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” 115th game in any Mets season, the “best” 116th game in any Mets season, the “best” 117th 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 115: August 12, 2000 — METS 3 Giants 2
(Mets All-Time Game 115 Record: 19-29; Mets 2000 Record: 68-47)
Benny Agbayani had given Mets fans so much since bursting onto the Shea scene in 1999. He’d given them hot streaks, clutch hits, even a wakeup call from Japan. He’d given them plenty
So what was one more item to the generous Hawaiian?
This Saturday night at Shea had started as a good night in the midst of a good month. Since returning from their traditional series of beatings at Turner Field in mid-July, the Mets had won 14 of 17, including their last three. Mike Hampton was keeping the Mets on their winning path, shutting out the Giants for the first three innings, long enough for Mike Bordick to pop his third home run since becoming a Met in a deadline deal two weeks earlier. All was well until in the fourth, when Jeff Kent doubled to lead off and Bordick’s bad throw allowed Ellis Burks to reach. A fielder’s choice grounder by Rich Aurilia moved each runner up a base, and Hampton filled the sacks when he hit J.T. Snow.
It was a bit of a jam for the lefty, but it could have been a lot worse had he not flied Met-killer Bobby Estalella to left field. It was a sacrifice fly, which would tie the game, but it was only one run and there was still plenty of game left..
But you know there wasn’t? A third out. The scoreboard knew it. The vast majority of 50,064 on hand knew it. The Giants knew it. Twenty-four of the Mets knew it.
The one Met who was caught unaware of the number of outs also happened to be the Met who caught Estalella’s fly for the second out. That was Mr. Agbayani, the Benny who never stopped to think before giving of himself.
The same Mr. Agbayani who never stopped to think before giving the ball to a fan in the stands…which you can’t do with two out and runners on base, because it allows the runners to advance two bases. Benny’s random act of kindness — he handed the ball to a seven-year-old kid sitting down the left field line — was functionally no different from overthrowing the cutoff man and landing the ball deep in Loge.
Kent had already scored on the fly. Now Burks was waved home from second and Snow was awarded third.
And the kid who thought he had been blessed by a good-hearted left fielder? Jake Burns of Bronxville was in for a surprise, because as suddenly as Benny handed him the horsehide, Agbayani — realizing the literal error of his ways — raced to the railing and poached it right back.
So Benny, in a blink, had committed an E-7; was directly responsible for a run; wore pineapple-sized egg on his face; and had acted as what seven-year-olds in less linguistically sensitive times would have called an Indian giver. (Though later in the game, Benny made sure a Met ballboy brought the boy a replacement for what he was compelled to repossess.)
“I looked at the scoreboard and I guess I saw the strike count instead of the outs,” was Benny’s explanation. In case he looked at the run count, the Giants now had more than the Mets.
Benny Agbayani was not having a very good top of the fourth. Or bottom of the fifth, for that matter; he struck out with the bases loaded to end that frame. But teammates pick teammates up. Hampton struck out Shawn Estes to end the San Francisco fourth, and Todd Zeile doubled home two runs in the seventh to give the Mets a 3-2 win that took the edge off Agbayani’s embarrassment. And on another Saturday night, less than two months later, Benny would bat against the Giants with the score tied in extra innings and all would be forgiven. Once he beat Aaron Fultz with a home run in Game Three of the 2000 NLDS, Benny’s Boner became just another delightful chapter in one of the Mets’ most lovable legends.
As for young Jake’s cameo in The Benny Agbayani Story, the seven-year-old, who at the moment the left fielder plucked the ball from his hand appeared stunned, was philosophical afterwards:
“It was weird.”
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On August 13, 2010, the best story the Mets had come up with in years came close to rewriting franchise lore — and no one was better suited to find the words to describe nearly the first no-hitter in New York Mets history than R.A. Dickey.
