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” 121st game in any Mets season, the “best” 122nd game in any Mets season, the “best” 123rd 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 121: August 21, 2004 — Mets 11 GIANTS 9 (12)
(Mets All-Time Game 121 Record: 22-26; Mets 2004 Record: 59-62)
When this Saturday afternoon contest at then SBC Park was waged and waged and waged some more, the Mets had only recently tumbled out of a surprise pennant race. In mid-July, they were one out of first. In a matter of weeks, they fluttered gently from second to fourth, double-digits away from the lead. The residual good vibes from having been pluckily competitive vanished pretty quickly. Players were going down up the middle and on the mound. Piazza, Matsui, Reyes (again) and Zambrano (new guy) all punched in on the DL. The natives of Metsopotamia were restless because of recent trades of top prospects (mainly Scott Kazmir for the injured Zambrano). Ownership seemed more clueless than usual. As the series in San Francisco proceeded to its middle — a Fox game — the Mets were a limping, losing, lame legion.
Yet on this particular Saturday, they lit a candle and averted the darkness.
Games like this one deserve a name. The Buckner Game: we know what that is. The Grand Slam Single Game. This wasn’t as momentous as those, or even the more colloquial Matt Franco or Ten-Run Inning Games. This was, though, perhaps the brightest 1/162nd of a sagging schedule. It’s best recognized for its singularity, perhaps, with multiple names.
The Sunshine Game. An appropriate Met-aphor, actually, as it is grim and wet in New York (the Yankees endure a 3+ hour rain delay in the Bronx), but brilliantly sunny in San Fran. You really notice that sort of thing. Hmmm…
The Tooth Or Consequences Game. When he was a Brave, Mets fans fantasized about the Mets knocking out their disturbingly stoic nemesis, T#m Gl@vine. It took his becoming a Met for that to become reality. Only a Met, probably only this miscast version of one, could make the approximately 10-second journey from LaGuardia to Shea into a mouthful of woe. His cab stopped short and Gl@v!ne lost teeth and gained stitches. He missed two starts. San Francisco was his attempt to see if his mouth could keep up with his left arm.
The Conflicted Loyalties Game. Ex-Met nemesis turned Met vs. beloved Met icon turned opponent. What an odd matchup for any Mets fan with even modest long-term memory. The Giant is Edgardo Alfonzo, who comes up with two on and one out in the bottom of the first and rips a ground rule double that makes the score 2-0 for his team…the Giants. 2004 Mets All-Star T#m trails. Fonzie, for the moment, rules.
The Clifford Cove Game. Cliff Floyd swings mightily. Maybe not as irresponsibly as Dave Kingman, but he does seem to approach pitches at one speed: overdrive. It’s not necessarily a terribly successful approach. But in the top of the fifth, with the game tied at three and two on, Cliff Floyd swings mightily and launches one into the bright California sky and into McCovey Cove. He becomes the seventh visiting player to get wet. Mets up 6-3. Gl@v!ne to give up two more runs, but gets through five with a lead.
The Diamond Dave Game. Fourth place is just another word for nothing left to lose. Hence, with nothing left to lose, the Mets called up David Wright, their best position player prospect, in July. They did so despite their stated resistance to touching 21-year-old diamonds in the rough until a long stretch at Triple-A and even though they already employed the relentlessly adequate Ty Wigginton to play third. But Dave’s more diamond than rough, so Wright is installed at the hot corner immediately, triggering Wiggy’s goodbye and beginning what Mets fans could only hope would become an eternity. One month into his big league career, Diamond Dave sparkles in San Francisco. He collects four hits, three of them doubles, all of them leading off an inning.
The Goodness Gracious Game. When Barry Bonds pulled into third on one his visits to various bases, Diamond Dave tells him, “I’m not trying to jump on the bandwagon, but you’re as good as advertised. What you do is amazing.” Bonds, surprisingly, does not grunt. He smiles and replies, “Thank you. Keep swinging it.” David Wright extracts a moment of graciousness from Barry Bonds. For Diamond Dave, this must be just like living in Paradise.
