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” 124th game in any Mets season, the “best” 125th game in any Mets season, the “best” 126th 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 124: August 22, 2006 — METS 8 Cardinals 7
(Mets All-Time Game 124 Record: 27-21; Mets 2006 Record: 76-48)
It was a good game for fans of The Flintstones. You know: Bam! Bam! And then a few more well-chosen Bam!s, with the last of them absolutely resounding.
First Bam! Unassuming enough, but effective. It was Bam!’d by Carlos Delgado, leading off the bottom of the second versus the Cardinals’ Jeff Weaver this Tuesday night at Shea, kick-starting a three-game showdown between potential playoff opponents. A simple, elegant line drive, Delgado’s 30th homer of the season put the East-leading Mets up 1-0 over Central-leading St. Louis. Carlos D’s powerful bat had immediately transformed the Mets’ lineup into a veritable war club when it was slotted into the cleanup niche at the onset of 2006. He’s a big man on this campus, serving not just as the slugger the Mets were missing but as the relatively extroverted Carlos. His buddy, Carlos Beltran, sort of shrank from the spotlight when asked to be The Man the year before. Carlos Delgado may not have overly embraced such a role, but he didn’t quite so subtly reject it as Beltran had. However Delgado plays it, it’s a good part for him to assume. And it’s got him near a milestone, too: that shot off Weaver was the 399th home run of Delgado’s career.
Second Bam! After Aaron Miles singles and Chris Duncan doubles, John Maine is tasked with facing Albert Pujols in the fourth. Maine struck him out in their first encounter. Unfortunately, Maine commits a rookie mistake thereafter: He faces him again. This meeting results in a three-run homer that gives St. Louis a 3-1 lead.
Third Bam! Maine failed to learn his lesson. With one on and two out in the fifth (the second out executed 7-6-2 — Michael Tucker to Jose Reyes to Paul Lo Duca — to nail Ronnie Belliard at the plate), the righthander walks Miles and Duncan, which brings up Prince Albert with the bases loaded. That’s really not how or where you want to see His Royal Bam!ness, ’cause all that’ll get you is a Grand Bam! Pujols matched his earlier home run to right-center with another to left-center. And this one brought home four runs. The Mets were down 7-1. Pujols had his 39th home run of 2006 and his 13th against the Mets in 128 at-bats dating to his first series against them in April 2001. This grandest of swings lifted Albert’s lifetime average versus Mets pitching to .320. To call Albert Pujols a Met-killer would be to overlook that he put up numbers like that against everybody. But he surely didn’t do the Mets any favors.
Fourth Bam! Easy sledding for Weaver from here, right? A six-run lead and a presumably demoralized opponent. Willie Randolph removed Maine for pinch-hitter Ricky Ledee to start the home fifth. He walked and took second on a passed ball. Reyes flied to Duncan in left…but Duncan didn’t catch the darn ball, so the Mets had first and second. Lo Duca singled to right to load the bases, setting the stage for mighty Carlos Beltran to swing and…ground back to Weaver, who forced Ledee at home. But the Mets, per their one of their 2006 outdoor ads, took themselves up on their own offer. “Buy One Carlos, Get One Free.” They indeed had another Carlos, and that one who had already homered, went for a twofer. And he got it. Carlos Delgado reached that 400th home run milestone with little wait and a lot of flair: a grand slam that Bam!’d the Mets back to within two of the Cards at 7-5. Who knew it would be so easy to neutralize the worst damage Albert Pujols could inflict?
Bam!less Interlude: The Mets opted to not leave the infield as they batted in the sixth. Endy Chavez bunted his way on. Chris Woodward walked. Jose Valentin sacrificed each of them up a base. Jose Reyes placed a friendly grounder to second. The Redbirds nailed Jose at first, but Endy zipped home. The Mets were within a run, at 7-6.
Who Gives A Bam!? Not Albert Pujols in the seventh, not even with his personal tablesetters Miles and Duncan each on via one-out walks from Pedro Feliciano. Submariner Chad Bradford is called on to keep Albert below the surface and he grounds the most dangerous hitter in captivity into a 6-4-3 DP.
