Mets. Braves. Eight innings. Tie game. Rain. Suspended. Sound familiar?
That’s because, per the Beatles, this happened once before. These very same clubs got through eight innings of no-decision baseball and called it quits in Queens, deciding to pick up where they left off later thanks to wet weather. It was just the same as it is today!
But actually it was quite different.
On June 17, 1979, a soaked Sunday at Shea, the Mets and Braves battled to a 1-1 score, enduring two lengthy rain delays. Why didn’t they just suck it up, gut it out and get it over with then and there?
Because the Mets had a plane to catch. These were the 1979 Mets. They flew commercial. If they missed their 7:30 flight to Houston…well, Mettle the Mule would have to make multiple trips to Texas, and even the going-nowhere-fast Mets couldn’t wait that long. So given the rain, the flight and other things, the Mets and Braves agreed no inning could start after 6 PM. As it happened, the eighth ended at 6:15, which gave young Charlie Samuels time to pack whatever equipment he wasn’t already selling on the black market and hustle the Mets to LaGuardia.
If you’re looking for another parallel between then and now, consider Joe Torre’s starting pitcher that June afternoon was Pete Falcone, making his thirteenth start of the season. Falcone’s record after his first dozen turns in the rotation, plus two relief appearances? A Hefnerrible 0-5. The Mets at least had won a couple of his starts after he left them, including his previous outing, the famous 10-run inning game of June 12, 1979. It was Falcone’s rotten luck to have departed it against the Reds trailing in the top of the sixth, 5-2. The Mets wound up romping, 12-6, but all the credit went to Dale Murray (something rarely given Murray for anything he did as a Met reliever).
And in that same way Hefner left with a lead against the Braves Friday night but wound up stuck with his 0-5 mark, Falcone came oh-so-close to getting off the schneid…sort of. Pete from Brooklyn nursed a 1-0 lead in the top of the fifth with two out. Given the precipitation pelting Shea, if he could just get out of the inning, maybe he could filch his first win in rain-shortened fashion. Except Gary Matthews homered and the tarp went on the field and Falcone (who blamed his failure to hold the lead on an ungrippably wet ball) found himself spit out of luck. Torre had no intention of bringing him back post-delay.
“I didn’t want Pete to have to warm up again,” explained Falcone’s fellow Brooklynite. “He’s hyper anyway, rushing in the fifth inning trying to get the game in because of the rain.”
So no win for Falcone in June, but the plane was boarded, Houston was reached and, come August 27, the Mets would take care of business in the ninth inning that waited a mere 71 days for resolution. Make that 71 days and 12 minutes. After rookie Jeff Reardon — technically making his big league debut on June 17, but actually having broken in two days before — retired the Braves in the top of the ninth, the Mets put their longest game ever, so to speak, to bed. Lee Mazzilli singled off Gene Garber to lead off the bottom of the inning. Mazz advanced to second on Richie Hebner’s right-side grounder. Lee stole third. Then he scored when Alex Treviño singled to left to make it a 2-1 Mets final.
Talk about going out for a long walkoff.
“Just think,” Torre mused after the completion of the suspended game and before the beginning of the regularly scheduled Monday night game at Shea, “it shows how poorly we’re doing this season. We’ve just won a game in this last week in August that we started way back in June.”
Actually, that would indicate things were going reasonably well for the Mets. What showed how poorly they were doing were the four games they lost in a row just prior to their time-lapsed win, and the five more they were about to lose in consecutive fashion, including the ensuing three-game series versus the equally woeful Braves. Atlanta would finish 1979 last in the N.L. West at 66-94. The Mets would finish 1979 last in the N.L. East at 63-99. No wonder the clubs drew a paid attendance of 18,662 to Shea in late August…for their entire series, bonus ninth inning included (ticketholders from June 17 were invited to attend one of those three remaining Brave games despite having been privy to an official game ten weeks earlier; the de Roulets were real sports that way). Pete Falcone, meanwhile, would recover from his 0-5 start to throw a shutout his next time out and end the year at a relatively robust 6-14.
So there’s a modicum of hope for Jeremy Hefner yet.