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” 64th game in any Mets season, the “best” 65th game in any Mets season, the “best” 66th 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 064: June 20, 1982 — Mets 5 CARDINALS 4 (10)
(Mets All-Time Game 064 Record: 23-26; Mets 1982 Record: 34-30)
Strange how pieces get moved around the chessboard of Major League Baseball, at least when you pull back with hindsight and consider where those pieces sat before you completely focused on their positioning and what it would mean to you. One year you have your pieces and you react accordingly to how they are moved on your behalf. Another year, they’re not your pieces and you will be destined to remember them differently.
But before that happens, while they’re still your pieces, you root for yours and you root against the ones that aren’t yours yet. After all, you have no idea that they one year will be.
In a game like this Sunday afternoon’s at Busch Stadium, Mets fans’ rooting interest was pretty clear. With Joaquin Andujar trying to preserve a 2-2 tie in the top of the ninth, John Stearns, eventually the 1982 Mets’ all-star representative at catcher but here playing third base, doubled. Ron Hodges, catching in Stearns’s stead and generally hanging around as he had for nearly a decade, bunted the runner to third. George Bamberger went to his most dependable pinch-hitter, trusty Rusty Staub, to drive in Stearns, but he never got the chance, as Whitey Herzog ordered Kaat to put Le Grand Orange on first base. Wally Backman replaced the less mobile Staub at first. Mike Jorgensen replaced starter Charlie Puleo at bat. Jorgy walked to load ’em up.
If the Cards had a lead, perhaps the White Rat would have tabbed closer deluxe Bruce Sutter to face the next batter, Mookie Wilson. Then again, Wilson had taken Sutter very deep the previous September, essentially costing St. Louis the second-half 1981 division title. So Herzog opted for Jim Kaat. Kitty — who had 279 wins banked from a career that stretched back to the 1959 pre-Twin Washington Senators — didn’t quite roar like he used to. Wilson, on the other hand, was regularly on the prowl for base hits in 1982, and he collected his second of the day to put the Mets up 3-2. There was, however, a bit of Redbird salvation as Backman tried to score on Mookie’s single to left but was thrown out by Lonnie Smith at home, avenging an earlier play when second baseman Bob Bailor nailed opposite number Mike Ramsey at the plate. (Staub wouldn’t have scored, either, but Staub probably wouldn’t have tried.) Mookie was Kitty’s only batter. Doug Bair came in to retire Bailor to end the inning for the visitors.
The Cards, down to their last chance, tried to make something happen against Bamberger’s latest idea of a fireman, Mike Scott. Scott had washed out of the rotation but was something of a hot hand coming out of the bullpen, recording the saves in the Mets’ previous two wins in the series. Perhaps the 27-year-old righthander was finding his calling as a closer. He grounded out Darrell Porter and Ken Oberkfell on consecutive groundouts. Scott was one out away from three saves in three appearances. All he had to do was put away Keith Hernandez, pinch-hitting for Ramsey. Of course Hernandez was not a pinch-hitter of the Staub/Jorgensen variety — the kind who filled out the Met bench crew that was known as Bambi’s Bombers. He was about as everyday a player as Herzog had, even if Whitey was giving him a blow for a change.
To the consternation of Mets fans everywhere, it was Hernandez striking the next blow, homering off Mike Scott to tie the game at three. Mets fans rooting for Mike Scott to get Keith Hernandez out couldn’t have been more disappointed. Except, that is, when Ozzie Smith singled to keep the inning going. Frowns turned upside down, though, when Scott picked the so-called Wizard off first base. It was the fourth pickoff of the day, two for each side.
A tenth inning materialized. George Foster, obtained by the Mets to clear the air traffic from over Shea Stadium (Foster’s words), beat out an infield hit. Another Rusty came off the bench to run for him — Rusty Tillman. And another of Bambi’s Bombers entered as well. Joel Youngblood, the Mets’ lone All-Star of ’81, had lost his right fielder role to Ellis Valentine (who had homered for both of the Mets’ early runs in the fourth) and was now asked to fill in here and there. At this moment, he was asked to pinch-hit for Scott. Youngblood, who likely figured he’d sacrificed plenty, was asked to sacrifice again…literally. He bunted Tillman to second and was safe at first on the attempt. With two on, Valentine struck out (no evidence exists that Youngblood rubbed his hands together in glee). Up stepped Stearns, who had gotten the Mets back into things in the ninth with that leadoff double. And against Sutter, who would join him on the All-Star team in July, Stearns tripled, scoring Tillman and Youngblood for a 5-3 Mets lead.
It was the third consecutive save versus the Mets that Sutter had blown, dating back to the previous September, dating back to that fateful encounter with Mookie.
Hodges, perfectly suited to loitering given his almost incidental occupation of a roster spot since 1973, stood at home plate long enough to be intentionally walked by Sutter. With a golden opportunity to tack on further runs, Backman grounded into a double play.
