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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Wins We Name for Opponents

On this very afternoon in 1969, Jerry Koosman pitched a solid nine innings, Donn Clendenon, Ken Boswell and Cleon Jones made key contact and Ed Kranepool homered and later delivered the walkoff hit, a fortuitous bloop to left that made Kooz and the Mets 4-3 winners over the Cubs.

In other words, today is the 45th anniversary of the Don Young Game.

Don Young was the least famous member of Chicago’s starting lineup on July 8, 1969, but he is the one for which the most important regular-season game the Mets franchise had played to date is named. The Mets could barely touch Ferguson Jenkins for eight innings, Koosman gave up homers to Ernie Banks and Jim Hickman plus a run-scoring single to Glenn Beckert, but it is Young whose fingerprints remain all over this game…the Don Young Game.

If you were a sentient Mets fan in the summer of 1969 or are a historically minded student of all things Amazin’, you’re way ahead of me on the Don Young Game. If by chance this is all news to you, know that the powerhouse Cubs of ’69 sported All-Star caliber talent at virtually every position. One spot, however, gave them trouble: center field.

Don Young was Leo Durocher’s center fielder by something less than choice. A 23-year-old rookie, Young showed up at Shea batting .227. His presence, however, wasn’t holding back the first-place Cubs, who entered their Tuesday tilt versus the Mets 5½ in front of their surprising pursuers. The Mets had never spent a moment of their lives in the first division. They were not only breathing the heady air of second place for the first time, they had never soared anywhere above .500 this late in the season. They were 45-34, for goodness sake. If nothing else were to happen in 1969, that alone qualified as a miracle.

But more was to come. And it was going to start coming on July 8, 1969, when, in essence, Gil Hodges and the Mets decided second place wasn’t going to be good enough for them. Their fans felt the same way. It wasn’t a promotional item that drew 55,096 to Shea for a midweek day game, unless the throwing off of the shackles of futility could be considered a giveaway. The Mets were loaded for Cub. The Cubs may not have been all that concerned with the team directly behind them in the standings for the first 8½ innings, as they maintained a 3-1 lead, but the bottom of the ninth changed the dynamics of the season and the complexion of the two clubs’ respective narratives forever more.

The linchpin of history was Young: Young who, when Boswell pinch-hit to start the home ninth, lofted a fly to short center that Young couldn’t see on this sunny day. With Young coming in and second baseman Beckert and shortstop Don Kessinger going out, second base was left unoccupied — until Boswell landed on it with a gift double.

The same Young was in the middle of the story again one out later when another pinch-hitter, Clendenon, unleashed a shot to deep left-center. First the ball that fell in shallow bedeviled the center fielder and now it was one headed to the wall about to give him fits. This time Young tracked it down, grasped it in the webbing of his glove…and dropped it when he banged into the fence. Clendenon took second and Boswell, who had to hold up when it appeared a catch was about to be made, was on third.

The rest of the way reads like Mets-In-First Destiny. A line-drive double from Jones ties the game. Durocher orders Art Shamsky walked. Wayne Garrett grounds to second to move both runners up a base. And Krane drives home Cleon.

It’s a 4-3 final that ignites Shea to a state of delirium, that edges the Mets to within 4½ of first, that sets the stage for an epic Cub crumble from which, one might argue, the North Siders have never recovered. It wasn’t just that the next night Tom Seaver shut out Chicago and assured the Mets of taking the three-game series. It wasn’t just that the Mets would grab another two of three at Wrigley Field the following week. It wasn’t just that come early September, a black cat would appear and a divisional lead would all but vanish and the Miracle Mets would soon emerge champions in full.

It was within the minutes after Don Young couldn’t catch two fly balls — difficult plays, but not impossible — that the Cubs began to implode and Young’s problems began to tear them to pieces.

Don’t think one center fielder mishandling two balls on July 8 can have that much of an impact on the course of a campaign? Take it from Ernie Banks that it did. In this week’s Sports Illustrated, Mr. Cub traced all of Chicago’s 1969 shortcomings to the postgame scene in the visitors’ clubhouse at Shea Stadium.

“Before going to New York to play the big series against the Mets, I went to different players on our team and told them, ‘We’re going to New York, and when the game is over, there’s going to be more media than you’ve ever seen in the clubhouse, so watch what you say.’ So we got to New York, and lose the first game. Don Young dropped a fly ball, and that was it. We came into the locker room. I was next to [Ron] Santo, and he just went crazy [blaming Young]. Young was so upset, he ran out. [Coach] Pete [Reiser] had to bring him back. I had never seen something so hurtful.”

It’s not the first time Santo’s (and Durocher’s) treatment of Young has been tagged as the beginning of the end for the mighty Cubs. It won’t be the last, either. It’s just the most recent. Still, to see the episode recalled so ruefully 45 years after the fact by a first-tier Hall of Famer who’s known for always smiling just underlines what an Amazin’ turn of events had occurred and kept on occurring for the next 100 days. This was the second Tuesday in July; on the third Thursday in October, Koosman was again on the mound, the Mets had again fallen behind, and nothing again could stop them. They polished their spikes to a bright shine, beat the Orioles, 5-3, and nailed down perhaps the most legendary professional team sports championship of all time.

