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” 106th game in any Mets season, the “best” 107th game in any Mets season, the “best” 108th 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 106: August 4, 1966 — METS 8 Giants 6
(Mets All-Time Game 106 Record: 25-24; Mets 1966 Record: 48-58)
If you can’t beat your nemesis, at least deprive him of another win at your expense…and then beat his successor. No better advice was dispensed in 1966 and there was no better font of wisdom on the subject than the bat of Ron Swoboda.
The larger point, one supposes, is that the Mets couldn’t beat their San Francisco nemesis, Juan Marichal. And “couldn’t” is not an exaggeration when you consider from the time they were born to this, the first year they began to do anything but curl up in the fetal position of tenth place in the National League, they couldn’t do a darn thing with the man his legion of admirers called the Dominican Dandy.
And for the Dandy, pitching against the Mets was like taking candy from a toddler of a franchise.
Marichal versus the Mets, from June 3, 1962 through August 2, 1966: 16-0 in 20 appearances. All of the righty’s decisions against the runt of the expansion litter were, by definition, dandy, at least for him. Really they were closer to TKOs and than decisions. During a period when the Mets were the punching bag for many talented arms throughout the N.L., they were barely sparring partners for the Giant ace. Or if we can avail ourselves of one more boxing metaphor, no responsible governing body would have sanctioned a fight between Juan Marichal and the New York Mets.
But baseball bouts don’t necessarily boil down to what one heavyweight can do. Sometimes he’s got to have help from his corner. This rule held true even in the era of the complete game’s primacy. Marichal was a great practitioner of going the distance, completing 25 of his 36 starts in 1966, second best in the league. There was little reason for Giants manager Herman Franks to think he’d need more than one pitcher this Thursday afternoon at Shea. Marichal carried a perfect game to two outs in the sixth when Dennis Ribant, of all people, broke it up with a single. The Mets’ starter, however, barely had a chance to acclimate himself to first base, as Chuck Hiller flied to left to end the Mets’ mini-threat.
By then, San Francisco led 3-0. And by the seventh-inning stretch, their lead was 5-0, as Ribant was knocked out after giving up a double, a single and a walk, and reliever Darrell Sutherland surrendered an RBI base hit to Willie Mays. Cleon Jones’s run-scoring single in the bottom of the seventh was quickly countered when Tom Haller went deep off the next Met pitcher, Dallas Green, to lead off the eighth (Willie McCovey and Jim Ray Hart had earlier led off innings with homers).
A 6-1 deficit with six outs to go and Juan Marichal on the mound. There couldn’t have been much doubt this game was over for the Mets. Johnny Stephenson’s two-run pinch-homer and Larry Elliot’s RBI single made it close in the eighth, but once Marichal retired Jones with two on and two out, it could be assumed the Mets had had their fun for the day and Juan would be up to 17-0 in a matter of minutes.
After Jack Hamilton pitched a scoreless top of the ninth, Marichal — who posted a rare relief win in the series opener two days earlier — returned to finish what he started. Ken Boyer, however, finished him with a leadoff home run. Now it was 6-5 and Franks had no choice but to remove the Dandy and ask his bullpen to record those last three outs. His first call was to righty Lindy McDaniel, who gave up a single to Eddie Bressoud before grounding pinch-hitter Ron Hunt to short, forcing Bressoud at second. Stephenson, who had remained in the game to catch, singled, putting two on with one out.
Franks could brook no more of McDaniel and replaced him with lefty Bill Henry. Wes Westrum responded by removing Hiller and sending up righty slugger Ron Swoboda to pinch-hit. Swoboda had blasted 19 home runs as a rookie in 1965 but had slowed down as the season ended and had failed to resume his powerful pace once 1966 began. His three homers in the first half of his sophomore season were hardly emblematic of a player nicknamed Rocky, but things had been turning for Swoboda of late. Most notably, he broke a 2-2 tie in the tenth inning at Candlestick on July 20, a game the Mets went on to win, 3-2, after spending most of it losing to Marichal.
Rocky didn’t hit that home run off the Dominican Dandy, however. He hit it off Bill Henry.
Now they met again, 15 days later. Not only was the game on the line, but so was the Giants’ position near the top of the National League. If they could beat the Mets, they’d be tied for first with the Pirates and open up a four-game lead on their archrivals, the Dodgers.
