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” 70th game in any Mets season, the “best” 71st game in any Mets season, the “best” 72nd 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 070: July 4, 1972 (1st) — METS 2 Padres 0
(Mets All-Time Game 070 Record: 26-23; Mets 1972 Record: 43-27)
Has anybody seen the Mets’ humidor? And if they have, why are there no cigars in it?
So close to lighting up that elusive no-hitter stogie. So close. But no…games with no hits allowed. So who needs a humidor anyway?
You’d think Tom Seaver would have been stocking a humidor by the middle of the 1972 season. Lord knows National League batters (and a few Orioles besides) had gotten smoked by the young flamethrower who was always getting better with age. Here he was, a veteran of 5½ seasons, all of 27 years old, with 105 wins to his credit, going for 106, and something more besides that. Tom Seaver was trying to go where no Met, not even him, had gone before.
Tom Seaver was going for the first no-hitter in Mets history.
He’d been as close as anybody. He’d been closer more often than anybody. By Independence Day 1972 — the occasion for a doubleheader at Shea against San Diego — Tom had rolled up a one-hitter per year every year for the previous three years, and the year before that, he carried a perfect game into the eighth against the Cardinals, an effort that went into the books as a three-hit victory after being broken up by Orlando Cepeda.
Here he was again on this Tuesday afternoon, pitching his way through familiar territory. First inning, second inning, third inning: nine Padres up, nine Padres down. Perfection for a third of the opening game of the holiday twinbill. The first two batters from the top of the first inning, Derrel Thomas and Dave Roberts, reappeared in the fourth and did more or less what they did before. Eleven up and eleven down.
Then Seaver walked Leron Lee. So much for perfection. He walked the next batter, Nate Colbert, directly after. Didn’t seem like a Seaver thing to do, but perhaps Padre starter Clay Kirby has infected the mound. In the bottom of the third, San Diego’s ace lost control. With two outs, he allowed a single to Buddy Harrelson, who stole second. In rapid succession, Kirby walked Wayne Garrett and John Milner to load the bases and Jim Fregosi and Ed Kranepool to unload them. The four consecutive walks provided Tom a 2-0 lead, one Seaver made hold up when he shook off the prevailing wildness and struck out Cito Gaston to get out of the fourth with his no-hitter intact.
The Mets would keep walking, collecting ten bases on balls versus the Padre staff, but wouldn’t score anymore. Seaver just kept throwing strikes from the fifth through the seventh when he retired all nine San Diego batters, four of them on K’s. He had ten on the day thus far. He permitted no more baserunners until two out in the eighth when the wildness bug bit again, with consecutive walks to Larry Stahl and Garry Jestadt. Again, Tom responded, grounding Thomas to second.
Eight innings. Four walks. Eleven strikeouts. No runs. And no hits.
But plenty of awareness. “As that game against the Padres progressed,” Tom reflected a couple of offseasons later, “my teammates seemed to get farther and farther away from me. I couldn’t find anybody to talk to. No one was around. In the eighth inning only the batboy was there, and he was looking at the opposing pitcher.”
Come the ninth, everybody would be looking at Seaver. In 1969, Seaver had famously taken a no-hitter into the ninth at Shea. Got one out then. He got one out to start this ninth, on a grounder by Roberts to Garrett at second. The next batter would be Lee, a .311 hitter when the day started, 0-for-2 today, along with that fourth-inning walk.
Seaver threw Lee a sinking fastball. Author John Devaney (Tom Seaver: An Intimate Portrait) followed its path from there:
Lee golfed his bat at the ball. Catcher Duffy Dyer heard the bat splinter. The ball rose in the air, a hump-shaped lazy looper that seemed likely at any moment to drop into the gloves of Garrett or Harrelson, both of whom were running under it toward center field, gloves outstretched. But the ball hung in the soft summer air until it had outdistanced Harrelson and Garrett. Only then did it come down to plop once on the grass and lie still.
One hit. Then a double play ball to Colbert to seal the 2-0 victory as a one-hitter. For Seaver, for the Mets, it was their ninth one-hitter in eleven seasons of franchise history.
