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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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Bullpen Depth Like Crazy

When Pitchers & Catchers™ report to Port St. Lucie, the pitchers will outnumber the catchers, as the pitchers outnumber everybody in camp and all players by craft. Each game begins with one man at every position and each position tends to remain manned by that same fellow from the first inning to the last — except for the one whose contingent dominates the earliest days of Spring. The very good Mets of 2022, theoretically featuring two of the greatest starting pitchers of the century; fortified by several contemporary standouts of the genre; and bolstered by talented arms in search of expanded utility, completed exactly zero games.

None from Scherzer.
None from deGrom.
None from Bassitt, Walker or Carrasco.
None from Peterson, Megill or Williams.
None out of the blue from Szapucki, Butto or Givens.

If we learned anything about Buck Showalter’s pitching philosophy, it’s that even in this era, when Sandy Alcantra throws six complete games and everybody faints that he didn’t fall apart, Buck’s not interested in shaking his starter’s hand between the mound and the dugout. The manager’s gonna take the ball from that pitcher’s hand or quietly pat his back on the bench long before such a camera-ready opportunity arises. You’d figure by accident there might have been one Met complete game last year. Then again, under detail-oriented Buck Showalter, nothing is accidental.

So although we will be dazzled by the combined presence of Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, intrigued as hell by the arrival of Kodai Senga, assured by old pro Jose Quintana and comforted to recognize Carlos Carrasco (The Dean of the rotation, dating way back to the summer of 2021…unless you’re leaning on the longevity of projected sixth starter/2020 debuter David Peterson), we can’t take our eyes off the relief corps. The bullpen projects as our vital fluid. It will be vital and it will be fluid.

In 2022, while Buck was using 11 starting pitchers, he had warming up in the pen a nation of millions, for in modern baseball it takes a bullpen of millions to hold batters back. Perhaps because of the removal of the one-batter specialist from the list of approved tactics, we need not just a big pen, but a revolving door. Nobody’s coming in for just one batter unless there are two outs and that pitcher gets that batter and the manager has decided to change horses the next inning. Relief stints have grown longer. Relievers need rest. Thus spins the door.

Every year brings a whole new pen. The Mets will indeed welcome to camp all kinds of relievers who weren’t Mets last year.

• The fairly familiar, like decorated veteran David Robertson.

•The vaguely familiar, like erstwhile Marlins Jeff Brigham and Elieser Hernandez.

• The will-have-to-become familiar lest he be legally plucked, like Rule 5 pick Zach Greene.

• The perennial “big arms” still seeking to transform talent into a track record, like Long Island’s Own Stephen Ridings (LIOSR) and recent pickup Sam Coonrod.

• The inevitable lefty, like Brooks Raley.

• The equally inevitable post-surgery comeback candidate, like John Curtiss.

A few of the aforementioned are already part of a plan built on the totally familiar Edwin Diaz, Adam Ottavino and longest-serving Met reliever in sight Drew Smith (even if it often feels as if Smith has been getting recalled from Triple-A or coming off the IL every other fortnight since he was traded here for Lucas Duda) and might involve a stray starter, like Peterson, Megill, or a prospect who makes progress, like Bryce Montes de Oca, or a handy chap to have around, like Tommy Hunter or Stephen Nogosek. Some of these fellows we’ll come to trust. Others will make us shudder. At least two — Raley and Coonrod — I’ll have to convince myself to experience on baseball alone given the stances they’ve taken at previous postings. I just finished rooting through clenched teeth for Kyrie Irving to display his basketball brilliance on behalf of my basketball team’s potential advancement. Irving’s acumen made him almost worth it, but never quite. If Brooks Raley or Sam Coonrod have been referred to the Kyrie Irving of baseball, it hasn’t been because they’re among the best at their art form.

Not stashed somewhere inside the mystery box of chocolates that composes a bullpen ahead of Spring despite being mentioned periodically this winter is free agent Zack Britton. Britton’s had a splendid career, some of it with Buck Showalter. He’s proven he can pitch in New York. We understand implicitly that setup man money is no object to this ownership. What’s the obstacle?