The bottom of the tenth was handed to Jesse Orosco, the 24-year-old lefty whose 1982 had been hit or miss to date. Sunday at Busch, Jesse was a little too much in between. After getting Julio Gonzalez to ground to Stearns at third for the first out, he gave up a double to Lonnie Smith, who advanced to third on an error by Mookie (who also made an error in that September ’81 game he eventually saved with his home run off Sutter). Rookie Willie McGee’s fly ball to Wilson scored Smith and now it was 5-4, with runs having scored in the top and bottom of the ninth and the tenth.
After a walk to pinch-hitter Gene Tenace, Bamberger removed Orosco for his next de facto closer, Ed Lynch. The soft-tossing righty earned his second save of the season when George Hendrick lined out to Bailor, who had moved to short. Ten different Mets registered saves in 1982, nobody with as many as twenty. Sutter, on the other hand, would recover from his Met mishaps and nail down 36.
The Cardinals would recover, too, this 5-4 loss no worse than a bump on I-70. Far from being unnerved that the third-place Mets had crept to within three games of their National League East lead, St. Louis would shake off losing three of four games this weekend and go on to win the World Series for the first time in fifteen years. Bruce Sutter would record the final out and the save in Game Seven. Jesse Orosco would someday do the same thing for the other team here, but that couldn’t have been known then. Nor could it be imagined that among the other pieces on the Busch board that day, Cardinal mainstay Keith Hernandez would be a Met within a year’s time and that the greatest obstacle to his and Jesse’s and Mookie’s and Wally’s ultimate happiness would be the guy who blew the save for the Mets in the bottom of the ninth, the guy who allowed the homer to Keith Hernandez, Mike Scott…an ex-Met within a year’s time, a Met thorn before long.
All anyone knew then was that Hernandez homered off Scott and it meant bad news for the Mets. Hard to read a fact like that when you’re wearing the glasses they prescribe for hindsightedness.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On June 15, 1999, the Mets ate their Wheaties…or whatever ballplayers ingested back then to give them strength. They began their Tuesday night game against Brett Tomko and the Reds at Cinergy Field by bashing their opponents into submission. Top of the first: Rickey Henderson homered on a 3-2 count;Edgardo Alfonzo walked without seeing a strike; John Olerud homered; Mike Piazza homered. Four batters, three homers, a 4-0 lead for the New York Mets, all accomplished in a span of 13 pitches. Fonzie made up for his non-homering gaffe by homering in the fifth. Matt Franco, getting a rare start at third, took advantage of his opportunity to impress in the sixth and also homered. That was five Met homers off Tomko, four of them solo jobs, so he trailed “only” 6-1. Still, he had to leave. Jason Bere started the seventh — threw one ball to Henderson and then a strike…that was driven over the left field fence for Rickey’s second homer of the night and the Mets’ sixth. A bunch more hits followed and the Mets won, 11-3. Players sure did to like to eat their Wheaties circa 1999.
GAME 065: June 15, 2006 — Mets 5 PHILLIES 4
(Mets All-Time Game 065 Record: 33-16; Mets 2006 Record: 42-23)
What a long, rewarding trip it was. Nothing strange about it, save maybe for just how rewarding it became as it proceeded. By the time it neared its end, it didn’t feel strange at all that the Mets could hit the road and hit everything in sight.
Any team could take two of three in Los Angeles, as the Mets did. Any team, conceivably, get ungodly hot for four days as the Mets did in Arizona and continued to be for the first two games of a three-game series in Philadelphia. But wins like the finale’s, on a Thursday afternoon…the one that sealed a sweep and, it surely appeared, the fate of the 2006 Phillies, are what separates the top of a division from the remainder of a division.
Steve Trachsel provided six serviceable innings (subtract Met-killer Pat Burrell and they’d have been tremendous). The Mets’ four-run first was more than adequate, even though four-run firsts had become something of a Met trademark as they traveled. The Mets scored in the first inning in every one of their nine wins on this continental sojourn, making them the first team in big league history to win eight consecutive away games when scoring in the first inning.
And this quiet sequence from the top of the fifth at Citizens Bank Park, when the Mets were leading 4-2, exemplified how many cylinders they were firing on:
• Jose Reyes doubles.
• Endy Chavez bunts him to third.
• Carlos Beltran drives him home with a fly to right.
There. That was it That was the beauty of these Mets on what was about to become their record-setting 9-1 road trip to L.A., Phoenix and Philly. That’s what a Met sponsor might have called the Build-A-Run Workshop.
That cleverly constructed run provided Trachsel enough breathing room to give into Burrell (his usual two-run homer, added to an earlier solo shot) when it got to 5-2. From there, at 5-4, the back end of the Mets’ bullpen stretched out successfully.
Aaron Heilman, Duaner Sanchez and Billy Wagner had established themselves as keys to clumps of close wins as the Mets made themselves at home in first place in April and May. With the offense marauding quite a bit on this trip, the troika assigned the seventh, eighth and ninth were not necessarily as vital to the Mets’ overall rampage. But when it came time to get them fully involved, they made their presence felt.
Or not felt, really. You only notice late-inning relievers when they fail.