The Kept Swinging It Game. The Mets and Giants combine for 20 runs and 32 hits.
The Kept Grounding Out Game. The Mets grounded into six double plays. The Giants grounded into three. Too many DP records were set or tied to happily enumerate.
The First Hit Game. Jeff Keppinger is in the process of trying to make a name for himself, and maybe put a statistic or two next to it. He came over with Kris Benson in the Ty Wigginton trade — or Ty Wigginton was sent away in the Kris Benson trade. How about they were both incidental in the Jeff Keppinger trade? Keppie comes on in a seventh-inning double-switch and smacks his first big league hit in the eighth. His first at-bat was the night before. He is now a lifetime .500 hitter.
The Wilson Delgado Game. With Kaz Matsui and Jose Reyes literally falling all over themselves until they could no longer play, the Mets recalled Wilson Delgado from Norfolk. Good thing somebody recalled him because it was easy enough to completely forgot who he was. Delgado’s a journeyman infielder — the Mets are his sixth team in a nine-year career that had generated fewer than 500 at-bats and left him with a face that resembles a frequently folded road map. He became New York’s in exchange for Roger Cedeño 2.0 at the end of spring training 2004. The Mets would have taken the proverbial bag of balls for Roger Cedeño…or a utility infielder who’d been everywhere, man. Ol’ Roger is filling in for St. Louis, hitting around .300 as the Cardinals are frolicking through the N.L. Central, natch. The fourth-place Mets have Wilson Delgado playing shortstop every day. And forgettable Wilson Delgado gets three hits against the Giants.
The Cursed Resilience Game. The Mets are up 7-5 in the top of the sixth; the Giants tie it at 7 in the bottom of the sixth. The Mets are up 8-7 in the eighth; the Giants tie it at 8 in the bottom of the eighth. The Mets are up 9-8 in the tenth; the Giants tie it at 9 in the bottom in the tenth. Playing in San Francisco, it is only logical to assume this game would get tied well into infinity, proving everything George Carlin ever said about baseball true.
The Busy Bullpen Game. Neither Gl@v!ne nor San Fran starter Brett Tomko make it past five. The Mets use six relievers, the Giants six, too. There is some nifty bullpen work, including an unheard of three innings from Mets closer Braden Looper (he even bats) and an honorable frame from the justifiably reviled Mike Stanton. Twenty-year veteran John Franco is the only Met reliever not to pitch, presumably because Art Howe thought anybody who’s been pitching for 20 years must have already come into this game.
The Unlikely Source Game. Jason Phillips came out of nowhere (technically Norfolk) in 2003 and hit .300 most of the year. He was a catcher who wound up playing a credible first. He was viewed as part of a Piazza-Phillips, C-1B platoon for ’04. Thus entrusted, Phillips promptly went into the tank. He drove in a run in the Mets’ romp over the Phillies on July 7 (the game that initially, tantalizingly snuck us one out of first) and did no such thing again until August 21. Now, suddenly, Jason singles home Wright in the sixth and the tenth. Two ribbies, no waiting.
The Everybody Plays Game. The Mets use their entire bench, which with Wilson Delgado starting at short, is no great shakes to begin with. The Giants still have J.T. Snow lurking, but otherwise are already all hands on deck. Howe says later Steve Trachsel might have pinch-hit (per Carlin, baseball has no time limit: we don’t know when it’s gonna end).
The Barry Bonds Game. Oh yeah, Barry Bonds. What does arguably the greatest hitter in baseball history, however he got to be that way, do? Only just about everything. He comes to bat six times. He singles. He doubles. He doubles again. He triples. He walks. And walks again. He is on base six times. That’s an OPS of astronomical. One of his doubles just misses going out, so he doesn’t homer to add to his lifetime total of 692 of those. Actually, he drives in only one run, testament to his not coming up with men on base all that often (he does score three runs). The other thing he doesn’t get is a free pass. How is it possible that in a game that sees his team gather 15 hits and 9 walks (6 from Gl@v!ne), that Art Howe doesn’t just put arguably the greatest hitter who ever touched wood on like everybody else does? Either Howe is brave or crazy…or no open base presents itself. Still, it is breathtaking to see Barry Bonds come up six times, see Barry Bonds be pitched to six times and live to tell about it.
