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 that includes the “best” 91st game in any Mets season, the “best” 92nd game in any Mets season, the “best” 93rd 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 091: July 22, 1975 — METS 3 Reds 1
(Mets All-Time Game 091 Record: 23-26; Mets 1975 Record: 47-44)
If you were a pitcher who just watched your team engage in record-setting offensive futility, you might very well be determined to take your fate into your own hands.
To understand what Jerry Koosman might have thought he was up against, you have to rewind the Mets clock some 24 hours from this Tuesday night, to the way the Mets found to lose to the Astros, or at least how they undermined themselves.
After Dave Kingman exploded for two homers and six ribbies on Sunday afternoon, Felix Millan took his turn at being the offensive star of Shea Stadium Monday night, collecting four singles in four at-bats. Yet all of Millan’s best efforts went to waste as the hitter who followed him in the order, Joe Torre, hit four ground balls in four at-bats, every one of them to a spot in the infield that meant death to the Mets’ attack.
That’s four twin-killings. Four ground ball double plays. Four erasures of Felix Millan and, of course, quadruple-futility for Joe Torre in what became a 6-2 Mets loss. The four GIDPs established a National League record nobody in their right mind would want any part of. Nobody ever accused Torre of lacking sanity, so the third baseman joked to keep all of his.
“You gotta be lucky to hit into four double plays.”
“I couldn’t have set a record without Millan. He ought to get an assist.”
“When I retire, I’m gonna buy a shortstop and put him in my den. At night, when I’m lonely, I’m gonna go down there and hit grounders to him.”
Laugh, Joe, laugh if that’s all you can do besides create eight outs in four swings. Jerry Koosman couldn’t have been all that amused contemplating how the Mets could rustle up 11 hits yet score only two runs. And with Reds-hot Cincinnati coming in to open a series at Shea on his night to pitch, Kooz had to know not to take any run-generating opportunities for granted.
Leading 1-0, Jerry batted against Jack Billingham in the bottom of the third and singled. Jerry Koosman getting a hit was not unheard of in 1975; he was batting .184 entering the evening’s action. But what happened next was unheard of.
Jerry Koosman stole second base.
Credit Kooz with paying attention, and not just to the Mets’ offensive anemia the night before: “Their shortstop and second baseman were laying pack. And I figured it would be easy for me to do.” Perhaps he noticed that Johnny Bench was taking the night off, too. The catcher for the Reds that night was Bill Plummer. Plummer, who didn’t get much playing time behind Bench, attempted to throw out Koosman. Unfortunately for him, neither Dave Concepcion nor Joe Morgan was covering second.
So Plummer’s throw sailed through to the outfield and Jerry Koosman went on to third. He scored what proved to be the decisive run of the game when he came home on Wayne Garrett’s fly ball to left. Spurred on by his legs, Kooz went the distance on the mound, tossing a six-hitter and striking out eight in defeating the Big Red Machine in their greatest year, 3-1.
“We certainly didn’t give him the green light to steal,” manager Yogi Berra said after the game. “When he did, I said, ‘Uh-oh, he’s out.’ But as it turned out, it was a good play. Of course, if he had been thrown out, I would have given him hell.”
But because he was safe and because the Mets won, the team gave him something better. In a pregame ceremony the next night, Tom Seaver (who stole four bases as a Met himself) presented his teammate the very bag he pilfered, complete with the number 2 — for second base. The number 2, however, would be absent from Koosman’s career stolen base ledger. He’d retire in 1985, with exactly that one stolen base to his credit, one of nineteen swiped by Mets pitchers in the fifty years there have been Mets pitchers.
Koosman’s bag was the last swiped by a Mets pitcher until Tim Leary would dare to take one in 1984. No Mets pitcher has been similarly gutsy on the basepaths since Oliver Perez stole second against the Reds in 2008.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On July 21, 1991, Dwight Gooden was notching K’s at Shea Stadium while Darryl Strawberry was looming as a home run threat, yet something was wrong with this picture. Doc was a Met, but Straw was visiting with Los Angeles. Straw was one of three former Mets dotting the Dodger lineup this Sunday, joining starter Bobby Ojeda and catcher Gary Carter — and before the Dodger box score was complete, a fourth, Juan Samuel, would appear in the game (as would four future Mets: Eddie Murray, Brett Butler, Dennis Cook and Lenny Harris). But the main attraction was Doc and Darryl, facing each other for the first time in their respective superstar careers.
