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” 58th game in any Mets season, the “best” 59th game in any Mets season, the “best” 60th 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 058: June 12, 1977 — Mets 3 ASTROS 1
(Mets All-Time Game 058 Record: 20-29; Mets 1977 Record: 24-34)
In so many ways, it was typical of every fifth day in the Mets’ life for the previous decade: a tight game in which great pitching beat good pitching and made up for light hitting. The starter went the route, as he had 165 previous times. He gave up one run in compiling his complete game, the 90th occasion in which he gave up no more than that while finishing what he started. He earned the win, as he had in 188 previous outings.
Yes, a 3-1 victory over Floyd Bannister and the Houston Astros, achieved by allowing only five hits and two walks while striking out six opponents was typical of what Tom Seaver had given the Mets approximately every fifth day since 1967.
Yet this was hardly just another game.
It would be the last appearance for Seaver in a Mets uniform until…well, nobody could say for certain this Sunday at the Astrodome. Certainly nobody wanted to. The hope was no more than another five days would pass before the ace of the Mets’ staff took the ball from manager Joe Torre the way he customarily had, same as he had taken it from Joe Frazier and Roy McMillan and Yogi Berra and Gil Hodges and Salty Parker and Wes Westrum. Tom Seaver was the single most reassuring fact of life for Mets fans. His nickname was The Franchise, but what he really was was our rock. Upon this rock we had built our dreams.
That rock wasn’t long for this land, however, and if everybody didn’t or couldn’t yet fully or officially acknowledge it, we knew the earth was moving under our feet.
Oh, you couldn’t necessarily tell it by listening to WNEW-AM that Sunday afternoon, where Bob Murphy, Ralph Kiner and Lindsey Nelson proceeded to tell the tale of the game inside the Dome, not the larger story that was roiling the world outside it. If you had read no newspapers that morning and picked up on none of the surreal trade talk surrounding the Mets’ best pitcher, all you would discern from the Mets’ original three announcers was that Seaver came to the bottom of the ninth with a 3-1 lead — one he helped construct with a sacrifice bunt in a two-run top of the eighth — and that he proceeded to get Jose Cruz to line to Dave Kingman and then a grounder back to the mound from Willie Crawford, which he handled himself and tossed to first baseman John Milner. That put Tom Seaver and the Mets two outs from the end. But then Joe Ferguson singled to left and Cliff Johnson worked a four-pitch walk.
As Wilbur Howard came into pinch-run for Johnson, Skip Lockwood continued to warm up in the Mets’ bullpen and Torre visited Seaver on the mound. “Seaver’s gonna stay in the ballgame,” Lindsey Nelson said matter-of-factly. “They wanted to talk it over.” Seaver finished talking with Torre, offered a word or two to home plate ump Frank Pulli, and turned his attention to the next Astro batter, righthanded second baseman Art Howe, hitting .288.
“Seaver is set. Runners lead first and second. Pitch is swung on and fouled off to the right side. It’s strike one.”
Howe fouled off the first four pitches he saw, before Tom wasted a fastball high and away to make the count 1-and-2. Seaver then looked into catcher John Stearns before firing a sixth pitch. “Again, Seaver comes set,” Nelson announced, before calling the next and final delivery of the day:
“Kicks and fires, and the pitch is swung on, HIT WAY BACK in left field…going back there is Kingman, he’s at the wall…KINGMAN MAKES THE CATCH! Leaning against the wall and the ballgame is over! Kingman at the three-ninety sign, made the catch leaning against the wall! As that ball is really leaned ON by Art Howe. When it left the plate, looked as though it might be out of here! In which case it would have been a win for the Astros. Instead Kingman went across the warning track, reached up, leaning against the wall at the three-ninety sign, he pulled it in to end the ballgame in favor of the New York Mets.”
Lindsey sounded pretty excited, though he didn’t mention that there was anything extra noteworthy about the ending, just that it worked out for the Mets. “Seaver gets the win,” Nelson reported, “he struck out six and he walked two in getting his seventh victory of the year. In the ninth inning, no runs, a hit and a walk, two left. We’ll be back in a moment with the final summary and totals. Right now, the final score of the game is the Mets three and the Astros one.”
