You don’t see too many games like we saw Friday night at Coors Field, and — as the Irish Rovers could tell you — you’re never gonna see no unicorn. But if you see the Mets win by a score you’ve never seen them win by before and there’s no telling if or when you’ll ever see them win by it again, well, lads and lassies, I believe we can call that a Unicorn Score.
To be clear, let’s define our term.
Unicorn Score: a score by which the Mets win once and never again. There are scores by which the Mets have lost once and never again (26-7 springs immediately to mind from June 11, 1985), but we’re not worried about those right now and will leave those unnamed. This is all about the Mets winning. As we’ve learned this season, the Mets winning is a much more embraceable topic than the Mets losing.
We’ll take the Mets winning by any score we can get it, of course. With immense help from Baseball Reference, we know the Mets have won 286 regular-season and three postseason games by a score of 3-2, the most common tally of triumph in franchise history. As you’d expect from baseball in general and this team specifically, when they win, they win without a lot of runs being scattered about. The next-most common path to prevailing is by 2-1: 240 in the regular season, three times post. Then it’s 4-3, 4-2, 5-4…you know, baseball scores.
Shutouts are a little less regular. We haven’t seen a 1-0 win this year, but there have been 128 overall, the last of them coming courtesy of Zack Wheeler in Miami on June 19, 2014. You’re about as likely to get a 3-0 win as you are one by a final of 5-1 or 6-2 or 6-3. The Mets have won games by those fairly mundane numbers just a bit less than a hundred times each.
It begins to get a bit more unorthodox as the run totals commence to piling up. For example, the Mets have won 7-3 seventy times, none more recently than August 16, 2014. A 6-0 whitewashing has occurred to the good 57 times, though the last of them transpired September 26, 2012 (David Wright set the Met career record for base hits).
Pot luck kicks in when offenses heat up. There have been 35 wins by 8-7, for example; only a half-dozen 11-7 wins; and 33 rather random 9-3 victories. Some scores are definitely infrequent and seemingly out of fashion. The Mets have won five 13-2 games but not one in the past fifteen years. They’ve been waiting for their tenth 12-4 win since 2007. Their last 13-3 Happy Recap was their seventh, but it came when Bob Murphy was still on call, in 2000.
On June 28, 2011, the Mets pounded the Tigers, 14-3, marking the last time a Unicorn Score was removed from the books, for it was the second time the Mets had won by 14-3. Call it a Uniclone, perhaps. If it’s happened more than once, it can’t be a Unicorn Score.
There are now 23 Unicorn Scores in Mets history. There were 22 until Mets 14 Rockies 9 on August 21, 2015. Think about it: the Mets are in their 54th year and have won 4,103 games in the regular season along with 43 in the postseason and it took them this long to register a 14-9 victory. How is that possible?
How is it possible that some people think they’ve seen a unicorn? Sometimes you don’t ask why, and you go with the legend.
Make no mistake: the games attached to some of these scores are the stuff of legend.
• 19-1. If you’ve been even a modestly attentive student of Mets lore, you’ll recognize that as the score by which your beloved Amazins crushed the woebegone Cubs on May 26, 1964, which was the breeding ground for the most oft-repeated possibly apocryphal tale in team history. Guy calls newspaper; guy asks how Mets did today; guy is told Mets scored 19 runs; guy asks “did they win?”
• 16-13. Fireworks Night. Atlanta. Nineteen innings. The Fourth and Fifth of July. 1985. Need we say more?
• 11-10. You know that doubleheader in which Robin Ventura belted a grand slam in each game? You know that first game SNY shows now and then as a Mets Classic? That’s the final score from May 20, 1999.
Other Unicorn Scores may not ring instant bells, but several of their games are intrinsic to Mets history. Take the 15-5 victory over St. Louis from October 3, 1964. That was the Saturday after the Friday when the Mets beat the Cardinals, 1-0, just as the Cardinals were on the verge of clinching the National League flag. Suddenly the lowly Mets were clipping the wings of those soaring Redbirds, allowing Cincy and Philly a last gasp at tying for first. Eventually, Bob Gibson restored order, but oh how that 15-5 Unicorn gave ol’ St. Louie a scare. It was the first time the Mets injected themselves into a pennant race, even if it was just as prospective spoiler.
Or maybe you’re aware the most runs the Mets ever scored in a given game was 23, on August 16, 1987 (the day of the so-called Harmonic Convergence, appropriately enough), at Chicago. You think there’s been another 23-10 game in Mets history? There hasn’t. That total broke the previous record, accomplished in a 20-6 thumping of the Braves at Atlanta on August 7, 1971. It was also the only 20-6 thumping the Mets ever issued.
