hesitate tell the truth. Wes Westrum arrived at the mound, ascertained the situation and pulled the kid.
It worked out fine. Don Shaw came on and induced a double play grounder from Williams. The Mets padded their lead to 6-1 in the bottom of the eighth and Shaw set down the Cubs in the ninth.
Winning pitcher? Tom Seaver (1-0). It was the first of 198 Terrific Mets wins and the first of 311 in what was quickly revealing itself as a Hall of Fame career.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On April 9, 2001, Ralph Kiner, with an assist from Mr. Met, hoisted the 2000 National League Championship pennant over Shea Stadium — the final time the ballpark would add such an ornament. The Mets did their best to prove to their archrivals, the Atlanta Braves, that the previous October’s result was no fluke. On a warm and glorious Monday afternoon, reigning idol Mike Piazza blasted two homers, instant fan favorite Tsuyoshi Shinjo — orange hair with wristbands to match — added one of his own and new addition Kevin Appier went seven innings, outpitching Kevin Millwood. The Mets made the ’01 Home Opener a curtain-raiser to remember, 9-4.
GAME 008: April 15, 2009 — METS 7 Padres 2
(Mets All-Time Game 008 Record: 26-25; Mets 2009 Record: 4-4)
On the night the Mets played their first game that counted at Citi Field, Mike Pelfrey couldn’t maintain his footing, slipped from the pitching rubber and balked. Jody Gerut of San Diego socked the second pitch he saw — the second pitch anybody saw — for a homer. A cat darted out onto the field, but he didn’t provide much luck. The Mets did not christen the post-Shea era in style, unless you count as style the self-defeating hijinks that marked much of their inaugural season in their new ballpark.
The second official game ever played there provided a reset and a much more pleasing outcome in a setting that wasn’t necessarily a hit with every spectator. Make no mistake: Citi Field had its admirers, particularly Mets fans experiencing culture shock that their team now played in one of those fancy retro palaces every other team had been building for nearly twenty years (and the food! It was so good!). But there was a concomitant sense among other diehards that Citi Field’s simple act of being Not Shea Stadium wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. After all, Shea was Shea, dumpitude notwithstanding. It was the home of the Mets. This place? It wasn’t so easily defined, not when it was clearly modeled on somebody else’s old house.
Citi Field was designed as an homage to the late, lamented Ebbets Field, whose legend grew as it faded far into the Brooklyn past. Torn down in 1960, Ebbets continued to live on in many an imagination, none more fertile than that of Mets owner Fred Wilpon, a Lafayette High School graduate whose dream was to bring the Dodgers’ playpen from his childhood back to life.
Wilpon may have succeeded too well. Pretty? Absolutely. Metsian? Certainly not upon initial glance. It was almost ghostly how much like Ebbets Field (albeit with “amenities” no Bum could have easily afforded) Citi Field looked. Its signature piece, the Rotunda, did nothing to discourage complaining comparisons, particularly its focus. It was dedicated prior to Citi Field’s second outing as the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Few would argue with the inclination to honor a true American hero, but many wanted to know exactly how many times Jackie Robinson stole home for the New York Mets.
The debate of just how Metsian a Mets ballpark needed to be would ensue all season (and beyond) but the date of the dedication was no accident. April 15 had become Jackie Robinson Day across the major leagues. It was on April 15, 1947, that Robinson debuted for Brooklyn, improving the team and the game with every step he took off third and every stride he made toward home. Beginning in 2008, by commissioner’s fiat, every player on every team every April 15 (not just those playing one borough over from Flatbush) would honor the man who broke baseball’s color line by wearing his number — 42…a sculpture of which stood in that Rotunda, and not in tribute to Ron Hodges.
Thus, on Citi Field’s second official night of baseball, nine Mets went out dressed as Jackie Robinson and put up the new park’s first home win. It wasn’t so much a performance born of the Mets channeling Robinson’s Boys of Summer championship form. If anything, the Mets benefited because the San Diego Padres resembled the infamous Daffiness Boys of the 1930s. In the bottom of the seventh, with the Mets up by a run, the Pads threw balls all over the “world-class” facility. There was a wild pitch; there was a passed ball; there was an errant throw by the catcher that allowed Jose Reyes to score on a play that began with Reyes on first base. The only thing the Padres didn’t do in that four-run half-inning was land three men on third, and that was probably because they weren’t batting.