This was June 12, 1977, just another fifth day in the life of the New York Mets. Life as we knew it, however, would not see another fifth day like it until April 5, 1983. But if you listened to Lindsey and willfully ignored everything else you had heard in the preceding weeks and months about a star player and a front office engaging in an intractable feud, you would have sworn it was just another typically terrific fifth day, courtesy of Tom Seaver.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On June 8, 1998, the antennae went up again, as 24,186 at Shea could swear they felt it coming. A no-hitter…no, make that a perfect game was in the air this Monday night. The signal had crackled in the atmosphere before, but this, surely, was coming in loud and clear. Rick Reed, a master of control, had the Tampa Bay Devil Rays under his spell. Think about it: the Devil Rays were an expansion team — not the most pathetic ever, necessarily, but certainly ripe for the taking by a pro’s pro who could paint the corners like a Da Vinci or (as the comparisons went) a Greg Maddux. Reed had the Devil Rays cornered on his canvas, all right, and could do no wrong. After retiring the Rays in order twice, Reed drove in the Mets’ second run of the game to put himself up 2-0, heading to the third. From there, he struck out two of his next three batters to give him five for the game thus far. Still no Tampa Bay baserunners. Reed stayed perfect through five innings. His flawlessness was contagious — his catcher, Mike Piazza picked up on it and belted his first Shea Stadium home run since coming to the Mets a few weeks earlier. And Piazza, in turn, continued to do an excellent job catching Reed. Through six, the soft-spoken West Virginian had collected eight K’s and allowed absolutely nothing to the visitors from Florida. Yes, the signals were clear. Tonight would be the night. A Quinton McCracken pop fly to Carlos Baerga…one out. A Miguel Cairo grounder to Rey Ordoñez…two out in the top of the seventh. Rick Reed was seven outs from immortality. But he was also facing a Hall of Famer in waiting, Devil Ray third baseman Wade Boggs. And Boggs doubled, which meant the Mets were still waiting for their first no-hitter. But Reed, a month from making it to his first All-Star Game, hung in to complete a three-hit, ten-strikeout, 3-0 gem. It wasn’t perfect, but what Met starter ever has been?
GAME 059: June 9, 1999 — METS 4 Blue Jays 3 (14)
(Mets All-Time Game 059 Record: 21-28; Mets 1999 Record: 31-28)
There was no disguising what a strange ride the 1999 Mets’ season had been to this point in their schedule. A promising start (17-9) gave way to a stretch of competitive doldrums (10-11) that was nonetheless punctuated by some dramatic moments (Robin Ventura’s two grand slams in one doubleheader; a five-run ninth inning that beat Curt Schilling). But then, without warning, the bottom fell out.
The Mets played three games at Shea versus the West-leading Arizona Diamondbacks. They were swept all three, two by one run, one by nine runs. The Mets then hosted the Cincinnati Reds for three…three losses, as it turned out. A six-game losing streak, considering all the offensive talent the Mets had gathered in an effort to overcome the near miss that haunted them from the conclusion of the 1998 season (when they dropped their final five contests to let slip their first playoff berth in ten years), was considered an ominous sign. Worse yet was the next point in their schedule, their shortest geographic road trip of the year.
It was off to Yankee Stadium, home of the crosstown rivals they never asked for, and the timing could not have been less propitious. The defending world champions were doing their usual cruising toward another A.L. East title and took the first two games of the Subway Series, 4-3 and 6-3. The Mets had now lost eight in a row, and that was that, just about, where the Mets hierarchy’s patience was concerned. Manager Bobby Valentine, considered on the hot seat, got to continue to sit where he sat, but three of his coaches were ordered to take a hike. Out went Bob Apodaca, Randy Niemann and Tom Robson. In came Dave Wallace, Al Jackson and Mickey Brantley. A press conference to announce the changes was held at Yankee Stadium, replete with an interlocking “NY” microphone emblem provided by the home team. It made Bobby V appear, an observer noted, as if the Mets’ skipper was starring in a hostage tape.
Were the new coaches necessarily better suited to their respective tasks at hand than their predecessors, or was this just general manager Steve Philips’s heavy-handed warning shot at Valentine that he’d better shape up lest he, too, be instructed to ship out? Whatever the answer, 55 games had passed since the season’s beginning, and the Mets were a limp 27-28. Nobody thought a continuation of that trend would result in more episodes of revolving coaches. More losing would mean a new manager. As Valentine’s seat heated up further, he put his cards on the table, publicly stating if the Mets couldn’t win 40 of their next 55 games, he deserved to be gone. And just to ratchet up the stakes for himself, those 55 games began with the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball Subway Series finale at the Stadium, with Roger Clemens on the mound for the Yankees.
