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The Happiest Recap: 076-078

Posted By Greg Prince On July 1, 2011 @ 11:00 am In 1 | Comments Disabled

Welcome to The Happiest Recap [1], 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” 76th game in any Mets season, the “best” 77th game in any Mets season, the “best” 78th 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 076: July 4, 1985 [2] — Mets 16 BRAVES 13 (19)
(Mets All-Time Game 076 Record: 17-32; Mets 1985 Record: 41-35)

First, it rains. It rains so much, they wait an hour and twenty-four minutes beyond what was planned as first pitch. This means the Thursday night game between the Mets and Braves at Fulton County Stadium wouldn’t get underway until after 9 o’clock — 9:04 PM Eastern Daylight Time, to be precise. Finally, Rick Mahler throws that first pitch to the Mets leadoff batter, rookie centerfielder Lenny Dykstra.

And the teams played on.

The Mets’ top of the first includes Dykstra groundout Wally Backman single; a pickoff of Backman by Mahler; a Keith Hernandez double; a Gary Carter RBI single that comes to a dead stop in a puddle; a Darryl Strawberry single; a bases-loading walk to George Foster; and a Ray Knight strikeout to end the threat. But the Mets emerge with a run before the Braves came to bat.

And the teams played on.

Dwight Gooden is going for the Mets, and often enough in 1985, one run is all he needs. In his previous start, against the Cardinals, he went eight innings and gave up only a run. The start before that, at Chicago, he won, having given up two runs while going the distance. And versus the Cubs at Shea the start before that, he was good for a six-hit, nine-strikeout 1-0 shutout. Doc is almost automatically untouchable in 1985. This time, though, Claudell Washington reaches him for a leadoff triple and the Braves tie the game at one after one inning.

And the teams played on.

Keith Hernandez lines a ball to center in the third which should be his second base hit of the night. Dale Murphy doesn’t catch it, but second base ump Gerry Davis says he did. Having slumped from a .287 average on June 5 to .251 on July 3, Hernandez confides to readers of his season diary If At First… that he isn’t upset at the bad call. He’s just happy to be hitting the ball hard.

And the teams played on.

Murphy singles to start the Braves’ third. Gooden struck out Horner. And then the rains pour down on Fulton County. The Morton’s Salt (“When It Rains, It Pours”) tarp comes on the field. The longer it stays on, the less the chances are that Gooden will come back to face the next batter, Terry Harper. Doc’s 20-year-old arm is too important to risk. The delay lasts 41 minutes — too long by Davey Johnson’s and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre’s reckoning. For the only time in 1985, Gooden doesn’t pitch long enough to be eligible for a win…which certainly wasn’t in the bag. On a messy mound, the Doctor uncharacteristically walked four.

And the teams played on.

Johnson’s choice to replace Gooden, if he must, is his most reliable reliever, rookie Roger McDowell. Working off that damned damp mound, McDowell gives up a single to Harper and a double to Ken Oberkfell before he registers the final out on a Glenn Hubbard grounder. Two runs score during Roger’s third of an inning. The Mets trail 3-1.

And the teams played on.

After Rafael Santana singles to lead off the fourth, Clint Hurdle pinch-hits for McDowell. He must, even though that’s not Davey’s intention. The umpiring crew misinterprets the Mets’ post-tarp lineup intentions and McDowell is out of the game after 0.1 IP following Gooden’s 2.2 IP. Somehow Davey, officially playing the game under protest, is out his best starter and most trusted reliever, and the fourth has only just begun.

And the teams played on.

Hurdle doesn’t succeed but the Mets do in this inning, scoring four times in the top of the fourth, with puddles and slippery grass in the outfield conspiring against the Braves the way the rain and the umps are doing a number on the Mets. Somewhere in the middle of the rally, Hernandez triples. Mets lead 5-3.

And the teams played on.

Terry Leach, the sidearmer who once threw a ten-inning one-hitter for the Mets yet disappeared from their midst and the majors for the next two complete seasons, comes on and assumes long-man duty in the bottom of the fourth. He allows a Braves run when Rick Cerone drives in Harper in the bottom of the fifth. But the Mets get it back in the sixth when a single and stolen base by Backman precedes a Hernandez lineout (“my fourth solid contact of the night”) and singles from Carter and Strawberry. They are deprived of more when they load the bases with one out only to have Knight ground into a double play to end their half of the inning. Nevertheless, the Mets lead 6-4.

And the teams played on.

Leach, still pitching in the seventh, gets a groundout from Murphy, strikes out Horner and grounds out Harper. It’s the first 1-2-3 inning by any pitcher on either side since the second.

And the teams played on.

