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The Happiest Recap: 142-144

Welcome to The Happiest Recap [1], 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” 142nd game in any Mets season, the “best” 143rd game in any Mets season, the “best” 144th 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 142: September 9, 2007 [2] — METS 4 Astros 1
(Mets All-Time Game 142 Record: 22-25-1; Mets 2007 Record: 81-61)

He was back. And for one Sunday afternoon, it was enough to revel in his return.

Could Pedro Martinez’s first start at Shea Stadium in nearly a year bring with it the kind of magic that his pre-injury outings — before his shoulder, his calf, his hip, his toe…who could keep track? — regularly brought to Flushing? More importantly, could Pedro be effective enough to stabilize a Mets starting rotation that had been groping by, one arm short, through all of 2007?

Pedro returned to action six days earlier, in Cincinnati. His stuff was underwhelming but he, combined with the Mets’ bats, were effective enough to rustle up a 10-4 win, the team’s fourth in a row (after a stunning four-game sweep by the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park). When it came to Pedro at Shea, however, speed gun readings were never much the point.

He was all about presence, and his presence inspired 51,847 to form an exuberant welcoming (or welcoming back) committee. The man was an applause magnet, drawing cheers for every move he made on the field, starting with simply walking in from the bullpen.

“I’m going to enjoy every little moment that I have,” Martinez said, offering the perspective of someone whose rehab from shoulder surgery was long and arduous. He would soak in “every curtain call” and “sign as many autographs as I can because it’s not going to last too long.”

Pedro was referring to what was left of his brilliant career, but he could have been talking about his starting assignment against the Astros, for no matter how good he looked, manager Willie Randolph was keeping him on a pitch count. Perhaps it was that awareness that led the Mets fans to savor every little moment Pedro offered them, too.

How well did he pitch? He pitched well enough to win, and not in the “too bad they didn’t score for him” fashion that phrase might imply. Pedro, being Pedro, found a way to prevail even as he wasn’t quite ready to mow down Astros the way his younger self could have.

“I realize I am no more a power pitcher,” Pedro appraised, “so I rely on knowledge, experience and location most of the time.”

It worked.

• He brushed off a two-out single by Lance Berkman in the first.

• He loaded the bases in the second, but grounded out Hunter Pence to get out of it without allowing a run.

• He struck out the side in the third, but the first of those K’s went for naught as Craig Biggio — playing his final game at Shea — reached first when Paul Lo Duca didn’t handle strike three. So Pedro recorded a fourth out.

• He took the mound for the fourth fresh from doubling and scoring, and set down the ‘Stros in order.

• And in the fifth, Pedro Martinez didn’t let a single, a double and a walk bother him materially. With the bases again loaded, he flied Mike Lamb to deep center, where Carlos Beltran caught the ball for the final out of the inning and Martinez’s day.

With ninety-two pitches in the books, the crowd knew Pedro would not be coming back out, so it stood as one and it applauded heartily and lengthily. They applauded so much that Pedro — never not in the moment — came out of the Mets’ dugout to tip his cap and practically applauded them back.

There was a curtain call for the starting pitcher…for five innings’ work. Honestly, though, it couldn’t have been a more appropriate reaction. Pedro had been missed just that much.

The Mets led 2-0 after Pedro bathed in applause and headed for the showers. They held on to give him a 4-1 win. It would have been a shame to have let his decision go awry, but really the victory was the start itself.

Five innings of Pedro Martinez: So much better than none.

ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On September 12, 2009 [3], a Fox Saturday showdown envisioned as another installment in a budding rivalry carried much different meaning for the combatants involved. The host Phillies were cruising toward their third consecutive division title, while the visiting Mets were playing out a string that had grown frayed months earlier. Yet on this late afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, the two teams went at it as if the clock had been reset to the very recent past.

David Wright singled in a pair of runs off the rapidly aging Jamie Moyer in the first and Carlos Beltran, returning to form at the end on an injury-ravaged year, sprang to life with a two-run homer in the same frame to put the Mets up 4-0. But because this was 2009 (and because it clearly wasn’t starter Mike Pelfrey’s year), they were down 8-4 after six.

The score was 9-5, Phillies, heading to the eighth, when Wright torched Brett Myers for a two-run homer and Daniel Murphy, facing Met-for-a-moment Chan Ho Park, drove in Beltran. At 9-8 in the bottom of the inning, however, Sean Green nearly made all that uphill climbing moot when he walked Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino with two out. The indefatigable left arm of Pedro Feliciano was called on by Jerry Manuel to take on the two batters it was paid to baffle. It walked Chase Utley, but — in its usual dependable fashion — struck out Ryan Howard to leave the bases loaded.