When the 7-2 victory went final, Citi Field still had a long way to go toward feeling like the home of the Mets, but unpacking a first win in the new place certainly made those unfamiliar surroundings seem just a tad cozier.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On April 17, 1976, the Mets subscribed to the theory espoused by their first team president, George Weiss, when Weiss was employed by another, more successful outfit. Weiss liked his squads to score five in the first inning and then gradually pull away. The Mets of Joe Frazier took a page from Weiss’s strategic manual at Three Rivers Stadium, scoring five in the first off Bruce Kison and eventually pounding the Pirate pen for a dozen more. The winning margin would be 17-1. Every Met in the lineup had at least one hit; eight of nine of them drove in at least one run. Winning pitcher Jerry Koosman himself went 2-for-4, driving in a pair to help his own cause on a day when his cause couldn’t have required less self-assistance.
GAME 009: April 21, 1986 — METS 6 Pirates 5
(Mets All-Time Game 009 Record: 23-27-1; Mets 1986 Record: 6-3)
If you’re wondering when precisely the 1986 Mets became the 1986 Mets, you could do worse for a legitimate starting point to their ultimate world domination than one of the less auspicious nights of the year.
It was a cold, damp night from the days when paid attendance was actually based on paid attendance, not tickets sold. Given the weather and the general gloom attached to Monday nights in April off Flushing Bay, the Mets drew their smallest home crowd of the season, barely more than 10,000. Those who chose to sit and shiver had to have regretted their entertainment option that evening as the Pittsburgh Pirates — a doormat-in-waiting by all accounts, yet off to a healthy start under new skipper Jim Leyland — carried a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth, having rapped around fifth starter Rick Aguilera over six innings.
The Mets were preseason favorites entering ’86, but they stumbled out of the gate a bit, losing three in a row after winning their first two. They seem to have straightened out over the weekend, when they swept the Phillies at Shea, but now in the moist chill of Monday night, they were six outs from a very dispiriting defeat. Not that the Pirates loomed as long-term 1986 competition, but Mets fans everywhere (mostly watching on TV) remembered the previous September, and how the Buccos sailed into Shea and took two of three at a critical juncture in the schedule. They also remembered the penultimate Friday night of 1985 when the Mets blew a big lead at Three Rivers. Those Mets finished three games behind the Cardinals…a difference that could be measured by those three late losses to a dismal 57-104 Pirate crew.
It would have to be different in 1986. The Mets would have to win the games that were there for the taking. Sure they’d have to overcome the Cardinals (who were off to a blazing start of their own), but they had to beat who they were supposed to beat. They had to beat Pittsburgh.
So they did — and in the kind of fashion that would six months later typify some of their most memorable 1986 wins.
Righty Cecilio Guante retired the first two Met batters in the bottom of the eighth, but allowed a walk to George Foster. Up next was Ray Knight, one of the weak links of the 1985 Mets. The veteran third baseman, overshadowed by platoon partner Howard Johnson, had faded so badly that the Mets were determined to give him away in Spring Training, but GM Frank Cashen could find no takers. He was hitting very well as 1986 got underway, but later admitted he rather expected Davey Johnson to pinch-hit the switch-hitting HoJo for him. He didn’t. Righty Knight faced Guante and homered. The small crowd emitted an immense roar as the Mets tied the Pirates at four. The previously regularly booed Knight was prevailed upon to take a curtain call.
And with that fantastic momentum on their side, the Mets gave it right back.
Roger McDowell, the Mets’ fourth pitcher of the evening, walked pinch-hitter and ex-Met Lee Mazzilli on four pitches to lead off the Pirate ninth. A bunt and a fielder’s choice sent him to second, then third. Joe Orsulak, something of a Met thorn from September ’85, drove home Mazzilli. It was Pittsburgh 5 New York 4.
The 1986 Mets then became the 1986 Mets in earnest. With lefty Pat Clements pitching, Lenny Dykstra singled to begin the bottom of the ninth. Rookie Kevin Mitchell bunted Dykstra to second. New platoon second baseman Tim Teufel doubled, scoring Lenny and tying the game at five. Clement walked lefty Keith Hernandez, bringing up righty Gary Carter. Leyland called on righthander Jim Winn.
Ironic name, Winn, because it was Carter who did the winning in short order, singling home Teufel, giving the Mets the 6-5 victory, the first of a club record seventeen they’d accomplish against Pittsburgh across the 1986 schedule. It was also their first walkoff triumph of the year, but it certainly wouldn’t be their last. Carter, as you might suspect, took an emphatic curtain call after Teufel crossed the plate.
It wouldn’t be the last of those, either.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On April 18, 1970, Nolan Ryan demonstrated why Mets management was willing to be patient regarding his nettlesome wildness. Against the Phillies at Shea, Ryan walked six, which wasn’t a good sign, but it could be overlooked considering he struck out 15 batters and gave up only one hit — to Denny Doyle, the first Philadelphia batter of the day — in a 7-0 complete game whitewashing. With Seaver, Koosman and Gary Gentry already at the top of their form, Mets fans could only imagine how impenetrable their pitching might be if Ryan could ever harness his control.