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” 127th game in any Mets season, the “best” 128th game in any Mets season, the “best” 129th 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 127: August 27, 1986 — Mets 6 PADRES 5 (11)
(Mets All-Time Game 127 Record: 21-27; Mets 1986 Record: 85-42)
A temptation exists where the 1986 Mets are concerned — and it existed in real time, too — to accept their exploits as par for the course of its day, considering all of 1986 was their day. A Newsday back page headline from that June may have best expressed how their excellence became their norm:
Ho-Hum, Another Win
Nice problem to have, of course. The same paper actually ran a story as that summer wound down suggesting this year here, 1986, just isn’t as much fun as last year, 1985, when the Mets and Cardinals were locked in a daily struggle for N.L. East supremacy and every game was tinged with overtones of baseball life and death. Several Mets players agreed that, yeah, maybe it was a little more exciting then.
Yet it wasn’t like two of every three games the 1986 Mets played were necessarily predestined to become Met victories. It only felt that way.
For example, how could the Mets lose a game they led all night at the end of a trip when they were winning day in and day out? Didn’t seem possible. Still, the unthinkable almost came to pass…at least until the 1986 Mets came up with an almost unfathomable way — even for them — to prevent their version of calamity.
The smoothest of sailing was in progress at Jack Murphy Stadium this Wednesday night as the Mets appeared a dead, solid lock to finish their West Coast swing at 8-1. Darryl Strawberry knocked in two runs in the first with a single and another pair on a two-run homer off Eddie Whitson in the third, and the Mets led 5-0. Padre right fielder Tony Gwynn spiced up the proceedings by cutting down three Met baserunners in the first five innings, but Doc Gooden was sharp all evening, giving up just one run across seven before being removed for a pinch-hitter in the eighth with a 5-1 lead.
But what appeared to be an easy win fell into severe doubt thanks to neither Roger McDowell nor Jesse Orosco having it (and Wally Backman making an error). The Padres tied it at five in the eighth and it stayed tie into the eleventh. That’s when the Mets struck back versus Goose Gossage, via singles by Lenny Dykstra and Backman (Wally racing from first to third) and a Keith Hernandez sacrifice fly.
By necessity, the 6-5 lead would have to be handed to Doug Sisk, a distant third option in Davey Johnson’s 1986 bullpen. And true to every Mets fan’s deepest anxiety, Sisk gave up a leadoff double to Garry Templeton. Craig Lefferts struck out, but Tim Flannery lashed a single to center, quite possibly enough to tie the game and position the Padres for a win.
Or maybe such an eventuality was an impossibility for San Diego against these Mets.
Tim McCarver, on Channel 9, confirmed it most definitely wasn’t the home team’s night:
“Templeton’s comin’ around to score, Flannery to second. Out at home! He’s out at home!
“The throw to third — out at third, the Mets win it, six to five! What a double play! Just your routine double play!”
Indeed, routine for the ’86 Mets, who could hand back a five-run lead, have three runners erased by the opposing right fielder and lean on their shakiest reliever…yet still win. Because in 1986, the Mets rarely lost.
Many moving parts had to click to end the game to their satisfaction, but the Mets were nothing if not in sync. Dykstra charged Flannery’s ball expertly and came up firing. John Gibbons was bowled over at the plate but hung on to the ball. In the instant he presented evidence that he didn’t lose his grip to umpire Paul Runge, Sisk emerged — positioned as a pitcher should be — to point Gary Carter’s injury fill-in toward third base. Doug saw Flannery flying around second and kept his catcher in the loop. Gibbons threw to Howard Johnson and Flannery was a fried Friar. With Bob Engel’s out call made, the Mets came together to celebrate yet another way they found to win. Dykstra’s high-fives were delivered with the same vigor as his rocket to Gibbons.
McCarver approved heartily of what he had witnessed:
“Your basic Eight-Two-Five double play.”