I Bam! I Said: Mets still down 7-6 when their last chance rolls around in the ninth. Bradford and Aaron Heilman have kept the Cards off the board (and Pujols from another plate appearance). On the mound for St. Louis is their closer, ex-Met Jason Isringhausen. The Mets have the top of the order up to get something started. Reyes starts nothing except a routine groundout. But Lo Duca, the catcher who bats second because he hits .300, singles. And that first Carlos the Mets bought? Beltran? Let’s tune into WFAN and listen to Howie Rose describe what happens the second Izzy takes him on:
“First pitch…fastball hit to deep right field! IT’S GONNA WIN THE BALLGAME! HOME RUN!”
It sounded remarkably similar on SNY, where Gary Cohen had this to say about that:
“One swing could win it for New York. He rips it to deep right! THAT BALL IS OUTTA HERE! OUTTA HERE! THE METS WIN THE BALLGAME!”
Indeed, Mets take it 8-7, or three BAM!s to two.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On August 22, 1999, one scoreboard bulb was destroyed while most of the others gleefully lit up. The literal destruction of Shea Stadium property came at the hands of Mark McGwire, whose first-inning bomb — and that’s almost not hyperbole — slammed into the scoreboard so high and with such force that it did a number on 16 LF. Big Mac’s monstrous shot, measured at 501 feet, blitzed teammate Ray Lankford’s electronic listing in the Cardinal lineup in the first inning of the first game of this Sunday doubleheader. It was a crackling blow some Mets fans couldn’t help but acknowledge with applause, even as it took out a bulb and put a crooked number up along the St. Louis half of the line score.
The Cardinals were lighting up the Shea scoreboard a little too vividly as the game moved on. McGwire added another dinger in the seventh — his 50th of the season —and ex-Met Bambi Castillo (the nickname, short for Bambino, was supposed to be ironic) connected in the eighth. By then, the Mets were trailing 6-1 and might have been looking forward to breaking even in the nightcap.
Or they might have been looking to get even right away. A double by Rey Ordoñez and one-out walks to Rickey Henderson and Edgardo Alfonzo presented a golden opportunity to John Olerud…and John Olerud cashed it in, swatting a grand slam to reduce the Mets’ deficit to 6-5. Exactly two pitches later, Mike Piazza erased the Mets’ disadvantage altogether by lining the tying home run.
Armando Benitez let all that good work go to waste in the top of the ninth, allowing the Cardinals the go-ahead run. But the Mets weren’t in the mood for self-pity. They got right up off the mat and stuck it right back to the Cardinals in the bottom of the inning. With one out, Ordoñez walked, pinch-hitter Matt Franco walked, Henderson doubled to tie the game at seven, and Alfonzo found the narrowest of holes between short and third to bring home Franco. The Mets turned out the lights on the Cardinals, 8-7.
GAME 125: August 21, 2001 — METS 5 Rockies 2
(Mets All-Time Game 125 Record: 19-29; Mets 2001 Record: 57-68)
“What have you done for us lately? would have been a fitting question this Tuesday night at Shea. Both of the co-aces of the 2000 National League Champions started, but only one, Al Leiter, was a Met anymore. The other made the mistake of seeking literally greener pastures following the last time he started a game in Queens.
It wasn’t a mistake when you consider that the $123.8-million eight-year contract Mike Hampton signed with the Colorado Rockies no doubt represented a most pleasing shade of green for him and his family. And there’s no doubting his earning potential was honed at Shea Stadium in the previous fall’s playoffs. Yet if he thought his eventually lucrative accomplishments would earn him much goodwill from those on whose behalf he accomplished them…well, maybe he needed to back to school.
Don’t worry — Mets fans didn’t mind reminding him he had opted for a place that was supposedly ideal to do just that.
Hampton was a Met summer rental whose lease extended into October. Traded from Houston prior to his free agent walk year, he gave New York a solid, occasionally spectacular regular season in 2000 and an extraordinary National League Championship Series. He threw seven scoreless innings to take Game One from St. Louis and a complete-game three-hit shutout to clinch the pennant in the NLCS finale. As Shea went predictably berserk with glee, Mike Hampton was hoisted high above the mound in celebration.
Within a year’s time, the Shea crowd would have just as soon hung him in effigy. Hampton indeed walked after his walk year, not just accepting the Rockies’ staggering terms but framing it as a lifestyle choice. Denver — Coors Field’s offensive equities notwithstanding — was simply more the pitcher’s speed when it came to choosing a year-round home for his family. In explaining how the area jibed with his small-town background better than New York did (without disparaging New York in any tangible manner), he elaborated, “This was a place I could move my family to without having to take my kid out of school every three months…personally, I like the schools, the environment, the people.”
