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” 40th game in any Mets season, the “best” 41st game in any Mets season, the “best” 42nd 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 040: May 26, 1964 — Mets 19 CUBS 1
(Mets All-Time Game 040 Record: 28-23; Mets 1964 Record: 12-28)
For what very good teams could do in one year, the toddler Mets required two-and-a-quarter seasons, namely win their 103rd game (ever). But how much the Mets scored to win their 103rd was more than some teams managed in a week — like the 1964 Mets, for example.
In the seven days before they touched off an offensive outburst for the ages, the Mets played seven games, lost six of them and scored 12 times. Pretty typical stuff for the Mets in their formative years, which is what made the events of this particular Tuesday in Chicago so Amazin’ly atypical.
Come to think of it, maybe those weren’t really the Mets out there at Wrigley Field. Their lineup featured two guys named Smith: Dick, batting leadoff and playing first, and Charley, playing third and hitting sixth. Smith is one of those names a fellow uses when he’s pretending to be somebody he’s not. Dick and Charley masqueraded as superstars, going a combined 8-for-12 with seven RBIs between them. Then again, guys who tended to register at motels under every possible Met name — from Christopher and Cannizzaro to Hunt and Hickman to Thomas and McMillan — were registering base hits and runs batted in and just about everything positive a box score would allow.
Each member of the Mets’ starting lineup hit. Dick Smith alone tripled, doubled and singled thrice. Charley Smith contributed a three-run homer and five ribbies. Hickman drove in three, scored three and notched three singles. Overall, in 49 official at-bats, the Mets collected 23 hits, a total that remains unsurpassed as the most the Mets have ever accumulated in a nine-inning game.
The beneficiary of all this largesse was Jack Fisher, a 1-for-6 batter himself, but mostly a four-hit complete game pitcher. When all the dust the Mets kicked on the Cubs settled, he was the winner of a shocking 19-1 decision.
“This,” announced Bob Murphy, in a masterstroke of understatement as the final out approached, “is some kind of a day, I want to tell you.”
Clearly, the best line to come out of this unforeseen explosion was the one that stretched out across the Wrigley scoreboard:
NEW YORK 430020406
But there were a few other lines that, like the Mets’ club-record 18-run margin of victory, still stand the test of time.
Like Tracy Stallard’s, after the Mets tacked on a six-run ninth: “That’s when I knew we had ’em.”
Like Casey Stengel’s, after finally not being on the receiving end of a blowout: “I suppose most of the club owners will be trying to contact me now to get my players.”
And, most enduringly, like that uttered by the eternally quoted caller to the sports department of the Waterbury Republican, a Connecticut gentleman who sincerely wanted to know if what he thought he’d heard was true…that the cellar-dwelling Mets had actually scored 19 runs that afternoon. When he was told yes, they most definitely did, the fellow offered the follow-up question that, given the state of the Mets since there had been Mets, absolutely needed to be asked:
“But did they win?”
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On May 17, 2007, the Mets hit their snooze button repeatedly for eight innings, but then jumped out of bed and bolted out the door like Dagwood Bumstead scrambling to make the bus. Left in his wake, like that poor mailman Dagwood was always creaming in his last-minute rush, were the Chicago Cubs, who thought they were delivering a pretty simple 5-1 decision to their win column. Turned out Cubbie plans needed to be returned to sender. Once the Mets got going in the ninth inning of that heretofore sleepy Thursday matinee, they couldn’t be stopped. A “B” lineup, fortified by some unusually potent bench strength, methodically took apart Lou Piniella’s bullpen, with everyone from utilityman David Newhan to rookie Ruben Gotay to pinch-hitter David Wright singling. Throw in a couple of walks, and the stage was properly set for Carlos Delgado to poke a ball into right field, chasing Endy Chavez home from third and Gotay from second with the fourth and fifth runs of the bottom of the ninth, giving those suddenly alert Mets a rousing 6-5 comeback victory.
GAME 041: May 20, 1999 (2nd) — METS 10 Brewers 1
(Mets All-Time Game 041 Record: 22-29; Mets 1999 Record: 23-18)
Just when you thought you’ve seen everything at the ballpark, sometimes you see a little more. It helps when you are shown two ballgames, though after the spectacle they witnessed in the opener of a Thursday twinight doubleheader between the Mets and Milwaukee at Shea Stadium, 19,542 couldn’t have been looking for anything else all that grand. The first game, after all, gave them plenty.
