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” 13th game in any Mets season, the “best” 14th game in any Mets season, the “best” 15th 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 013: April 22, 1970 — METS 2 Padres 1
(Mets All-Time Game 013 Record: 27-24; Mets 1970 Record: 7-6)
It was Earth Day, the very first one. Yet it was otherworldly. The stuff Tom Seaver had as he faced the San Diego Padres at Shea Stadium had to have come from another planet. Seaver had already given Mets fans every reason to believe he was not of this realm, in no way to be compared to mere mortals let alone other pitchers. He hadn’t lost a regular-season decision since the previous August 5. Though he did absorb a defeat to open the 1969 World Series, so what? He was still Tom Seaver: Cy Young, near-MVP, Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year and Hickcock Belt winner, signifying his status as Professional Athlete of the Year.
Year? Tom Seaver had lifted the Mets from laughingstocks to contenders to champions in three years’ time. In the eyes of those idolized him, he was Athlete of the Decade and in early 1970 was en route to making it two in a row.
Before Earth Day was out, Seaver would be doing a lot in a row.
Tom Terrific, who was presented with his National League Cy Young award before the game, didn’t flirt with perfection as he had the previous summer. Staked to a 1-0 lead by a first-inning Ken Boswell double, he gave it right back when Padre left fielder Al Ferrara homered to tie the score leading off the second. A Bud Harrelson triple regained the lead for the Mets at 2-1 in the bottom of the third. By then, Seaver had punched out five Padres on strikes, an impressive partial total, but nothing noticeably out of the ordinary for the Mets ace.
Earth Day began to spin in historic proportions soon enough. Two more San Diego K’s in the fourth; another pair in the fifth; and then, Ferrara was out looking to end the sixth. That was 11 strikeouts in six innings, with only two hits allowed. Very Seaveresque, but not unprecedented for the man already known as The Franchise.
Precedent, however, was about to be shattered. In the seventh inning, Nate Colbert swung and missed at strike three. Dave Campbell took strike three. So did Jerry Morales. Now it was 13 strikeouts over seven innings and, for what it was worth, four consecutive.
Notice was gathering. Gil Hodges could tell Seaver was firing on all cylinders, but needed pitching coach Rube Walker to bring him up to speed on just how many K’s were in Seaver’s corner. Johnny Podres, who won the Dodgers’ only World Series clincher when the Bums were in Brooklyn, was now working for San Diego as a pitching guru and watched from the stands. He once struck out a record eight in a row, so he knew a great performance when it was unfurling before him. “Fantastic,” he said to a companion. “As hard as he’s throwing, he’s still hitting the spots. If you don’t swing at it, it’s still a strike.”
The last Padre to do Seaver damage, Ferrara, could see it as well. “He can’t wait to throw the ball,” this ex-Dodger told a teammate. Seaver would confirm later that, “I was working fast, I guess, but I had my rhythm and my momentum. I didn’t want to lose it.”
He didn’t. In the top of the eighth, Bob Barton took called strike three. Ramon Webster, pinch-hitting for opposing pitcher Mike Corkins (who’d had a pretty good day himself, limiting the Mets to two runs in seven innings), struck out swinging. Another pinch-hitter, Ivan Murrell, did the same. The total was now 16 strikeouts, the most any Met had ever accumulated in a single game.
Seaver said he didn’t know he was that high until he saw it on the scoreboard. Realizing, with two out in the eighth, that he was one K away from the club record (set days earlier by Nolan Ryan), he made a conscious decision to go for it.
And so he went. Seaver’s sweet sixteenth left him in position to tie the record for most strikeouts in a single nine-inning game, set by Steve Carlton against the Mets in September 1969. It was already legend that Carlton, pitching into the teeth of an onrushing miracle, lost that game when Ron Swoboda reached him for two two-run homers. Seaver similarly had reason to be concerned that all the strikeouts he was notching didn’t guarantee victory. It was still only 2-1 and waiting for him as the third batter of the ninth inning was Al Ferrara.