“I wasn’t disappointed after the hit because I knew I had to get Colbert,” Seaver said afterwards. “Now, with the whole thing over, I do feel disappointed.”
Close to a no-hitter, but no cigar. A familiar refrain to Mets fans then. A familiar refrain to Mets fans for how much longer nobody could be sure.
Smoke ’em if ya got ’em.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On June 29, 1990, there was no indication that all good things must end. The Mets were going for their record-tying eleventh consecutive win and if they reached it, why was there any reason to think the streak might stop? One more win after that would be twelve. Then thirteen. Then who knows how many? The Mets weren’t losing to the point where they gave the impression they’d never lose. So it was at Shea, as Bobby Ojeda took on the West-leading Reds, a team that had been in first place in its half of the circuit since the season began. But now the Redlegs were running into the Mets and they were probably thanking their lucky stars that geography wasn’t the National League’s strong suit when divisions were aligned in 1969. If Cincy was in the East, they’d be on the verge of being steamrolled by these Mets. It’s just what these Mets were doing on a regular basis at this juncture of 1990. It’s just what they did for the eleventh consecutive game, a Friday night 4-2 win in which Bobby O scattered ten hits and struck out eight Reds before giving way to Jeff Innis to get the last two outs in the ninth. Darryl Strawberry and Mackey Sasser each homered.
Eleven in a row: first achieved by the 1969 Mets, then equaled by the 1972 and 1986 clubs. Two of those three teams put the streak to very good use. 1990 was promising the same kind of utility. Before winning the first of these eleven, the Mets sat in fourth place, seven games in arrears of the Pirates. With eleven of eleven put in the books, the Mets had forged a first-place tie with Pittsburgh, actually leading the Bucs by .003 in the Pct. column.
GAME 071: June 23, 1963 (1st) — METS 5 Phillies 0
(Mets All-Time Game 071 Record: 26-23; Mets 1963 Record: 27-44)
Gary Sheffield hit his 500th home run as a Met. Duke Snider and Eddie Murray hit their 400th home runs as Mets. Gary Carter and George Foster hit their 300th home runs as Mets. Those were considered pretty significant milestones as they were approached, and they got a good bit of attention when reached. Caps were tipped, bows were taken, action was resumed.
Not exactly how it was for another veteran player’s 100th home run. Not as much of a milestone, but oh the production values of this 1963 round-numbered blast.
Jimmy Piersall was one of a kind. As Leonard Koppett recalled in The New York Mets: The Whole Story, “A decade before, as a young Boston infielder, he had suffered, and recovered from, a nervous breakdown. His story was told in a widely read book and a popular movie, and he continued to make headlines by strange behavior as he developed into a first-rate player in the American League. Was he a little crazy, or was he a master put-on? Straight baseball people leaned toward the first views, while more and more evidence pointed to the second.”
Fear may have struck out in the ’50s, but Piersall was still active come 1963, a 33-year-old Washington Senator whose game was falling off as he aged. Naturally, he became a Met — unofficial compensation for Gil Hodges (the straightest baseball person imaginable) being let out of his Met player contract so he could manage Washington. If Piersall’s reputation as a character preceded him to New York, whatever he was known for as a player had pretty much abandoned him.
Piersall was batting .210 in the month since the Mets acquired him, knocking in only eight runs, stealing no bases — one of his specialties in the A.L. — and remaining stuck on 99 career home runs. Not hitting homers gave him plenty of time to think about what he might do once he launched his first as a Met, his prospective hundredth as a big leaguer. Piersall’s goal became to “do something different”.
Boy, did he ever.
In the fifth inning of this Sunday doubleheader opener at the Polo Grounds, the Mets were leading Philadelphia 1-0 primarily on the strength of Carl Willey’s sublime pitching. The Maine native had a perfect game going into the fourth and kept his shutout through the top of the fifth. He would keep his shutout all the way to a most pleasing 5-0 complete game, a two-hitter as it turned out. But it also turned out that nobody would remember this game as the day Carl Willey blanked the Phillies.