The Sunshine Game. Remember Ol’ Sol? He is still front and center in the 12th inning when the Mets came up and the score was tied at 9. The Fox cameras focus on the shadows around home plate. The Mets radio announcers (this is too good a game to trust to the TV yammerers) note how difficult it is to see out there. It is against this atmospheric backdrop that the Mets step into face Kevin Correia, who entered in the tenth with no discernible backup. Wright unloads a double that bounces over the centerfield wall. Vance Wilson, who had run for Jason Phillips, is hit. Trusty Wilson Delgado sacrifices them over and is safe at first. Bases loaded, nobody out, the hot Jeff Keppinger coming up. All we need is fly ball or even a well-placed grounder to take the lead. Keppie, of course, bounces one to Pedro Feliz at first, who steps on the bag and throws home in time to get Wright. The sixth double play, the deadliest twin-killing. Two outs. Now what? The last guy on the bench, Gerald Williams, another emergency Met, walks, loading the bases. Todd Zeile steps in and lifts a lazy fly ball to deep right, for the thir…HE DROPPED IT! Dustan Mohr, squinting and groping, gets to Zeile’s ball but if flicks off his glove. Wilson (Vance) and Wilson (Delgado) scamper home. Zeile, not content to be an accidental hero, gets tagged out between first and second.
The Good Fortunato Game. With Franco in post-DL mothballs, Howe brings in Bartolome Fortunato. Another throw-in. He came from Tampa Bay with Victor Zambrano. Nobody expected to see him on the big club, let alone in a save situation so soon. Due up are Ray Durham, Deivi Cruz and Marquis Grissom. If any of them gets on — and Cruz already has three hits — Barry Bonds will come up, one homer short of a cycle. Who doubts that Barry Bonds would end it or extend it? Bartolome Fortunato does, that’s who. He strikes out Durham. Cruz singles for his fourth hit, but Grissom grounds to Delgado who tosses the ball to Keppinger at second who fires it to Zeile at first. Six-four-three. GAME OVER (eat your heart out, Eric Gagne). Mets 11. Giants 9. Bonds permanently on deck.
The Sic Transit Game. Barry Bonds is pitched to in the first inning the next afternoon. He swats No. 35 on the year, No. 693 on the career. The Mets lose. They come home and get swept four by the Padres. They win one against the Dodgers, then lose their next eleven. Splashdown Cliff, Diamond Dave, Ancient Delgado, Battling Braden, Toothless T#m, Lucky Fortunato, Keppie the Keeper…who knows what the future holds for them as 2004 winds down? But they all know they played one to remember in August — even if no one much remembers it enough by September to readily identify it for the classic it was.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On August 17, 1975, what Mets fans recognized as the longtime top of their rotation slotted snugly into one single box score. Tom Seaver went 7⅓ innings this Sunday at Shea, allowing only three hits but four walks. It — and maybe his singling and scoring in the fifth — took enough of a toll on Tom Terrific that he knew he’d be best off not attempting to rack up his 14th complete game of the season despite holding a 3-0 lead five outs short of his 17th win. When manager Roy McMillan came to the mound after two Giants reached base in the eighth, “I told Roy I was just too tired,” Seaver said. “I’d rather be a smart pitcher, leaving with a 3-0 lead, than give up a couple of hits and only be leading 3-2 or something. I was honest with Gil Hodges. I was honest with Yogi Berra and I’m honest with Roy McMillan.”
McMillan, having taken over for Berra less than two weeks earlier, honestly knew he didn’t have a surefire fireman to whom to turn to protect a somewhat tenuous lead, so he went to another starter instead. Well, not just any starter, but the second-best starter in Mets history behind Seaver. He called on Jerry Koosman, lately struggling in his traditional role. “I’d lost my confidence,” Kooz admitted. “You have to be cocky to show it on the pitcher’s mound. But my mental attitude is good now, although I’ve had some bad games.” McMillan saw the reassignment as an opportunity for his tenured lefty to “get his stuff back”.