Hernandez lengthens the Mets’ lead to 7-4 when he homers off Steve Shields to begin the eighth. The club, in the doldrums for much of June, has scored its most runs in a game in more than three weeks. Keith, meanwhile, has each kind of extra-base hit. The bad call on the Murphy non-catch in the third begins to gnaw at him. “I would have had the fucking cycle!” he shouts at his former Cardinal teammate Oberkfell. “Fuck you, Keith,” Oberkfell replies.

And the teams played on.

Jesse Orosco replaces Leach to start the eighth, six outs from a Met victory. But the Braves stealthily ambush the two-time All-Star: Oberkfell singles and takes second on a passed ball, Cerone walks and, two outs later, Washington walks. With the bases loaded, Rafael Ramirez walks to force home a run. Orosco exits, Doug Sisk enters. Sisk has been in a slump for almost a full calendar year. He gives up a bases-clearing double to Murphy. Sisk is normally booed at Shea Stadium. He does not help his cause in this televised road game. The Braves lead 8-7.

And the teams played on.

Bruce Sutter comes on to protect the one-run lead in the ninth. Situations like these are why, the previous December, Ted Turner committed $10 million over six years to the National League’s premier closer and master of the split-finger fastball. Sutter won a Cy Young for the Cubs in 1979. He nailed down a World Series for the Cardinals in 1982. He set a major league single-season save record in 1984, totaling 45 while pitching a career-high 122.2 innings. For the Braves in 1985, he has saved 15 games in 34 appearances, but has also blown five saves and lost three games. Against the Mets, with 44,947 fans having endured two rain delays in anticipation of promised Fourth of July fireworks, Sutter appears ready to make it a short wait by striking out Knight. But then the night turns, as pinch-hitter Howard Johnson, left fielder Danny Heep and Dykstra string together three singles and produce a run. The Mets tie it at eight.

And the teams played on.

A Backman grounder forces Dykstra at second, but Heep goes to third. Hernandez comes up with a chance to put the Mets ahead in the ninth inning. “Against Sutter, I always move up in the box a little, hoping to catch the split-fingered fastball before the bottom falls out,” Hernandez is to write in If At First… In this encounter, however, Sutter “Pearl-Harbors” Keith by throwing him mostly straight fastballs and the first baseman flies to left and leaves the game tied going to the bottom of the ninth.

And the teams played on.

Sisk continues to pitch for the Mets. Channel 9’s audience is probably howling its displeasure. But the righty gets two quick outs before HoJo — who stayed in the game to play short — errs on a Cerone grounder. Albert Hall pinch-runs for Cerone. The man for whom Cerone was once traded, Chris Chambliss, pinch-hits for Sutter. Chambliss won a pennant with a ninth-inning home run in 1976, the year Sutter was a rookie. Chambliss is 36 and has 180 homers in a career that dates back to 1971, when he won the Rookie of the Year award for Cleveland. Time will show he has five major league home runs left in him. One will come in a July 1985 game against the Mets. But it won’t come in this one, against Sisk. Old Chris Chambliss grounds out to second. Regulation ends, with the Mets and Braves tied at eight.

And the teams played on.

Extra innings commence. Terry Forster, who eleven years earlier led the American League in saves, becomes the Braves’ fifth pitcher of the game. With one out, Strawberry walks. But Sisk, who stays in to bat, strikes out. Knight grounds out to end the inning. In the bottom half, Sisk gives up a two-out single to Ramirez, but Murphy forces him at second.

And the teams played on.

Forster will soon gain unwanted notoriety as a target of David Letterman’s mock ire. “A fat tub of goo,” will be Dave’s tweak of choice on Late Night, a show that airs on NBC in the time slot now dominated by the Mets and the Braves. While they present their own brand of mesmerizing late night television, Forster — listed at an implicitly athletic 6’ 3” and 200 lbs. — is as effective as any pitcher of any size. Johnson, Heep and Dykstra, the trio that caused Sutter so much grief in the ninth, go down 1-2-3 in the top of the eleventh. It’s the first clean inning for a Braves pitcher since Mahler retired Santana, Gooden and Dykstra in the top of the second. Mahler gave way to Jeff Dedmon in the fourth. Santana and Gooden are long gone, too. Dykstra has just made his seventh plate appearance.

And the teams played on.

Sisk works around a one-out double to Terry Harper to get out of the eleventh. Hernandez singles with one out in the top of the twelfth. He has now hit for the cycle, the first Met to do since Mike Phillips in 1976; the first Met to ever take advantage of extra innings to reach the milestone. Rusty Staub calls from the bench to retrieve the ball for his teammate’s collection “I get the ball,” Keith writes. Then he gets forced on Carter’s inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.

And the teams played on.