By beating the Padres 6-5, the Mets maintained their 20-game lead over Philadelphia while decreasing their Magic Number to 16. In other words, they continued to soar. Or as Timmy put it in his postgame coda, “We’ve got a plane to catch — oh baby!”
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On August 30, 1992, the Mets held Nostalgia Night at Shea Stadium, wearing 1962-style uniforms to honor the team’s 30th anniversary. Fortunately for them, the player who served as their lightning rod throughout the current season enjoyed a throwback of his own.
Bobby Bonilla had worked hard to give off the impression he was born to be a New York Met. Entering this world between the 1962 and 1963 seasons, the Bronx native made sure, when he was still a Pirate superstar and just before filing for free agentry, to let the likes of Ralph Kiner know how much he rooted for the Mets as a kid, dropping names like Lenny Randle and Willie Montañez into the conversation to enhance his bona fides. Naturally, if the Mets (coming off a lackluster 1991) were looking to hire a happy, go-lucky Mets fan with a recent track record of offensive success, why, shucks, Bobby Bo would be more than happy to listen.
The Mets made an offer of $29 million for five years (a record high at the time) and Bonilla accepted. It was win-win in the glow of December 1991: the Mets, coming off their worst season in eight, boldly secured the services of the prime free agent bat on the market, while Bonilla, hometown boy, promised the smile on his face would remain constant.
That was December. All of it (save for the sum owed Bo) was a distant memory by August. Bonilla hadn’t lived up to his reputation in any tangible way. He didn’t hit like he had as a Pirate. He didn’t grin like he had as a newly minted Met. The Mets didn’t win very often. It wasn’t all Bonilla’s fault — the whole highly paid roster disappointed in 1992 — but Bobby was definitely out front: leading a team media boycott when several Mets sweated out rape allegations in Spring Training; phoning the press box during a game after a bad Met inning to complain about being charged with an error in right field; tuning out the disapproving crowd with ear plugs while playing his position; and, mostly, collecting all that money while not earning it by dint of superstar play.
Nobody was smiling around Shea by late summer, but come one Sunday night against the Reds, turning back the clock seemed to do the cheerful trick.
The Mets celebrated their thirtieth anniversary by donning authentic throwbacks: dark blue caps, jerseys with no numbers on the front or names on the back, vintage stirrups — the whole 1962 bit. And to make things that much more retro, the visiting Cincinnati Reds joined in the fashion fun, reviving their early-’60s gear, most notably their sleeveless, gray uniform vests of yore.
Clothes didn’t necessarily make the Mets for eight innings. After three singles in the bottom of the first built them a 1-0 lead, they turned helpless against Cincy starter Tim Belcher, their unsung tormentor from the 1988 NLCS. The ex-Dodger retired 23 consecutive Mets after Eddie Murray drove in that sole run in the first. Sid Fernandez countered with eight strikeouts in 7⅓ innings, but he would have had to have been flawless to have kept up with Belcher. He wasn’t. Glenn Braggs reached Sid for a two-run double in the fourth and an RBI single in the sixth, leaving the Mets trailing, 3-1.
Belcher was unstoppable through eight. The only thing that could get in his way would be his removal. Lou Piniella did the Mets the biggest favor possible when he took out his starter after he had been so perfect for so long. Then again, the Reds’ manager called on Rob Dibble to replace him…big, hulking, scary, hardballing Rob Dibble, his biceps practically bursting through the red shirt under that vest.
Some favor. But it was better than Belcher.
The erstwhile Nasty Boy struck out Darryl Boston to begin the Mets’ ninth, the 24th consecutive out made my Mets batters. Finally, there was the slightest of breakthroughs, as Chris Donnels coaxed a 3-2 walk out of Dibble. But Dibble rebounded and struck out the recently acquired Jeff Kent. Murray, however, walked on four pitches. As Bill Pecota replaced Eddie on the basepaths, Bonilla — 0-for-3 against Belcher — stepped up to keep the rally going.
