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Department of the Interior

We now interrupt the Mets’ first pennant race in seven years to race all the way around the bases for the first time in five years. We won’t pause to do so, however, for this is one of those plays in which you can’t hit pause. You hit and you run, or as Tom Hanks as Mr. White advised the Wonders at the Ohio State Fair in the oft-cited [1] 1996 classic That Thing You Do!, “You unplug and you run, run offstage.”

You don’t stand around. You don’t get to stand around until you’re dying to sit down offstage because you have run, run all the way around the bases, home to home, after hitting the ball: First base; second base; third base; home.

Coach Morris Buttermaker would be so proud of Ruben Tejada, for Wednesday night, around them bases he did roam. Tejada did what Kelly Leake couldn’t do in the climactic scene of Bad News Bears, what Kit Keller could do (rather improbably but impeccably cinematically) in the climactic scene of A League Of Their Own. He, his bat and his feet executed one of the rarest feats in modern baseball, certainly one of the rarest feats in modern Mets baseball.

Ruben Tejada hit an inside-the-park home run.

“You could’ve turned off your sets right there,” Warner Wolf used to suggest when he went to the videotape and showed the Mets falling hopelessly behind. Not that we would then and not that we do now, but once you’ve seen Ruben Tejada lash an inside-the-park home run, you could be forgiven for getting up and walking away, for you probably aren’t going to see anything more remarkable.

But when it comes to the Mets and games in which home runs rattle around inside the park, one never knows.

The Mets surged permanently ahead on the strength — there’s a word you don’t often associate with Ruben — of Tejada’s second-inning handi/footiwork. It increased the Mets’ lead from 1-0 to 3-0 en route to a characteristic 9-4 thrashing [2] of Coach Geno Auriemma’s Phillie Huskies. But there would be more to see and relish, including relatively conventional home runs from Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes; a dehydrated Matt Harvey summoning all available fluids to strike out nine hapless interlopers before departing with one out in the seventh; and Sean Gilmartin handling neatly a little situational leverage by getting out of the slight one-on, one-out jam Harvey bequeathed him when the Mets’ lead had been whittled to three.

It was all very good in its own right. There’s usually plenty to see and relish from our first-place New York Mets, but once you’ve seen Ruben Tejada lash an inside-the-park home run, you can’t reasonably expect to see anything nearly as scintillating.

Aaron Nola was pitching. Kelly Johnson was on second, having doubled in David Wright, who had singled. Tejada was working a full count, as was his wont during his 2012 heyday, when 239 feet of Statcast-measured magic unfurled.

Tejada swung and served a fair ball midway down the right field line. Domonic Brown had a vague idea about backhanding it but instead tumbled into Albert Achievement Awards [3] territory by flipping head over heels over the lethally low nearby side wall. With the right fielder out of commission (he’d later leave to be checked out for concussion [4] and obviously we hope that when they examined his head, they found the proverbial nothing), the ball was free to keep rolling, meaning Ruben was free to keep running. Second baseman Cesar Hernandez scurried into the corner to retrieve the ball, which indicates the ball is probably a lost cause for the defense.

Tejada slid out of habit but scored unchallenged. By crossing the plate on a ball he hit that (unlike Brown) didn’t leave the field of play, Ruben had crafted the 27th inside-the-parker in the 54-year history of the Mets. That averages out to one every two years, though that sounds more frequent than they feel.

They feel like they almost never happen. Perhaps that’s how it feels to me because when I was growing up they didn’t happen. The first five Mets ITPHRs predated my fandom, including three that happened at the Polo Grounds, where center field was vast and distant enough to come under the auspices of the U.S. Forest Service. Gil Hodges, Richie Ashburn and Charlie Neal each went deep without going out of the Polo Grounds, and none was in the young or spry phase of his respective career. (Thirty-eight year-old Hodges on being waved around third [5] with the very first Mets Insider on May 16, 1962: “Everything had gone black.”) A more guessable candidate, Ron Hunt, notched the inaugural Shea ITPHR in 1966.

I started watching the Mets in 1969. I didn’t see an inside-the-parker until 1979. They hit one in my initial decade on the beat, via the bat and legs of Don Hahn in 1971, but I don’t remember it. I do remember Bud Harrelson — who’d inside-the-parked at Forbes Field in 1967 — scoring on some combination of self-generated hit and opposition miscue [6] and I thought it was an inside-the-park home run, but it wasn’t. I also remember myself scoring on what was probably a four-base error in Pee Wee League tee-ball during the same general period as Hahn and Harrelson made their 360-foot trips and deciding to consider it an ITPHR because I was eight and I hit the ball, which in and of itself, considering my track record of swinging and missing at balls sitting on tees, was a fairly monumental accomplishment.

The first Met ITPHR I witnessed on television was Doug Flynn’s during what still ranks in my reckoning as one of the greatest innings in Mets history. The Mets had already hung seven on the Cincinnati Reds at Shea Stadium in the sixth inning of June 12, 1979, when Flynn batted for the second time in the frame, with two on and two out. He belted a Dave Tomlin pitch to deep center, where Gold Gloved Cesar Geronimo couldn’t catch up with it. Willie Montañez scored from third. Steve Henderson scored from first. And Doug Flynn scored from home.