And the Mets, written off to the edge of oblivion, won, with Al Leiter besting Clemens, 7-2. It was one game, but it was a start. Interleague play continued the next night at Shea, where the Blue Jays winged into town. The Mets won that game, and the next. It was three victories since the coach-axing/message-sending and the Mets were responding. But it was only three games. This momentum could stop anytime, and Toronto brought to Flushing the man capable of ruining any good party, David Wells.
Wells was one of the mainstays of the Yankees’ rotation as they romped to their 1998 title, but he was jettisoned like he was just another pitching coach when his former employers saw a chance to provide a soft landing spot for the antsy Clemens, suddenly unhappy despite pitching very well in Canada. The Bronx Bombers bid adieu to their dependable if flaky large lefty, sending him to Toronto with a massive chip on one or both of his sizable shoulders.
It wasn’t a homecoming for Wells, since Shea had never been his home, but he did have his supporters in the stands, including not a few women who resembled him in bearing and manner, save — perhaps — for his trademark mustache. His first two months in his second Toronto go-round hadn’t been terribly successful, but Wells was surely on this New York night. For eight innings, the Mets couldn’t touch him, garnering just five singles and no runs. The Jays appeared on their way to an easy 3-0 win as Wells prepared for the bottom of the ninth and, it was reported, a quick jaunt to one of his old Manhattan haunts, the China Club (Toronto was off the next day and had Philadelphia next on its itinerary).
Well, there was to be no party for David Wells on this Wednesday night. The Mets woke up against their nocturnal nemesis in the ninth, scoring a pair off Wells on a Robin Ventura two-out, two-run double (preceded by a Mike Piazza steal of second). Wells exited one strike from his complete game shutout and then saw his win dissipate altogether when Brian McRae doubled home Ventura versus rookie reliever Billy Koch, a Long Island native.
After eight relatively calm innings and an uplifting ninth, things would get hairy for the Mets as extras arrived. For one, they were undermanned, having lost hot-hitting rookie Benny Agbayani when Benny lined a batting practice pitch off the cage and onto his face. They were also without Bobby Bonilla, of whom Valentine wanted no part given the sulking reserve’s insubordination the night before when Bonilla refused to pinch-hit. The Mets, then, were down two players when their manager found himself also no longer eligible to play his role in the game.
Home plate umpire Randy Marsh made a catcher’s interference call against Mike Piazza in the top of the twelfth, awarding the Jays’ Craig Grebeck first base and sending baserunner Shannon Stewart to second with one out. Valentine argued the case with Marsh and found himself ejected. In situations like those, managers are supposed to completely disappear from view.
But Mets fans had long before learned Bobby Valentine wasn’t a manager who did was he was supposed to, so no wonder television viewers were treated to a glimpse of Bobby V in the bottom of the twelfth. Valentine, against all rules and regulations, poked his head into the Mets’ dugout. Oh, he was wearing a t-shirt and a non-Mets cap and hid his eyes under sunglasses and, oh yes, took a couple of strips of eyeblack and crafted himself a mustache that would soon become more famous than Wells’s. But there was no disguising that it was Bobby Valentine.
“I tried to loosen up the team for just a minute,” Valentine would say later.