He didn’t do that. He ended the rally with one swing. Bonilla crushed Dibble’s very first delivery deep over the right field wall to give the Mets a tables-turning, frown-upside-down three-run home run and a 4-3 win. Suddenly, nobody looked better in 1962 Met blue than Bobby Bo.
“It’s a tremendous feeling,” the right fielder who was in one of his more talkative moods told reporters. “This is the kind of game that makes memories.”
It certainly manufactured one particularly indelible image for ESPN viewers that Sunday night, and it came not from the batter’s box, but from the pitcher’s mound. Dibble’s trademark wasn’t just his hundred mile-per-hour heat; it was his hot temper…and it was on full prime time display. Just after Bonilla blasted his homer and took off around the bases, Dibble simply took off his 1962 vest, flung it to the grass and left it there for Reds coaches, Mets groundskeepers or stray cats to have their way with.
Unlike the victorious, magnanimous Bonilla, Dibble didn’t have anything to add to the climactic scene from the ninth inning. “You saw what happened,” the irritable relief ace groused. “I have nothing else to say.”
How nice, for one night in 1992, to have the snarling emanate from somebody else’s clubhouse.
GAME 128: August 30, 1969 — Mets 3 GIANTS 2 (10)
(Mets All-Time Game 128 Record: 33-15; Mets 1969 Record: 75-53)
You don’t get out of the tangles the Mets found themselves in this Saturday afternoon at Candlestick Park. You just don’t.
But the Mets did. That’ll happen, apparently, when it’s 1969.
Here’s how the bottom of the eighth of this 2-2 game ended and how it stayed 2-2, per Retrosheet:
[Ken] Boswell caught popup and threw toward home, but [Ken] Henderson was retreating to third. Throw hit first base coach [Wes] Westrum and [Donn] Clendenon retrieved it to throw out Henderson who crashed into catcher [Jerry] Grote.
You got that?
Ken Henderson (future Met) was on third as a pinch-runner and go-ahead run with one out. Jim Davenport hit a popup behind second. Boswell caught it in the outfield. His throw home was not a good one — it indeed hit Westrum, former manager of the Mets, then coaching first base for San Fran. Henderson was scurrying back to third at that instant. Seeing Wes inadvertently get in the way of the play, Ken reversed his scurry and dashed for home. But Clendenon saw what was going on, picked up the ball and threw it to Grote to complete a sudden 4-3-8 double play.
You ain’t seen nothing yet, however, because you ain’t seen the bottom of the ninth, when it was still 2-2, with one out:
Big shift against [Willie] McCovey who sliced double down left field line. Grote waited casually at plate, pretending no throw was coming, then lunged at last moment to tag [Bob] Burda. Grote rolled the ball to the mound, thinking there were 3 outs. Clendenon retrieved ball and threw to [Bobby] Pfeil for out.
Where to start?
Let’s see…Gil Hodges had put a modified version of his McCovey shift into effect. Ol’ Stretch crossed it up and hit it the other way.
As Gaspar chased the ball down (he had just been inserted for defense in the eighth; Art Shamsky got the start that day), Bob Burda, who had been on first, decided to try to score.
Gaspar heaved to Grote.
Grote pulled the DEAD MAN play, acting as if absolutely nothing of interest was taking shape. But the throw came, allowing him to tag the surprised Burda for the second out of the inning.
It was such a supreme moment of deception that Grote stayed in character, and continued to portray a clueless catcher. In other words, he casually rolled the ball to the mound because forgot that THERE WERE ONLY TWO OUT.
Dead man, indeed.
McCovey saw this incredible faux pas unfold and, from second, started steaming toward third. It was Clendenon to the rescue again. Donn grabbed the ball and threw it to third baseman Bobby Pfeil who tagged McCovey for…the…uh…7-2-3-5 double play.
Then Clendenon homered in the top of the tenth off starter Gaylord Perry. And, in the bottom of the tenth, with two out, Swoboda lost Bobby Etheridge’s fly ball in the sun…but found it at the last second so the Mets could hold on to win, 3-2. They snapped the Giants’ nine-game winning streak and, presumably, broke their spirit (San Francisco was in an N.L. West dogfight, and their divisional lead has just been reduced to one game).