But first they’d have to beat the Mets, something that seemed a foregone conclusion while Juan Marichal was pitching. Marichal was gone now, and the fate of the game was in Bill Henry’s hands.
That is before it jumped off Ron Swoboda’s bat.
Lindsey Nelson set the stage:
“So, here we are in the bottom half of the ninth inning, the Mets trailing by one run, have runners at first and second, one man out. Ron Swoboda’s batting for Chuck Hiller. Bill Henry has relieved Lindy McDaniel on the mound.
“Juan Marichal is still the pitcher of record on the winning side for the Giants — to this point. Ron Hunt the runner at second, Johnny Stephenson the runner at first. One man out.”
Henry threw the first pitch high. Swoboda swung anyway for strike one. Rocky took the second delivery for a ball.
The third, by the reckoning of the Times’s Robert Lipsyte, “was thrown with the stuff that dreams are made on.” Swoboda hit it high to left, where it soared to the left of the 371 marker…and over it.
Lindsey at the Met mic:
“Deep to left, it’s going, going, gone for a home run, the Mets win the ballgame! The Mets win the ballgame as Ron Swoboda hits a three-run homer! Ron Hunt is coming on to score! Johnny Stephenson is coming on to score! Ron Swoboda is coming on!
“For him, his eighth home run, and the Mets win the ballgame!”
Ron Swoboda came on, all right, and didn’t the visitors from the West know it? Lindy McDaniel took the loss. Bill Henry was saddled with the infamy. Juan Marichal’s dual excellent records — 17-4 on the season, 16-0 against the Mets — remained untouched, but although their ace was off the hook, the Giants were clearly knocked for a loop. They did not reach first place that Thursday, and when the year was over, they finished second, 1½ games behind L.A. Give them back those two swings Swoboda took against Henry, and the 1966 pennant quite possibly flies in San Francisco.
Not Rocky’s problem. He had no problems after clinching the 8-6 win for the Mets. The 22-year-old Maryland strongboy — “stronger than dirt” according to one Shea banner — decided this game was “just like a fairy tale. It was a storybook game. Holy cow!”
The Mets weren’t done eliciting expressions of wonderment for the year, either. “That was just one of the many thrills for the 1966 Mets,” Nelson gushed when narrating the team’s annual highlight film, “as things at Shea Stadium started to get better…and better…and better.” Coming in next-to-last and losing 95 games wouldn’t have satisfied an outfit like the Giants, but the Mets had never not finished in tenth and had never piled up fewer than 109 defeats, so yes, things were getting better…and better…and better.
And best of all, where their encounters with the Dominican Dandy was concerned, the Mets finally hung a loss on Marichal on July 4, 1967, beating him and San Francisco, 8-7, raising their record to date versus the eventual Hall of Famer to a spiffy 1-19.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On August 1, 1999, the Mets and Cubs threw everything and everybody they had at each other for thirteen Sunday afternoon innings, including a couple of arms the Mets had just come up with for throwing. Al Leiter struck out 15 Cubs over seven innings at Wrigley Field and was in line for a 3-2 win until Henry Rodriguez belted a first-pitch, leadoff homer off Armando Benitez to start the bottom of the ninth. From there it was all arms on deck, which worked reasonably well for Bobby Valentine, who had just received a pair of trading deadline reinforcements.
To protect a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the tenth (an edge engineered by Rickey Henderson), Bobby V allowed Benitez some latitude, but was rewarded with back-to-back walks of Manny Alexander and Mark Grace. His next pitcher rapidly became Billy Taylor, a veteran righty so new to the Mets that his catcher, Todd Pratt, had to meet him for the first time on the mound. The introductory conversation, per Tank, went something like this:
“What’s up dude? What do you have?”
“Sinker, slider, changeup.”
“OK, let’s go.”
With the bare minimum of familiarity ensured, Taylor — picked up from Oakland in exchange for Jason Isringhausen and Greg McMichael — took on his first official task as a New York Met: face Sammy Sosa, he of the 66 home runs in 1998, 40 so far in 1999 and two the day before off Octavio Dotel and Dennis Cook. Talk about your quick how-do-ya-do’s. But Taylor, with 26 saves in two-thirds of this season as an Athletic, was no shrinking violet, showing Sosa his credentials by grounding him to first for the second out. Valentine then ordered his new righty to walk the dangerous Glenallen Hill to set up a force at any base and told Taylor his day was done.