Sisk’s 1985 ERA crested in early May at 8.53. In a third-of-an-inning at Cincinnati, Doug entered a bases-loaded situation and, not unlike what happened with Murphy in the eighth, he cleared the bases — that time by giving up a grand slam to Nick Esasky. Then he started working on his own earned runs: a triple to Dave Concepcion, an RBI double to Ron Oester, one out, then a walk to pitcher Jay Tibbs. Oester and Tibbs each came around to score after Sisk left in favor of Joe Sambito. That result came on the heels of an outing at Shea when Sisk gave up five consecutive hits to the Astros: four singles and a three-run homer to Jose Cruz. These two appearances weren’t necessarily indicative of every Doug Sisk outing in 1985, but they had become representative of what every Mets fan expected. Sisk exceeded those low expectations here, pitching a 1-2-3 twelfth. Inherited runners notwithstanding, Doug Sisk pitches 4⅓ shutout innings to keep the game tied, 8-8.

And the teams played on.

Forster gets his first two batters in the top of the thirteenth: a strikeout of Strawberry and popup from Kelvin Chapman to shortstop Ramirez. He is about to complete his fourth scoreless frame when Knight — who was 0-for-6; made the third out of an inning four separate times; personally stranded nine runners through ten; and had drilled his average down to .173 — singles. The man to whom Knight is on the verge of losing playing time at third, Howard Johnson, is up next.

And the teams played on.

HoJo homers. Knight greets him at home plate like a long lost friend. The Mets lead 10-8 and hand that margin to their sixth pitcher of the game, Tom Gorman.

And the teams played on.

Gorman pitched seven innings as a reliever in the Mets’ April 28 eighteen-inning 5-4 win over Pittsburgh [3]. He also pitched one-third of one inning as a starter in the Mets’ June 11 26-7 loss to Philadelphia. In 1985, the lefty long man/spot starter has — per the oft-quoted, generally misunderstood Chinese aphorism — pitched in interesting times. Naturally, it is Gorman’s goal to make the bottom of the thirteenth as dull as possible: dull and quick and efficient enough to earn himself his first major league save.

And the teams played on.

After giving up a leadoff single to Ramirez, the southpaw his teammates call Gorfax strikes out Murphy and Gerald Perry. One more out ends the game as a 10-8 Met victory and gives however many thousands of Braves fans who remain the fireworks they came for. Instead, they witness a different kind of explosion when Harper, 3-for-6 already, homers on an 0-2 pitch to knot the game at ten.

And the teams played on.

For the fourteenth, Braves manager Eddie Haas inserts his sixth pitcher of the game, Gene Garber. Garber led the National League in games finished in 1975. Indeed, finishing the game is what Haas has in mind here. The veteran righty’s most game finish came in this very same ballpark on August 1, 1978, when he faced Pete Rose with two out in the ninth inning. Rose’s National League record hitting streak off 44 games was on the line. Garber threw Rose a changeup and struck him out. Garber was euphoric at finishing Rose’s streak. Charlie Hustle, on the other hand, bitterly grumbled that Garber should have challenged him with a fastball. Now, seven years and many hours later, nobody is concerned with such niceties. The Braves want Garber to finish the game, or at least his portion thereof. The Mets, in turn, want to finish Garber. The fourteenth proves inconclusive in either regard. Garber holds the Mets scoreless in the top of the inning. Gorman does the same to the Braves in its bottom.

And the teams played on.

Knight, suddenly hot, singles with one out in the fifteenth, but the Mets can’t bring him home. Gorman’s Koufax impression kicks in as he retires his fifth, sixth and seventh batters in a row. Dykstra, Backman and Hernandez all ground out in the top of the sixteenth. Two more Braves go down before Oberkfell snaps Gorfax’s streak of perfection at nine batters by singling. Catcher Bruce Benedict then walks, but Tom recovers when Paul Runge, pinch-hitting for Garber, flies to Heep in left. Garber does not finish the game. Sixteen innings are complete and nobody is quite done.

And the teams played on.

Carter, catching from the very first pitch of the bottom of the first, leads off the top of the seventeenth with a single off seventh Braves pitcher Rick Camp. Strawberry is called out on strikes. Straw argues the point. In the seventeenth inning of a 10-10 game, home plate umpire Terry Tata ejects Darryl. Davey Johnson comes out to protect his player. Tata responds by ejecting the Mets’ pilot — who’s been protesting the game for fourteen innings, ever since he had to remove McDowell. Johnson relates Tata’s reasoning for tossing Strawberry in his diary, Bats: “It’s three o’clock in the morning, Dave.” And with that seamless logic expressed to him, Johnson exits to watch from the visiting manager’s office as Gorman strikes out and Knight grounds into a fielder’s choice.

And the teams played on.

John Christensen is the new Met right fielder in the bottom of the seventeenth. Tom Gorman is the same old Met pitcher, entering his fifth inning of work. He gets two quick outs, surrenders a single to Ramirez but then retires Murphy. Since tying the game with the bases-clearing double versus Sisk, Dale — one of the era’s most dangerous hitters — is 0-for-4.