As for the Mets…well, geez, they’re the 1969 Mets for a reason.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On August 21, 1998, the biggest show in baseball came to Shea Stadium, and the Mets were not content to serve as spectators. For four games in two days, though, it felt the Mets were barely a sideshow attraction at the circus that surrounded Mark McGwire as he brought his quest for the single-season home run record to Shea Stadium. Big Mac was drawing big crowds and attention every bit as massive as his forearms wherever he went in the summer of ’98. Yet when he hit Queens, it was an even more enhanced deal because he was on the immediate verge of 50 home runs.
Mark reached his provisional milestone in the opener of the first of two consecutive twinight doubleheaders when he took Willie Blair deep. Then he made it 51 with plenty of time to go between it and Roger Maris’s 61 when he homered off Rick Reed in the nightcap. The Mets won that second game to earn a split, but it seemed scoreboard results were just background noise. Everything was a matter of McGwire.
The hype carried over into Friday’s doubleheader, even though Big Mac didn’t start the opener. It was enough for the near-sellout crowd to gawk when Mark pinch-hit and doubled to extend a Cardinal lead that became a Cardinal win. It was a warmup for the finale, when McGwire would be back in the lineup.
There’d be some homering then, all right, but it wouldn’t have anything to do with Mark McGwire.
The Mets’ second batter, Edgardo Alfonzo, took St. Louis starter Manny Aybar over the left field wall in the first inning of the second game. Mets fans with an eye on the Wild Card race applauded heartily. Ticketholders on hand to bask in the glow of a national phenomenon were still licking their wounds over McGwire doing no more than walking in the top of the inning.
Fonzie, Aybar and everybody else would soon have to take a back seat to McGwire and a Mets pitcher with a much lower profile, Armando Reynoso. Reynoso returned from a long disabled list stint in July and gave the Mets nothing but wins since. Now he was giving the unconflicted Met portion of the 52,000 on hand at Shea something to savor besides: Armando Reynoso took the Mets’ ballpark back for the Mets.
How? By striking out Mark McGwire to end the third inning. And by striking out Mark McGwire to end the fifth inning. And, yes, by striking out Mark McGwire to end the seventh inning. Reynoso would not be posterized nor become a speed bump on the way to somebody else’s history. He pitched seven shutout innings and clung to that 1-0 advantage Alfonzo gave him way back in the first.
The rest was baseball sans circus. Turk Wendell set down three non-McGwire Cardinals in the eighth and John Franco took care of another three in the ninth. The Mets held on 1-0 and came away from their brush with home run hysteria tied with the Cubs for the sole remaining N.L. playoff spot.
Mark McGwire went on his merry way and hit some more home runs in 1998. But he was no longer blotting out the Mets’ sun. And given the chance to inflict serious damage to their postseason hopes at a juncture of the season when every result loomed large, the enormous Big Mac was eclipsed by the generally unassuming Armando Reynoso. Thus, in an era when slugging was everything, solid pitching proved occasionally capable of casting a welcome shadow.
GAME 129: August 26, 1965 — METS 5 Dodgers 2
(Mets All-Time Game 129 Record: 22-26; Mets 1965 Record: 42-86-1)
David had Goliath. The Mets had Sandy Koufax. Just about everybody did, but the Mets more than most.
The first time the Mets faced Koufax, they pounded him for 13 hits…and lost. Sandy Koufax scattered those 13 hits for a complete game 13-6 victory at the Polo Grounds. Is it only that the 1962 Mets could pile up those kinds of offensive numbers against the premier pitcher of his generation and still be blown out, or is it that only Sandy Koufax in his prime could sustain a 13-hit attack and brush it off like lint?
A compelling philosophical question, but hardly an issue worth contemplating the second time the Mets faced Koufax. On that occasion, exactly a month later at Dodger Stadium, the Mets did nothing with Koufax. Nothing at all. Well, five walks, but no hits. That’s what you call a no-hitter, the first dropped upon the young Mets’ heads.