What gives the Don Young Game a little extra oomph in the Metsopotamian retelling is I’m having a hard time thinking of too many other Mets wins we commonly refer to by the name of an opposing player. The next night came the Jimmy Qualls Game — named for Young’s immediate center field replacement — but that one deserves a little asterisk, I think, because while we celebrate a win when we invoke it, we’re also regretting that Qualls’s ninth-inning single represented the sole blemish on Seaver’s one-hit masterpiece. You might have to fast-forward all the way to October 25, 1986, for the Bill Buckner Game, an episode that doesn’t need much more in the way of identification. Now and then I try to refer to it as the Mookie Wilson Game, but let’s be real: E-3…y’know? (And even then, despite competition from others generically branded as such, “Game Six” will probably suffice.)

Beyond Young, Qualls and Buckner, do we name our winning games for the other guys? We have a subgenre of losses we pin on villains: the Terry Pendleton Game; the Mike Scioscia Game; the Luis Sojo Game; maybe the Yadier Molina Game, though that particular Game Seven had several actors playing featured roles. We name some bitter losses for our own: the Kenny Rogers Game; the Luis Castillo Game; the T#m Gl@v!ne Game in case “Collapse” isn’t specific enough for you. There are the historical oddities along the lines of the Jim Bunning Perfect Game and the Eric Bruntlett Unassisted Triple Play Game. More happily, we have the Dave Mlicki Game, the Matt Franco Game, the Melvin Mora Game, the Todd Pratt Game, maybe the Carl Everett Game if you’re so inclined, of course the Steve Henderson Game. For those who had but one moment in the Metsian sun, there’s the Gary Rajsich Game, the Esix Snead Game, the Tim Harkness Game, to name three others would call obscure but I would just call fantastic. (Hell, I write books in which such rare breeds roam free.)

All of the above are fascinating to consider, I suppose, but it doesn’t extend the answer to my original question. Is there anybody else in another uniform we designate as the standard-bearer for one of our biggest victories? Don Young was trying to saddle us with a loss. Instead, he helped provide us with a win. Jones tied it, Kranepool won it and the W was recorded alongside Koosman, yet it’s the Don Young Game that we salute (and Banks mourns) 45 years later.

Forever Young.

34 comments to Wins We Name for Opponents

  • Gene F.

    I suppose Pete Rose gets co-billing with Bud Harrelson for game 3 of the 1973 NLCS. There’s also the Rob Dibble striptease of fury after surrendering a walk-off to Bobby from the Bronx, though that was hardly a major victory in Mets history.

    • If somebody said “The Pete Rose Game,” I think that would be our first guess. More likely to refer to it as the Buddy Harrelson/Pete Rose fight, but semantics notwithstanding, a good choice.

      Likewise, Rob Dibble-Bobby Bonilla is probably a co-starring affair, though the image will always be that vest falling gently to the ground.

      • dmg

        speaking of harrelson, if i recall correctly from one of the books that came out about the 69 run, bud was on national guard reserve duty for the don young game, and found out about it from a guy in the barracks who told him the mets had scored three in the ninth to win.
        oh yeah, it was in “the year the mets lost last place,” a really good account of 9 games in july, 1969 (including the jimmy qualls game).

        • Good news to come back to camp to!

          The next night Harrelson said he was watching the Perfect Game in progress at a bar in Watertown when he told whoever was listening, “That’s my roommie.” He got a few strange look and never explained who he was.

  • mikeski

    Is it just me, or does it seem like Ron Santo was, pretty much, a jerk?

  • Dave

    On the good side of the ledger, the Bobby Jones game?

  • Tim H

    A couple of interesting things about that game (one day before the Seaver near-perfecto):

    Both pitchers (Koosman and Jenkins) pitched complete games. (Remember those?) And that 7-run, 9-inning affair took all of 2:09 to play (!)

    I distinctly remember watching Ed Kranepool’s crucial at bat (taking a mini-break from selling soda in the Field Box section for 25 cents a cup). Jenkins had Ed badly fooled on one pitch that had the crowd on the edge of disappointment. But, on the next pitch, Kranepool hit — as Greg has written above — “a fortuitous bloop to left….”

    And the sellout crowd, including 10,000 Midget Mets in the Upper Deck, went home very, very happy.

  • Dave

    While I can still see Qualls’ hit drop in left and hear my and my Dad’s moans in reaction to it as though it were yesterday, come on. That was The Tom Seaver Game.

    • Bobby Jones, among others, could have an eponymous game. Tom Seaver…even if that was his signature outing, I think we have to be specific. There were hundreds of The Tom Seaver Games, thankfully.

      • ljcmets

        I tend to take my cue from The Franchise himself….it’s the “Imperfect Game” to me. It’s too epic to be named after Qualls, although if you mentioned the “Jimmy Qualls” game I would know exactly the game you meant. Did Qualls ever do another thing in baseball? And Dave, I can see that hit drop in over Weis(?), as well.

