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” 52nd game in any Mets season, the “best” 53rd game in any Mets season, the “best” 54th 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 052: June 4, 1976 — Mets 11 DODGERS 0
(Mets All-Time Game 052 Record: 25-25-1; Mets 1976 Record: 25-27)
Mighty…it’s almost too gentle a word to describe Dave Kingman at his mightiest. Might, as a noun, does seem more appropriately ensconced in Kingman’s considerable wheelhouse, but it’s a little too iffy if it’s taken here as an auxiliary verb. Dave Kingman might hit some of the longest home runs you’ll ever see. It’s too conditional. It gives you the sense it might not happen.
It was going to happen. Dave Kingman was going to use all his might and strike mighty blows and they were going to sail beyond any and all fences erected to contain him. It was a certainty. The only legitimate questions to ask were “how many?” and “when?”
On a Friday night at Dodger Stadium, he gave us his answers: a two-run homer off Burt Hooton in the fourth; a three-run homer off Burt Hooton in the fifth; a three-run homer off Al Downing in the seventh.
There. Just like that, on three first pitches, Dave Kingman homered three times and drove in eight runs. The former accomplishment tied a Mets record initially set by Jim Hickman in 1965. The latter set a Mets record which would stand for 32 seasons. Sky King’s 20 home runs through 52 games — five ahead of Mike Schmidt for the N.L. lead — threatened to shatter a few more marks before 1976 was over. Hack Wilson held the National League record with 56 roundtrippers struck in 1930, and he didn’t have 20 home runs until the Cubs had played 59 games.
“I don’t even want to think about that,” was how Kingman answered a question in 1976 about how many he might hit for the season. He also professed a lack of interest in the distance his dingers traveled: “What difference does it make how far they go? I’d just as soon hit a single that wins a ballgame.”
Kingman could always clout. It was hitting consistently that tended to flummox the slugger. Before lavishly supporting Tom Seaver’s three-hit, 11-0 shutout of the Dodgers, Dave had been encountering tough times at the plate. He was 1-for-17 in his previous four games, the worst of them being the most recent, an 0-for-5 performance that saw him strand runners in each of his plate appearances. “I halfway expected to be sitting this one out after the way I performed on our last homestand,” Kingman admitted. “I had a miserable week but, well, that’s baseball. These things happen very seldom and I’m going to enjoy it.”
These things wouldn’t happen so seldom in Kingman’s career, actually. His power would surge to the tune of three home runs in a single game four more times in the next eight years, though none of other explosions occurred on behalf of the Mets. One more did, however, happen while Kingman, as a Cub, was facing the Dodgers. That was in 1978, when Tommy Lasorda had succeeded Walt Alston as L.A. manager and the colorful skipper offered a few choice words to radio reporter Paul Olden, who innocently asked afterwards for Lasorda’s “opinion of Kingman’s performance”. “‘What is my opinion of his performance?’ How could you ask me a question like that, ‘What is my opinion of his performance?’” is about the only part of Lasorda’s answer that could go unbleeped.
Alston, two years earlier, kept characteristically quiet…as quiet as Kingman’s bat was loud and awe-inspiring.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On June 10, 1969, the Mets extended their team-record winning streak to eleven consecutive games, a mark that’s been matched three times since but never topped. This one was a 9-4 victory over the Giants at Candlestick Park featuring a two-homer, four-hit outburst from Tommie Agee and three RBIs from his Mobile, Ala., running mate Cleon Jones (now batting .351). Don Cardwell gave up five hits in pitching to one out in the ninth before giving way to Ron Taylor. The eleven-game winning streak erased any memory of the five-game losing streak that preceded it and made the excitement over the Mets simply reaching .500 in May seem like outdated news. The Mets, after all their streaking, were six games over the break-even point, seven games behind the Cubs and ensconced in second place, comfortably ahead of the Pirates and Cardinals.
GAME 053: June 9, 1964 (1st) — METS 6 Cubs 5 (12)
(Mets All-Time Game 053 Record: 24-26; Mets 1964 Record: 17-35-1)
When you say “long man,” you be sure to pronounce it “Larry Bearnarth.” That’s how Casey Stengel did it in the opener of a twinighter at Shea this Tuesday night. He said Bearnarth, and he kept saying it.
First, however, the Ol’ Perfesser said, “Al Jackson,” but Jackson’s pitching said he didn’t have it. Little Al faced seven batters in the opening inning at Shea; five of them reached base; three of them scored; three of them were on base when Stengel decided he’d seen enough. Jackson was pulled in favor of Bill Wakefield, who got the Mets out of the first trailing 3-0.