The knuckleballer who emerged from as close to nowhere as any 35-year-old veteran could surprised Mets fans with both his pitching and his postgame quotes. A more eloquent player no one could recall. And a better knuckler the Mets had never seen coming from one of their own. Dickey was on top of his game this Friday night at Citi Field, dueling Cole Hamels 0-0 through five.
The Mets’ best chance to score was done in by the same video review system that had treated the Mets well in the recent past. Journeyman first baseman Mike Hessman, a lumbering slugger with more minor league home runs than anybody active, made a bid for his second big league blast of the year and seemed to have it in the bottom of the fifth. But after calling his high fly to the top of the enormous left field wall a home run, the umpires conferred and re-ruled Hessman’s shot a triple — an extra base hit that Mike was not running nearly hard enough to attain. The decision to split the baby, as it were, didn’t help the Mets, as Hessman remained stranded on third (and Hessman stayed stuck for the rest of his brief Met career on 1 HR, a minimally powerful distinction he shares with an eclectic group of Met position players that includes Jimmy Piersall, Rod Gaspar, Tim Foli, Frank Taveras, Tom Paciorek, Brett Butler and Alex Cora).
The dramatic focus returned to Dickey who was making the most of it after five-and-a-third innings. He had allowed only one Phillie to reach bases, and that was via a walk to ex-Met Wilson Valdez. Thus, R.A. was nearing no-hitter territory — or no-hitter watch territory, a space some Mets fans approach as soon as the other team’s leadoff hitter is retired. As inevitably happens to Met hurlers, Dickey did not reach the unreachable star. As had happened three times before in Met one-hitters, it was the opposing pitcher who broke up the no-hit attempt. Hamels was the batter who besmirched R.A. bottom line with a one-out single to right in the fifth. Had Jeff Francoeur been playing a little more shallow, he might have had a chance to nail Cole at first…and the names of successful hitting pitchers Chin Hui-Tsao, John Curtis and pre-Met Ray Sadecki could have remained in trivial mothballs.
But “if” is a word attached to many a would-be Met no-hitter.
Jimmy Rollins forced Hamels at second and no other Phillie got on all night. In the sixth, David Wright and Carlos Beltran paired doubles and gave Dickey all the offense he would need. When he flied Placido Polanco to right in the ninth, Dickey could claim the 35th one-hitter in Mets history, 1-0, one that saw Hamels valiantly go the distance, too, albeit in a losing cause.
All that was left after the 2:09 masterpiece was for the master craftsman to put his work in perspective:
“There’s definitely no woulda-shoulda. There’s, ‘Aw shucks, I wish that wouldn’t have happened.’ That’s probably the most satisfying thing about this night for me is that there’s no regret. I had an outing without regret, and you rarely can say that about an outing. There’s always one pitch that you didn’t execute right, or a sinker you didn’t get or a ball you left over the plate that got raked in the gap. There’s always a regret. This game is about how to handle regret, it really is. Tonight, man, I could have pitched into the wee hours.”
Imagine what he might have said had Francoeur thrown out Hamels.
GAME 116: August 14, 1979 — Mets 18 BRAVES 5
(Mets All-Time Game 116 Record: 18-30; Mets 1979 Record: 49-66)
It was a good night to be Lee Mazzilli. It wasn’t much of a night to be Dock Ellis. It wasn’t much of year to be the New York Mets, but then what does it say about the kind of evening the Atlanta Braves were enduring when their opposite numbers in the National League’s other cellar hung so many crooked numbers on them?
When the Atlanta Rhythm Section sang in the 1970s that “babies squawled as August crawled” and that “the dog days were scorchers — Southern torture” they may very well have had Fulton County Stadium in mind, particularly days that ended with two basement cousins, the sixth-place Braves and the sixth-place Mets, duking it out before 5,770 souls for whom a nice cool movie theater apparently wasn’t appealing. These were the dog days when Atlanta and New York combined to sit 41 games out of their respective firsts and when managers Bobby Cox and Joe Torre were not yet geniuses, just apprentices learning their craft in the least appealing jobs imaginable.