But first, Van Kelly struck out swinging. Then Cito Gaston struck out looking. That made it 18 strikeouts total, one shy of Carlton, and nine in a row — more than Podres, more than any pitcher had ever struck out. All that was left was Ferrara and the bat that homered off Tom in the second inning.
That was in the second. This was in the ninth. This was a time for more history: strike three, swinging. Al Ferrara went down on a low fastball on a 1-2 count. The Mets won 2-1, with Seaver striking out 19 batters. It was the most any pitcher had fanned in a day game. And the consecutive strikeout feat of 10 straight…never before touched, never again — not for forty years, at any rate — seriously challenged. That Earth Day afternoon made a prophet out of coach Walker, who declared after the game, “I’ll stake a lot on this prediction: I don’t think anyone’s going to come along for a long, long time and match those 10 strikeouts in a row.”
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On April 15, 1997, fans attending the Mets-Dodgers game at Shea Stadium knew they were in for a night to remember, but couldn’t have known just how much they would have to recall when it was over. It was the 50th anniversary of the day Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color line, and it was a monumental enough milestone to attract President Bill Clinton to Shea, making him the first sitting president to attend a Mets game. Clinton (on crutches) stood alongside Rachel Robinson, widow of the trailblazing Robinson, when Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig surprised the packed house with an electrifying announcement: Jackie’s uniform number, 42, would be retired throughout baseball, never to be issued again. It would be taken completely out of circulation, save for the backs of players who already wore it, like the Mets’ own Butch Huskey. In the left field corner, a red 42 inside a blue circle took its place among retired Met numbers 37, 14 and 41. This all took place as the game went on hold for Selig’s announcement in the middle of the fifth inning of a thus-far scoreless pitchers’ duel between Armando Reynoso and Ismael Valdez. Perhaps inspired by the actions of the commissioner and the presence of the president — or maybe because Tommy Lasorda sent Valdez back out to pitch on a wintry night — the Mets took a 2-0 lead on Lance Johnson’s two-run single and, with Toby Borland pitching four shutout innings of relief, marked the first Jackie Robinson Night with a 5-0 win. Huskey, incidentally, sparked the fifth-inning rally with a leadoff single.
GAME 014: April 28, 1962 — METS 8 Phillies 6
(Mets All-Time Game 014 Record: 28-23; Mets 1962 Record: 2-12)
Ten-thousand four-hundred ninety-two souls won the lottery. Those lucky stiffs weren’t stiffed. They became the first Mets crowd to experience the satisfaction and perhaps bliss of going to a Mets home game and leaving it having seen a Mets home win.
This new baseball team had previously tried its hand at homestanding, and they could barely maintain their balance. Six games at the Polo Grounds led to six losses between April 13 and April 19. One of those went extra innings, which could be interpreted as Casey Stengel’s crew hanging in there as long as they could, but also meant it just took longer for them to lose. Perhaps the spirit of those first home games was best captured by Leonard Shecter in Once Upon The Polo Grounds, when he found a fan in right field begging for the Mets, trailing the Cardinals 15-5 with two out in the bottom of the ninth, begging for “one more run, just one more run.”
When asked why one more run was so important given that the Mets trailed by ten, the fan explained that instead of five runs, the Mets would have six, and “then you could say if they got any pitching, they woulda won.”
The same, one supposes, could have been said as the Mets set out on their second-ever homestand. Fortified by their first win of any kind, at Forbes Field, the 1-11 Mets scored four runs off the Phillies’ Cal McLish — given name Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish, as Bob Murphy was fond of reminding listeners — and another five against Frank Sullivan. Problem was, they didn’t get any pitching, and they didn’t win. The law firm of Craig, Anderson, Moford & Moorhead was roughed up for 11 hits and 15 runs (Ken MacKenzie did, however, pitch a 1-2-3 ninth) and the result was an already familiar 11-9 defeat.