In came lefty Dennis Cook to take on Rodriguez, and the plan looked like a success when Cookie teased a grounder to first baseman John Olerud for the final out…except the surehanded Olerud, who anchored the most airtight defensive infield of all time, let the grounder tick off his glove for a run-scoring error to knot the game at four.
The Mets and Cubs would continue to pitch at each other. Chicago skipper Jim Riggleman used eight arms to hold the Mets in check, while Bobby deployed seven. Among them was his newest lefty, Chuck McElroy, yet another deadline transferee. McElroy fit the description of “well-traveled” as few others have; he came up with the Phillies in 1989 and went on to pitch for the Cubs, the Reds, the Angels, the White Sox and the Rockies before alighting with the Mets on July 31 after Steve Phillips sent Brian McRae and Rigo Beltran to Colorado to get him and Darryl Hamilton. Chuck’s maiden Met outing spanned the eleventh and the first two-thirds of the twelfth and it was as successful as could be: five up, five down, before Valentine removed him so Pat Mahomes could take on (and retire) Sosa to end the twelfth.
Mahomes was paid to be the Mets’ long man in 1999, but his hidden value was in his offense, a pretty good skill to hone if you want to pitch multiple innings out of the ’pen. Sure enough, it would be Pat’s bat coming to the fore in the top of the thirteenth when Mahomes singled home Roger Cedeño with the go-ahead run. The hit raised Pat’s season average to .400 and accounted for his third run batted in in ten at-bats.
“I always hit well in high school,” the reliever noted.
When he returned to the mound to preserve the lead he personally built, the first two outs came easy, but then Mahomes gave up a double to, believe it or not, the opposing pitcher, Scott Sanders. But then he struck out Jeff Reed to give the Mets a 5-4 win in thirteen, keeping the team within a half-game of the Braves for first place.
“This is a pennant race,” McElroy assessed. “And if you make a mistake, the next guy is going to come in and pick you up. That’s a good feeling. It’s how we won the game today.”
GAME 107: August 4, 1962 (2nd) — METS 3 Reds 2 (14)
(Mets All-Time Game 107 Record: 26-23; Mets 1962 Record: 28-79)
The team that was regaled for, among many other oddities, having traded an ineffectual backup catcher for himself — Harry Chiti for Harry Chiti — doubled down and attempted to clone one of its least successful players.
Well, not exactly, but it makes a better story that way, and sometimes it seems the whole point of the 1962 Mets was to produce anecdotes that could be told repeatedly for the next half-century (usually by first-hand witness Ralph Kiner).
In most of the telling, the Mets lose, which makes mathematical sense given the club’s final record of 40-120, but now and then — say, 40 times — the strangeness worked out just fine.
Need proof? Never mind Harry Chiti (technically purchased from the Indians and sent back to Cleveland after batting .195 in fifteen games). Just ask the two Bob Millers.
Surely you’ve heard of the two Bob Millers. One was the righty with the middle initial “L” who’d been with the team all season and had yet to rack up a “W”. That Bob Miller, 23 years old, was 0-7 after 23 appearances. And then there was the lefty with the same first and last names whose middle initial was “G,” spent most of the previous four seasons at Double-A and Triple-A and just wanted to go home once the Mets dealt Don Zimmer to Cincinnati to nab him, his 21.94 ERA and Cliff Cook in May. This second Bob Miller, pushing 27 and suddenly exiled from the defending National League champs, was convinced to hang in there, refresh his left arm at Syracuse and accept a callup to the bigs in due time.
Miller II, if you will (a.k.a. Lefty Miller; also a.k.a. the Bob Miller to whom Casey Stengel didn’t mysteriously refer to as “Nelson,” which is what he sometimes called Bob L. Miller), became a Met for real in late July — and really became a Met by absorbing a loss in his first appearance as a Met and pitching in nothing but losses in his first four games as a Met.