Torre’s job was more appealing than Cox’s on this Tuesday night. Mazzilli as much as any Met saw to that. Lee had been the best part of 1979 for every Mets fan, from his sizzling start (leading the league with a .462 average two weeks into the season) to his All-Star turn (a game-tying pinch-homer in the eighth, a game-winning RBI walk in the ninth — off Yankee Ron Guidry, no less) to his pinup style, form and good looks (inspiring the Mets to hold Lee Mazzilli Poster Day for which their glamorous centerfielder posed capless). The Mets didn’t cause much of a stir in ’79, but Mazz sparkled, no matter how big or small the stage, no matter how packed or empty the house.
He did it at Shea, where the Mets drew only 788,905 all season, so Fulton County (769,465) was no empty challenge in that regard.
In the first inning, in front of whoever cared to watch, Mazzilli struck a two-run homer to stake Ellis to an early 2-0 lead.
In the second, after a three-run double from Alex Treviño extended the Mets’ margin to 5-0, Mazz’s fielder’s choice grounder to first baseman Dale Murphy became an E-3 and led to Treviño scoring. And two batters later, when Ed Kranepool doubled, Mazzilli came around to make it 7-0.
Ellis gave up two solo homers in the Brave second, but the Mets got the runs back, with Lee playing part yet again: he had walked behind Frank Taveras (double) and Treviño single) and all three scored when right fielder Gary Matthews couldn’t deal cleanly with Richie Hebner’s single.
The Braves were down 10-2 in the middle of the third, and it should’ve been easy cruising from there for Ellis, acquired from Texas in mid-June for Mike Bruhert and Bob Myrick. But it wasn’t Dock’s night. He gave up a three-run homer to Bob Horner, cutting the Mets’ lead to 10-5 with two outs. After Murphy reached on Doug Flynn’s error, Torre was sufficiently unnerved and removed Ellis (in what turned out to be the final season of a twelve-year career) in favor of Andy Hassler, the other veteran pitcher the last-place club imported at the trading deadline. Hassler got out of the inning with no further Braves scoring.
But the Mets weren’t done. They put up two in the fourth without Mazzilli’s help, then another one in the fifth that Mazzilli made possible by tripling and scoring on Jose Cardenal’s single. The Mets led 13-5 after five and had tallied in every inning so far. Finally, they slowed down for a couple of innings, but took an emphatic curtain call in the eighth by scoring five more times. The last of the Met runs that crossed home plate — accounting for the 18-5 final — was carried by a young man from Brooklyn in an unusually tight gray polyester uniform.
By then, home plate was as familiar as the old neighborhood in Sheepshead Bay. Mazzilli scored five runs, tying the team record set a year earlier, also against Atlanta, by Lenny Randle. The 18 runs, meanwhile, represented the third-most ever scored by the Mets in one game to that point, and the most since they put 20 on the board in the same stadium versus the same team eight years earlier.
The Mets sure had some big nights against the Atlanta Braves in the 1970s. What a pity they couldn’t lure them into the same division and play them more often.
Or maybe not.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On August 14, 1993, the Mets weren’t going anywhere as a team — unless you count “down” — so youngsters with a pulse and some promise were welcome to make an impression. One Met with a long tenure ahead of him was granted his first opportunity to impress, while another Met who was just getting the hang of his craft inadvertently chose this Saturday night in Philadelphia to peak.
Different directions awaited starting pitcher Bobby Jones and starting shortstop Tim Bogar. Jones was being injected into the Mets’ rotation along with some high hopes. The 23-year-old righty was chosen in the supplemental phase of the first round of the 1991 amateur draft, compensation for losing Darryl Strawberry the offseason before. If that wasn’t pedigree pressure enough, Jones hailed from the city of Fresno, Calif., known by every sentient Mets fan as the hometown of one George Thomas Seaver.