The Mets had their first big opportunity to get even and, perhaps, then some in the second, so once the Mets got two on with two out and Wakefield was due up, Stengel pinch-hit for him with Hot Rod Kanehl. Kanehl didn’t let him down, singling home two runs and taking second on the throw in from right field. Jim Hickman followed with another two-run single and now the Mets led 4-3.
In to pitch came Tom Sturdivant, who promptly lost Stengel’s confidence by surrendering a leadoff triple to Ron Santo, a run-scoring single to Ernie Banks and another single to Billy Cowan. That was enough Tom Sturdivant. Enter Bearnarth, making his first appearance since the infamous 23-inning loss to the Giants on Memorial Day. In that wacky May 31 affair, Larry gave Casey seven solid innings of shutout relief. His encore began in promising fashion, as a flyball, a grounder and a strikeout untangled Sturdivant’s mess.
At this point, the Mets had played three defensive innings and used four pitchers. A second game remained after this one, so if Stengel needed anything, it was length. And length became Larry’s middle name (though, for the record, Lawrence Bearnarth’s middle name was Donald). There’d be a hit batsman and a few walks, but Bearnarth gave up no hits from his entrance in the top of the third clear through to one out in tenth. That added up to seven-and-one-third hitless frames from the righty reliever, though it bears noting his streak was saved by Kanehl, who stayed in the game to play center and conjured an outfield catch-and-throw that served as an unknowing precursor to one Endy Chavez would make 42 years later.
Santo led off the seventh with a walk. Banks belted a Bearnarth pitch an alarming distance. What happened next is best described by Bob Murphy:
“Here’s the pitch on the way…a drive in the air to deep center, Kanehl a long way to go, way back, WAY back, against the wall — OH WHAT A CATCH! WHAT A CATCH, THE PLAY OF THE YEAR! HE MAY GET A DOUBLE PLAY! Ron Hunt has a relay throw to make…here it comes…DOUBLE PLAY!”
At that moment, Kanehl was the long man of long men on the Mets, but soon enough it was Bearnarth out there extending himself even more. Banks and Dick Bertell singled for the Cubs in the tenth, but nobody scored. Lou Brock singled in the eleventh, but he, too, was stranded. Finally, in the twelfth, in Bearnarth’s tenth inning of relief, the Cubs got to him, when Bertell singled home Santo. The Cubs led 5-4.
But not for long. In the bottom of the twelfth, Joe Christopher singled with one out and Charley Smith reached on shortstop Jimmy Stewart’s ground ball error. Bearnarth finally left the game for a pinch-hitter, Sammy Samuel. Samuel — facing Lindy McDaniel, who had just replaced Chicago starter Dick Ellsworth (who had gone 11⅓ innings) singled, sending Christopher home to tie the game at five. One intentional walk later, catcher Jesse Gonder made a winner of Bearnarth by singling to center. Charley Smith scored and the Mets prevailed 6-5 in twelve.
Larry Bearnarth’s ten innings of relief in one game established a Mets record that has never been matched. No Mets reliever, in fact, has come within two innings of Bearnarth’s length since June 9, 1964. That span includes the second game of that doubleheader, one which was lost 5-2 in regulation. The starter and loser for the Mets? Galen Cisco, who had set the record Bearnarth had broken when Cisco pitched nine relief innings in…yup, that 23-inning loss to San Francisco on Memorial Day. Galen pitched the 15th through the 23rd immediately after Larry pitched the 8th through the 14th.
The Mets might not have been very good in 1964, but they didn’t let opponents know that any sooner than they had to.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On June 4, 1988, the Mets made a habit of coming from behind every couple of innings when coming from behind was most essential to their in-game survival. The Cubs took a 4-3 lead on the Mets in the top of the ninth this Saturday at Shea when Manny Trillo singled in two runs off Roger McDowell. No worries: with two on, Gary Carter singled off Goose Gossage to tie the score. In the top of the eleventh, Terry Leach tried to keep it tied, but he was undermined when, with two out, Vance Law scored from third on an error by Howard Johnson, playing short. Facing a 5-4 deficit in the bottom of the inning, the Mets got Mookie Wilson to third with two out. Lenny Dykstra was down to his last strike when Cub reliever Mike Capel uncorked a wild pitch. It was 5-5, and the two teams were going to the twelfth. They made it to the bottom of the thirteenth, when Kevin McReynolds — who was known to like to beat it out of the clubhouse as soon as he could once a game was done — got tired of playing and blasted Capel’s first pitch of the inning for a game-ending home run, giving the Mets a 6-5 win.
GAME 054: June 10, 1986 — METS 8 Phillies 4 (11)
(Mets All-Time Game 054 Record: 22-27; Mets 1986 Record: 38-16)
To the 1986 Mets, nothing exceeded like excess. So why would anyone would think the most extravagant exceeders of them all would settle for something so mundane as a game-winning sacrifice fly?