The Mets…the last-place Mets…the last-place Mets who never hit inside-the-park, outside-the-park or anywhere-near-the-park home runs…posted their first 10-run inning en route to a 12-6 romp over the Big Red Machine. Dave Tomlin could have turned off his set right there.

Flynn opened the floodgates on a veritable golden age of Met inside-the-parkers. Gil Flores hit one later in 1979. Lee Mazzilli and Henderson hit one apiece in 1980. Wally Backman and Dave Kingman each hit one in 1982. The lightly recalled Mark Bradley took Fernando Valenzuela internally deep in 1983. Long and lanky Darryl Strawberry did it to Bruce Sutter in 1984, one of four future Hall of Fame pitchers to give up a Mets inside-the-parker; Sandy Koufax, Steve Carlton and Pedro Martinez also reside in that unlikely club. Straw would hit another in 1989, two years after Howard Johnson fashioned one (in the heat of a September pennant race, no less). Darryl and HoJo were 30-30 men, so no wonder they could slug mightily and dash speedily all at once.

The inside-the-parkers of the past quarter-century reverted primarily to the province of guys you wouldn’t expect home runs from otherwise. Less Strawberry, more Harrelson. Kevin Elster took advantage of the Busch Stadium dimensions and turf in 1990. Tim Bogar did the same at the Vet in 1993 (doing a number on the ligaments in his left hand as he slid headfirst into home, a reminder that the number “1993” was rarely kind to the Mets). A rookie infielder expected to maybe help out in a utility role, Edgardo Alfonzo, scored his first major league run ITPHR-style at Riverfront Stadium. Fonzie and friends were having themselves quite the Saturday on May 6, 1995, building an impenetrable 11-4 eighth-inning lead that accuracy compels me to confirm proved incredibly penetrable. The Reds scored six in the eighth and three in the ninth to prevail, 13-11.

Somewhere, perhaps, Dave Tomlin chuckled.

The next inside-the-park job was put in the books by another freshman, late-season callup and prospective postseason sparkplug Timo Perez, against the Phillies, on September 24, 2000. You had to like the way that kid hustled and took nothing for granted.

In the Faith and Fear era, we’ve blogged seven Met ITPHRs, none with more revelry [7] than Marlon Anderson’s acronym-happy PH ITPHR on June 11, 2005, against the geographically disoriented Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Anderson’s perfectly placed ball — it landed in right-center at Shea at exactly the spot where Steve Finley could kick it past Vladimir Guerrero — touched off a chase for the ages. Finley chased the ball. Anderson chased history. Anderson blew a bubble and he chugged around third. Finley relayed the ball to Adam Kennedy, who relayed it to Jose Molina, whose tag of Marlon came a scosh too late. The only pinch-hit inside-the-park home run in Met annals — off Francisco Rodriguez, no less — tied the score in the bottom of the ninth and set the stage for Cliff Floyd’s tenth-inning game-winning blast, which traveled over the fence, which was probably healthier for all concerned if a hair less thrilling.

After an inside-the-parker of a pinch-hitting nature with everything on the line off a decorated closer, it would figure all else would be a little downhill, but we have reserved retrospective kudos for Kaz Matsui commencing his 2006 season (albeit a couple of weeks late) with an ITPHR. Kaz’s four-bagger was particularly noteworthy [8] because it marked the third consecutive year in which Matsui’s first plate appearance resulted in a home run. Five months later, the most logical candidate the Mets ever had for inside-the-park glory came through with a flourish. Jose Reyes launched a ball that completely confounded the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp. Jose flew so fast around Shea’s bases that I remain convinced that if he had made a sharp left at the plate, he could have continued on to first for a five-bagger. (That was also the night I was absolutely convinced [9] the 87-52 Mets were going to win the 2006 World Series; sigh.)

Damion Easley, whose metrics never quite captured his usefulness, went inside-the-Miller Park [10] off future Met Chris Capuano in August of 2007. The next two times ITP happened, the victims were former Mets: Martinez for the Phillies in 2009 at Citi Field and Livàn Hernandez of pre-hype Washington in 2010 at Nationals Park. The progenitor on both occasions was Angel Pagan, and despite his well-intentioned victimizing, the Mets lost on both occasions. If you don’t clearly recall Angel’s ’09 poke to the then-cavernous recesses of the Mets’ new crib (nor Shane Victorino pointing at the ball stuck at the base of the Great Wall of Flushing instead of just picking it up, the big baby), it may be because another rarity that Sunday blotted it out [11]: Jeff Francouer’s line drive that became Eric Bruntlett’s game-ending unassisted triple play. Come to think of it, Pagan’s second ITPHR also transpired in a game with a triple play [12], one he himself started in R.A. Dickey’s very first Met start.

But what Ruben did was pretty cool, too.

Also cool: going on The Happy Recap Radio Show this week. Listen to a little more Mets history talk here [13].