The first Unicorn Score, ergo the oldest, surviving Unicorn Score is 13-12, achieved in the second game of the May 12, 1963 doubleheader at the Polo Grounds against the Reds. Duke Snider blasted a three-run homer, Hot Rod Kanehl absorbed a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch and Tracy Stallard pitched a scoreless ninth, striking out rookie second baseman Pete Rose, who had reached base four times in the game. It was the 54th win in franchise history, meaning the Mets have won more than 4,000 games since, yet none of them by a 13-12 final.
You never know when you’re gonna see one of those Unicorns and you never know when you’re never gonna see it again.
Given that these Unicorns have a mind of their own, it’s little wonder that whole eras will pass without a single sighting. Between 1964 and 1985, there was only one. Between 1992 and 1999, there were none. Yet since 1999, we’ve had thirteen, a veritable Unicorn stampede. The last before the night Yoenis Cespedes went satisfyingly deep three times occurred on May 13, 2014, the 12-7 smackdown of the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, during the series when Curtis Granderson remembered how to hit. That was the fourth consecutive Interleague Unicorn, following the 16-5 shellacking of chilly Minnesota on April 12, 2013, and veritable home-and-home hat-handings to Detroit (16-9 at Comerica Park on June 29, 2011; and 14-6 at Citi Field on June 22, 2010).
Shea’s last Unicorn Score was a 13-10 slugging of the pre-hype Nationals, on September 10, 2008, which sounds about right for those bullpen-deprived Mets days. Dodger Stadium, like Shea, forever carries a reputation as a pitcher’s park, but tell that to July 19, 2007, when the Mets loved L.A. by an unprecedented and since unmatched 13-9 score. New York staked starter T#m Gl@vine to leads of 6-0 and 9-4, but the future Hall of Famer couldn’t make it out of the third. Bartolo Colon, who couldn’t make it out of fourth in Denver, at least had the excuse of pitching in infamously thin air. Aaron Sele, who almost never pitched when the Mets weren’t losing, was credited with the win Gl@vine was incapable of capturing eight years ago.
Mike Pelfrey’s debut appeared amid a big, strapping Unicorn Score of 17-3 over the Marlins during the nightcap of the July 8, 2006, doubleheader. Eight days later (7/16/2006), the Mets anagrammed that score, taking their only 13-7 win ever, again over the Cubs, again at Wrigley, this time by scoring eleven runs in an inning for also the only time in their history. Less than a year earlier (8/24/2005), with Mike Jacobs in his finest fettle, the Mets mashed the Diamondbacks into Diamondbits, 18-4.
You never saw that again. Or all that much of Mike Jacobs.
Unicorn Scores disprove assumptions. For example, “Bobby Bonilla never did a bleepity-bleep thing as a Met” is disproved by the 15-1 proceedings of June 6, 1992, a Saturday night at Pittsburgh when Bonilla stuck it to his old team by going 4-for-4 and driving in four runs. Unicorn Scores have also been shown to make Mets teams dangerously giddy. The Mets posted their one and only 15-11 victory at Philadelphia on June 16, 1989. So carried away were they that the next day they swapped Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell to those very same Phillies for Juan Samuel.
You can’t say the Mets never high-fived voluminously after delivering a 13-1 thrashing — they did, once, against the Cardinals, on September 7, 1989. Reliever Julio Machado made his debut, backing his first batter, Tom Pagnozzi, off the plate right away, despite entering the ninth with a twelve-run lead. The “Iguana Man” might have had more of a taste for blood than could’ve been imagined.
You can’t say there’s no 15-8 throttling in the Mets’ portfolio — there is, one, throttled upon those historically hapless Cubs, on April 23, 2000. Five Unicorns have bitten the Cubs hard over the years, though this was the only episode in which they got chomped on in New York, thus no alibis about the wind blowing out will be accepted.
And you can say the Mets beat somebody, 13-5. They did it to the Cards on August 3, 2003. Unlike most of the action I’ve described above, I have no particular recollection of this game, nor has it ever jumped out of the archives in my research. But it really does exist. Tony Clark homered twice and drove in five; Jason Phillips and Cliff Floyd chipped in three hits apiece; and Jeremy Griffiths picked up on his one and only major league win…in the one and only 13-5 game his team ever won.
It doesn’t get much Unicornier than that.