Options. Britton doesn’t have any. informed sources report the Mets prefer the flexibility options allow. Dude throws a couple of innings that likely elbow him aside from pitching for a couple of days, that’s one less reliever at the ready. Solution? Option him! Send that dude down, bring this dude up. Rinse and repeat, as they say. You look at a bullpen that briefly sheltered as many one-game wonders as we had in 2022 — Nate Fisher, R.J. Alvarez, Sam Clay, Rob Zastryzny — and you can infer it wasn’t because of sudden rises and/or dips in faith and/or effectiveness. It was the cult of the fresh arm in action. Or maybe not in action, as recalled yet unused Connor Grey could attest sometimes happens. One absurdly early roster preview I read (you can call any of them a best guess in February) penciled in Nogosek less for his pretty decent ability or world-class mustache than the fact that he’s out of options. Like Rule 5 status, options can sometimes make decisions before a deliberative GM has finished weighing all possibilities.


Relievers have been designed to serve as fungible assets at any given moment. Occasionally, you’ll drop a veritable virtual penny and not bother to pick it up only to find out later it increased in value. Witness, as my friend Mike Steffanos of Mike’s Mets reminded readers recently, the Met stint of Darren O’Day. It wasn’t a long enough stint to be labeled a tenure: four games.

Four games can be plenty. In the 2015 National League Championship Series, four games provided enough time for the Mets to claim the pennant. In April of 2009, O’Day, a Rule 5 selection the previous winter, compiled three innings in four games, allowing three inherited runners to score but none that went on his account. Then he was placed on waivers in a dizzying episode of roster roulette. The Mets needed Nelson Figueroa to fill in for a spot start that would have otherwise been taken by Mike Pelfrey, who was dealing with a touch of right forearm tendonitis after he ushered in the Citi Field era by starting the Home Opening Night loss to the Padres. The front office gambled that it could shuffle O’Day to Buffalo for a couple of weeks. They lost their bet. O’Day was off to Texas on a waiver claim and ready to continue a major league career that lasted until last year.

Had O’Day not announced his retirement a couple of weeks ago, he was ready to assume the mantle of Longest Ago Met Still Active now that Oliver Perez is done pitching North of the Border and Joe Smith — if that is his real name — remains at free agent liberty. Smith will go into Mets history as the Last Met Standing from Shea Stadium, having pitched into August of 2022, whereas O’Day went on the IL in July and didn’t come off it the rest of the year, while Perez went home to pitch in Mexico after his second Diamondback engagement ended in April.

But O’Day called it a day, which means a) Justin Turner of the Boston Red Sox is your reigning LAMSA, having debuted as a Met in 2010; and b) we should hope the Mets are foresightful about handling their relief assets, lest they let another O’Day slip through their fingers.

“It’s always a tough call,” Jerry Manuel said about the designation for assignment that ostensibly left O’Day the soon-to-be-effective sidearmer by the curb for anybody who wanted him. “When you leave Spring Training, you expect to keep everything in place for a period of time, just to see where you are. You don’t expect to be making a lot of different changes and stuff like that. But that’s where we are and that’s the decision we made.” One wouldn’t be surprised to hear Buck Showalter say something very similar the first time a reliever who didn’t do anything egregious get DFA’d, whenever that comes. One might also tattoo the explanation to one’s brain the first instant one is tempted to get overly hung up on the composition of an Opening Day roster.

What “really bothered me about the botched decision on Darren O’Day,” Mike Steffanos wrote fourteen years after the fact, “was that it was a pattern of failure with the Mets in the 21st Century. Even as they struggled to develop bullpen arms from within the organization, there were some mighty poor decisions made with pitchers they actually had on their roster,” adding under-the-radar dismissals Dan Wheeler, Rafael Montero and Paul Sewald to his list of valuable arms given away. Then again, Mike acknowledges, “every club makes mistakes from time to time with personnel decisions.”


I can think of two clubs that had relief depth that would make late-innings mouths water, even if neither club’s brain trust could have fathomed just how much their combined relievers were on the precipice of accomplishing. Prescience, however, is even more rare than an infallible bullpen or front office.

Last October, when Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter died, I thought of Ralph Kiner framing the then Cubs reliever as an ultimate defensive weapon. If you knew Sutter was lurking out in the bullpen, you better be ahead by the seventh inning, otherwise you were pretty much doomed. With Sutter, Ralph said, “it’s a seven-inning game.” I don’t think I’d heard a relief pitcher’s dominance put in those terms before.