This was Piersall’s show, at least once he got hold of a Dallas Green delivery and took it over the Polo Grounds fence. Jimmy did it — he got his one-hundredth home run, not the stuff of the Duke, exactly, but a pretty admirable total.
What he did next was a matter of taste. Piersall turned around and ran to first…backwards. He continued his trot facing the wrong way, until he arrived at home plate, the number 34 on his back greeting the next hitter, Tim Harkness.
“I hit my four-hundredth homer and all I got was the ball,” Snider told Piersall. “You hit your one-hundredth and go coast-to-coast.”
It was different, all right. It was different from Piersall’s original plan, which was to run first to third, then to second and so on, but the umpires told him to forget that idea. It was also the beginning of the end of Jimmy Piersall’s Mets career. Casey Stengel (who, as a player, once doffed his cap to reveal a sparrow) did not particularly care for Piersall’s act even before he stuck his baserunning in reverse. And Piersall didn’t much care for Stengel: “He isn’t a manager anymore. He’s just on display.”
The outfielder was entitled to his opinion, but Stengel was plenty capable of displaying his managerial prerogative of wanting nothing more to do with a showboat, a malcontent and, most significantly, a player who wasn’t producing anything else besides a single home run and accompanying spectacle in forty games as a Met. With his Met average down to .194 in late July, Piersall was released…along with a parting shot from the perpetually self-aware Stengel:
“There only room for one clown on this team.”
Per Snider’s analysis, Piersall literally went coast-to-coast, being picked up by the Los Angeles Angels and sticking with them until 1967. He hit four home runs in parts of five seasons in Southern California, the last of his dingers being dung before they moved to Anaheim, next door to Disneyland.
Thus, there went Jimmy Piersall’s chance to do something really Goofy on a home run trot.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On June 29, 1969, Tom Seaver did something as he did everything in his young career: quietly, professionally, methodically. But in doing so, he established a standard no Met would come anywhere near. By throwing a six-hit complete game 7-3 victory against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Shea Stadium — striking out ten Bucs along the way — Tom raised his season record to 12-3…and in doing that, he collected the 44th win of his major league career, all with the Mets. Before the midpoint of the third big league season, he set a new mark: most wins by any Mets pitcher, 44. It was as much a commentary on Seaver’s immediate excellence as it was on how hard it was for even pretty good pitchers to get anywhere in the win column for the Mets before 1969. Al Jackson, pretty darn good as top lefty starter for the Mets from 1962 through 1965, was the previous record-holder, with 43 wins. Those were counterbalanced, however by 80 losses. The L’s had a way of having their way with the W’s on Met pitching ledgers in the team’s first few years. Jackson actually had a second go-round as a Met, in 1968 and 1969, compiling a 3-7 mark mostly in relief. He was a teammate of Seaver’s then, but not when Tom passed Little Al on the win charts — the Mets sold his contract to Cincinnati a couple of weeks earlier. Seaver, meanwhile, went on to raise the all-time record for most wins by a Mets pitcher to 198. Nobody’s come within forty victories of it yet.
GAME 072: June 26, 1964 — Mets 8 BRAVES 4
(Mets All-Time Game 072 Record: 28-21; Mets 1964 Record: 21-50-1)
Records were made to be broken, but first they have to be set. Take runs in an inning, for example. It was a cause for much notice and ample celebration when a last-place bunch of Mets scored ten runs in one inning in a 1979 game against the Reds. Why not take notice and be happy? The Mets broke their single-inning scoring mark. That mark would hold a long time thereafter.
But the mark it broke, one that had been relatively forgotten because it had happened such a long time before? It was set by a club similar to 1979’s — that is, it took a last-place Mets team to score more runs in one inning than any other Mets team had scored before or would score again for nearly a generation.
The Mets might get really bad for a year or more, but they can rise up and bite their opponents hard at any moment, in any inning. For the 1964 Mets, the biting took place in the second inning on a Friday night at County Stadium in Milwaukee. The pitcher was the merely immortal Warren Spahn, appearing in his 693rd game, setting the record for most appearances by any lefty pitcher in major league history. The first hitter was the only slightly acclimated 19-year-old Ed Kranepool.