The results? A single for Darryl in the second; a strikeout for Doc in the third and, in their final-ever head-to-head at Shea, victory for the Doctor. Gooden had Strawberry oh-and-two as he reared back and fired a strike by his old buddy, who swung and missed, much to the delight of Doc’s new buddies, Daryl Boston and Vince Coleman, each cheering vociferously from the Mets’ dugout. Doc revealed later that he wouldn’t look directly at Darryl as he pitched against him. He said he learned his lesson after making eye contact with Wally Backman the first time he faced him and “he stuck his tongue out at me” before singling.
Gooden’s strikeout preserved an 8-3 lead that became a 9-4 win that served as a milestone in retrospect. It raised the Mets’ record to 53-38 and kept them four behind the Pirates for first place in the N.L. East. The team then left for the West Coast, lost twelve of fourteen and would sink below .500 within a month. The Mets wouldn’t be as many as fifteen games above break-even again — or legitimately compete for a playoff spot — until the summer of 1997. By then, Strawberry and Gooden would be playing baseball regularly in New York…but in uniforms that made them appear far stranger than Darryl looked as a Dodger.
GAME 092: July 16, 2006 — Mets 13 CUBS 7
(Mets All-Time Game 092 Record: 28-21; Mets 2006 Record: 55-37)
A haunting orange glow fell over Wrigley Field in the top of the sixth inning, attributable to an unusual 5:11 PM local starting time, arranged in deference to ESPN’s desire to air the ESPYs immediately after Sunday Night Baseball was over. The sun was doing its setting, but the Mets were just getting started — and they were painting the Chicago skies their own shade of orange and blue.
The first-place Mets were prime time players in 2006, all right, and their sixth inning this particular early evening probably should have caused the ESPYs committee to reconvene on the spot to bestow upon them some kind of award. Best Lead-In to a Meaningless Exhibition of Self-Congratulations, perhaps. But since the Worldwide Leader in Sports wasn’t about to do that, the Mets created their own award and presented it to themselves.
Most Prodigious Inning in Franchise History.
When it was done, there were no other nominees. The Mets came to bat in the sixth trailing 5-2 and when they were done batting, they stood as the only Mets team to ever put an 11-spot on a scoreboard.
Prior to this trip to Chicago, there was no evidence anybody even made 11-spots. The Mets’ record for most runs in an inning had stood 27 years to that point — set in 1979 and tied memorably in 2000 but never surpassed. It was 10. There was no topping it for the longest time.
But this 11-run inning went on long enough to push the ESPYs past their projected starting time (good thing they were taped days earlier). This 11-run inning also went on long enough to encompass another unprecedented single-frame Mets feat: a pair of grand slams clouted before three outs could be recorded by the opposing pitcher(s).
The Mets, as was the case when they fired up their ten-run innings in ’79 and ’00, trailed heading into Elevenland. They were down 5-2 as the sixth started, with Sean Marshall of the Cubs in relative control of the situation. His first batter was Chris Woodward, who flied out to center. His second batter was Carlos Beltran, who grounded to second, and…whoops! Todd Walker couldn’t pick up the grounder and Beltran was safe on the E-4.
And with that much of an opening, the Mets busted through the Ivy.
Carlos Delgado singled. David Wright singled. With the bases loaded, Cliff Floyd homered. Grand Slam No. 1 put the Mets ahead 6-5.
With the bases cleared, Xavier Nady walked. Dusty Baker got around to removing Marshall and replaced him with Roberto Novoa, who began his job competently by grounding Ramon Castro to third. Except Aramis Ramirez went for the force at second, which meant another misadventure for Walker, Todd encountering another ball he couldn’t handle (yet another E-4). The misplay putting Nady on second and Castro on first. Endy Chavez pinch-hit for reliever Pedro Feliciano and singled Nady home, with Castro hustling to third.
Then, with that fifth run of the sixth in, Endy stole second and Jose Valentin scratched out an infield single to reload the bases. Chris Woodward, up again, did not take full advantage of whatever was afflicting the Cubs, grounding to Ramirez at third, resulting in Castro being cut down at home.
Beltran, on the other hand, understood he was in the midst of a Met inning of a lifetime and took a mighty cut at Novoa’s 3-2 pitch and sent it soaring above Wrigley’s left-center field fence, giving the Mets Grand Slam No. 2 and runs six through nine. The visitors now held an 11-5 lead.
And Baker, for reasons best known to him, left Novoa into pitch to the rest of the heart of the Met order. Delgado doubled and Wright homered — not a grand slam, but quite good enough to provide the Mets their tenth and eleventh runs of the inning, the most ever generated by any Mets club.