Upon his passing, I looked for statistical evidence of Sutter shortening games that matched my recollection, given that until he began to have arm troubles with the Atlanta Braves, I indeed remembered Sutter’s entry as the signal to hit the early psychological shower. “Here comes Bruce, I guess we’ve already lost.” Bruce Sutter predated the age of the one-inning closer. His managers didn’t wait for a lead in the ninth. Deploy him as soon as strategically amenable and reap the benefits; worry about his resilience tomorrow. Once in a while, a Met would shortsheet Sutter. Mookie Wilson hit a memorable (to me, anyway) home run to beat him a memorable (again, to me) game when the split-finger innovator was a Cardinal, and we definitely got to him at a critical juncture of the goofiest game ever, the 19-inning July 4-5 marathon at Atlanta. It might have been Sutter’s lack of invincibility that long night’s journey into morning, when he couldn’t preserve a ninth-inning lead, that signaled the Bruce who shortened games for the bulk of a decade was no longer regularly on call.

The box score I came up with to confirm Sutter’s effectiveness indicates the sort of shield the man could construct in order to thwart opposition offense. But I gotta tell ya: I stumbled into a whole lot more than the raw material for a paean to a single closer. It’s from Friday night, September 12, 1980, a Mets-Cubs game at Shea that lives today in the annals of obscurity, save perhaps in the home of a little-used career backup catcher not named Ron Hodges. There and maybe in particular precincts of Chicagoland, it might be known as the Mike O’Berry Game, and why shouldn’t it be? Mike O’Berry was what would be commonly understood as the hero of the game, snapping a fourteenth-inning 5-5 tie with a bases-loaded single that sent all three runners home, the third of them on an error charged to rookie center fielder Mookie Wilson. After O’Berry took second as the dust settled over the baserunning carousel, ex-Met Mike Vail stepped up and insulted the injurious by socking a take that! two-run homer to make it Vail’s Current Team 10 Team That Gave Up On Vail 5. The latter would not rally in the bottom of the fourteenth and absorb its thirteenth consecutive defeat.

Yup, the Magic was Gone by the second of week September for the 1980 Mets. I was gone from full attention to this game when it was underway, out to dinner with a friend I figured could use some cheering up or at least a distraction given that he had a parent in the hospital at the time and would otherwise have been sitting home alone. Later, if I’ve put the pieces of my memory and newspaper archives together correctly, we swung by the San Gennaro Feast in Island Park. That was more my friend’s scene than mine. He liked carnival rides. I liked the part where we were in the car with the Mets game on. The thirteen-game losing streak I remember sort of well (too well). The thirteenth that was lost in the fourteenth goes in the vaguely recalled file.

The next day’s coverage, such as it was about an outcome that involved a last-place club outlasting a next-to-last-place club and didn’t seem to have the Cub press contingent traveling to New York, focused to a great degree on O’Berry coming through when it mattered. “I was the right man at the right time,” O’Berry was quoted in an AP story. “With [Tim] Blackwell hurt, Thursday night was the first night I’ve played in three weeks or so. He had been playing really well and I haven’t had a chance to play back-to-back games. It felt good.”

A hindsight perusal at the box score feels good for a different reason. As noted, Mookie was in center for the Mets. Even if he “fumbled” O’Berry’s hit, you’re delighted 43 years later to see he was batting leadoff and reaching base twice — on walks — because that meant when he got to first, he was crossing paths with the Cub who played that position. Fella named Bill Buckner. Since it was the first Mets-Cubs game of Wilson’s young major league career, and batting practice fraternization between a September callup and a grizzled veteran seems unlikely, we can probably mark the bottom of the third on September 12, 1980, as the first meeting of Mookie Wilson and Bill Buckner. Perhaps they nodded at one another. Perhaps one was blasé and the other was nervous. Perhaps Buckner didn’t have a chance to size up Wilson other than to note he was suddenly on second base once he was balked over there. “Speedy guy,” Bill might have thought. Or with a batting crown within his grasp three weeks from the season’s finish line, the first baseman might have been anticipating his next time up. Buckner entered the evening batting .324. He’d finish the season with that same figure, three points ahead of St. Louis’s Keith Hernandez and five up on Hernandez’s teammate Garry Templeton. It would be Buckner’s lone batting title…and for the next six years as much of a calling card as Bill would carry around as he continued to pile up base hits.