        • The Imperfect Game for all time, the Jimmy Qualls Game as convenient shorthand. I guess there’s also the Leron Lee Game three years later involving a similar outcome (Seaver no-hitter ruined in the ninth), but that one doesn’t quite have the historical juice.

  • Quigley

    Great piece, as always. One that I came up with was from 1986 which didn’t have all that many iconic regular season games (maybe because the race was a walkover from the get go, and in any case, it was more than made up for in October).

    I’m talking about The Eric Davis Game, which featured an unusually hostile fight between Davis and Ray Knight, which cemented his legendary status even before his WS MVP. Both of them were ejected, which resulted in running out of players and forcing Davy to alternate between Orosco and McDowell in the outfield and on the mound. A hard-fought (literally) exfra-inning win, coupled with brilliant managing. In fact, honoring Davy may be a long -overdue ceremony, but that’s a topic for another day.

  • RoundRockmets

    What about the day in 1999 when the Mets, mired at 27-28, went out and ended some sort of ridiculous unbeaten streak by Roger Clemens in the aftermath of Steve Phillips’ purge of Bobby Valentine’s coaching staff? Sort of the beginning of what made that ’99 season the ’99 season.
    And from 1985, how about the Todd Worrell game?

    • Perhaps it’s a circumstance of my having been there, but when I think of “the Roger Clemens Game,” I think of September 2, 1997, when the Rocket took time out from his perfectly legal strength & conditioning routine to return to Shea Stadium as a Blue Jay. Though there wasn’t a huge crowd, the whole night was about Clemens’s first appearance since the 1986 WS and how the Mets whacked him around 11 years later.

      Good times.

  • open the gates

    Um – not to state the amazingly obvious, but – the Bill Buckner Game? (Or should that be the Mookie Wilson Game?)

  • Barry F.

    How about the Dave Augustine (Ball on the Wall) game?

  • Michael Geus of 2 Guys Talking Mets Baseball relays an excellent call I should’ve thought of: The Jim Maloney Game, the one in which the Reds ace took a no-hitter against the Mets into the 11th inning on June 14, 1965, only to have it wrecked by Johnny Lewis’s home run. Could be the Johnny Lewis Game, too, but when I was writing it up for The Happiest Recap, I kept referring to it internally as the Jim Maloney Game.

  • Kevin from Flushing

    The Carlos Almanzar Game. The Curt Schilling Game as well.

    • Almanzar, of course. And Schilling is slap-my-forehead of course. Maloney-level good. I’d go so far as to say (though I’ve never thought about it in this context until now) that the Curt Schilling Game was the closest thing 1999 had to a Don Young Game, the Game that told you something more special than you realized was going on here.

      • Kevin From Flushing

        Without that win, the 99 Mets as we know it don’t exist. They’d just be another team of choke artists along with 98 (well, choke apprentices… the real artists came later). There wouldn’t be a souvenir VHS tape to remind us of the Schilling Game’s existence, it would just be an obscure memory that many will have forgotten about until they read the third(?) installment of the Happiest Recap.

        But you literally could say that about every win in 99. That never ceases to put a smile on my face. The Matt Franco Game, the Wells Game, the Hoffman Game… every single one was needed to put us on that magical October run.

        (Wells and Hoffman Games only obvious when put in context of 99–my first thought when hearing “Wells Game” would be Mo Vaughn’s 3-run bomb off him in the 8th in 2002, again on Fathers Day against the Yankees like Almanzar)

  • SkillSetsMets

    “Midget Mets” Liked that they had their own gate next to gate E at Shea. Guess Mike Lupica got angry and when golfing with his pal Fredo Wilpon asked Jeffy to change the name.

  • Mike M

    Great piece and loved the SI back story on the Cubs locker game.

    I was 17 and took my girlfriend to the Don Young and the Tom Seaver games. you are right that we couldn’t touch jenkins in the first game and I left with her after the 8th to beat the traffic heading out to Nassau.
    What an idiot I was as I listened to the radio broadcast on the Grand Central. The next night we stayed for the whole game – although even an idiot wouldn’t have left a no hitter. I remember we booed randy hundley for trying to bunt his way on for the 1st out of the 9th.

    In these trying times thanks for the memory – it helps as a currently suffering Mets fan – although so does watching deGrom pitch last night.

  • APV

    How about the Two Balks and a Walkoff game? I return from Israel after my sister’s wedding in May 2007 to see Armando Benitez balk twice as a member of the Giants with Jose scoring the tying run, then Delgado blasts a homer to right to win the game a pitch or two later if I recall correctly. Not much I care to remember about that season, but that game definitely fits the bill.

    To me, July 29, 1988 will always be the night of the Kevin Elster game. His homer beats the Pirates 1-0 on a night where a Pittsburgh win would have put the Bucs a game back of the Mets for first place in the NL East, also IIRC. Pittsburgh got no closer that year.

  • stan

    There was a period in the late 90s through early 00s where we had:

    The Armando Benitez game
    The Armando Benitez game
    The Armando Benitez game
    The Armando Benitez game
    The Armando Benitez game
    The Armando Benitez game
    The Armando Benitez game
    you get the point.

  • Andrew

    The Rick Camp Game? Can we call it that since so much else happened that night?

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