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” 94th game in any Mets season, the “best” 95th game in any Mets season, the “best” 96th 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 094: July 24, 1984 — METS 9 Cardinals 8 (10)
(Mets All-Time Game 094 Record: 31-18; Mets 1984 Record: 57-37)
Sometimes trades don’t work out. Sometimes they work out very well. And once in a while you’re fortunate enough to be reminded a particular trade could not have worked out better.
Nobody in New York had any complaints about the Keith Hernandez trade of June 15, 1983, a year after it happened. The only person in these parts who might have any problem with it when it occurred was Keith Hernandez himself. In If At First, he (with Mike Bryan) wrote, “In 1983, it wasn’t easy being the Mets. You can read a losing team a mile away — on the field, in the dugout, everywhere […] The Mets deserved and received no respect, and here I was, coming over from the world champions to a team with four last-place finishes in the previous six years, and the other two years next-to-last. Banished. Shipped to the Siberia of baseball.”
Thirteen months later, Siberia had morphed into something more readily resembling Nirvana. The Mets were a first-place club and Shea was the place to be. The reasons were many, but no single individual’s contributions loomed larger than Hernandez’s. With the second half of the Mets’ renaissance 1984 season well underway, Keith was batting above .300, driving in key runs regularly, nursing a trio of young starting pitchers (and a rookie catcher) through their first full season in the bigs, making the region around first base impenetrable for batted balls, earning All-Star status for the third time in his career and establishing himself as one of the franchise’s true icons. To Mets fans waiting for someone like him, Keith Hernandez had long ago ceased to be a former St. Louis Cardinal. “Mex” was all New York Met.
Lost in the rearview mirror to most was the primary player on the other end of the Keith Hernandez trade, Neil Allen. Allen and Rick Ownbey were the bounty Frank Cashen gladly dispatched to Whitey Herzog to obtain Hernandez. As of June 1983, Ownbey was considered a top pitching prospect while Allen had been one of the leading relievers in the National League for several years…though 1983 hadn’t been one of them. Neil lost his late-innings assignments to Doug Sisk and Jesse Orosco, making him a dispensable piece of Cashen’s rebuilding efforts. Herzog may not have been dying to add Neil Allen to his defending world champs — he wanted to be rid of Hernandez (“I deserved it,” Mex allowed upon Whitey’s Hall of Fame induction in 2010, attributing their strained relationship to himself not having “the best of attitudes”) — but he found a way to make the most of the former fireman. Herzog installed Allen in his starting rotation and Allen rewarded his new manager’s confidence with five wins in his first eight starts, including three complete games, two shutouts and a pair of impressive victories over his old club. Hernandez, the Met, was 0-for-8 in those two contests versus Allen, the Cardinal.
That was 1983. By 1984, while Hernandez starred in New York (and Ownbey toiled mostly in the minors), Allen had returned to the Redbird bullpen, filling a supporting role behind Bruce Sutter. He did so with generally unspectacular results. On July 23, the Cardinals came into Shea to begin a three-game series with the Mets. Herzog inserted Allen into a 3-3 tie in the ninth and left him in there the rest of the way. Neil allowed no hits until the twelfth, when he eventually gave up the game-winning single to Wally Backman.
The next night, a Tuesday, the Mets and Cardinals were at it again, and scoring was far more plentiful, thanks in no small part to Keith Hernandez.
In the bottom of the third, Keith lofted a fly ball to left field that brought starting pitcher Bruce Berenyi home from third, part of a three-run inning that put the Mets up 3-0.
In the bottom of the fourth, after the Cardinals had posted a four-spot of their own, Keith singled Mookie Wilson in from third, helping to build a four-run Met response. The Mets now led 7-4.
In the bottom of the eighth, as the Mets trailed 8-7, Keith brought Jerry Martin around from second on a two-out single to knot the score at eight.
In the bottom of the tenth, Herzog once again called for Allen, who chalked up two quick outs but then allowed a single and a steal to Wilson before walking Backman. With runners on first and second, Hernandez stepped up. The 36,000-plus at Shea recognized the game within a game immediately: It was the guy the Mets traded versus the guy the Mets traded for…the guy who had made their Mets a first-place team.