And the teams played on.

HoJo, the home run hero from the thirteenth, opens the eighteenth by singling. Heep, presumably on orders relayed from the visiting manager’s office, bunts. Camp throws to second but it goes awry. HoJo scampers to third. Dykstra lifts a fly to Murphy in center. It scores Howard. The Mets lead 11-10 heading to the bottom of the eighteenth.

And the teams played on.

Gorman grounds Perry back to the mound. Piece of cake, even for a tired pitcher. He throws to Hernandez for the first out. Harper, trouble earlier, is none now. He grounds to Keith for the second out. The Braves’ last chance is Rick Camp, and he amounts to no chance at all. Rick Camp’s lifetime major league batting average as he steps to the plate for the 166th at-bat of his ten-year career is .060. It represents an improvement over his lifetime minor league average, which was .036.

And the teams played on.

Gorman works the count to oh-and-one. And then oh-and-two. “With the count at two strikes,” Hernandez recounts in his diary, “I don’t even get into my fielding crouch.”

And the teams played on.

Camp takes a desperate swing at Gorman’s third pitch. He lofts a fly ball to left…to deep left…to past Danny Heep who runs out of room.

And the teams played on.

Heep raised his hands to his head in disbelief at what he has just seen. Reliever Rick Camp has hit a two-out, two-strike game-tying home run in the bottom of the eighteenth to make the score Mets 11 Braves 11.

And the teams played on.

It’s the first home run of Camp’s professional career.

And the teams played on.

Gorman: “To give up a homer to the pitcher in the 18th inning is totally embarrassing.”

And the teams played on.

Hernandez: “Stumbling back to the dugout after the next guy grounds out, Gorman mumbles, ‘I didn’t know Garber had that kind of power.’ Garber?! Tom didn’t even know who was batting! Long night.”

And the teams played on.

Gorman, quite obviously, is fried. The Mets have run through their entire bullpen yet they’re not going to send their exhausted reliever to bat in the top of the nineteenth. According to what’s written in Bats, Stottlemyre pitches a plan to the ejected manager that goes something like this: we still have Ronn Reynolds on the bench, so let’s put him behind the plate, let’s send Carter, who’s caught all eighteen innings, to left; let’s bring in Heep from left to pitch.

And the teams played on.

It’s so late that Fulton County Stadium authorities are allowing passersby free admission to watch whatever remains of this marathon; it’s so late that all Mets caps not on the field are turned inside out in hopes of igniting a rally; it’s so late that the Fourth of July is rapidly giving way to dawn’s early light for the Fifth of July…but it’s not so late that Davey will permit Danny Heep to make his major league pitching debut [4] in the top of the nineteenth inning of an 11-11 tie. He vetoes the proposal and orders starter Ron Darling warmed up in the Met bullpen.

And the teams played on.

Camp, having extended the evening/morning himself, begins his third inning on the mound. Carter leads off with another single, his fifth of the game in nine at-bats. Christensen bunts him to second. Staub, whom Johnson instructed his coaches to insert as a pinch-hitter, is intentionally walked. Knight, so often the goat in the first half of the 1985 season — and in what became the first half of this game — doubles Gary home and Rusty to third. “I think I’ve never been more excited about one base hit in my entire career,” Knight will be moved to say later. On that base hit, the Mets take a 12-11 lead, their third in extra innings.

And the teams played on.

Whatever magic Camp brought to bear as a hitter deserts him as a pitcher. After he intentionally walks HoJo, he gives up a singe to Heep (still the left fielder). Rusty and Ray score. When Claudell Washington’s throw from right goes astray, Johnson scores, too. Heep races to second. It’s 15-11, Mets.

And the teams played on.

Dykstra, up for the eleventh time, sends a fly to center deep enough to move Heep to third. Backman goes 4-for-10 (with a sac bunt) when he singles home Heep. Hernandez, his cycle long ago assured, completes the Mets bat-around by grounding to Hubbard at second. The Mets finish the top of the nineteenth with five runs on four hits and one error. They take a lead of 16-11 to the bottom of the inning.

And the teams played on.

The Mets have notched 28 hits, setting a franchise record. And by just having tallied five times, they’ve established a major league mark for most runs scored in a nineteenth inning.

And the teams played on.

No relievers remain for the Mets, so they turn to Darling for the nineteenth. Ronnie has never pitched out of the pen in the majors or the minors, but he did it as a freshman in college, which is good enough given the circumstances. Plus, Thursday was his throw day; never mind that he already threw or that Thursday became Friday nearly four hours before.

And the teams played on.