Hampton could purchase his offspring the slickest batch of school supplies available, but it didn’t mean anybody was buying what Mike was selling. Sandy Alderson, an executive vice president for Major League Baseball, was incredulous that the curriculum taught in the Denver suburbs was that much of a difference-maker: “The spin to which that deal was subjected, I think, was just an embarrassment. I don’t want to hear about the Wheat Ridge school system.” Mets GM Steve Phillips, who put forth a seven-year, $105 million package to convince Hampton to stay, echoed the sentiment: “I think it was made clear it wasn’t about the money. Of course it’s always about the money, especially when it’s not about the money.”
The money appeared reasonably well spent by the Rockies as Hampton raced to a 9-2 start, an All-Star berth (as bestowed by Bobby Valentine) and seven home runs. Yet as 2001 went on, and Colorado failed to contend, Mike, for all his Silver Slugging, wasn’t looking like such a bargain. Then again, the team he left behind didn’t seem to be going anywhere, either. The Mets spun their wheels for more than four months, bottoming out at 54-68 until winning the last two games of their just-completed trip to California. The pitchers signed to essentially replace Hampton — Kevin Appier and Steve Trachsel — weren’t producing much. Really, he entire Zeitgeist surrounding Mike Hampton’s departure left Mets fans in a grumpy mood when he returned to Shea to take on his erstwhile teammates.
It showed. Hampton was booed as if he were Chipper Jones going into a windup. He was booed when he batted. He was subject to homemade signs brandished behind the third base dugout that read “TRAITOR” and “LOOSER” (the latter perhaps justifying his concerns over the quality of education in New York). You would not have believed this was the same man at the center of that joyous pennant-clinching less than a year earlier.
“I was surprised at it,” Leiter admitted. “As a Mets fan, I appreciate what he did to get us to the World Series. It was a personal decision, not a slight to the team or anyone in this room or the fans or the city.”
Hampton took his unseasonable greeting in stride, at least for the record: “The fans were in the game. What more can you ask as a home team? I knew what to expect. I pretty much knew what I was going to get. That’s up to them. I pitched the best I could for them last year and I’m doing the best I can for the Rockies this year.”
His best wasn’t good enough here, though. Much to the delight of the home fans, the Mets raked Hampton for four-first inning runs, with one coming in on a wild pitch and two via a Rey Ordoñez single. In the second, Hampton’s former catcher, Mike Piazza (whose honor Hampton did not strenuously defend after Roger Clemens tossed a bat shard at him in Game Two of the 2000 World Series), deposited a 463-foot “welcome back” up onto the center field camera deck.
That nobody booed. Piazza received a curtain call, as it was his 300th home run as a catcher. “It was kind of early in the game,” the Mets’ Mike said in his typical attention-deflecting way. “I didn’t want to celebrate it too early. It was flattering, definitely. The fans here have been awesome as far as the support.”
As long as you kept wearing their favorite uniform, that is. And indeed, the guys in Mets black came out ahead, 5-2, versus the guy who used to be one of them. Hampton’s troubles over six innings tickled most in attendance, which elicited more shrugging from one of the richest of the Rox: “I’m a Rockie now and I’m pretty happy about it.”
You didn’t need an extra period of study hall to figure out the 123.8 million reasons why.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On August 20, 1963, a star was born, even if it was destined to flame out almost immediately. The southpaw supernova that briefly brightened the Mets’ sky — clad in No. 41, no less — was Grover Powell, 22 and arguably the first Mets’ breakthrough pitcher. He broke through in style, all right. In his first start (following nine relief appearances), Pennsylvanian Powell held his home state Phillies scoreless for nine sublime innings at Connie Mack Stadium. Backed by two runs in the eighth and a Frank Thomas two-run dinger in the ninth, Powell came away the 4-0 winner of this Tuesday twinight opener.
After nearly two seasons of flailing and failing, maybe the Mets were finally on to something: they had a young pitcher who dazzled the opposition. Powell was an instant sensation. Between games of the doubleheader, he had each of his teammates autograph the game ball to commemorate his four-hitter. “I’m going to stick it in my front window,” he promised. Later that night, he was the apple of the Mets’ beat writers’ collective eye who at last had something positive to chronicle (never mind the Mets losing the second game). Grover even drew the attention of a most unusual reporter.