Al Leiter and Jim Abbott faced off in the opposite of a pitchers’ duel, though each of them lasted to the fifth inning. Leiter wasted an early 4-0 lead and let his team fall behind when ex-Met Alex Ochoa doubled in a pair to give the Brewers a 6-5 edge. But Leiter was rescued when the recently recalled Benny Agbayani continued his scalding ways by blasting a three-run home off reliever Steve Falteisek. The Mets kept building on that lead, ultimately getting it up to 11-6 in the seventh on Agbayani’s second homer of the game.
Good thing Benny was bringing the Hawaiian punch, because Allen Watson gave up a three-run homer to Jeff Cirillo in the top of the eighth. John Franco came on to quell any more comebacks, but the closer — who in April locked down his 400th career save — couldn’t possibly make this one easy. Franco put two runners on, and disaster threatened when a Sean Berry pop fly to short right with two out couldn’t be handled by second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo. Marquis Grissom sped home from second to make it 11-10. Ochoa, who had been on first, tried to tie the game but (after losing a shoe on the basepaths) was thrown out easily by right fielder Roger Cedeño to clumsily end the contest.
After a game like that, the fans at Shea needed a breather. You might say they got it via the ease with which the Mets took the nightcap. As Marty Noble wrote in Newsday, the Mets “played nine innings of dreadful baseball and won in spite of themselves. Then they played nine more and won convincingly. They are the schizophrenic Mets, splitting a doubleheader and sweeping it at the same time.”
So much breath was held and so much action was folded into the late innings of the 11-10 lidlifter, it was hard to remember how the Mets got their first four runs, back when it appeared they were on their way to a laugher. Those initial tallies came in the bottom of the first, on one swing of the bat (when the stadium was almost completely empty) by the Mets’ new-for-’99 third baseman Robin Ventura. That was a nice detail for the box score, but hardly the shining highlight in a game that encompassed 21 runs, 25 hits and 4 errors (three by the Mets, including the nearly fatal miscue by the normally steady Alfonzo). Ventura’s Game One grand slam might have gone completely forgotten except for something he did in Game Two.
He hit another.
Not that the Mets particularly needed it. Second-game starter Masato Yoshii was having a much better night than Leiter, holding a 3-0 lead over the Brew Crew through four innings of work. Still, it couldn’t hurt to have a bigger cushion, so the Mets provided him one.
Agbayani led off the home fourth with a triple…of course he did. As he stood on third, Benny may or may not have realized he had established himself as the most quickly revered cult hero in the history of Shea Stadium. That three-bagger, on top of the two-homer, four-hit performance from Game One, raised Agbayani’s batting average after 28 at-bats to an unfathomable .536. Chants of “BEN-NEE!” filled the air. Hawaiian punch, indeed.
“Benny,” Bobby Valentine said later, “is the player of the week, I guess.”
Yet Agbayani’s sizzle was about to become a secondary story of the doubleheader, consigned to sidebar status alongside Leiter’s frustrations, Ochoa’s misadventures and everything else, including the Luis Lopez double and Cedeño single that upped the Mets’ second-game lead to 5-0. Milwaukee starter Steve Woodard dug himself a deeper hole when he allowed Roger to steal second and third, walked Alfonzo and hit John Olerud with a pitch. He departed the mound, bequeathing a two-out, bases-loaded mess to reliever Horacio Estrada.
Ventura was happy to help Horacio clean up that mess. For the second time in the same evening, Ventura homered with three men on. That made it two grand slams in one doubleheader. As they rose to salute all those RBIs, the Shea faithful buzzed with one overriding question:
“Has anybody ever done that before?”
The scoreboard would post an answer almost as satisfying as the 9-0 lead the Mets now held: no. Those in attendance had just witnessed a major league first. Robin Ventura, in two very different games, had accomplished the same unusual feat: a grand slam in the first inning of the first game; a grand slam in the fourth inning of the second game.
Yoshii took the cushion Ventura gave him and pitched with requisite relaxation through the seventh. Rigo Beltran fired the final two frames — with Jermaine Allensworth belting the sixth Met home run of the twinbill — and the Amazin’s had their schizo sweep, 10-1. Robin, meanwhile, had his singular doubleheader record.
“It was different,” the third baseman reflected for reporters, “because it was two games. You have time to forget about the first one a little bit and actually think it didn’t happen because it happened during the day. The sun was out and now you’re playing a night game and you think it might’ve happened yesterday.”