Paul Zuvella grounds to Backman for the first out of the bottom of the nineteenth. But perennial Gold Glove winner Keith Hernandez makes an error which lets the second batter, Washington, go to second. Ramirez flies out to Howard Johnson at short. That’s two outs. But now Darling goes wild; he walks Murphy; he walks Perry. A single by Terry Harper — 5-for-10 — plates a pair of Braves. The Mets’ lead is cut to 16-13. With two on and no position players left on Haas’s bench, the batter is Rick Camp.

And the teams played on.

Camp is 1-for-1 with a home run. If he can duplicate his eighteenth-inning offensive outburst…well, Rick isn’t exactly relishing the opportunity: “If we have to rely on me to win a game, we’re in bad shape.”

And the teams played on.

Darling gets two strikes on Camp. He rears back at 3:55 AM Eastern Daylight Time and throws the Mets’ 305th pitch of the game.

And the teams played on.

Camp swings and misses.

The teams were finished playing.

The Mets won 16-13 in nineteen innings that required six hours and ten minutes of game time along with two hours and five minutes expended on two rain delays. The moment of the final pitch certified it as the latest-ending game in major league history.

And six minutes after it was over, a crowd estimated at between 8,000 and 10,000 got the rest of what they came to Fulton County Stadium for: the Fourth of July fireworks show. While postgame bombs burst in air, Davey Johnson shook his head at reporters who wanted to know his state of mind after all that had just transpired. He just smiled and said, “Don’t even ask.”

When pressed if he had ever seen a game like this before, Davey referred to the inquiry as a “silly question. There’s never been a game like this before.”

The Mets and Braves players were more than willing to vouch for the history they had just made.

Keith Hernandez: “I saw things tonight that I’ve never seen in my career before.”

Tom Gorman: “I had never pitched at four o’clock in the morning. But then, I guess they’ve never hit at the four in the morning, either.”

Dale Murphy: “I’ll never forget this one. I’ll be feeling it for the next week.”

Gary Carter: “The game took a toll on me, but I wanted to be in there all the way.”

Ron Darling: “It’s a game everyone on this team will remember. I’m just glad I got my name in the box score.”

Bruce Benedict: “The tough thing about it is that there were a lot of lifetime memories in this game and we lost it. It’s hard to put those things in perspective.”

Ray Knight: “It was the most unbelievable game I’ve ever seen or been involved in.”

Howard Johnson: “This was the greatest game ever played. Ever.”

ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On June 29, 1988 [5], the Pirates were one strike from winning the kind of series young second-place teams yearn to take from the more established teams they’re chasing. All Jim Gott had to do in the top of the ninth at Three Rivers Stadium this Wednesday night was get one more pitch by Howard Johnson and…nope, not gonna happen. HoJo ripped into Gott’s 1-2 fastball and sent it over the left field fence to tie the game at 7-7 much to the consternation of a crowd that helped break the Pittsburgh attendance record for a three-game series. Two innings later, Roger McDowell doubled — not a typo — and Kevin McReynolds singled him home. McDowell pitched the bottom of the eleventh to preserve his own 8-7 win and keep the Pirates at bay, 5½ behind the older and perhaps wiser Mets. “I think the momentum would have shifted if they would have won the series,” HoJo said. “We came back. Now we can’t let up. There are no letups now.”

GAME 077: June 30, 2000 [6] — METS 11 Braves 8
(Mets All-Time Game 077 Record: 27-22; Mets 2000 Record: 45-32)

The Mets once trailed in a game by eight runs yet came back to win it. Another time, the Mets scored eleven runs in one inning. Neither of those impressive feats, each of them a franchise best, occurred in this game. Nevertheless, an almost airtight case can be made that on a Friday night at Shea, when the Mets didn’t overcome their biggest in-game deficit ever and didn’t post their highest one-inning run total ever, they still forged the most magnificent comeback in franchise history, doing so on the strength of the most monumental inning in franchise history.

With apologies to a previous eight-run comeback (1972) and a future eleven-run inning (2006), that’s the case this game makes, and nobody among the 52,831 in attendance would judge against it.

Passion would be the main reason. This weekend, the Mets were playing their archrivals, the Atlanta Braves, at home for the first time since Robin Ventura won the fifth game of the previous October’s National League Championship Series on the instantly legendary Grand Slam Single. The NLCS ended two nights later in Atlanta, but Mets fans had long memories. They were also holding a going grudge stoked in December by belligerent Atlanta lefty reliever John Rocker. In a Sports Illustrated profile that became as well-known as Ventura’s non-home run, Rocker memorably disparaged [7] New York, the New York Mets, New York Mets fans and even the subway line New York Mets fans took to Shea Stadium.