Manager Casey Stengel, perhaps giddy from the Mets having matched their entire 1962 victory total when Powell raised the team’s record to a sassy 40-85, picked up a pencil and notebook and joined the journalistic scrum. While other gentlemen of the press inquired after Grover’s nerves (he had plenty) and sought predictions regarding his next start (he’d probably get bombed, he allowed lightheartedly), Ol’ Case injected the perfect non sequitur for the interrogatory occasion:
“Wuz you born in Poland?”
It wasn’t (or wuzn’t) where Powell had come from, it was where he was going. Stengel thought the kid looked 14 (“just imagine what he’ll be like when he’s 16”) but he had just pitched one of the young Mets’ most mature games. He’d certainly done it quicker than anybody else in orange and blue. His future could only grow brighter.
Except there was no future to Grover Powell as a Met pitcher. His next start, against Pittsburgh, was derailed when a Donn Clendenon liner caught him in the face, and he didn’t win another game in 1963. Grover had adjusted his pitching motion after the injury and it not only made him less successful, it led to tendonitis in his left elbow. He injured his moneymaker in winter ball and, despite pitching professionally through 1970, never returned to the majors. Leukemia would cut him down at the age of 44.
But oh, what a night, late August, back in ’63.
GAME 126: August 24, 2005 — Mets 18 DIAMONDBACKS 4
(Mets All-Time Game 126 Record: 19-29; Mets 2005 Record: 66-60)
One minute, your big league career is through before it’s even started. The next minute, you’re setting big league records. It was some kind of span of New York — or perhaps Arizona — minutes for the emergency catcher turned slugging first baseman named Mike Jacobs.
A seven-season minor leaguer whose largest claim to low-level fame was homering to win the Cyclones’ first-ever game in Brooklyn in 2001, Jacobs was not exactly knocking on the door to the Mets’ 25-man roster in 2005, at least not until Mike Piazza absorbed a foul tip that fractured a bone in his left hand. And even then, Jacobs showed up on the Mets’ radar behind backup catchers Ramon Castro and Mike DiFelice as no more than a worst-case option on the Sunday Piazza was officially DL’d. The Mets were expecting to activate the previously injured Steve Trachsel soon thereafter, so Jacobs — who’d been honing his first base skills at Double-A all year, having drifted away from catching as his primary position — was being asked to simply be happy to be here for a spell…and only grab a chest protector if absolutely necessary.
With the Mets down 7-0 to the Nationals in the bottom of the fifth on getaway day at Shea, manager Willie Randolph threw the rookie a pinch-hitting bone. Jacobs came to the plate with two on and one out. He made the best of his cameo, blasting Esteban Loaiza’s 0-1 changeup over the right field wall to bring the Mets to within 7-3 and earn himself a curtain call from a crowd that had had nothing to cheer about all day.
“I was just trying to get a base hit, maybe an RBI or something,” the callow callup said. “But to hit the ball out of the park is an awesome feeling. I definitely floated around the bases.”
Jacobs’s reward for joining Benny Ayala (1974), Mike Fitzgerald (1983) and Kaz Matsui (2004) as the only Mets to homer their first time up in the majors? A trip back to the bushes from whence he came. And not even the Triple-A bushes. He’d gone down to Binghamton at the start of the season to recover from the torn labrum that had sidetracked his offensive progress the year before (he had been the Mets’ minor league player of the year in 2003). Freak circumstances elevated him two levels, straight past Triple-A and then to a 1.000 batting average and 4.000 slugging percentage as a New York Met for a day. Now a numbers game — the 25-man limit versus that 3-run jack — was going to send him away again.
Not so fast, said the most important Met of 2005. Pedro Martinez lobbied for Jacobs’s retention on the roster. His reasoning was as sound as his influence was tangible: The Mets were fighting to gain traction in a Wild Card race — how do you demote the only guy who did anything in an otherwise desultory loss to Washington? Thus, with Pedro on his side (and aided by a management decision that Trachsel wouldn’t be needed until week’s end), the Mets changed their minds and told Jacobs to forget about Binghamton and hop on the bus to LaGuardia.
You’re flying to Phoenix with the rest of the team.