Next up was Charley Smith. He homered.
The Mets led 2-0.
George Altman flied out.
Amado “Sammy” Samuel singled to left.
Starting pitcher Tracy Stallard doubled. Samuel went to third.
Jim Hickman drew a walk. The bases were loaded for the Mets catcher, Hawk Taylor.
Taylor singled. Samuel scored.
The Mets led 3-0.
Braves manager Bobby Bragan figured this must not be Spahnie’s night, no matter how historical his presence made it. So out went Warren and in came the more pedestrian Bob Sadowski. He was going to the more effective of the two Milwaukee moundsmen when he got Ron Hunt to ground to third baseman Eddie Mathews, but this future Hall of Famer (factor in Hank Aaron in right, and the Mets were taking on three of them) bobbled the ball, which let Stallard score to give the Mets a 4-0 lead.
And the bases were loaded again.
Joe Christopher stepped up and unloaded them.
A grand slam for the right fielder from the Virgin Islands and an eight-spot for the Mets in the top of an inning that was only one-third done. The scoreboard — so often virgin territory to Met numbers that weren’t zeroes — must not have known what to make of the 8 the visitors had just hung on it.
Comprehending the indignity of having allowed these Mets to build an early, insurmountable lead in a single frame (half of it on a single Christopher swing), Sadowski did the only thing a pitcher in 1964 was conditioned to do.
He frustratedly brushed back the next batter, young Kranepool.
It earned him a fine of $50 from the National League and a warning from home plate ump Mel Steiner. Eddie, unfazed, rose, stood in the box and accepted a walk.
He was the tenth batter of the inning and the ninth to reach base.
That was it for the Mets, however. Smith struck out and Altman fouled to Mathews, who handled it for the final out. The Mets would have to “settle” for eight runs in one inning, six of them charged to Spahn, all of them plenty for Stallard, who cruised to an 8-4 complete game victory.
And as if they felt bad about the whole thing, the Mets allowed the Braves seven runs in the second inning of their very next game.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On June 29, 1962, the Mets weren’t very experienced, but on this Friday night in Chavez Ravine, they demonstrated that they knew enough to take what was given them…and run like hell with it. Against Joe Moeller of the Dodgers, the Mets started their evening accepting one gift after another. Richie Ashburn led off with a walk. After Rod Kanehl mysteriously swung and flied to right, Gene Woodling picked up on Ashburn’s cue and walked. Then Frank Thomas walked. Then Charlie Neal walked. The Mets went up 1-0 by not taking their bats off their shoulders.
Ron Perranoski replaced Moeller in body if not in spirit. He walked Sammy Taylor with the bases loaded. He walked Felix Mantilla in the exact same situation. Those successive bases on balls made it 3-0 Mets. Elio Chacon tried to follow his teammates’ example but struck out looking for the inning’s second out. But pitcher Jay Hook — the Mets’ ninth “hitter” of the inning — was more successful just standing there. Jay walked and it resulted in the fourth Met run, every one of them scored the same way. Finally, Ashburn decided to mix it up by swinging; Whitey singled in two of the previous walkers (or walkees) to put the Mets ahead 6-0. That was it for Ron Perranoski to say nothing of Dodger dignity. Phil Ortega came on to get Kanehl for the third out of the inning, the second Hot Rod had to endure. Totals for the top of the first: six runs on one hit, seven walks and no errors. The score: Mets 6 Dodgers coming to bat.
By the time the night was over, the Mets would walk SIXTEEN TIMES, eight of them courtesy of L.A. reliever Stan Williams, en route to a 10-4 victory. It’s still the record for most walks by any Mets team in any one game. Hook himself would walk three times, or one fewer than the number he himself permitted in going the distance. It was the first win the Mets earned against (or were handed by) one of the former National League ballclubs they replaced back home. The Dodgers and Giants had been a combined 13-0 against the expansion Mets to that point in 1962. It was about time one of them sent a baby gift.