It was an explanation almost worthy of Yogi Berra, but the knack for hitting with the bases loaded placed Ventura in the company of other baseball immortals. Those homers were the eleventh and twelfth grand slams of his career, most of which had been played with the White Sox. He now had as many as Ken Griffey, Jr., and Mark McGwire and was one shy of his former teammate Harold Baines. Up ahead on the all-time grand slam list were names like Gil Hodges (14), Babe Ruth (16) and all-time National League leader Willie McCovey (18). Whether Robin would eventually catch any or all of them was unknown in May of 1999 (though he would). What Mets fans had figured out for certain after that pair of wins over Milwaukee was they had on their side a guy who could really come through with the bases loaded.
It might be a good skill to call on again.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On May 19, 2006, a large object in the Mets’ rearview mirror turned out to be smaller than it appeared. Randy Johnson — the Big Unit — loomed as large as he had for a generation when he took the mound in the bottom of the first of the first Subway Series game of the season. It wasn’t just because he was the legendary Randy Johnson. It was because he was the legendary Randy Johnson with a 4-0 lead, constructed by Johnson’s Yankee teammates off journeyman fill-in starter Geremi Gonzalez. The Unit was (and wore) 41, but still figured to be a tall order to bring down to size when staked to such a comfortable margin. Turned out the big guy could have used a more immense lead. Carlos Beltran, whose introductory press conference in Queens in January 2005 was trumped on the back pages by the one held in the Bronx for Johnson that afternoon, stole the Unit’s thunder by striking a three-run homer, and before the second inning dawned, the Mets’ deficit was down to 4-3. Neither Gonzalez (3 IP, 6 ER) nor Johnson (5 IP, 6 ER) lasted long in this battle of New York, and it eventually came down to bullpens, specifically closers, each of whom was identified with the same stentorian soundtrack. Wagner, as the home Sandman, entered the arena first and turned out the lights on the Yankees in the top of the ninth, striking out Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez and Kelly Stinnett, all swinging, each on four pitches. He was countered by Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the inning. Mo, however, heard no Metallica, only heavy Met hitting: a one-out double by Paul Lo Duca and a two-out long single by David Wright pulled the covers over Rivera and his teammates, 7-6.
GAME 042: May 23, 2009 — Mets 3 RED SOX 2
(Mets All-Time Game 042 Record: 23-28; Mets 2009 Record: 23-19)
What happens when a Monster meets a monitor? One devours the other.
The legendary Green Monster has swallowed its fair share of assumptions in all the decades it has towered over left field at Fenway Park. Its height has turned homers into doubles and doubles into singles. Its relative proximity to home plate has turned fly balls into home runs, left fielders into wanna-be psychics (‘which way is that thing gonna bounce?”) and pitchers into nervous wrecks. The Monster also became one of baseball’s biggest television stars. You tuned into a game from Boston, you were treated to shots of the Monster even when there were no shots at the Monster.
But the cameras that made the Green Monster so famous also came to work against its proprietors one Saturday night when the Mets came to town. Things were going the Red Sox’ way since the first inning, when Kevin Youkilis knocked in two runs to erase an early 1-0 Mets lead. From there, Mike Pelfrey and Josh Beckett traded zeroes, and Boston’s 2-1 lead stood up clear to top of the ninth.
Red Sox All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon appeared prepared to end it when, after walking Gary Sheffield, he struck out David Wright and Jeremy Reed. The Mets’ last hope was rookie catcher Omir Santos, valued by manager Jerry Manuel for his “short swing”.
When a compact stroke met a wall no more than 310 feet away, good things could happen. But how good, was the question. Omir’s first swing drove a Papelbon pitch to the very top of that old Green Monster, almost into those seats that were added to the ancient structure a few years before. A red line was painted to help umpires make their calls. Balls above the line were homers. Balls below the line were in play.
Third base ump Paul Nauert couldn’t really tell because of the Fenway lights, so he did what Mets fans assumed all umps did when in doubt: he ruled against the Mets, deciding Santos had hit a ball that didn’t clear the line, which limited Santos to second base, Sheffield to third. Nauert’s logic, as communicated by crew chief Joe West, was if he called it a double, he could always change it to a home run later, thanks to one of the great innovations of the 2000s, umpire video review.