So he did. Koosman got groundouts from Von Joshua and Derrel Thomas to pull the Mets from their eighth-inning jam and then pitched a scoreless ninth to preserve the 3-0 victory that brought the team within 3½ games of first, the closest they’d been to top of the N.L. East in two months. Seaver got the win, Koosman the save — the second of his career (the first came in extra innings, in 1972) and the only one he ever recorded as a Seaver reliever. After nailing down the final out for Jon Matlack in Houston two nights later, McMillan returned Jerry to the rotation. Whatever was bothering him before wouldn’t bother him the rest of the year. Koosman went 4-2 with a 2.50 ERA over his final eight starts. But by stopping by the bullpen to close, Kooz became the third pitcher of four in Mets history to save a game and steal a base in the same season.
GAME 122: August 19, 2006 — METS 7 Rockies 4
(Mets All-Time Game 122 Record: 23-25; Mets 2006 Record: 74-48)
The ghosts of 1986 were in perfect alignment with the ongoing runaway of 2006 as Mets management saw fit to bring arguably its two most dominant teams together at Shea for one Saturday night.
It wasn’t some kind of computerized showdown played out on DiamondVision or a Fantasy Camp preunion of Mets legends and legends to be. Rather, the Mets were celebrating the 20th anniversary of their most recent world championship — and the current team honored its predecessors by going out and playing a lot like them.
Were Mets fans in 2006 absolutely aching for another 1986? The attendance of better than 55,000 indicated the enduring affection they held for their last best team, though their fervor was probably just as stoked by a chance to watch the contemporary Mets try to match the ’86ers’ ultimate destination. At a juncture when two decades earlier the Mets had built a lead of almost 20 games over the rest of the National League East, the ’06 edition was maintaining a damn fine facsimile of that bulging margin, sitting out in front of the division by 14 games. It may have been standard commemorative arithmetic that initially linked the 2006 schedule to a series of 1986-themed promotions, but the success of the 2006 team made this veritable Old Timers Night a spectacularly appropriate and festive event.
Talk about synergy like it oughta be.
Ray Knight claimed another engagement. Lee Mazzilli and Roger McDowell were coaching Met rivals. Doc Gooden was most unfortunately otherwise detained. But every other Met player who was part of the 1986 postseason showed up. They didn’t just materialize; per their pedigree, they made an entrance, high-fiving lucky fans in their midst and cementing their connection to eternity in retirement just as they had via 108 wins, a National League pennant and a World Series back when they routinely entered the field through the first base dugout.
Their throwback parade started as a trickle. Then, one by one, through sporadic raindrops and Field Level boxes, they began to pour on the nostalgia in earnest. The damp August night lit up like a Christmas tree. On Niemann! On Elster! On Teufel and HoJo and Hearn! On Wally and Lenny and Danny and Aggie! Make room for Ronnie and Bobby and El Sid, too! The affection expressed in both directions — players to fans and fans to players — was enduring and palpable.
And then out came the 2006 Mets wearing 1986-style racing stripe uniforms. They were, tailoring aside, an excellent fit.
Journeyman callup Dave Williams channeled the fill-in yeomanry of Rick Anderson on the mound. Lastings Milledge played the role of cocky rookie outfielder Kevin Mitchell to a tee. And as the Mets did 39 times in 1986, the 2006 Mets stormed from behind to capture a lead they wouldn’t surrender. Colorado, an opponent not yet born twenty summers earlier, saw a 4-0 edge dissipate in the sixth inning when the Mets took advantage of two Rockie errors and three consecutive walks to plate a half-dozen runs. In the middle of that rally, Carlos Beltran recorded his 100th RBI of 2006 — or more than any Met but one (Gary Carter) put on the board in 1986.