It had to be one of the best changes of travel plans in baseball lore. On Monday night at Bank One Ballpark, Randolph inserted the 24-year-old as his starting first baseman and the Mets won. On Tuesday night, despite his having been hitless Monday, Jacobs was back at first and he began to hit in earnest, singling in the midst of a two-run third-inning rally and belting a two-run home in the fifth before walking twice. With Jacobs getting in gear, the Mets romped 14-1.
Now that Mike was comfortable, he could really enjoy Arizona. On Wednesday night, Jacobs pounded Russ Ortiz for a two-run homer in the second and a run-scoring double in the third. After walking and scoring as part of a five-run pile-on in the fifth (when the Mets would take a 13-0 lead), Jacobs capped his wondrous night in the desert by singling and scoring in the sixth, then homering off Jose Valverde in the ninth. When he touched home plate following that second trip over the wall, it gave him five runs for the game.
The Mets pasted the Diamondbacks 18-4, while Mike pasted his name into the record books by becoming the first player in major league history to rack up four home runs in his first four games. His teammates found his fevered hitting contagious; their 13 extra-base hits and 44 total bases established franchise records. The Mets scored in seven of nine innings. David Wright, like Jacobs, had two homers and four hits. Jose Reyes, like Jacobs, had four RBI.
But in the midst of this unforeseen hot streak, nobody was like Jacobs — particularly when it came to finding himself dumbfounded by such sudden, smoldering success. “I was just kind of like, ‘Wow, you know, that’s pretty tight,’” the .538 hitter from Chula Vista, Calif., pronounced. “That’s awesome.”
So, yes, after barely avoiding seemingly inevitable demotion, you could definitely say Mike Jacobs was happy to be here.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On August 21, 1962, the Mets learned the most Marvelous way to break yet another mammoth losing streak was with more Marv Throneberry, not less.
The legend of Throneberry as avatar of laughable failure in the franchise’s inaugural season is littered with everything that went wrong for his disaster of a team. Some of it was even true. Just as true, though, is that these fellows were human, and no human being likes to be laughed at…or provide anybody watching them a reason to snicker.
The Mets, however, were their own worst enemies in that regard. Their record wasn’t making up that they’d just lost their 13th consecutive game (their third losing streak of ten or more games) to start a doubleheader versus the Pirates at the Polo Grounds. They really were bad enough to have entered this Tuesday twinighter 51 games out of first place. Maybe the stress of it all got to be too much for third base coach Solly Hemus, for Solly argued a call with umpire Frank Walsh and got tossed from the nightcap for his troubles. In those days, there weren’t bench coaches and batting coaches filling the dugout, so Casey Stengel needed someone from the ranks of his players to fill in at first after he shifted first base coach Cookie Lavagetto to the third base box. His original choice was veteran Gene Woodling, but then he used Woodling to pinch-hit, so he needed somebody else to pat fannies and handle helmets.
Who else for such a delicate assignment but Marv Throneberry?
Well, why not? The Mets were a mere 65 games under .500 at the moment Stengel required a volunteer and Richie Ashburn volunteered Throneberry. The 4,184 who trekked to Coogan’s Bluff in search of a full evening’s entertainment were tickled to death. They cottoned quickly to the concept of Marv Throneberry, first base coach.
But not as much as they adored the notion of Marv Throneberry, pinch-hitting hero.
The Mets were three outs from their 14th consecutive loss when Ashburn led off the Mets’ ninth with a single to right. After Buc starter Harvey Haddix walked Joe Christopher, Pittsburgh skipper Danny Murtaugh opted to bring in relief ace Roy Face. Face fanned Charlie Neal for the first out of the bottom of the ninth, but then allowed a run-scoring single to Felix Mantilla. After Frank Thomas flied to center and the Mets were down to their last out, Casey wanted a lefty batter to face the righty Face. Thus, to pinch-hit for the righthanded Jim Hickman, he chose the people’s choice of 1962.
“We want Marvelous! We want Marvelous!” the fans cried, as remembered in The Amazing Mets by Jerry Mitchell. So Ol’ Case gave ’em what they wanted.
So did Marvelous. Throneberry blasted a three-run homer to right. The Mets won 5-4 — the same score by which Bobby Thomson’s three-run homer won the pennant for the Giants in the very same inning in the very same ballpark eleven years earlier.
Hard to decide which was the bigger miracle under Coogan’s Bluff.