Compensate for Darryl? Pitch like Tom? It was a lot to ask right out of the box, but Bobby showed he had something on the ball, going six in his first outing and surrendering only one earned run…though five in toto, thanks to miscues by Jeromy Burnitz in right and Bobby Bonilla (two) at third. But Bogar, a rookie infielder being given every chance to win the starting shortstop job, provided Jones with plenty of margin for Met errors by punching a pair of doubles, a three-run homer and, to top it off, an inside-the-park home run to account for the final run of a rare 9-5 Mets win.
Unfortunately, Bogar’s punctuation came back to put a period on the end of his 1993 season. By sliding into home headfirst, he tore ligaments in his left hand and was out for the rest of the year. While Jones became a Met pitching mainstay through 2000, Bogar was relegated to the bench when he returned in 1994 and spent the following three seasons pulling fill-in duty until he was traded to Milwaukee for Luis Lopez.
GAME 117: August 17, 1969 (2nd) — METS 3 Padres 2
(Mets All-Time Game 117 Record: 15-33; Mets 1969 Record: 66-51)
Some 84 miles north of Flushing, 3 Days of Peace & Music had been promised. At Shea Stadium, the draw was 4 Games of Pitching & Triumph. Both festivals delivered memorably.
The big story in New York this third weekend in August was taking place on Max Yasgur’s farm in upstate Bethel: the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, arguably the most extraordinary pop culture event ever staged. It began on Friday night and wound through mud, storm and traffic to Monday morning. By Sunday afternoon, 400,000 would be Age-of-Aquarians were encamped to listen to, among others, Joe Cocker, Country Joe and the Fish, Ten Years After and the Band.
Down in Flushing, the performers of note were Tom Seaver, Jim McAndrew, Jerry Koosman and Don Cardwell, and they were on the brink of creating a legend that, like Woodstock’s, would extend well into the 21st century. Just as there was nothing like Woodstock before Woodstock, the 1969 Mets as they were about to be understood were truly taking shape at the very same time.
The Mets of 1969 were already the best Mets team ever but by the middle of August, few were the hints that they were destined for transcendence. Since jarring the Cubs by taking four of six in two July series, the Mets had gone a very mortal 11-14, including six losses in six tries against Houston. Their young pitchers’ arms ached, their heads-up play diminished (as evidenced by Gil Hodges’s removal of Cleon Jones for not hustling after a ball in left field against the Astros) and their distance from first place lengthened. Heading into Woodstock weekend, the Mets had slipped into third place behind St. Louis and trailed Chicago by a daunting margin of 9½ games. On top of it all, the same rains that softened the ground at Yasgur’s Farm forced a postponement of the Mets’ Friday night opener versus the Padres. Thus, while the music played upstate (and the festival grew so memorably festive), the Mets would have to get in tune with back-to-back doubleheaders.
The concert got underway with more than a few hitches, but it fast took on a life of its own. The local Times Herald-Record headlined the affair a buffet of FREEDOM, POT, SKINNY-DIPPING, and that was after only the first night. As word from Woodstock reached the five boroughs, the tarp was being rolled up at Shea for Saturday’s twinbill. While Country Joe fired up the masses in Bethel, the Mets were fixin’ to sweep San Diego. Seaver fired a four-hit shutout in the opener, McAndrew and Tug McGraw combined on a four-hitter in the nightcap. The Mets won 2-0 and 2-1.
Sunday, while everybody at Woodstock was recovering from the Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Sly & the Family Stone, the Who, the Jefferson Airplane all in a row — not to mention everything else (HIPPIES MIRED IN A SEA OF MUD, the Daily News blared) — the team that played a few IRT stops from Woodside prepared for their second consecutive doubleheader. Even better at this moment of unprecedented enthusiasm for free expression, it was Banner Day. After the opener, won 3-2 on a Jerry Koosman five-hitter, bedsheets unfurled in Flushing, a good 3,612 of them. The winning entry celebrated “One Small Step for Hodges, One Giant Leap for Met-kind,” reminding the 35,711 who skipped Woodstock that there was plenty going on among all worlds that summer.
The Mets, no squares, trotted out after the last of the fan banners breezed by with their annual placards of appreciation, spelling out for the fans that “You Turn Us On!”