Seven home contests, seven home defeats. Hard to attract fans with that kind of advertising, but just as the Mets were bound to win one somewhere eventually, so too were they on a collision course with probability at the Polo Grounds. Their day to cash in was a Saturday that started out more or less like every day in the Mets’ infancy. The Phillies hung an immediate four-spot on starter Jay Hook by way of Tony Gonzalez’s three-run blast and Don Demeter’s solo shot. Stengel saw enough and gave Jay the hook. In came Bob Miller (Bob L. Miller, for you sticklers) and he calmed down Phillie bats, holding them to only one more run through the fifth.
It would take until the bottom of the sixth, with the Mets trailing 6-1 — Charlie Neal had homered to lead off the home second but Demeter returned the favor against Dave Hillman to start the top of the sixth — to say they got enough hitting to match their relief pitching. When it came, in came in a barrage. After Phillie starter Jim Owens walked Gus Bell, Frank Thomas homered. Then Neal homered again. Jack Hamilton immediately replaced Owens, but he couldn’t put a plug in the Mets’ power surge; Gil Hodges greeted him with a homer of his own.
Bam! Bam! BAM! Just like that, the Mets were back in the game, 6-5. Once back, they decided not to leave. After recording an out and allowing a walk to Chris Cannizzaro, Hamilton exited in favor of Sullivan. But the Mets were beginning to like being on base. Sammy Taylor hit for Hillman and walked. Rod Kanehl ran for Taylor while John DeMerit pinch-ran for catcher Cannizzaro. Richie Asbhurn’s grounder to the right side pushed both runners up a base. Gene Mauch replaced Sullivan with Chris Short — it was taking four Phillie hurlers to quell one Met uprising — and Short rewarded his skipper’s confidence by unleashing a corker of a wild pitch, wild enough to score DeMerit from third and Hot Rod from second.
The Mets had a lead! At home! And it grew bigger when Jim Hickman homered off Ed Keegan in the eighth! The Mets were on top 8-6. Roger Craig — the starter from the night before and the closest thing Stengel had to an ace — had come on in the seventh to attempt to nail this sucker down. The Phillies didn’t score on him in the seventh or the eighth. In the ninth, Johnny Callison fouled out to Hodges at first, Gonzalez grounded to Neal at second and the Phillies’ final hope, Frank Torre, grounded out to Hodges. The Mets won 8-6, for the first time delighting their home fans not just by existing but by excelling. Or their version of it.
Ten-thousand, four-hundred ninety-two souls bought tickets to see the Mets at the Polo Grounds the eighth time a person could do that, but only the first time a person could do that and feel completely rewarded for having done so. Every darn one of those 10,492 hit the jackpot.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On April 19, 2005, the same day the College of Cardinals elected Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI, the Mets put XVI runs on the Citizens Bank Park scoreboard, producing a trail of white smoke in their midst as they banged out a club record seven home runs. Doug Mientkiewicz and Victor Diaz each made Phillie pitchers think “Holy…” as they homered twice. Jose Reyes (leading off the first), Mike Piazza and David Wright (grand slam in the sixth) contributed one dinger apiece in the 16-4 rout at Philadelphia. The beneficiary in Philly on Benedict’s big day in Vatican City was Met starter and winner Victor Zambrano, whose pitching was adequate but whose hitting was right in step with that of his teammates — to the Victor belonged the spoils of a two-run triple, one of fifteen Met hits (praise be) on the night.
GAME 015: April 22, 1978 — Mets 3 CUBS 2
(Mets All-Time Game 015 Record: 26-25; Mets 1978 Record: 9-6)
April is the month to dream, particularly if you are tethered to a team that seems destined for the second division. You are cognizant that you are only a temporary resident of the Land of Small Sample Size, but if you are given any clue…any hint that things look much better than they appeared when Spring Training ended, you will take it and you will not let it go until you absolutely have to.