That was Bob G. Miller’s tough luck. Bob L. Miller’s tougher luck was the 0-7 record and what was befalling him in the nightcap of this Saturday doubleheader at the Polo Grounds. Righty Miller was pitching well — allowing only two runs to lefty Miller’s old team, the Reds, in seven innings — and righty Miller was, naturally, losing. His teammates felt so bad about his fate that they waited until the bottom of the eighth to tie the score on a Charlie Neal triple and a Frank Thomas sac fly. By then, Willard Hunter was the pitcher of record for the Mets. No way Miller could win.
But at least he couldn’t lose, which for a 1962 Met pitcher was a victory unto itself.
The game went on a good, long while after it was knotted. Hunter would depart in favor of Ken MacKenzie, another element of the 1962 Mets’ legend. MacKenzie became famous for earning the only winning record on that godforsaken pitching staff, going 5-4 while serving as (allegedly) the lowest-paid member of his Yale graduating class. MacKenzie’s legend was made complete by Stengel’s timeless advice that whenever he took the ball, he should look at the opposing batters and “make like they’re the Harvards.”
MacKenzie gave Stengel 4⅔ scoreless innings, but when it came to the game’s bottom line, he made like Bob L. Miller and got nothing tangible for his yeoman work, save perhaps for an encouraging “Boola Boola” from his manager.
Probably not, actually, as Ol’ Case had to figure out who would pitch after MacKenzie departed for a pinch-hitter in the thirteenth. If he was looking for “Nelson,” he was going to be disappointed, as “Nelson” — Bob L. Miller, that is — was out of the game. The next best thing, of course, would be the next Miller in line.
So Casey went that way, with the other Bob Miller. And the other Bob Miller went after his former teammates in grand style, setting down the Reds 1-2-3 in the top of the fourteenth. That made him the pitcher of record entering the bottom of the inning, which was a good thing to be, because Thomas chose that instant to clobber a Moe Drabowsky pitch for a leadoff home run, making the Mets 3-2 winners…making the Mets doubleheader sweepers, for that matter, as Roger Craig had won the opener.
For the first time all season, the winning pitcher was Bob Miller. OK, so it was a Bob Miller, specifically the relatively new Bob G. Miller rather than the long-beleaguered Bob L. Miller. Seeing as how Bob G. Miller was at least keeping it in the proverbial family, it’s doubtful Bob L. Miller minded all that much that he couldn’t be the first Miller on the 1962 Mets to notch that elusive W.
This was the first time both Bob Millers pitched in the same game. It would happen four more times in 1962, but it would never again result in a win for the Mets.
Maybe that’s why they never got around to rechristening the Polo Grounds Miller Park.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On August 1, 1997, there was a lot of not over ’til it was over happening at the Astrodome between the only two National League franchises to ever employ Yogi Berra. You might even say it got early late as the Mets and Astros kept trading leads and creating brand new ballgames as the game got on in innings.
It was a fairly sedate 1-1 affair when Lance Johnson reached Billy Wagner for the go-ahead single in the top of the eighth. But staked to a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the eighth, Greg McMichael set up nothing but disappointment for the Mets when he allowed a leadoff single to Ricky Gutierrez and a two-run homer to Craig Biggio. Decided advantage Astros, 3-2.
But for how long? Hard-throwing Wagner hung around to nail down the final three outs in the top of the ninth, but neglected to get two of them. Two singles, a passed ball and a walk brought Carl Everett to the plate and he singled in a pair of runs to give the Mets a 4-3 lead. On to the bottom of the ninth, where John Franco…oh, forget it: a walk, a sacrifice bunt, a strikeout and an errant infield throw (third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo’s) tied the game at four.
Yet another brand new ballgame, handed to yet another relief pitcher to start the tenth. For the Astros, it’s Lima Time, as Jose Lima comes in to try and keep the Mets off the board. But for the Mets, it’s rally time, as Johnson and Bernard Gilkey walk and Alex Ochoa singles to load the bases with nobody out. Lima Time ends and the Jose Cabrera era commences.
The Mets enjoy the Jose Cabrera era: Todd Hundley singles in the go-ahead run and Alfonzo makes up for his error by doubling home a pair. Jason Hardtke piles on with a sacrifice fly and the Mets take a formidable 8-4 lead to the bottom of the tenth. Their new pitcher, Cory Lidle, makes things interesting, giving up an RBI single to Bill Speiers, but not painful. The Mets come away 8-5 victors.
