Forty years ago tonight, the Mets were hosting Pittsburgh, tied for third place, 1½ games behind the front-running Pirates in the N.L. East with a record of 75-77…and they were about to post one of the 500 most Amazin’ wins of their first 50 years.
From The Happiest Recap (First Base: 1962-1973)…
It was time to carefully remove the m-word from the ark in which it had been kept undisturbed for nearly four years, for the Mets were about to perform the most sacred act the faith of their fans permitted.
It was time for a miracle.
But first, the relatively mundane from this about-to-be extraordinary Thursday night at Shea Stadium:
• Jerry Koosman pitched eight innings, struck out eight Pirates and allowed only one unearned run, which unfortunately put him behind, 1-0, because Jim Rooker had held the Mets scoreless through seven.
• Jim Beauchamp, making the final regular-season appearance of his ten-year career, pinch-hit for Koosman to lead off the bottom of the eighth and singled. After he was pinch-run for by Teddy Martinez, and Martinez was bunted to second by Wayne Garrett, Felix Millan singled home the tying run.
• Harry Parker, usually a rookie revelation in Yogi Berra’s bullpen, came on to preserve the tie in the top of the ninth but couldn’t quite do the job. Two runners were on when Dave Cash doubled one of them in to return the Pirates to their lead, 2-1.
• Bob Johnson, who pitched two games for the 1969 Mets, was tabbed by Danny Murtaugh to finish off his old team. A win here would erase the Mets’ recent momentum, leaving them 2½ back with a scheduled nine to play. It wouldn’t clinch anything for the Pirates, because others were still alive and contending, but it would put a crimp in the Mets’ plans, no matter much they Believed. But Johnson allowed a leadoff pinch-single to Ken Boswell and a sacrifice bunt to Don Hahn before exiting for Ramon Hernandez.
• Hernandez struck out pinch-hitter George Theodore for the second out of the ninth, but another pinch-hitter, Duffy Dyer, delivered a double, scoring Boswell to tie the game at two.
• The two teams went to extra innings, as Yogi Berra went to veteran swingman Ray Sadecki. Sadecki gave Yogi three perfect innings. The Mets, meanwhile, failed to score against Jim McKee and Luke Walker. The game would go to a thirteenth inning, when Sadecki, with one out, would allow his first hit, a single to Richie Zisk. After he retired Manny Sanguillen for the second out of the inning, he faced September callup Dave Augustine.
This is where The Miracle occurs.
This is where it’s best left to Bob Murphy to deliver The Word:
“The two-one pitch…
“Hit in the air to left field, it’s deep…
“Back goes Jones, BY THE FENCE…
“It hits the TOP of the fence, comes back in play…
“Jones grabs it!
“The relay throw to the plate, they may get him…
“He’s out at the plate!
“An INCREDIBLE play!”
If you’re scoring at home, the interpretation would be 7-6-2, Cleon Jones to Wayne Garrett to Ron Hodges, the rookie catcher who ascended to the Mets’ starting lineup for much of the summer from Double-A Memphis because of injuries. Zisk, the runner from first, tied a piano to his back when he took off around the bases. The man was slow. But The Man Upstairs was quick-thinking. He (or Something) prevented what looked like, on Channel 9, a certain goner for Augustine from landing in the left field bullpen for what would have been his first — and only — major league home run. Had the ball made it past the wall, the Mets would have been down, 5-3.
But it didn’t go quite far enough, at least from a Pirate perspective. It bounced off the very top of the fence and caromed right back into Cleon’s glove. He made a strong throw to Garrett, who made a strong throw to Hodges, who made a strong stand in front of the plate, bringing down an emphatic tag on Zisk.
“The ball hit the corner and it just popped up to me,” Jones recounted. “I didn’t think he hit it high enough to go over. I knew the ball was gonna hit the fence, but it could’ve gone anywhere.”
Garrett, who had moved to shortstop from his usual third base in the tenth after Bud Harrelson had been pinch-hit for, aimed low when he made his relay throw to Hodges. “I wanted it to hit the ground,” Wayne said, and he got his wish. The ball arrived in Hodges’s mitt the same time Zisk was charging into Hodges’s body. The kid catcher held the ball, and home plate ump John McSherry held his right arm upwards, signaling the lumbering Pirate runner out.
“It has to be one of the most remarkable plays I ever saw,” Garrett swore.
What happened next?
You’ll find out when you read The Happiest Recap (First Base: 1962-1973).
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