The Mets fan of April 1978 practiced that kind of willful self-deception because the Mets offered him just enough reason. The 1977 Mets, conversely, offered him nothing but a post-Seaver void. The 1977-78 offseason offered a mixed bag, at best. A couple of free agents of the bargain variety joined the team: righthanded pitcher Tom Hausman, outfielder Elliott Maddox. There was a big and noisy four-team trade that netted the Mets a recognizable power hitter in Willie Montañez but expelled from their ranks John Milner and Jon Matlack. Tim Foli had returned from extended Expo exile. Bud Harrelson was sent packing to the Phillies. After plummeting to the depths of the National League East in ’77, the best one could hope to infer was that the Mets, they were-a changin’.
For the better, was the idea, but entering 1978, the power of positive thinking seemed inoperable in Metropolitan circles. Yet here were the Mets, not losing more than they were winning, which wasn’t widely anticipated in March. There was a 3-0 start; there were home runs from old faces (Ed Kranepool — a walkoff winner); young faces (Steve Henderson — a grand slam); grizzled faces (ex-Giant Ken Henderson, belting his sole Met shot before succumbing to serious injury). There were Mets up from Tidewater, like unheralded righty starter and Queens native Mike Bruhert and reliever Mardie Cornejo, whose nickname, for some unspecified reason, was The Chief.
There was something going on in early 1978, and whether this cast of characters could make it last to the middle of the season was unknowable. It was also irrelevant. All that mattered was on a Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field, two weeks into the campaign, the Mets were making a bid to lead the N.L. East. If they could beat the Cubs while the Pirates swept the Expos, the Mets could end the day all alone in first place.
Not end the year there. Not end the first half. Not even the first month. End the day.
It would be the kind of day a 1978 Mets fan wouldn’t wish to end. Undeterred by a 2-0 deficit, they came back on Chicago starter Rick Reuschel in the top of the seventh. With one out, Lee Mazzilli tripled and Ron Hodges drove him home with a sacrifice fly. Foli scratched out an infield single and took second on a wild pitch. Tom Grieve, bundled with Montañez and Ken Henderson as part of the ransom to spring Milner and Matlack, pinch-hit for Jerry Koosman and singled Foli home.
Joe Torre, in his first full season as Met manager, entrusted the 2-2 tie to Cornejo. And what Cornejo chiefly did as 1978 got rolling was get batters out. He held the Cubs scoreless in the seventh, setting the stage for a tiebreaking two-out Met rally in the eighth: Montañez singled, Mazzilli walked and Hodges drove home Willie with a single. Skip Lockwood took over for Cornejo and went wild — literally. He walked the bases loaded, but popped up Steve Ontiveros to escape the jam. The bottom of the ninth was less dramatic, as Skip ended the Cubbies’ hopes by grounding Bill Buckner into a 4-6-3 double play.
The Mets’ hopes were just beginning. The Expos indeed lost both games of their twinbill at Olympic Stadium. Their record fell to 7-5. The Cubs were 7-6. And the Mets? By prevailing 3-2, they raised their mark to 9-6 (as Cornejo’s floated upward to 3-0). The Mets, fifteen games into the season — almost 10% done! — were alone in first place. The Sunday News didn’t mess around with this fact. METS TAKE FIRST was their back page headline, and there was no irony to it.
There was no future to it, either. 1978 quickly devolved into another 1977 and served as template for 1979, but the Mets fan didn’t know that then. That, sometimes, is why April is the coolest month.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On April 26, 1971, Tom Seaver and the Mets put the hammer down on Bob Gibson and the Cardinals, 12-2 at Busch Stadium. It was a team effort all around as eight of nine Mets in the starting lineup — Seaver included — collected at least one hit and drove in at least one run. The sole zeroes in the box score belonged to second baseman Ken Boswell, who was replaced in the fifth inning by Tim Foli once the Mets went up 7-1. Foli proceeded to join the hit parade with a run-scoring double in the top of the seventh, assuring no position would be offensively unaccounted for.