GAME 108: August 5, 1988 — Mets 3 PIRATES 2
(Mets All-Time Game 108 Record: 21-28; Mets 1988 Record: 65-43)
For a second consecutive weekend, an upstart band of Buccaneers attempted to board the good ship Metropolitan and make ye first-place mateys walk the plank, or at least give ground in the National League East. And for a second consecutive series opener, it was the Pittsburgh Pirates who found themselves stumbling into the drink.
The Mets and Pirates had faced off at Shea just days earlier, and the Mets’ faces were the ones beaming after taking three out of four — and that result, mind you, was achieved without one of the signature New York players of the era. For this encore four-game set at Three Rivers Stadium, this heretofore injured player was healed and ready to do battle.
And was Keith Hernandez ever ready to sink the Buccos.
Hernandez had been out most of the previous two months with a torn hamstring — one he tried to come back from too soon and thus reaggravated. Copping to a coat of rust and a case of nerves, a physically sound Mex stepped to the plate in the top of the first for his first at-bat since June 23 and — with Wally Backman on first — produced a ringing double. Darryl Strawberry followed with a sac fly to left and the Mets were up, 1-0.
Ron Darling kept the Mets ahead by that lone run until the fifth when the other first baseman in the game, Sid Bream, took him over the Three Rivers wall to knot the score at one. But on this night, only one first baseman was going to be in the spotlight, and it was the one who had been the toast of New York since becoming a Met a half-decade earlier.
This, like so many nights in the 1980s, was a night for Keith Hernandez.
In the top of the seventh, Bob Walk gave up a one-out double to Wally Backman and punched his own ticket out of the game. Jim Leyland replaced Walk with lefty specialist Dave Rucker. It was a good percentage move, considering the next batter was the lefty Hernandez.
But hadn’t Keith Hernandez made a career of foiling the Dave Ruckers of the National League?
BAM! Two-run homer for Keith, putting the Mets up 3-1. R.J. Reynolds would answer in part in the bottom of the frame with a solo homer off Darling, but when these Mets had all their pieces aligned, there was no credit for partial answers. Darling and Myers held off the Pirates from there and the Mets won, 3-2. That Pirate ship, trying so hard all summer to prove itself stout, was beginning to take on water. Pittsburgh fell five back and would sink to seven behind before salvaging the Monday night finale of the four-game series.
The Mets didn’t quite bury the Bucs at sea this weekend but they didn’t have to. They showed their closest opponents they had the heart of their order back. After the Friday night game, Keith said returning to action after being out so long made early August feel like Opening Day all over again. For the Mets and their sporadic offense, it was more than that. Finding HERNANDEZ inked into the three-hole of their lineup card…hell, it was practically Christmas morning.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On August 9, 1986, the Montreal Expos were reminded that running second to the ’86 Mets wasn’t worth very much, whether expressed in American or Canadian currency. Les ’Spos were already well out of what little race there had been when the Mets traveled north for a weekend in Quebec, but on this Saturday night, at least they could take solace that they were giving a decisive beating to the first-place Mets, leading the prospective champs, 6-1, after seven. But in 1986, even Youppi knew you didn’t count pre-hatched chickens…not when the Mets were so capable of raiding your hen house.
In the top of the eighth, the Mets put a seven-spot on the Stade Olympique scoreboard, capped by a three-run homer from Mookie Wilson. Just like that, the Mets were up, 8-6. The Expos, however, didn’t go down easily. Luis Rivera delivered a sacrifice fly and Wallace Johnson came through with an RBI triple to tie the game at eight going to the ninth.
No matter. These were the 1986 Mets.
Jeff Reardon walked former teammate Lee Mazzilli to start the inning, and the recently reupped Mazz (rescued from exile in Pittsburgh) scored the go-ahead run when ex-Expo Gary Carter grounded a two-run single up the middle. Jesse Orosco took good care of the 10-8 lead, pitching a scoreless ninth. With two-thirds of the schedule played, the Mets’ had their 73rd win and increased their margin over Montreal to…let’s say umpteen plus one.