And Keith Hernandez kept the Mets a first-place team. He singled up the middle, past Allen, to deliver Wilson with the winning run. Given opportunity after opportunity to remind Whitey Herzog who got the best of the Keith Hernandez deal, Keith Hernandez just kept delivering. Keith collected four RBI, one each in four separate plate appearances.
“I always hit better with men on base,” Hernandez said after the 9-8 win that increased the Mets’ N.L. East lead to 3½ games. “You won’t last long hitting third in a lineup if you don’t produce.”
Keith Hernandez hit third in the Mets’ lineup through 1989, including two postseasons and one world championship. And Allen, who Herzog sold to the Yankees a year after Hernandez beat him in that tenth-inning showdown? He preferred to remember the good times in Queens when approached by ESPN’s Mark Simon in 2011:
“The New York fans made me. From the day I arrived, they were nothing but great. I feel now that I helped the Mets get a championship by getting them one heck of a first baseman. I always tell myself that I must have been doing something right for the Mets to get someone like that.”
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On July 12, 2008, it took a veritable team effort to achieve what celebrated individuals like Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Dwight Gooden and David Cone had done on their own. Pedro Martinez (a pretty celebrated individual himself) looked sharp against the Colorado Rockies on a Saturday afternoon at Shea, allowing no hits through three innings. Bothered by a sore groin in the fourth, however, Martinez allowed a single to Brad Hawpe and was removed from the game as a precaution against further injury. Pedro was succeeded on the mound by Carlos Muñiz, Aaron Heilman, Scott Schoeneweis and Billy Wagner. None of them gave up a hit to any more Rockies, leading to a five-man one-hitter, the largest such combined one-hit victory in Mets history…or just one bad Hawpe away from the franchise’s first no-hitter. The 2008 Mets’ staff, bullpen and all, was having a particularly good week. The 3-0 win was the Mets’ fifth in a row in which they permitted three or fewer hits, a modern major league record.
GAME 095: July 24, 1970 — METS 2 Dodgers 1 (10)
(Mets All-Time Game 095 Record: 26-23; Mets 1970 Record: 51-44)
For every runner who ever danced off third to distract a pitcher with a game on the line, Tommie Agee has a question:
Why are you just dancing? Why aren’t you running?
Tommie Agee ran this particular Friday night, in a game against the Dodgers when the score was tied at one in the bottom of the tenth and, apparently, Tommie wasn’t in the mood to hang around all night.
Jerry Koosman and Bill Singer pitched as if hardly anybody was going to score for a very long time, each of them going nine, each of them giving up just a run apiece. Extra innings was handed over to the screwballers, Tug McGraw for the Mets, Jim Brewer for L.A. Tug pitched a swift 1-2-3 top of the tenth. Brewer’s bottom of the frame, however, loomed as more complicated.
Gil Hodges liked what he saw out of Tug’s arm because he left him in to bat, leading off the tenth. McGraw must have known a screwball when he saw one, because he singled off of Brewer. Now the order would turn over and traditional leadoff hitter Agee found himself in the unusual position of being asked to bunt a pitcher to second. Agee bunted, but not all that effectively. Six-time Gold Glove first baseman Wes Parker snared Tommie’s bunt and fired it to second, where Dodger shortstop Billy Grabarkewitz attempted to force McGraw. But the plan became Mission: Impossible when the first four letters of Billy’s last name proved something of a misnomer. Grabarkewitz could not grab the ball, and his drop of Parker’s relay meant McGraw was safe at second and Agee was on at first.
At this point, Gil, smelling a win, removed McGraw for Al Weis. And Brewer, smelling redemption, picked off the pinch-runner.
And Agee? He stole second.
So now the Mets have a runner on second — one who’s stolen 22 bases on the season — with one out. Buddy Harrelson is at the plate (and has been the whole time Weis and Agee were doing their respective things). And Buddy will continue to stand there as Brewer uncorks a wild pitch. It doesn’t get very far from catcher Tom Haller, but it had enough distance to allow Agee to zip to third.