Did it work? Or were the real catalysts behind the Mets’ eventual 14-inning 4-3 win Pat Mahomes’s three shutout innings of relief and Rey Ordoñez’s single to score Luis Lopez with the decisive tally? As with the coaching changes, one couldn’t definitively say. But the Mets could say they had won four straight after losing eight in a row, and 1999 had just gotten even more interesting.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On June 6, 2003, two remnants of the Mets’ suddenly distant if relatively recent glory days came face to face to settle the outcome of an unlikely Friday night matchup in Flushing. It was the Mets and the Mariners, two teams who had never before played a regular-season game, though they had very nearly crossed transcontinental paths a mere three years earlier. The Mets had won the National League pennant on October 16, 2000, and awaited their World Series opponent the next evening. It could very well have been the Seattle Mariners, already in New York. All the M’s had to do was win a pair of games in the Bronx, and they and the Mets would soon board flights bound for the Pacific Northwest to begin the 2000 World Series. But winning a pair of games in the Bronx was a tough task in those days, and down 3-2 in the American League Championship Series, the Mariners failed to win one. Hence, it wouldn’t be until 2003 that the Mets and Mariners would get a modestly meaningful look at each other, and most of the meaning for Mets fans was derived from the return to Shea Stadium of one of their favorite players from the club’s late ’90s surge to prominence, first baseman John Olerud. Olerud, allowed to leave by GM Steve Phillips as a free agent prior to 2000, was greeted warmly if not universally by the not quite 27,000 on hand for the novelty of seeing Seattle. Fate would have it that the former Met hero came up in the ninth as the potential go-ahead run versus someone else with a Met postseason pedigree, Armando Benitez. The closer from the 1999 and 2000 playoff teams had long ago lost the goodwill of the Shea faithful — along with his location — but now Mets fans with any kind of memory were forced to choose: root for Olerud, who in the collective Met mind represented the untarnished good times, or stick with Benitez and all his baggage. The only argument against pulling for Olerud to knock in Bret Boone from first base with two out was he wore a Seattle Mariners uniform, while Benitez, reviled as he was, was still the Met closer. When Armando delivered a 3-2 pitch and Olerud swung through it to end the game as a 3-2 Met victory, it was clear where a cheering Shea crowd’s priorities lay.
GAME 060: June 9, 2000 — Mets 12 YANKEES 2
(Mets All-Time Game 060 Record: 22-27; Mets 2000 Record: 34-26)
It had started innocently enough. The Mets were playing the Blue Jays at SkyDome in one of those Interleague matchups that came with the territory. Nobody clamored for Mets-Blue Jays, but in the early years of N.L. vs. A.L., it was decided parallel divisions should annually play one another. Thus, it was New York (N.L.) at Toronto on a Tuesday night, top of the first, two out, when the Mets’ designated hitter Mike Piazza — getting a night off from catching, thanks to Junior Circuit rules prevailing —faced Blue Jays starter Roger Clemens for the first time.
It was nothing special, certainly not for Piazza. He grounded out to short to end the inning. Mike was 0-for-1 against Roger, though before the night was out, he’d be 2-for-4. Not that it much mattered to Clemens, one would figure. The Rocket would strike out eleven batters and throw a six-hit complete game (complete games coming much cheaper in the DH league) to defeat Mike Piazza’s Mets, 6-3. Still, the great hitter had gotten a little bit of the best of the great pitcher. No other Met had collected more than one hit off Clemens.
The next time the two superstars met, the atmosphere was heightened. By then, in June of 1999, Clemens had engineered a trade out of Toronto (for whom he had won two Cy Young awards but where he ascertained there was no hope of legitimately contending for a postseason berth) and onto the defending world champion Yankees. The Subway Series had arrived at Yankee Stadium. Mets-Yankees was what Commissioner Bud Selig had in mind when he authorized Interleague play two years earlier. The intracity matchups had been so successful that this year the “natural rivals” would play two sets, home and home.
It was a big deal, per usual, and in the game within the third game of the first set, Piazza picked up where he left off against Clemens in Toronto: a double in the second inning instrumental in building a 4-0 Mets lead, then a two-run homer in the third inning to make the score Mets 6 Yankees 0, setting the stage for an early Clemens exit. The eventual 7-2 Mets win snapped Roger’s personal 20-decision winning streak that dated to his Blue Jays days. And, for what it was worth, Mike Piazza now possessed a career .667 batting average versus the Rocket.
The Subway Series passion play moved to Queens a month later. It was the Rocket’s second regular-season appearance at Shea, having pitched there once with the Jays, in 1997. His history in Flushing, however, extended back to October 1986, when young Roger Clemens started the sixth game of the World Series, a game his Red Sox lost in memorable fashion despite his own stellar pitching. It was ages ago by 1999, but Mets fans had long memories and they didn’t particularly care for what they remembered of Clemens from when Clemens was a Red Sock. They showed it in ’97 when he visited as a Blue Jay. Now that he was showing up at Shea as a Yankee. You could say his newest uniform wasn’t winning him any new admirers.
Despite a good won-lost record (he was, after all, pitching for an offensive juggernaut), Clemens had been struggling toward the midpoint of 1999. His ERA sat at 4.50 when he took on the Mets, and he wasn’t all that sharp in this go-round, giving up a run-scoring single to Rey Ordoñez in the second and a solo home run to John Olerud in the third. If it was of any solace to Clemens, he had held his nemesis Piazza at bay in two at-bats, grounding him out twice.