Milledge, who took a little grief now and then for displaying the kind of freshman flashiness that you figure would have blended right into the ’86 Met milieu, added a homer in the eighth to give himself a 3-for-3 night and create a 7-4 final. Earlier in the season, Lastings high-fived fans down the right field line after hitting his first major league home run. His spontaneous, exuberant interaction was tut-tutted to within an inch of its life, yet given the way Met alumni streamed through the stands en route to taking their bows, he might have been more comfortable as an old-timer than he was trying to shake off the modern showboat label that had been stuck on him ever since the overblown incident overwhelmed talk radio in June.
Differences in uptightness notwithstanding, no Met year after 1986 felt more like 1986 than the Met year of 2006. It may have veered off that charmed course later, but the timing of the Mets fully acknowledging, at last, their spicy and successful past seemed like more than a coincidence of the calendar. The ’86 Mets enjoyed a seven-month roll. The ’06 Mets were in the fifth month of theirs. One edition taking bows as the other was taking names was as appropriate as it gets.
Mookie. Delgado. Mex. Wright. Kid. Reyes. Straw. Lo Duca. The Rockies never stood a chance.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On August 19, 1989, as it did so often when things were going well for the club, Met pitching dictated the terms of engagement. And things were definitely going well in Metland. Bobby Ojeda, Don Aase and Randy Myers combined on a five-hitter as the Mets defeated the Dodgers at Shea, 4-1. The Saturday night special capped a stretch in which the Mets won 15 of 19 and allowed three or fewer runs in 13 of the 15 victories. Ojeda himself was 4-0 over this span, posting a stingy 1.74 ERA.
Surprisingly, the Mets were dominating from the mound while Dwight Gooden sat on the DL with a sore shoulder and with losses in three of the four games started by Gooden’s high-profile replacement, Frank Viola. Despite Viola’s Sweet Music eliciting little run support from his new teammates (the Mets totaled three runs in those three defeats), the pride of East Meadow, L.I., helped stabilize a rotation that, in turn, spun the Mets in a positive direction. They were seven games out when Viola arrived from Minnesota at the July 31 trade deadline in exchange for five presumably lesser pitchers; after Ojeda’s strong outing against L.A., they trailed first-place Chicago by only 2½ games. (Aase, alas, would blow a ninth-inning lead the next day, giving up Willie Randolph’s first home run of the year, and the Mets’ 1989 momentum stalled, sputtered and slipped away from there.)
GAME 123: September 2, 1972 — Mets 11 ASTROS 8
(Mets All-Time Game 123 Record: 25-23; Mets 1972 Record: 64-59)
If there’s a statistically verifiable outer limit for not giving up on the Mets in a single game, this Saturday night in the Astrodome proved it was eight runs. If the Mets are down nine, there is no evidence they can come back. But if they’re down eight, have faith.
It worked once.
To best understand the game that encompassed the largest comeback in New York Mets history, it may be best to consider it as two games: less a doubleheader than one game with a split personality.
The first was unappealing, unattractive and unwatchable from a Met perspective. It featured the efforts of two pitchers with little Met past and essentially no Met future. Brent Strom, 24, was making his fourth major league start, attempting to earn his first major league win. The 24-year-old lefty wasn’t getting it here. A Lee May two-run homer put him in a hole in the first and a Cesar Cedeño two-run double knocked him out in the third.
Strom was replaced by veteran southpaw Ray Sadecki who gave up only an unearned run to keep the Mets within shouting distance of the ’Stros at 5-0, but their chances were reduced to a whisper when Bob Rauch entered. Rauch was a 23-year-old rookie righty appearing in his eleventh big league game. His previous ten outings came in Met losses, and this one didn’t appear destined to be anything different — certainly not once young Bob got his hands on it. Tommy Helms doubled home a run off Rauch in the sixth and Bob Watson singled in two more in the seventh. The Mets trailed 8-0.
So much for Bob Rauch’s chance of pitching in a Met win.
On the flip side, Don Wilson was enjoying an easy night’s work for the Astros. He had scattered four hits in seven innings and erased two of those on double plays. The Mets, who had lost to the same team by the same score the night before, were a feeble-hitting bunch as the grind of injury-wracked 1972 took its toll on their once-promising season. They would finish the year with a collective league-worst .225 batting average — and it didn’t appear they had chosen the notoriously stingy Astrodome as the place to make an offensive stand.