The series began on Thursday night, and, with extra layers of security present and a canopy installed over the visitors’ bullpen, Rocker played the villain role to the hilt, absorbing the crowd’s disgust and, most disturbingly for those who disdained him, pitching effectively. His one perfect inning contributed to a 6-4 Braves win. Friday night, already a big deal because of the opponent and the scheduled postgame fireworks, grew bigger as Shea’s denizens yearned for even more vengeance than they desired 24 hours earlier.

They weren’t getting it.

Kevin Millwood stifled Mets bats for seven innings, allowing only a single run late, while Mike Hampton — added to the staff in the offseason with an eye on toppling Atlanta from its perch above the N.L. East — gave up five runs in his seven innings. Rookie reliever Eric Cammack deepened the Mets’ deficit in the top of the eighth when he was tagged for a three-run home run by Brian Jordan.

The passion was clearly in remission as the Mets trailed 8-1. If Shea didn’t empty out as the Mets took their second-to-last licks against Don Wengert, it was only because those fireworks were still a big draw. Nothing about the bottom of the eighth indicated the world-famous Grucci Brothers would have any competition for anybody’s attention as it commenced in routine fashion. Derek Bell singled, but Edgardo Alfonzo flied to center. Mike Piazza, who had a consecutive-games RBI streak of twelve in jeopardy, singled Bell to third and took second on shortstop Rafael Furcal’s bad throw to first. When Robin Ventura grounded out, it scored Bell and sent Piazza to third, but all that did, really, was trade an out for a run, a transaction the Braves, leading by six, were more than happy to conduct.

True, Todd Zeile singled Piazza in to make it 8-3 and Jay Payton lined another single to put Zeile on second, but still…two outs, five-run lead,. Not that Bobby Cox was taking any chances. He brought in his closer Kerry Ligtenberg to record the last out and get the game to the ninth.

Ligtenberg, who set the Mets down in order in the ninth on Thursday, was a different pitcher Friday. He was one without control. First he walked Benny Agbayani. Then he walked pinch-hitter Mark Johnson, which brought home the third run of the inning. And as Mets fans throughout Shea began to calculate that a four-run lead with the bases loaded no longer loomed as insurmountable, Ligtenberg walked Melvin Mora to make it Braves 8 Mets 5. The Mets had batted around and still had the bases loaded.

Cox was compelled to make another pitching change. Drama called for John Rocker, but Rocker essentially called in sick. He was in the canopied Brave bullpen yet unavailable to help his team as he nursed a split callous on his left thumb. With no Rocker at his disposal, Cox turned to another southpaw to extract his club from the prevailing mess, veteran Terry Mulholland.

Mulholland had been around the bigs since 1986, but he was most famous at Shea for something he did way back when he was a rookie, pitching for the Giants against the Mets. He received a bouncer from Keith Hernandez, an easy 1-3 putout. Except Mulholland couldn’t pry the ball from his glove. So thinking quickly if unorthodoxically, Terry removed the glove from his right hand, with the ball still in its webbing, and tossed the whole package to first baseman Bob Brenly. It was legal and Hernandez was out.

It was a staple of baseball blooper reels for fourteen years, yet Terry Mulholland was about to be remembered at Shea Stadium for something else altogether.

His first batter was the Mets’ tenth of the eighth inning, Derek Bell. And Bell did what the three batters before him did. He walked. Ligtenberg and Mulholland had just thrown 24 pitches to four batters, three times getting them to a 3-2 count but each time issuing ball four. Bell went to first, Mora to second, Joe McEwing (pinch-running for Johnson) to third and Agbayani across home plate. It was now Braves 8 Mets 6. The bases continued in their state of loadage. Alfonzo, with 52 runs batted in before the season’s halfway mark and a sterling reputation for clutchness, was coming to the plate.

The passion was back. Shea roared as it hadn’t since Ventura was taking Kevin McGlinchey over the fence eight months earlier and Todd Pratt was taking Ventura down before he could reach second base. Then the park roared for staying alive in the playoffs. Now it was for keeping alive one single inning in the middle of the season after.

On a 1-2 pitch, Alfonzo roared in reciprocity, poking a single through a hole on the left side of the Brave infield. McEwing and Mora ran home. Bell stopped at second. Fonzie was on first.

Tie game. Braves 8 Mets 8.

Or was it Mets 8 Braves 8?

There was no time to debate the phrasing. Mike Piazza wouldn’t permit debate. He was up next and he was looking for just one pitch.

He got it immediately.

Gary Cohen, on WFAN:

Bell is the lead run. He’s on second. Alfonzo at first with two out. Eight to eight, bottom of the eighth. Incredible. Mulholland ready to go. The pitch to Piazza…

Swing and a drive deep down the left field line…toward the corner…

IT’S OUTTA HERE! OUTTA HERE!

Mike Piazza with a LINE DRIVE three-run homer! Just inside the left field foul pole! The Mets have tied a club record with a ten-run inning! And they’ve taken the lead…eleven…to eight!