After all that activity, Buddy strikes out. But Ken Singleton walks. And Donn Clendenon, pinch-hitting for Mike Jorgensen, also walks. Now the bases are loaded, and Cleon Jones is at bat. He works the count to 1-1 when…
…when he hears his Alabama amigo Agee shouting, “LOOK OUT! LOOK OUT!”
Tommie Agee has decided to steal home. He’s watched Brewer’s long windup, seen the pitcher was paying him no mind and figured he could make it. He had tried something similar in the playoffs against Atlanta the October before. At that time, Jones didn’t see him coming and fouled a liner that nearly took off Agee’s head.
Not this time, though. Cleon faked a swing and Agee slid home ahead of Haller’s tag, inciting “the capacity crowd at Shea Stadium” to a fine froth of “standing and roaring,” per Bob Murphy. The Mets won 2-1 on Tommie Agee’s second steal of the inning, his second steal of home of the season, the first and only time a Met has ended a game by stealing home.
“I was almost 80 percent sure I could make it,” Agee estimated. “If [Brewer] had just looked over at me, I couldn’t have gone.”
Hodges had another take on playing the percentages: “Ninety-nine and nine-tenths of the time, you always steal home on your own. And I’ve never given the sign for the other one-tenth. It was a very nice time to be safe.”
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On July 23, 1965, something that occurred 1,904 previous times occurs for the final time, though it can’t be confirmed for a little while longer that it will never happen again.
On a Friday night, the Mets are where they’ve been since they were born, in last place. Progress is slow for New York’s expansion beloveds, but goodness knows they’re trying. They get to the tenth inning at Shea, tied at two with the Phillies. With one out, the Mets’ first great hope, Ed Kranepool, singles. Chuck Hiller follows with a single of his own. Then it’s up to Johnny Stephenson, he who struck out to end Jim Bunning’s perfect game against these same Phillies a year earlier. Facing Jack Baldschun, Stephenson singles to right. Kranepool barrels home with the winning run. Mets win 3-2. And congratulating his players is the man who’s been there for every all-too-rare Mets win, manager Casey Stengel. That night, Stengel will go home after leading his club to its 175th win ever and look forward to managing another game the next day.
He’ll never be able to do that again, for the next game is played on the heels of Old Timers Day. After the festivities (and the Mets’ 404th-ever loss — to Bunning, no less), Stengel, the embodiment of old-time baseball, goes out on the town with his comrades from days gone by for the Old Timers’ party at Toots Shor’s. Casey’s no wallflower when it comes to having a few. He’s been in baseball for more than fifty years. He knows his way around. But on this Saturday night/Sunday morning (by now), he can’t do it anymore. He loses his footing getting into or perhaps out of a club employee’s car and breaks his hip. Stengel winds up in the hospital in no condition to manage the Sunday doubleheader at Shea nor partake of the 75th birthday cake he was to be presented.
Soon enough, it will become apparent that Casey Stengel, after 3,766 games and nearly as many legends, is finished as a major league manager. Thus, that Friday night walkoff win — with two Original Mets (Jim Hickman and Chris Cannizzaro) and two Miracle Mets (Kranepool and Ron Swoboda) in the lineup — will go down as his 1,905th and last victory…not counting those he accumulated in the postseason nor his most enduring triumph: creating a positive, public face for his Amazin’, Amazin’, Amazin’, Amazin’ New York Mets.
GAME 096: July 18, 2001 — METS 4 Marlins 3 (11)
(Mets All-Time Game 096 Record: 26-23; Mets 2001 Record: 44-52)
Leave off the plural from the phrase that would soon become the title of a book and movie about a nefarious energy concern. And forget about those supposed geniuses who ran Enron into the ground. Early in the new millennium, Bobby Valentine is the smartest guy in the room…any room. On this Wednesday night, the room was Shea Stadium and nobody else stood a chance in a battle of wits.