At least not until the eighth they didn’t. That’s when the first Mets-Astros game ended and the second, more appealing one began.
To say it began innocently enough would be obvious. When you’re down 0-8, anything that isn’t a nine-run homer is fairly innocent. Thus, Duffy Dyer’s leadoff single didn’t seem likely to hurt any fly that could survive the Dome’s hermetically sealed environs. Buddy Harrelson followed with another single, the first time all night the Mets had put two baserunners on in the same inning. Still very innocent.
Rauch was due to bat next, but that wasn’t happening. Yogi Berra tabbed Dave Marshall as his pinch-hitter, and Marshall walked to load the bases with nobody out. It was technically a jam for Wilson, but how tight could it be if he was pitching with an eight-run lead?
Tommie Agee came up and lifted a fly to right, caught by Jimmy Wynn but traveling deep enough for Dyer to tag up and score and for Harrelson to move to third. Astro skipper Leo Durocher (in his post-Cubs managerial twilight) would gladly trade an out for a run at that point.
But he probably wasn’t too gladdened when the next Met, Ken Boswell, whacked Wilson’s next — and last — pitch over the fence for a three-run homer. That pulled the Mets to within 8-4 with one out. Out went Wilson and in for the ungladdened Durocher came Fred Gladding. Gladding’s mission wasn’t all that complicated: Control the Mets’ burgeoning ambitions by getting five outs without giving up another four runs.
But now the Mets had a taste for scoring and they seemed to like it enough to want more. John Milner singled. Ed Kranepool singled. Cleon Jones doubled in Milner to make it 8-5, as lead-footed Eddie hoofed it to third.
Durocher: Not gladdened. Not at all. Out went Gladding, in came Jim Ray to face Wayne Garrett, the ninth batter of the top of the eighth. Garrett singled in the two baserunners and don’t look now, but the Mets, behind 8-0 a few minutes earlier, were trailing 8-7.
This second game was pretty darn good.
Dyer batted for the second time in the inning and singled for the second time. Ray, however, straightened out at last, retiring Harrelson on a foul pop and Marshall — still technically pinch-hitting for Rauch — on a foul to right.
While the Mets take the field to try and hold the Astros at eight runs, ponder Dave Marshall’s role for a moment. He pinch-hit for the pitcher and batted once more in the same inning. It was as if the Mets right then and there invented the designated hitter rule and some American League scout saw it, liked it and reported it back to the home office. One year later, the DH was junior circuit law.
Yet before you take out your purist-loving hostilities on Mr. Marshall, a Met bench staple with the rotten timing to have arrived just after 1969 and depart just before 1973, know that what he did it in the eighth wasn’t unprecedented in Met annals — though it was and remains pretty rare.
According to Baseball Reference’s Play Index tool, Marshall was one of seven Met pinch-hitters to bat for the pitcher and come up twice in the same inning without remaining in the game thereafter for defense. The first time it happened was exactly one week earlier when the pinch-hitter was Jim Fregosi and the pitcher was human rabbit’s foot Bob Rauch. The Mets scored five against Atlanta in that inning to take the lead but lost when Sadecki gave up a three-run homer to Mike Lum.
After it happened twice in a one-week span, it wouldn’t happen again for another nine years. On May 5, 1981, Mike Cubbage joined a hopeless mission already in progress: the bottom of the ninth at Shea with the Mets trailing the Giants 9-0. Future interim manager Mike walked as the offensive replacement for Jeff Reardon with one on and one out, and nine batters later found himself up again as the potential winning run, the Mets having narrowed the gap to 9-7. Cubbage, however, flied out to end the inning and the game.