After Gary Carter homered against Phillie reliever Steve Bedrosian to lead off the bottom of the eighth at Shea and forge a 4-4 tie (it was Carter’s second home run of the night), the two teams remained knotted until the bottom of the eleventh inning. Randy Lerch — who had pinch-hit for Bedrosian in this era of 24-man rosters — allowed a single to Ray Knight to start the frame. Rafael Santana’s grounder to the right side moved Ray to second. Davey Johnson sent Barry Lyons up to pinch-hit for reliever Roger McDowell. Phillie manager John Felske countered by intentionally walking the backup catcher in hopes of setting up a double play. Lerch didn’t aid the strategy when he walked Lenny Dykstra.
Now the bases were loaded with one out. All anyone could ask for was a simple fly ball. That’s all the Mets needed. Drive one deep enough so that Ray Knight could trot home from third.
There’d be a deep drive. And there’d be trotting. But it wouldn’t be simple.
Johnson called back second baseman Wally Backman and sent up his righthanded platoon partner Tim Teufel. Felske, having seen enough of lefty Lerch, replaced him with righty Tom Hume. There was a second base dynamic at play. Backman was a switch-hitter on paper, a lefty swinger for all intents and purposes. It was Wally’s failure to produce from the right side down the stretch in 1985 that motivated the Mets to acquire Teufel from the Twins the previous offseason, giving up former first-round draft pick Billy Beane in the process.
While Backman was thriving in the new arrangement, entering this Tuesday night affair hitting .313, Teufel was having a tough time adjusting to New York. He came into the evening’s action batting a most unMetslike .226. The night before, in a similar lefty-righty spot, Teufel pinch-hit for Backman with two out in the ninth with the winning run on second and was popped up by Don Carman. The Mets would lose in ten.
Now Teufel was planning on forgetting the night before and planning the tack he’d take against Hume. “I knew if I hit a ball up the middle,” Teuf said, “there was a chance they’d get two.” His goal, then, was distilled to its essence:
“I knew I had to get it in the air. He’s a sinkerball pitcher. I was just looking for something to lift.”
After taking two balls from Hume, Teufel swung — and the Mets would be the ones looking for something to lift: Teufel, perhaps on their shoulders. They didn’t go that far in their celebration, but they did their share of hootin’ ‘n’ hollerin’ when Teufel’s fly ball to left did more than score Knight. It scored Lyons, it scored Dykstra and it scored Teufel.
It was a walkoff, pinch-hit grand slam, the first by any Met since Steve Henderson launched one against the Cubs seven years earlier. It was also a great example of what the 1986 Mets were capable of. Ask for a fly ball, receive a fly ball that clears the right field wall to win yet another game, this one 8-4 in eleven innings.
The mid-’80s were considered an era of conspicuous consumption in certain circles in New York. For a baseball team that had just ensured itself an eight-game lead in the National League East, nobody in these parts wished for anything resembling humility or thrift.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On June 5, 1978, two teams headed in opposite directions stopped on their ultimate journeys to see how the other half lived. The Mets had surprised the doomsayers when they played quite competently right up to the middle of their Memorial Day doubleheader, with their record cresting at a very respectable 23-24 after beating St. Louis in the opener. Then they lost the nightcap, were one-hit by Silvio Martinez the next night, and their slide to 1978 oblivion was on. They entered this Monday night tilt at Shea against the defending National League champion Dodgers 24-29, losers of five of their previous six. The Dodgers, meanwhile, were struggling a bit, having lost four straight, but they were still the Dodgers — engaged in a three-way pennant race with the Giants and Reds in the Western Division, giving no indication they’d be anywhere but in a pennant race for the rest of the season. When they scored early and often off Mike Bruhert and Paul Siebert, and carried an 8-2 lead into the bottom of the fourth, all appeared predictable. But all bets were off from there, as Siebert, Dale Murray and Skip Lockwood held the Dodgers hitless the rest of the way, allowing the Mets to mount a seven-run comeback that culminated in the ninth inning, which the Mets started down 8-6. Tim Foli doubled home the tying runs off Terry Forster, and a typically dreadful throw to first from shortstop Bill Russell of Doug Flynn’s potential third-out grounder sailed past first baseman Steve Garvey. Russell’s error allowed Foli to hustle home from second to give the Mets a rousing 9-8 victory. The difference between the Mets’ and the Dodgers’ records at this point of the season was a mere 2½ games. When the season was over, L.A. would be 29 games better and on their way to a second consecutive World Series. The Mets would be last in the East for the second year in a row. But for one night in June, it was hard to tell exactly who was the big-time contender.
Thanks to Sharon and Kevin Chapman for providing digital audio from the game of June 9, 1964.