Heilman, Sanchez and Wagner did the opposite. They succeeded. They were perfect. Each man faced three Phillies and retired three Phillies in order. When Wagner got the last of them (Sal Fasano) for the final out of the 5-4 win, the first-place Mets could look over their collective shoulder and see…
… no one. Rearview mirrors weren’t strong enough to pick up on the Mets’ nearest rivals, who happened to be the second-place Phillies. In the middle of June, they were 9½ out. The distance between New York and Philadelphia may have well as been 90½ miles. Teams had been known to let large leads like these get away, but these 2006 Mets didn’t look like one of those teams. They looked, at the end of a 9-1 road trip — the road trip from heaven, if you will — like a team that had no genuine competition in its division.
Which they didn’t.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On June 22, 1962, the Mets began a tradition that would seem just fine on its own if not for one fundamental flaw. Certainly Al Jackson was fine. He was never better — no Mets pitcher ever was and, in a sense, no Mets pitcher ever would be (as far as we know). Jackson gave up a one-out single to Joey Amalfitano of the Colt .45s, the second batter he saw in the opener of this Friday twinight doubleheader at the Polo Grounds. And then he gave up no further hits to Houston, going all the way for a 2-0 win…a one-hitter, the first in Mets history. Over the next half-century, Mets pitchers would pitch 34 more. Some were combined, a couple were rain-shortened, one went into extra innings, but none outdid Jackson’s. They were all one-hitters. Put another way, none was a no-hitter. But one-hitters are pretty good, too.
GAME 066: June 25, 1990 — Mets 3 CARDINALS 2
(Mets All-Time Game 066 Record: 20-29; Mets 1990 Record: 37-29)
The beat went on. The Mets kept pounding their winning rhythm into the brains of their opponents. Summer was here and the time was right for the 1990 Mets to assert themselves in ways few clubs in the franchise’s history ever had.
Set it to any music you like. Mets fans were practically dancing in the streets to celebrate their club’s latest slew of winning ways.
On a Saturday night at Shea, for example, Dwight Gooden shut out the Phillies on two hits. Mets win their fifth in a row. The next afternoon, despite trailing 5-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth, the Mets won their sixth in a row, with Gregg Jefferies driving in a run off former teammate (and occasional foe) Roger McDowell and pinch-hitter Tim Teufel bringing home they tying and winning tallies when there were two out. Come Tuesday night in St. Louis, for their eighth consecutive win…
Oh wait, we’re skipping one. When there are that many wins happening all around you, it’s easy enough to do. But why would you want to? So let’s rewind slightly to Monday night at Busch Stadium, the Mets’ winning streak at six, the Mets picking up ground almost daily on the first-place Pirates. The Mets couldn’t get a shutout like Doc had on Saturday because David Cone let a second-inning run score (albeit on an Ozzie Smith double play ball). They couldn’t manufacture a walkoff rally because they were on the road. So what would they do to keep the winning going?
Well, let’s see…how about they get to the ninth tied at two. How about Mackey Sasser pinch-hits for Cone with one out and singles off fearsome Lee Smith. How about after the second out of the inning Dave Magadan doubles, sending Sasser to third and, just for kicks, we have the Cardinal right fielder, Milt Thompson, have a tough time making a clean play? That way, we can have Sasser race all the way around from first to put the Mets up 3-2.
And then, finally, we can have John Franco come in and retire the Redbirds 1-2-3 in the home ninth for the Mets’ 1-2-3…seventh win in a row. Yes, a 3-2 victory like that would work fine. The same could be said for the next four games the Mets would play. Such uninterrupted patterns would result in an eleven-game winning streak for the 1990 Mets, tying the team record set in 1969 and equaled in 1972 and 1986. Once the streak reached its peak, the Mets had reached a first-place tie with Pittsburgh. By then, the Mets had taken 18 of 20 overall.
The beat went on. The streets got danced in. The Mets couldn’t have been any hotter.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On June 21, 1977, somebody who, in theory, couldn’t have been less welcome at Shea Stadium made himself completely comfortable, and nobody minded at all. It’s 2-2 in the eleventh inning, working out to approximately one inning for each thousand fans who were in the house this Tuesday night. No, the Mets aren’t a big draw in the week following June 15, 1977, and the trade of Tom Seaver to Cincinnati. The Mets attempted to keep their diehards preoccupied nonetheless. Ed Kranepool kept them around by homering off Andy Messersmith in the bottom of the ninth, tying the game. Kranepool kept them there a little longer when he flied out with the bases loaded in the tenth. With Krane making the last out, Joe Torre pulled him from left field in a double-switch, replacing him with brand new Met rookie Steve Henderson, one of the four Reds/Reds prospects the Mets received in exchange for Seaver. It wasn’t how a young player would want to get to New York, but there Henderson was, in New York. And there he was again, up in the bottom of the eleventh with two on and one out. And there it went…a pitch from Don Collins that Steve cracked over the Shea fence for a 5-2 Mets win. Nice way to ingratiate yourself with an embittered fan base.