Others who were de facto designated hitters for the Mets in National League competition: Howard Johnson versus the Astros in 1985, Gregg Jefferies against the Pirates in 1991, Vance Wilson in a game with the Cardinals in 2003 and Daniel Murphy this past April in Philadelphia. HoJo and Jefferies were the only DF DHs in this bunch to help their team to victory. None of them reached base twice. Wilson made two outs but reached once on a strikeout that got away. Fregosi made two outs and didn’t reach at all. Everybody else walked once, except for Murph, whose single accounted for the only hit (and RBI) in the fourteen plate appearances in question.
Special mention is merited for Boswell in this context. He batted for Dyer leading off a ninth inning at Candlestick on May 29, 1973, and walked. Harrelson followed him with a single. Since the Mets trailed only 2-1, Berra stuck with his pitcher, Tom Seaver, to bunt. Being Tom Seaver, he not only successfully sacrificed the runners but beat out the play at first. The Mets went on to score four runs, with Ken batting in Duffy’s place a second time in the same inning. Then Seaver went out and retired the Giants 1-2-3 to win the game 5-2. So the pitcher didn’t have a designated hitter but the catcher did.
Now back to Houston, where the Mets just scored seven runs to turn an 8-0 Astro laugher into a potential Durocherian nightmare — a 1969 Cubs in miniature, you might say.
Yogi went with Jerry Koosman to keep the Mets close in the bottom of the eighth. Kooz yielded mixed results. He hit Helms to lead off the bottom of the eighth, got two outs but then allowed an infield single to Roger Metzger. With two on and so steep a mountain already scaled, Yogi didn’t want to tumble back down, so he replaced Koosman with relief ace Tug McGraw (his fourth lefty of the game). The switch worked as Tug struck out the dynamo Cedeño, a .340 batter, looking to get the Mets to the ninth still just one run down.
The Mets’ last chance began with Agee facing Jim Ray. Tommie prevailed by walking. Boswell singled, signaling the end of Ray’s night. Tom Griffin was Durocher’s choice to take on Milner. The Hammer bunted to the third baseman Doug Rader, soon to be awarded the third of an eventual five Gold Gloves for fielding prowess. But because it was just one of those evenings, Rader turned a sacrifice into an E-5. When the Dome dust settled, Agee scampered home with the tying run as Boswell raced for third and Milner for second.
Yes, tie game. 8-8. Not long ago it was 8-0. Funny game — or games — this baseball.
While Durocher’s legendary good humor was tested, he saw fit to order Griffin to walk Kranepool to load the bases. It was a desperation move that didn’t work all too well. Jones singled in Boswell and Milner and the Mets led 10-8. The only Astro solace was provided by Kranepool’s attempt to lumber into third. Eddie’s ambition backfired when Cedeño threw him out. But Jones took second, and Griffin’s wild pitch sent him to third. From there it was an easy ninety feet to trot when Garrett singled.
The Mets led 11-8. They overcame an eight-run lead and scored eleven unanswered runs. There’d be nothing else of note to put on the board from there — the Mets would leave the bases loaded after one more Durocher pitching change and Tug would mow down the Astros in the bottom of the ninth.
But what else did there have to be?
It was an anomaly, an aberration, an Amazin’ Astrodome ascent from the dead. It still is. It’s a comeback unmatched across a half-century of Met baseball, its phenomenal nature undiminished by its relative obscurity as a Met landmark. Except for a line in the media guide that is dug up when the Mets once in a great while delete a six- or seven-run deficit, it’s never discussed in detail by even knowledgeable Met broadcasters.
Why? Who knows? Maybe it’s because there was nothing otherwise heroic about the 1972 season once the continually achy Mets filmed their pilot for M*A*S*H. Maybe because there was no thundering climax in the vein of Mike Piazza’s three-run homer that capped a more concentrated comeback of proportions almost as epic in 2000. Maybe it’s because the heroes of the game all sparked more memorable drama in ’69 or ’73 or both. Marshall didn’t, but his participation here was mostly trivial (and then only because somebody bothered to detect it was anything at all).
The only other names you could attach exclusively to this particular, one-of-a-kind victory were really from the first part of it when it was a defeat.