Feliciano’s efforts appeared for naught once Jeremy Reed and Luis Castillo made the first two outs versus Ryan Madson in the ninth. But Fernando Tatis singled and David Wright homered for the second time — he garnered six RBI — and the Mets went on to win this damn thing [4], 10-9;.

GAME 143: September 13, 1990 [5] — METS 6 Pirates 3
(Mets All-Time Game 143 Record: 27-21; Mets 1990 Record: 82-61)

Eras’ ends don’t necessarily arrive with advance notice, but perhaps buried in the fine print of tickets to Shea Stadium on this Thursday night, there was a disclaimer that there might not be another game of this magnitude at this venue again for a very long time.

Or maybe all you had to do was listen to talk radio all summer long, where the No. 1 topic in New York was the fate of free agent-to be Darryl Strawberry. Would he stay? Would he go? Should he go? How could the Mets let that happen? Strawberry was having as good a year as he’d had since ascending to the majors [6] in 1983. Darryl practically loaded the team onto his back [7] during midseason and carried them into the thick of contention for a seventh consecutive year. Keith Hernandez was gone. Gary Carter was gone. Mookie Wilson, Lenny Dykstra, Wally Backman, Ray Knight…the champion Mets had dissolved since 1986, but Darryl Strawberry, the power-laden cornerstone of the operation, was still here.

Try to fathom the Mets without him.

It was too unsettling a thought for the heat of a pennant race, which is exactly what the Mets were trying to withstand as September 1990 reached its boiling point. Less than two weeks earlier, on Labor Day, the Mets were a first-place team, leading the Pirates by a half-game. Things began to go disturbingly wrong when the Mets traveled to Pittsburgh a couple of days later. Three games at Three Rivers became three consecutive Met losses, and their only legitimate chance for salvation lay within a two-game set at Shea.

David Cone, hyped up to within an inch of his life, made the second game matter by winning the first, defeating John Smiley on a three-hitter, 2-1. Coney’s twelfth win on the year on Wednesday pulled the Mets to within 2½ of the top. The Mets’ best shot at advancement — in the final date with the Pirates until the last series of the season — sat with Dwight Gooden.

Not a bad place for it to sit considering Gooden was enjoying one of his best post-1986 stretches. From a shaky 3-5 start to 1990, Dwight had raised his record to a more Doclike 17-6. Nevertheless, he wasn’t automatically or obviously the best pitcher in this game. Jim Leyland was starting Doug Drabek, whose record was 19-5 and whose ERA was more than a full run lower than Gooden’s.

Doc found trouble as soon as he encountered the heart of the Pittsburgh order: Andy Van Slyke doubled, Bobby Bonilla tripled and Barry Bonds doubled. It was 2-0 in the middle of the first. Fifty-one thousand Mets fans groaned.

But they had reason to change their tone soon enough. In the bottom of the fourth, Tommy Herr beat out an infield hit and Dave Magadan singled. This brought up Darryl Strawberry…and nobody could rise to an occasion like the Mets’ right fielder.

Drabek threw Straw two balls and then a strike. The strike sailed over the right field wall to tie the game at three. Fifty-one thousand Mets fans roared. Four batters later, catcher Charlie O’Brien delivered an RBI single to provide his pitcher with a 4-2 lead. Doc kept it intact through the middle innings, while another Daryl — Boston — homered and Herr added an RBI single. Gooden lasted until Bonds nicked him for a single in the eighth that scored Jay Bell to make it 6-3, Mets. John Franco pitched the rest of the way, picking up his 32nd save, breaking Jesse Orosco’s team record.

But the night belonged to Darryl.

It was Darryl’s 34th home run of the season that changed the game and rocked the premises.

It was Darryl who crowded the Mets lineup in a way no opposing manager or pitcher could easily work around.

It was Darryl who lifted the Mets to within a game-and-a-half of first place, besting the best starter on their chief rival.

It was Darryl, who with Doc, defined the Mets era as we had known it for what seemed like forever.

Forever, however, had a limited shelf life by September 1990. Never again would Darryl Strawberry put on a Mets uniform at Shea Stadium and homer in a Mets win. And not for most of the ensuing decade would pennant race heat materialize in Flushing.

Still, if an era has to end, there are worse ways for it to take a final bow.

ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On September 8, 2001 [8], the outlines of one of the potentially great comeback stories in baseball history were being penciled in that much darker at Pro Player Stadium in Miami. It was there that the New York Mets, left for dead by any sentient observer three weeks earlier, were reviving their season in a rush.

The same team that had been 54-68 on August 17 was going for its 17th win in 21 contests. When they were at their nadir, the Mets trailed first-place Atlanta by 13½ games in the National League East. Entering play this Saturday night, they had cut their deficit to seven games — still formidable, but not unimaginably so, considering the Mets were scheduled to take on the Braves six more times in September.

But first, the Florida Marlins, who would not be reeled in easily. The teams traded three-spots in the first inning and found themselves tied 4-4 in the sixth and 5-5 in the seventh. The Mets regained their lead, 6-5, on a Desi Relaford grounder in the top of the eighth, but a Cliff Floyd double off Rick White knocked in two runs in the bottom of the inning to send the game to the ninth with a 7-6 Florida edge.

Todd Zeile — pinch-run for by Jorge Toca — and Jay Payton each singled to start the ninth. Rey Ordoñez bunted both men into scoring position. Marlins manager Tony Perez opted to walk pinch-hitter Mark Johnson to load the bases for Matt Lawton. The strategy worked to the Mets’ advantage, as the midseason import (obtained from Minnesota for Rick Reed) doubled into right against would-be closer Antonio Alfonseca, bringing home Toca and Payton to give the Mets an 8-7 lead. Relaford followed with his fourth hit of the evening, which scored Johnson and provided Armando Benitez with a two-run cushion when he entered the game in the bottom of the ninth in search of his 38th save.

Armando took care of the Marlins in order, and the Mets had a 9-7 win, their sixth in a row. The victory kept them within seven of Atlanta. It was the first time they’d been just one game from .500 since they were 4-5 on April 12. That this was a big win in the scheme of the standings was apparent to anyone who believed the Mets still had a chance to pull off a baseball miracle.

That this was the last game the Mets would win in 2001 before events having nothing to do with baseball would overtake every New Yorker’s consciousness was something blissfully unimaginable that September Saturday night.

GAME 144: October 1, 1995 [9] — METS 1 Braves 0 (11)
(Mets All-Time Game 144 Record: 19-29; Mets 1995 Record: 69-75)

The slightest of stakes are still stakes, and a team of professionals doesn’t question their meaning. It just goes out and refuses to be denied every chance to attain them.

That’s one way to look at how the 1995 Mets were closing out their season, which is what Dallas Green’s squad was doing this Sunday afternoon at Shea. This post-strike season — significantly shorter than standard regulation campaigns, given how long it took to achieve labor peace — may as well have been two seasons to the Mets. The first couldn’t have been much more desultory, bottoming out at 35-57 on August 5; the second couldn’t have been much more exhilarating. The Mets, who had grown progressively younger and spunkier, were one of the National League’s hottest teams, winning 33 of 51 as they entered their season finale.

If things broke right — a Mets win coupled with a Phillies loss — the club that had been buried in last place for most of two months could finish second…technically tied for second…and miles from first. The Atlanta Braves, this Sunday’s opponent, had run away and hidden from view, so it wasn’t as if the Mets had risen to playoff contention. They weren’t going to manage a winning record, either. But they had found themselves late, and this was no time to lose their momentum.

Late-season contests against teams that have clinched a playoff berth are unbalanced affairs by nature. The Braves were spending their final laps of the regular season as they did every year, whether they were playing a 162nd or a 144th game. They were tuning up for bigger things. Hence, Bobby Cox wasn’t going to push his starters. Of eight Atlanta position players, only one (Chipper Jones, whose first two career home runs were hit earlier that season at Shea) was removed at some point. John Smoltz went five shutout innings, but he, too, was taken out so as to rest for the real task at hand, the first National League Division Series, a little more than 48 hours away.

The Mets had no such distractions. Dallas Green’s pitcher, Jason Isringhausen, went eight innings, giving up no runs on four hits. But because a parade of Atlanta relievers stymied the Mets’ offense, Izzy would have to leave with a no-decision, his first after compiling a 9-2 record over his previous eleven starts. The rookie’s departure didn’t noticeably alter the course of the game. It was 0-0 after eight, then 0-0 after nine, and 0-0 — still  after ten.

While Cox no doubt fretted that the Braves’ bus to postseason was double-parked, the Mets made their move: Edgardo Alfonzo walked to lead off the bottom of the eleventh. Damon Buford did the same. Chris Jones bunted and reached first, loading the bases. The Mets’ final victory, looming as their sixth straight, was within their grasp.