And it only took them 73 games.
That was life with Koufax whenever he and the Mets crossed paths. Three encounters in 1962 left the Mets 0-3 versus Sandy. They took him on four times in 1963 and provided him with a 4-0 component of what would become a Cy Young/MVP campaign. Koufax gave up two runs to the Mets in 31 innings that year, but only one of them was earned.
In 1964, Koufax started against the Mets three times, and the Dodgers won all three games. They did lead him in the last one, 3-2 in the eighth, and Walt Alston was forced to pinch-hit for him…but Wally Moon smacked a double off Tracy Stallard to tie the game and get Sandy off the hook. And Tommy Davis put the Dodgers ahead to stay thereafter. But Koufax, who was 9-0 in nine previous starts versus the Mets, was finally saddled with a no-decision.
All hail moral victory.
1965: More of the same. He won 2-1 in April; 5-0 and 2-1 in June; and 4-3 on August 10 at Dodger Stadium, giving Sandy his 20th win of the year and a 13-0 lifetime mark at the expense of the Mets.
Would it ever end? Would the Mets ever stop being Sandy Koufax’s patsy? He didn’t lose to many teams and the Mets didn’t beat many pitchers, so when you combined these two entities, it was hard to imagine the prevailing trends would soon change.
Enter, from stage left, a fresh-faced southpaw who would alter that little slice of Met futility.
Frank Edwin McGraw was an excitable 20-year-old rookie who spent four months not particularly distinguishing himself as a lefty reliever for Casey Stengel or Wes Westrum in 1965. Finally, as another Met season rushed rapidly down the tubes, Westrum gave the young man known as “Tug” his second major league start (three weeks after his first one lasted all of seven batters). Tug threw a nine-inning gem on August 22, beating the Cardinals in the second game of a doubleheader, 2-1. With nothing to lose, Westrum gave the kid another start four days later, a Thursday night at Shea, against the Dodgers.
1965: Still more of the same, at least in the first, before Koufax had even touched the ball. McGraw surrendered a leadoff single to Maury Wills (who’d go 4-for-4). Wes Parker bunted Wills to second, and Maury scored when Lou Johnson doubled. It put the Mets in a 1-0 hole as they prepared to face a pitcher who entered the evening’s action with a 21-5 record and a 2.18 ERA, never mind his total mastery of the Mets since 1962.
But you gotta play each of these games to find out what happens next. The Mets did, and on the strength of a leadoff walk by Ron Hunt, a Roy McMillan double and a Jim Hickman single, the Mets strung fused a pair of runs to give McGraw a 2-1 lead over Koufax after an inning.
Tug and Sandy each settled down from there. For Sandy, it was business as usual: 16 Mets batters faced from the second to the sixth, only one single (to McMillan in the third) allowed. For Tug, there was no usual business. It was his first year in the majors, his third start overall, and he was still settling into the role of big league baseball player. Nevertheless, he was as composed as his more celebrated (much more celebrated) rival, giving up only four hits from the second through the seventh, never more than one per inning. It remained 2-1, Mets, as they batted in the home seventh.
With one out, Ed Kranepool doubled off Koufax. After intentionally walking Chris Cannizzaro, Sandy pitched to pinch-hitter Bobby Klaus, who grounded to short, forcing Cannizzaro at second. That put runners on first and third with two outs and Tug coming up. It was a recipe for extrication: the greatest pitcher on earth against a pitcher batting .111. And, sure enough, McGraw grounded to Don LeJohn at third.
It was all a perfect setup for a Dodger escape, except LeJohn made a bad throw. Tug was safe at first as Kranepool scored to increase the Mets’ lead to 3-1. It was a much better margin than 2-1 for McGraw to nurse in the eighth, for after he grounded out Jeff Torborg to start the inning, Koufax’s spot in the order was due up.