Piazza drives in a run for a thirteenth straight game, and for the first time in twenty-one years [8] the Mets have put up a ten-run inning. They’ve done it against the Atlanta Braves, they’ve come from seven runs down…here in the bottom of the eighth inning.

They lead it eleven to eight. Incredible!

The denouement cooperated from there. Armando Benitez put a couple of Braves on in the ninth, but too much momentum had been generated for it to matter. He flied Wally Joyner to Payton in center and the Mets secured an 11-8 victory that put them within two games of the first-place Braves while rendering even the most spectacular fireworks display anticlimactic.

Ten runs in one inning: second most in franchise history.

Comeback from seven runs down: second largest in franchise history.

And ten runs in one inning to forge a comeback from seven runs down? Most magnificent, most monumental and absolutely unsurpassed.

ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On June 28, 1998 [9], Shea Stadium witnessed something it hadn’t seen since September 28, 1975. Back then, Jim Palmer’s 3-0 shutout victory, his 23rd win of the season, was of no particular interest to Mets fans since the Mets were in Philadelphia  on the last day of that season (with their own eventual Cy Young Award winner, Tom Seaver, winning his 22nd game of ’75). More than two decades later, what the New York Yankees did at Shea — their sublet home park for two years while their own stadium underwent a massive mid-’70s renovation — became very much the direct concern of Mets fans, because this Sunday night capped the first Mets-Yankees series that ever counted in Queens. Interleague baseball was in its second season in 1998. The Yankees hosted one three-game set in 1997, and now it was the Mets’ turn.

They were lousy hosts, at least as far as Mets fans were concerned, losing Friday night and Saturday afternoon. The Yankees were in the midst of a historically successful campaign, yet the Mets were in their own playoff race in ’98 and, honestly, needed to win the last of these three Subway Series games at home to salvage some dignity and avoid intracity embarrassment.

Victory would come, but it would not come easily. Orlando Hernandez and Masato Yoshii put on an international clinic of pitching (Hernandez: 8 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 1 BB, 9 SO and no hits allowed until two out in the sixth; Yoshii: 7 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 4 BB, 10 SO) but neither hurler was involved in the decision. It all came down to the bottom of the ninth, with Ramiro Mendoza pitching for the visitors and the score tied at one. Carlos Baerga led off with a double and was bunted to third by Butch Huskey. Brian McRae was intentionally walked. Needing just a flyball to win the game, pinch-hitter Luis Lopez delivered one to right.

Yet it wasn’t quite as simple as Baerga scoring on a sacrifice fly. Yankee right fielder Paul O’Neill threw what he caught into the infield, almost inadvertently doubling off McRae in an effort to create a 9-6-3 DP that could have only counted in a parallel universe…which it appeared the Yankees were playing in as they piled up 114 regular-season wins in 1998.

It got a little confusing for a moment as first base umpire Bruce Dreckman ignored Baerga tagging up at third and scoring well ahead of what Dreckman thought was going on in front of him. He briefly and erroneously ruled McRae out — ESPN posted the Mets’ second run in its score box and then removed it without restoring it before throwing its telecast to SportsCenter — but Tino Martinez had never gotten hold of Derek Jeter’s relay and, besides, Baerga clearly crossed the plate before the non-DP unfolded.

Of course, McRae could have removed all doubt by tagging up on Lopez’s fly to O’Neill. He admitted in the wake of Dreckman’s vapor lock, “I didn’t know what was going on. I thought the game was over when Baerga scored.”

Which, it turned out, it was. The 2-1 Met win withstood Yankee-panky when crew chief Frank Pulli overruled Dreckman and confirmed Baerga scored well ahead of any baserunning wounds the Mets nearly inflicted upon themselves at first base.

GAME 078: June 27, 2008 (D) [10] — Mets 15 YANKEES 6
(Mets All-Time Game 078 Record: 31-18; Mets 2008 Record: 39-39)

What would it take for the Mets to sweep the Yankees out of Yankee Stadium? Try six weeks.

The Mets won the first two games of their annual obligation in the Bronx in mid-May, but the third (actually the first of those scheduled) was lost to rain and needed to slotted into late June as the afternoon half of a two-park doubleheader, the kind of split bill Mets fans had come to rue based on experience and good judgment.

Because of rain, the Mets and Yankees played a doubleheader in 2000 with the day game in Flushing and the nightcap in the other place. The Mets lost both. They played the same setup in 2003, except with the day game in the Bronx and the night game at Shea. The Mets lost both. If the Mets never played another gimmicky twinbill inside a gimmicky series, it would be too soon for most of the Met faithful.