At which point, Dusty took out Novoa and called on Will Ohman to pitch. The Mets kept coming to the plate for a while, as Floyd and Nady each walked and Castro gave a 1-1 pitch an impressive ride to deep center. Alas, mercy intervened and allowed Juan Pierre to catch it for the third out of the eleven-run inning.
The Mets led 13-5 and would win 13-7. Interestingly, in this first series after the All-Star break, they did it without two of their four everyday All-Stars. Jose Reyes was out with a hand injury and Paul Lo Duca was getting the night off. You could say the Mets scored eleven runs in one inning with two All-Stars tied behind their proverbial back — and it was their replacements, Woodward and Castro, who made the only outs. What’s more, between the leadoff flyout from Woodward and the final flyout from Castro, the Mets sent fourteen batters to the plate and every one of them landed on base in some shape or form, whether via error, walk, fielder’s choice, hit or very long hit.
All told on ESPYs night, the top of the sixth would have to be recognized as the best performance by a team in a leading role — leading the National League East by a dozen games, that is.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On July 17, 1978, Skip Lockwood did it all closing out a doubleheader split for the Mets, including one thing he didn’t want to do, one thing he hadn’t done in seven years and something he did with regularity for several seasons as a Met. Nursing a 6-3 lead in relief of Dale Murray at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium this Monday night, Skip got two quick outs upon entering in the bottom of the seventh before giving up a home run to Darrel Chaney. The Mets’ lead was cut to two, but Lockwood maintained his composure and retired pinch-hitter Joe Nolan to end the inning. He pitched a perfect eighth, and Joe Torre had no one he’d rather go to finish the game. Therefore, when Lockwood’s spot in the order came around in the top of the ninth, he let his closer bat for himself with two out.
Good move by the skipper where Skip was concerned. Lockwood, whose major league experience included 42 games as an infielder for the 1965 Kansas City A’s, homered off Atlanta reliever Dave Campbell. In launching his first dinger since 1971 and the third of his career, Lockwood extended the Mets’ lead to 7-4, gave himself a comfortable three-run cushion and — once he set down Jeff Burroughs, Biff Pocoroba and Dale Murphy 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth — went into the record books as the only Met relief pitcher to homer in a Mets win. Tug McGraw went deep after coming in from the bullpen in 1971 at Montreal, but that was in a blowout loss. Here, Lockwood notched his eleventh save of the season, one of 65 he accumulated as a Met between 1975 and 1979. When he left the club as a free agent, only McGraw had more Met saves. Though Lockwood’s ranking in that category has fallen to ninth, no Met reliever has homered since Skip went yard.
GAME 093: July 25, 1990 — Mets 10 PHILLIES 9
(Mets All-Time Game 093 Record: 25-24; Mets 1990 Record: 55-38)
In a perfect world, large late-inning leads are never precariously whittled and beloved announcers calmly bring their listeners the blissfully mundane details en route to an easy win. But as one of the sport’s all-time beloved announcers knew, we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a Metsian world. And on a Wednesday night in Philadelphia, Bob Murphy had no choice but to describe it for what it was.
In doing so, he made himself as much the story as the game itself, which was not Murph’s desire. Yet because it was so totally off-the-cuff and so totally out-of-the-blue, this aberration became part of the collective memory of Robert Allan Murphy. And nobody who ever listened to him minded a bit.
Before the ninth inning, no Mets fan would have suspected anything particularly memorable was afoot beyond a comforting blowout win. The Mets were up 4-0 early and seemed to put the Phillies tidily away in the sixth during successive at-bats by Dave Magadan (RBI single), Gregg Jefferies (two-run triple) and Darryl Strawberry (two-run homer, his 25th of the year). Sid Fernandez gave Bud Harrelson seven solid innings of two-run ball, striking out nine. When Mackey Sasser drove home Kevin McReynolds to make it 10-3 in the top of the ninth, the RBI appeared no more than icing on the proverbial cake.
Come the bottom of the ninth, the cake started to fall.
Charged with getting the final three outs, rookie Wally Whitehurst proved sadly unequal to the task. He surrendered five consecutive singles that produced a pair of runs and left the bases loaded with nobody out when Harrelson pulled him. Julio Machado was sent in to clean up Whitehurst’s mess but just made matters worse, giving up two more singles, the last of them to eighth-place hitter Tom Nieto. Nieto’s hit drove in two and quite suddenly, the Mets’ lead was reduced to 10-8. Seven Phillies had batted and all seven hit safely. Five of them were in and two of them were on. Nobody was out.