But not Koufax. Alston sent in a pinch-hitter, meaning Sandy was out of the game, with no chance to beat the Mets. Dick Tracewski walked in his place. Tug surrendered a single to Wills, which sent Tracewski to third; Wills, however, was thrown out by center fielder Hickman as he failed to stretch his hit into a double. That proved huge, as the next batter, Wes Parker, tripled home Tracewski to cut the Mets’ lead to 3-2. Westrum finally removed McGraw in favor of Jack Fisher, the Mets’ ace starter. Jack walked Jim Gilliam but grounded out Johnson to end the top of the eighth with the Mets still up by one run.
The new Dodger pitcher, Johnny Podres (like Koufax, a holdover from the team’s Brooklyn days), was struck for back-to-back homers by Joe Christopher and Ron Swoboda in the bottom of the eighth. And Fisher held that 5-2 lead in the ninth.
The Mets won. Tug McGraw was the victor. And for the first time in the history of the world, Sandy Koufax was the losing pitcher in a game he pitched against the New York Mets.
The New York Mets beat Sandy Koufax.
McGraw remembered it fondly nearly a decade later in his autobiography, Screwball:
“We were what they call ‘the pitchers of record,’ so I stayed out on the bench and watched Fisher get out of the [eighth] inning. Then they sent me to the clubhouse to get rid of my wet stuff — my game clothes — and I was still there when the game ended. It was unreal, beating Koufax, because it was my second straight win and he was Koufax, he was the best, he’d won the Cy Young Award and twenty-five games and everything. So I started jumping up and down when it ended, going crazy as usual, but this time the rest of the guys didn’t shake their heads or anything, and nobody went around the locker room saying McGraw’s some strange cat.”
Technically, though, he was. Tug McGraw was the oddest duck in Mets history. He was the Met who bested Sandy Koufax. Nobody else would be able to say that until just over a year later, on McGraw’s 22nd birthday, as it happened. Tug started against Koufax again on August 30, 1966. During that season, Sandy had started another four games against the Mets and won them all. In this rematch, though, each starter was bombed and out of the game by the third. By then, the Mets led the Dodgers, 6-2, and went on to a 10-4 victory. Bob Friend earned the win in relief, while Koufax took the loss, dropping his lifetime ledger against the Mets to a paltry 17-2.
That was the last the Mets would see of Sandy Koufax from a major league mound. His left arm was in too much pain to carry on, and 1966 wound up being his final year in baseball. He went out on a high, posting a 27-9 won-lost mark, a 1.73 ERA and 317 strikeouts in 323 innings.
But also on a one-game losing streak versus his latent nemeses, the New York Mets.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On August 24, 1962, the Mets decided the outcome of the National League pennant race in as unlikely a fashion, with as unlikely a handful of players, as one could imagine. Facing Don Drysdale, who was en route to winning 25 games and capturing baseball’s then single Cy Young Award, they provided a trio of traffic cones on the Dodgers’ freeway ride to the World Series. Their names were Choo Choo Coleman, Marv Throneberry and Rod Kanehl, each usually associated with some form of Original Mets daffiness, but on this Friday night at the Polo Grounds, they were all sluggers who took Drysdale deep. Their solo homers allowed Jay Hook to stay locked in a 3-3 battle with Big D until the bottom of the eighth when Kanehl, Gene Woodling and Hook himself all singled in runs to provide the winning Met margin in a 6-3 decision.
The loss dropped Drysdale’s mark to 22-7, which may not have gotten in the way of his Cy Young campaign, but it was a loss the first-place Dodgers couldn’t have been counting on. If they had beaten the Mets, as they had in 16 of their other 17 meetings in 1962, then they wouldn’t have found themselves tied for the league lead after 162 games and wouldn’t have been forced into a three-game playoff with San Francisco to decide the pennant…and wouldn’t have lost it to the Giants in the ninth inning of the third game.
Coleman, Throneberry, Kanehl and the rest of that first Mets club may have been good for a lot of laughs, but out in L.A., their professional exploits had to have caused not a few grimaces when 1962 was said and done.