Brent Strom and Bob Rauch never appeared in another Mets game as sensational as this one…unless you count the last Mets game in which both men appeared. They, like all the Mets, showed up on the wrong end of Expo Bill Stoneman’s 7-0 no-hitter at Jarry Park on October 2. Soon enough, Strom would be shipped to Cleveland for reliever Phil Hennigan. Brent enjoyed a couple of decent seasons in San Diego down the line before an elbow injury curtailed his major league status for good in 1977. He’d hang on in the minors until 1981, quitting pitching when he was 33. He’d transition into coaching at the minor league level, still instructing kid Cardinals to this day — and you, too, can benefit from his knowledge via the Strom Baseball Institute.
Rauch? Sent to Cleveland in the same deal. Never saw “The Show” again. Never even got a baseball card: not as a Met, not as an Indian, not as a Tucson Toro, the last uniform he wore as a player, in 1975. His professional career was over at 26.
The Mets were a 3-8 club in games Brent Strom pitched for them in 1972. When Bob Rauch took the mound, they went 3-16. Yet they were, perversely, part of the largest comeback in Mets history…an integral part.
As their manager might have said, it was their pitching made that night necessary.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On August 21, 1979, the Mets and Astros played a game that wouldn’t quite end, but not in the way the 16-inning pennant clincher in 1986 or the 24-inning 1-0 marathon at the Astrodome wouldn’t end. This Tuesday night at Shea had no problem arriving at the finish line.
It just had a dickens of a time figuring out how to cross it.
First attempt: Mets lead 5-0 in the ninth. There are two outs. Pete Falcone flies Jeffrey Leonard to center to end it. But this seemingly innocuous result is invalidated when it is realized shortstop Frank Taveras had called time to allow right fielder Dan Norman to pick up a stray ball in foul territory and third base ump Doug Harvey had granted it.
Falcone would have to pitch again.
Second attempt: Leonard uses his new life to single to left to keep Houston’s faint hopes alive. Except the Mets didn’t have nine men in the field. First baseman Ed Kranepool, having taken Lee Mazzilli’s putout from just after Taveras called time as gospel, made like a banana and split for the Mets’ clubhouse on the presumed third out. The Mets were thus playing without a first baseman. Manager Joe Torre contended Leonard’s hit shouldn’t count because the Mets weren’t fully represented between the lines. The umps agree and tell Leonard to get back to the plate and Falcone to throw again…once Krane rushes to his position from wherever it is Ed couldn’t wait to get to a minute before. Leonard flies to Joel Youngblood in left to again seal the 5-0 win for Falcone.
Not so fast there, Mets.
The Astros filed a protest, insisting it wasn’t their fault the Mets hadn’t heard about having nine men on the field at one time, therefore the swing that produced Leonard’s hit — the one he got between flying out twice — is the swing that should take precedence. N.L. President Chub Feeney agreed and declared the game was still in progress. Only hitch was by the time he ruled, everybody had pulled a Kranepool, so to speak, and had left the field. This was an hour after the game seemed to be over, so Feeney told the Mets and Astros their contest had been suspended at 5-0, top of the ninth, two outs, Leonard on first. They could pick it up Wednesday afternoon prior to the regularly scheduled series finale.
And so they did. The third attempt to end the unendable ninth was left to Wednesday starter Kevin Kobel (so much for Falcone’s complete game shutout), who grounded out the next Astro batter, Jose Cruz. Nobody called time. Nobody left the field prematurely. Despite Torre filing his own protest — “It’s a shame that the sacred rules of baseball apply to everyone but a last-place club like us” —nobody kvetched too strenuously once resolution was reached. Doug Flynn tossed to Kranepool, Cruz was called out and the Mets finally won Tuesday night’s game on Wednesday afternoon, 5-0, before succumbing, 3-1, in the actual Wednesday matinee.
Lost in the confusion among the multiple last outs was that Tuesday night marked Jane Jarvis’s final turn as Shea Stadium organist after serving sixteen seasons as Flushing’s resident Queen of Melody. Hard to believe she wasn’t brought back Wednesday for an encore performance. The only thing this singularly bizarre game was missing was a coda of Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony”.