In the midst of the 2001 season, the Mets were mostly marching in circles, but at least their general was always thinking. The people for whom he worked thought enough of him to honor him before this game for having lately won his 1,000th game as a major league manager. Most of those wins to date came for the Texas Rangers, but well over 400 came as he helmed the Mets.
Bobby V thanked one and all for the honor, and showed why he had gotten as far as he had in the bottom of the fourth inning, when the Mets and Marlins were tied at one.
Todd Zeile led off by singling. Rey Ordoñez moved him to third on a one-out ground-rule double. Valentine’s opposite number, Marlin skipper Tony Perez, ordered his infield to play in as Kevin Appier batted. Appier chopped a ball to shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Zeile, having broken on contact, found himself in a rundown while Rey-Rey raced to third…the same base to which Zeile was being chased back toward by Florida catcher Charles Johnson. In an instant, there’d be an impromptu Players Association meeting on third: Zeile, Ordoñez and Johnson — he’s the one bringing the ball.
Here’s how T.J. Quinn reported the get-together in the Daily News:
Johnson touched Zeile, whose foot appeared to be an inch from the bag, but third base umpire Kerwin Danley appeared to be watching the base and did not make a call.
After Johnson tagged Zeile, Zeile put his foot on the bag and Johnson tagged Ordoñez. Danley told Zeile he was out and Zeile went back to the dugout.
Perez was not satisfied. He thought Johnson had effected an inning-ending double play. Per his request, the umpires huddled and agreed. Both runners were called out.
Quinn cited Rule 7.03 — “if two runners are on the same base, the lead runner is entitled to it and the following runner is out once he is tagged” — and explained, “the only way they both could have been out is if Ordoñez was tagged out while they were both on the bag and Zeile subsequently abandoned the base.”
If a relatively obscure baseball rule was involved, however, there was no way Valentine was not going to a) know it and b) work it.
Once both men were called out and the Marlins ran off the field, Valentine rushed out of the dugout, arguing vehemently with the entire crew that there was no way they could both be out. The umpires huddled again, and this time they declared Zeile was entitled to go back to third because Danley told the wrong runner to leave the base. In the words of crew chief Charlie Reliford, it was Danley’s error.
Perez’s dissatisfaction returned and increased exponentially. He argued not only to no avail, but enough to get himself ejected. Valentine, meanwhile, resumed his post in the Met dugout, accurate and about to be triumphant, for once everybody got back to business, the next batter, Joe McEwing, doubled and scored Zeile for the 2-1 lead.
All courtesy of Bobby V, smartest guy in the room.
Out of confusion, only Bobby Valentine managed to remain cocksure. “Abandoned the base” became the buzzphrase of the night, followed by “comeback”. In the bottom of the ninth, with the Mets trailing 3-2, Gonzalez threw away a Mike Piazza grounder, which allowed Desi Relaford to score from second. And in the eleventh, McEwing scored from first on Tsuyoshi Shinjo’s double to win it 4-3.
No doubt that was Valentine’s idea, too.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On July 27, 1984, head-to-head pennant pressure returned to Shea, and who better to relieve pressure than the Doctor? True, this “reliever” was a starter and the doctor in question was 19 years old, but Dwight Gooden had already earned his Doctor K sobriquet in this, his rookie season…and nobody was more qualified to begin the most crucial series the Mets had played in more than a decade. The Doctor did not disappoint, as he led the first-place Mets by the second-place Cubs, 2-1, on a rollicking Friday night at Shea.
It turned out to be a high-water mark for the 1984 Mets, who moved 22 games over .500 and 4½ games up for the first and only time all season. The 51,102 who showed up anticipant and left ecstatic couldn’t have known the Mets wouldn’t keep up their blistering pace (the Cubs would win the final three games of the series and take first by early August) but they were certainly prescient if they figured they’d be seeing more and better from Doc, who struck out eight in eight innings as he raised his record to 9-6. Over the final two months of 1984, Gooden would record eight more wins and strike out 114 batters — with at least nine K’s per start in each of his final nine starts.