So as not to disappoint those grooving on the Mets, the Amazins served notice they would not be dropping out of the pennant race anytime soon. Thirty-three year-old Don Cardwell, clearly not of the peace & love generation (he once grabbed Ron Swoboda’s love beads on a team flight and stuffed them in the trash; talk about a bad trip), spread good vibes nonetheless, giving up no runs while scattering eight hits over seven innings to hang tough in a scoreless duel with Clay Kirby. Cardwell finally received a little help from his friends once Buddy Harrelson tripled in two runs in the bottom of the seventh, and J.C. Martin, pinch-hitting for the pitcher, tacked on a sac fly. Though the Padres would manage a pair of runs off Cal Koonce and Ron Taylor, the Mets hung on to sweep their second doubleheader in two days with another 3-2 win, Cardwell’s first since the Fourth of July.
If it wasn’t exactly the “breakfast in bed for 400,000” Wavy Gravy and his Please Force were passing around, it was revelation enough for the crowd in Queens to chew on. The Mets who had stumbled through late July and early August were straightening up and about to fly right. By the time Jimi Hendrix was reinventing “The Star-Spangled Banner” early Monday morning in Bethel, the Mets had taken themselves higher in the N.L. East, flying over the Cardinals and edging to within eight games of the Cubs. Soon enough, they’d put the weight of a full-blown pennant race on Chicago — that four-game winning streak mounted at the expense of the Padres was on the verge of becoming a movement of Woodstock Nation proportions, at least in the standings.
And soon enough after that, an AP story would be written that described a pennant-clinching scene 84 miles south of Bethel:
Several hundred youngsters clustered in front of the Met dugout shouting “We’re No. 1” and gesturing with their fists in the air. A special corps of policemen kept the frantic fans out of the dugout as torn paper spewed down from the stands and a mini “Woodstock Pop Festival” set in on the infield.
Or as the Who put it between those doubleheader sweeps, “On the amazing journey, together you’ll ride.”
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On August 20, 1985, a 20-year-old pitcher on the verge of his 20th win turned back the clock. Dwight Gooden was winning game after game, retiring batter after batter, yet the unbeatable Doctor K didn’t seem to be inspiring quite as many K’s to be hung from Shea Stadium’s K Korner as he was when he was a rookie just the year before. In 1984, Doc struck out 10 or more opponents at Shea on nine different occasions. Yet “only” three times to date in the 1985 season had the Doctor reached double-digits in strikeouts at home, the most coming when he fanned 13 Phillies in May. There was nothing wrong with him getting to 18-3 in slightly less spectacular fashion than expected — and it was all right that he saved some of his more prodigious strikeout nights for the road — but wouldn’t it be nice if the Doc of ’85 could strike ’em out at Shea the way he struck ’em out at Shea in ’84?
For one Tuesday night, the Doctor kept the K Korner very busy. Beginning with the final out of the top of the first — Joel Youngblood — and running through the second out of the top of the seventh — Ron Roenicke — Gooden was on a potential record pace. He had accumulated 14 strikeouts with seven outs to go. The 31,758 who gathered at Shea could sense history in the making. They knew Tom Seaver shared the all-time record for most K’s in a nine-inning game with 19. If they were going to allow anybody to break it, Gooden would be the one.
How much did they want the kid to get the record? So much so that when Dan Gladden sent a routine pop fly wide of first, not a few booed when Keith Hernandez opted to catch it instead of dropping it to allow the at-bat to continue. Mex’s insistence on fielding his position cost Doc a strikeout — what nerve!
If the Doctor was disappointed, he hid it well, shutting down the Giants the rest of the way for a 3-0 victory while settling for a “mere” 16 strikeouts. He was now one win shy of twenty and presenting convincing evidence that if he felt like it, he could challenge a big-time record anytime he wanted.
Nobody would have guessed as his 1985 kept elevating into a season like no other that Dwight Gooden would never strike out as many as 16 in one game again.