But with Brad Woodall (Cox’s ninth pitcher of the day) on, Jose Vizcaino grounded back to the mound, creating a 1-2-3 double play and preserving the 0-0 stalemate. Carl Everett walked to reload the bases, setting the stage for Tim Bogar to either be a hero or delay the Braves’ travel plans a little longer.

Tim took his sweet time deciding what to do. He worked the count full before Woodall threw ball four. It may not have been heroic, but it was effective. Buford jogged down the line from third to score the only run of the season finale, giving rookie reliever Pete Walker his first (and only) Mets win, 1-0.

The loss couldn’t have meant less to the Braves, who, over the next few weeks, would roll the Rockies, eradicate the Reds and eliminate the Indians for their first (and only) Atlanta world championship. But to the Mets and their fans, it was plenty sweet. Shea public address announcer Del DeMontreaux informed what was left of that Sunday’s modest gathering of 18,876 that the Mets were the only team to sweep a series from each 1995 N.L. division winner. Indeed, they took out L.A. in August [10] and Cincy and Atlanta in the past week. Highlights were then beamed on the video screen, with the climactic image featuring two logos: those of the Mets and their upcoming opponents, the Cardinals. It was underlined with the reminder that the next chapter for these 34-18 finishers would commence April 1, 1996.

“We’ll be back,” DiamondVision promised. “And we’ll be better.”

Actually, committed Mets fans didn’t have to wait six months for improvement. That would come as the afternoon wound down and the final score filtered northward from Miami: Marlins 8 Phillies 2. Two years earlier — in the last pre-strike campaign played to completion — the Phillies had been N.L. champs and the Mets a 103-loss embarrassment to humanity. Now the Mets shared runner-up status with the quasi-defending pennant-winners.

Granted, they were both 21 games from first place; and there was no guarantee that a sizzling finish would translate into anything come ’96; and sizzle or not, the second-place Mets were still a sub-.500 ballclub.

But that’s killjoy stuff. The Mets sent their fans into winter happy…and not happy because winter was at hand. If your next stop isn’t the playoffs, that’s as good as it gets.

ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On September 12, 1969 [11], the first-place Mets continued to weave the kind of magic that was capturing an underdog-loving nation’s fancy [12].

Though Mets players might have disputed the notion that magic had anything to do with their Amazin’ success, nobody with a grip on basic baseball statistics would contend they were winning because of offense. Defense? Solid. Pitching? Outstanding. Hitting?

On this Friday at Forbes Field, hitting would have to be filed under “pitching”.

Against the Pirates in the first game of a twinight doubleheader, Jerry Koosman pitched a characteristic gem: a three-hitter that carried the day, 1-0. What made it unique was the lone run the Mets managed was driven in by…Jerry Koosman. A notoriously lousy hitter (he finished the game batting .056), Jerry singled to right with Bobby Pfeil on third in the fifth against Bob Moose. When the game went final, it could be said Kooz did something no Met pitcher had ever done: win a 1-0 game in which he drove in the only run.

That distinction would grow not nearly so distinct in the second game of the doubleheader. This time, the Mets’ starter was Don Cardwell, crafty on the mound and competent at the plate. Don was a veritable slugger among hurlers, having blasted 15 homers since 1957, including one a year in each of the three years he had been a Met. So it couldn’t have been too shocking to Pittsburgh starter Dock Ellis that Cardwell reached him for a run-scoring single in the second to put New York up, 1-0. And the eight innings of four-hit ball registered by Cardwell wasn’t wholly surprising, either.

The Amazin’ part is that when Don drove in Ron Swoboda from second in the second, that was all the scoring anybody would see in this nightcap. Ellis was brilliant the rest of the way, striking out eleven over eight, giving way to Chuck Hartenstein, who pitched a scoreless ninth. Tug McGraw succeeded Cardwell and closed out the Bucs for the 1-0 win…which meant the Mets won a 1-0 game in which their starting pitcher drove in the only run.


It had never happened in any Mets game before and now it happened twice in the same doubleheader.

Koosman’s and Cardwell’s feat would remain iconic in all future retellings of 1969, but it should be given its due as an overall Met rarity as well. Only three other pitchers turned the same trick, if that’s what it can be called: Buzz Capra, in 1972; Ray Sadecki, in 1974; and Nino Espinosa, in 1977. It hasn’t happened since.

Neither has 1969.