This was the process by which the officials huddled out of view of the crowd and both teams and examined, on a monitor, as many replays as the MLB office in New York could transmit to them. If there was ample evidence that a call was wrong, they were empowered to change it. Anyone who had watched armies of the men in blue present an imperious, impervious front to any and all suggestions that they might occasionally make the wrong call, this was truly revolutionary. At Fenway, it gave the Mets hope that they could take an unlikely 3-2 lead off one of the best relievers in the sport.
On the other hand, a machine held their fate, and if technology didn’t cooperate, the game would still be one out from over and the Mets would still be one run behind.
It took maybe five minutes to render a decision, though to Santos, “It felt like I was waiting an hour.” A two-run homer came to those who waited. Yes, the replays did show Omir’s fly cleared that line. Everybody watching at home could see it, but the important thing was the umpires saw it. The Mets led 3-2.
“That’s what the replay is for,” Manuel reasoned.
Perhaps because the depleted Mets had been so close to defeat — and probably because the video delay heightened the drama — Santos’s teammates poured out of the dugout to greet him as if he had just beaten Papelbon on the final swing of the night. But then the Mets were forced to look around and notice they were the visiting team and they still had to get the Red Sox out in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The Mets would have to keep the Red Sox off the board without the help of any friendly monitors and without their All-Star closer. Frankie Rodriguez suffered from back spasms and was at a Boston hospital when the bottom of the ninth rolled around. It was becoming depressing business as usual for these 2009 Mets, who were also without mainstays Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes and Ryan Church and had to get by with fill-ins like the all-but-retired infielder Ramon Martinez at shortstop. Martinez had made two ugly errors the night before, and Manuel admitted he was back in the lineup only because the Mets had “no options”.
J.J. Putz, taking up the closer role, did his best to let the Red Sox get back their lead when he walked Youkilis to lead off the ninth. Then Met defense — shoddy throughout the previous week in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston — took over. David Wright and Luis Castillo teamed (diving stop, shaky throw, excellent scoop) to force Youkilis at second on a Jason Bay ground ball. Angel Pagan, for whom right field was a recurring adventure all season, gloved a tough line drive from J.D. Drew. And then, most surprisingly, the maligned Martinez dove and corralled a grounder from Mike Lowell and fired to Daniel Murphy at first to preserve the 3-2 Met win.
It was a good if ultimately deceptive night for the teetering 2009 Mets. “We’re a little beat up,” Manuel said, “but it looks like we’re going to be OK.” It was a very good night for the previously obscure Santos, who was playing often only because regular catcher Brian Schneider was yet another DL denizen. Omir was making an impression that secured him at least a share of the starting catcher’s job for the rest of the year.
And it was an excellent night for accuracy.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On May 17, 2002, the “pitcher’s best friend” got chummy with starter Steve Trachsel in San Diego. With the Mets leading the Padres 5-1 in the bottom of the fifth at Jack Murphy Stadium, Trachsel allowed a leadoff single to Deivi Cruz and then walked Sean Burroughs. Pads catcher Wiki Gonzalez could have conceivably caused Trachsel trouble with just one swing, but he did the opposite, grounding to Edgardo Alfonzo at third, who stepped on the bag, whipped the ball to Roberto Alomar at second, who in turn relayed it to Mo Vaughn at first. Around the horn in three outs: a 5-4-3 triple play to extract Trachsel from danger. Mets pitchers’ other best friend, backstop Mike Piazza, embellished the box score with a grand slam in top of the seventh, as the righthander cruised from there to a 13-4 win. Offense is nice, but a triple play? Ooh-la-la, said Steve: “That was a beautiful thing. Triple plays are cool. If a double play is a pitcher’s best friend, I don’t know what a triple play is. A sexy mistress?” As much as every pitcher wants to be pals (or maybe friends with benefits) with a triple play, it turns out they’re usually the enemy of good Met fortune. In their history, the Mets have turned ten of them, yet lost the games in which they occurred eight times. Perhaps the prevalence of opposition baserunners is a sign that something is awry. This particular 5-4-3 triple-killing is the last (thus far) to have arrived wrapped in good Mets news. The first? At Shea, against the Astros, on April 15, 1965, an unconventional 9-2-6 TP in which a Jimmy Wynn flyout to rightfielder Johnny Lewis morphed into Houston runners attempting — and failing — to tag up first from third, and then from first.
Thanks to FAFIF reader Sharon Chapman for providing digital audio from the game of May 26, 1964.