But the 2008 version, perhaps because the Mets had so long to think about it — and had a road series sweep at stake — transpired differently. Come to think of it, the Mets prepared for it differently, at least as far as their uniforms were concerned. Given that this would be the Mets’ last trip ever to the renovated version of Yankee Stadium, the place the Bronx team had called home since 1976, equipment manager Charlie Samuels got sentimental and outfitted the Mets in their blue caps…the same caps worn by the Mets the first time they played a game that counted at Yankee Stadium, June 16, 1997. Dave Mlicki shut out the Yankees [11] that first night. When the Mets returned in later seasons, they were compelled to wear their “road” caps, black models. But not this Friday afternoon.

On the other hand, Met starter Mike Pelfrey, as good as he looked topped in blue, didn’t appear to have anything like Mlicki had eleven Junes earlier. Big Pelf struggled through five ugly innings (8 hits, 4 walks, 4 earned runs), saved mostly by Yankee starter Dan Giese’s similar inelegance. Mike eased out of his 98-pitch stint with a 6-4 lead, thanks to Carlos Delgado putting the Mets ahead on a two-run double off reliever Edwar Ramirez. Those were Delgado’s first two RBI of the day.

But they wouldn’t be his last.

Delgado had been a key cog in the 2006 Mets’ rise to a division title but then spent the next season-and-a-half in an enigmatic fog. The fog didn’t fully lift until Delgado made his last northbound trip over the Triborough Bridge. With the Mets up 7-4 in the sixth, Delgado essentially parted all lingering clouds with a grand slam. The Mets now led 11-4 and Delgado was up to six RBI.

But they wouldn’t be his last, either. After David Wright singled in a tack-on run in the eighth, Delgado found himself up with two more Mets on base and he homered again. That meant three additional RBI, a 15-5 lead and a club record nine runs batted in for a single game. When the cheerily meandering contest (a plodding 3:54) went final, the Mets had a 15-6 win and the series sweep that had eluded them in ten previous Bronx engagements, even if this series happened to start on May 17 and end on June 27, and even if this Delgado day of days was compelled to continue back at Shea for a (less scintillating [12]) nightcap.

ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On July 2, 2004 [13], the Mets finally had the right Matsui on their side. In 2003, the Yankees lured (without too much sweat; just cash) superstar Japanese outfielder Hideki Matsui into pinstripes and “Godzilla,” as he was known, contributed to another American League pennant drive. The following offseason, the Mets availed themselves of the burgeoning Far East market for position players and gave a lucrative deal to — no relation — Kazuo Matsui. He was billed as such a superb infielder that they shifted phenom shortstop Jose Reyes to second base so Kaz could play his natural position. Alas, Kaz looked artificial attempting to keep up with ground balls and such, and he wasn’t exactly a global sensation with the bat.

Hideki Matsui was a Yankee star. Kaz Matsui was a Met bust. Now they’d share Shea Stadium for a weekend. Mets fans could be forgiven if they cringed in advance at what havoc Godzilla might wreak in their neighborhood.

Somehow, though, the first night of this Shea Subway Series belonged to Kaz. While Hideki took an 0-for-4 collar, Kaz went wild, blasting two home runs and driving in five as the Mets pounded Mike Mussina and Bret Prinz en route to a first-blood 11-2 walloping. Recent acquiree Richard Hidalgo would chip in a homer and three RBI, while Steve Trachsel scattered three hits over seven innings. And if only for a Friday, Kaz was New York’s most fearsome Matsui.


Article printed from Faith and Fear in Flushing: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com

URL to article: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2011/07/01/the-happiest-recap-076-078/

URLs in this post:

[1] The Happiest Recap: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2011/06/28/the-happiest-recap-073-075/

[2] July 4, 1985: http://www.ultimatemets.com/gamedetail.php?gameno=3761&tabno=D

[3] eighteen-inning 5-4 win over Pittsburgh: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2011/04/22/the-happiest-recap-016-018/

[4] his major league pitching debut: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/gl.cgi?id=heepda01&t=p&year=1988

[5] June 29, 1988: http://www.ultimatemets.com/gamedetail.php?gameno=4260&tabno=D

[6] June 30, 2000: http://www.ultimatemets.com/gamedetail.php?gameno=6153&tabno=D

[7] memorably disparaged: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1018025/index.htm

[8] first time in twenty-one years: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2011/06/07/the-happiest-recap-055-057/

[9] June 28, 1998: http://www.ultimatemets.com/gamedetail.php?gameno=5818&tabno=D

[10] June 27, 2008 (D): http://www.ultimatemets.com/gamedetail.php?gameno=7472&tabno=D

[11] Dave Mlicki shut out the Yankees: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2011/06/20/the-happiest-recap-067-069/

[12] less scintillating: http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com/2008/06/28/rather-anticlimactic/

[13] July 2, 2004: http://www.ultimatemets.com/gamedetail.php?gameno=6814&tabno=D

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