It was a serious enough situation to compel Harrelson to bring on his closer John Franco. Phillie manager Nick Leyva countered with pinch-hitter John Kruk. Franco worked him to 3-2…and walked him. The bases were loaded and, to repeat, nobody was out. Up next was Lenny Dykstra, a little more than a year removed from being a Met himself. Though drama would suggest Dykstra might do something heroic, he grounded into a most welcome 4-6-3 double play. It scored another Phillie, but at least it got Franco closer to escaping what shaped up as a heretofore unimaginable circle of Met Hell. Nevertheless, Nieto had moved to third on the DP, meaning the tying tally was ninety feet away in an inning that began with a seven-run Met lead.
Tommy Herr, who started the inning with a single off Whitehurst, was up again. After taking one ball from Franco, he ripped into the next pitch. It sizzled toward Met shortstop Mario Diaz, up recently from Tidewater. Over WFAN, Murphy, almost overwhelmed by how close the Mets were to blowing almost all of their 10-3 lead, described it in quick, instinctive and honest terms:
“Line drive — it’s caught! It’s over! They win. The Mets win the ballgame. They win the damn thing by a score of ten-nine!”
Soon enough, nobody remembers Magadan or Jefferies or Strawberry or Fernandez or Sasser or Whitehurst or Machado or Franco or even Diaz where this game is concerned. What everybody remembers is Murphy and the night the forever upbeat voice of the team since its founding in 1962 uttered a four-letter word on the air that wasn’t “Mets”.
Bob Murphy curse? Even a little?
“Andrew ‘Dice’ Clay,” Marty Noble noted wryly in Newsday, “need not worry.”
“In all the years in the business, I never used profanity,” Murphy told Noble the day after the 10-9 win. But the onetime United States Marine didn’t plead temporary loss of his faculties or beg anybody’s forgiveness. “I knew exactly what I saying. It was spontaneous. It was deliberate.” True, Murph “felt a little funny about it,” but he referred to it as a “natural reaction. Honest emotion. As a broadcaster, I’ve never had a tougher half-inning.
“I don’t think I offended anyone. I hope not. It was pretty calm if you’re used to listening to Imus in the Morning.”
If “they win the damn thing” didn’t exactly usurp the place of “the happy recap” as Bob Murphy’s most identifiable catchphrase, it did become embroidered into his Hall of Fame broadcasting legacy. Thirteen years after he said it, the damn thing came up in conversation as Murphy prepared to retire. He had announced nearly every Mets game for 42 years, yet what was it George Vecsey wanted to ask him about in the New York Times? What the columnist referred to “as the greatest moment in his Mets career…the night in 1990 when he truly spoke from the heart.”
“People still ask if I did it purposely,” Murphy reflected for Vecsey in 2003. “But the truth is, it was an honest emotion. I thought about it. I had confidence in using the word. I hadn’t used it before and I haven’t used it since. I just felt it was something I had to say.”
It was only what every Mets fan was thinking.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On July 13, 2003, in the midst of the Mets’ most dismal season in a decade, everybody who cared about them was reminded what it was like to believe in them. This was the Sunday afternoon the Mets held a 30th-anniversary celebration for its 1973 National League champions, and the timing wound up making it more poignant an occasion than anyone in attendance would have preferred.
Nobody was more readily identified with that unbelievable pennant push than fireman Tug McGraw, and no 1973 Met was more top of mind in 2003 than the very same man, at this point battling brain cancer. His condition was announced to a stunned baseball world in Spring Training and fans everywhere hoped he could recover. Ultimately, he couldn’t, but as it happened, he was going through a period of remission in early summer, allowing him to attend the reunion that preceded a game between his two former clubs, the Mets and Phillies.
Tug was introduced last among the old-timers and made the kind of entrance only he could, emerging from Shea’s right field bullpen in a 1973-style cart — topped, of course, by a blue Mets cap — chauffeured by the then-current model of No. 45, John Franco. As the crowd of more than 30,000 roared its approval, the cart rolled down the right field line. Mets outfielder Timo Perez stood along its path and offered Tug a high-five, which Tug was happy to return…just as he was happy to return to the scene of his most enduring glory, where his spirit became synonymous with never giving up and never giving in.
McGraw accepted the embrace of his teammates and the adoration of his fans before throwing the ceremonial first pitch to Jerry Grote. One more hearty round of applause ensued. After the closer of pennant races past opened the day with that kind of flourish, it was only fitting that the afternoon end with a 4-3 Mets win. True, the contemporary Mets closer, Armando Benitez (in what turned out to be his final game as a Met), blew a ninth-inning lead, but a rally in the Mets’ last at-bat, capped by Jason Phillips’s bases-loaded single, ensured the home-team victory on what turned out to be Tug’s last visit to Shea Stadium.