But Mike emerged from the bay in the sixth. With Edgardo Alfonzo on second and Olerud on first, Piazza laced into a 2-1 offering from Clemens and sent it soaring deep over the left-center field fence to give the Mets a 5-2 lead and the Rocket another unwanted early shower. The Mets would go on to defeat Clemens for a second time in 1999 and Mike would finish his season’s encounters versus Roger with a lifetime .556 batting average.
It was only three games’ worth spread out over two seasons, but it was becoming clear to anyone paying attention: Mike Piazza owned Roger Clemens.
Clemens no doubt was paying attention as the 2000 edition of the Subway Series pulled into Yankee Stadium on a Friday night in June. Its first stop was another Rocket vs. Mike matchup. The first encounter went Clemens’s way via a called strike three in the top of the first. The second, in the top of the third, was a different story.
Recently recalled rookie left fielder Jason Tyner, the Mets’ first selection in the 1998 amateur draft, reached first when Yankee catcher Jorge Posada made an errant throw to Tino Martinez. Clemens then walked Derek Bell on a 3-2 count. Posada allowed a passed ball to move up both baserunners before Edgardo Alfonzo took first on another 3-2 walk.
The bases were loaded and nobody was out when Piazza approached the plate. Mike took one ball and then took Roger Clemens clear over the Yankee Stadium wall for a grand slam home run. The Mets’ portion of the Bronx sellout crowd erupted. Clemens silently seethed. And the Mets led 4-0.
The next time Clemens saw Piazza, he was behind 5-1 in the top of the fifth. Piazza greeted him with a leadoff single and came around to score the Mets’ sixth run when Todd Zeile drove him in from second. Their next meeting was called off by Yankee manager Joe Torre after a Bell RBI double and an Alfonzo two-run homer shoved Clemens into a 9-2 hole in the sixth. Mike was due up next, but it would be Todd Erdos, not Roger Clemens who would pitch to him.
Piazza treated Erdos as if he were Clemens, though maybe not quite as harshly. He singled, though he didn’t score. Once the Mets build their lead to 12-2 (Erdos surrendering a three-run jack to Bell), Bobby Valentine removed Piazza, too, giving his catcher a breather. By then, the Mets were safely en route to a 12-2 victory — their widest margin in any Subway Series win — and Piazza had upped his lifetime batting average versus Clemens to .583. In a dozen at-bats, Piazza had raked seven hits, walloped three home runs and driven in nine Met baserunners.
Roger Clemens was one of his generation’s finest pitchers. Maybe one of the finest ever. But against Mike Piazza, he was just another Todd Erdos.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On June 17, 1985, it was time for the Mets to commence getting even with the team that cost them the previous season’s National League East title. They were playing the Chicago Cubs for the first time all season a season after the Cubs’ unexpected resurgence trumped their own 90-win feelgood story. Though the Mets held a 4½ -game lead over the Cubs as late as late July in 1984, the Chicagoans — a generally older bunch reinforced at the trade deadline by a slew of mercenary types — blew by them as August dawned; they outlasted the young Mets by 6½ games when all was said and done. But now it was a new year and it was an opportunity for the Mets to say and do something else altogether. By this point in the ’85 campaign, the Mets’ attention was focused more squarely on their newest competition for divisional supremacy, the St. Louis Cardinals, but the Cubs still loomed as formidable and were still in the thick of a four-way battle for first with the Mets, the Cards and the Montreal Expos. And that bitter 1984 ending still lingered in the Met consciousness. Come this edition of Monday Night Baseball (ABC aired the game for the whole nation to see), the Mets began to make amends. Gary Carter, acquired by the Mets for battles like these, homered off ’84 Cy Young winner Rick Sutcliffe to give the Mets a 1-0 lead in the fourth, and Danny Heep doubled in Wally Backman to extend the lead to 2-0 in the fifth. Sutcliffe didn’t give up anything else, but Ron Darling gave up nothing at all, defeating the Cubs 2-0 in a five-hit, seven-strikeout complete game. Advantage: Mets…with three more games to follow at Shea.
Thanks to old friend Mark Simon for providing audio from the game of June 12, 1977.