Yet as much as one might tingle at the notion of Mookie Wilson, 24, introducing himself to Bill Buckner, 30, at a mostly deserted Shea Stadium (paid attendance: 8,053); and as much as an old Mets fan gets a kick out of noticing Alex Treviño, who literally never hit a home run in 733 Met at-bats, batting third for a try-anything Joe Torre, or rediscovering Joel Youngblood was considered the best possible option to hit cleanup (Joel entered September 12 with six homers and would total all of eight home runs in 514 ABs, but did sock sixteen the year before…and the Mets infamously totaled only 61 as a team in 1980); and as much as one nods in agreement upon seeing that a dozen losses in a row would compel Torre to bat for his starting shortstop Bill Almon in the sixth inning with Mike Jorgensen before a pitching change had him pinch-hit for the pinch-hitter with Jerry Morales (it more or less worked — Morales’s groundout scored Lee Mazzilli); as much as we are tempted to be content with the hitters and the hitting or lack thereof, we remember we were sent to this box score because we were looking for a representative Bruce Sutter outing.


We found that and so much more amid the pitching lines.

First off, the opposing righthanded starters have names that would resonate through time for the Mets fan who paid at least a little attention as the 1980s unfolded. They shared a first name and a dreaded characteristic. They would both ingrain themselves in our consciousness as Met-killers. One of them at the time was a Met, so like Vail and Dave Kingman (who’d bop a seventh-inning homer for the Cubs), we know there was some vengeful foreshadowing lurking in his Met tenure.

First, the non-Met named Mike. That would be Mike Krukow. Get a chill yet? In this century, Krukow is a well-regarded and well-loved announcer for the San Francisco Giants. In the 1980s, he was the recurring bane of the New York Mets’ existence. Krukow had been pitching against the Mets since 1976. He was just getting the hang of making life difficult for them. By 1989, when he’d make his major league tour complete after one year in Philly and the seven that would set him up as a future fixture in San Fran’s booth, Krukow posted a 22-7 lifetime record when facing the Mets. His ERA in those 44 appearance may not have been microscopic (3.69), but he sure found ways to win. In 1986, lest we take our invincibility too literally, this Mike went 4-0 in four starts in Mets-Giants games.

Krukow’s vexing dominance should have prepared us for the Mike who was waiting for us in the postseason, a Mike who bore a passing resemblance to the Mike who pitched on our behalf that desolate September night in 1980. Oh wait — it was the very same Mike: Mike Scott. His qualifications as a Met-killer don’t need regular-season stats to back them up. He shut us down completely in Game One of the NLCS as an Astro (some would say as a crooked extraterrestrial) and did basically the same in Game Four. You’re familiar with the Game Six that preceded the Game Six for which Mookie and Buckner are known. That Game Six marathon in Houston was, as legend insists, necessary for the Mets to win despite leading the series three games to two because if the Mets had lost it, Mike Scott would have his split-finger fastballs all scuffed and ready to go down the Mets’ throats in Game Seven. Good luck making the World Series with that hanging over your head.

We didn’t know any of that on September 12, 1980. Mike Scott was simply a young righty of some promise getting a start because the Mets were in fifth place and the Cubs were in sixth place and what possible difference did it make? Differences aside, another two similarities to consider. When their careers were over, both Mike Krukow and Mike Scott totaled exactly 124 major league wins, each of them able to point to 1986 as his professional apogee. Scott, prior to scaring the bejeesus out of Mets fans in October, earned the National League Cy Young Award on an 18-10 record, a 2.22 ERA, a no-hitter to clinch the NL West flag and a burgeoning aura of untouchability. Krukow finished ’86 at 20-9, enough to place in third in the same voting.

Also, in case you’re interested, Krukow had one major league save while Scott had three. Not that interesting? Maybe not, but saves are about to be the currency of the realm as we continue our trek through the pitching lines of September 12, 1980, so we might as well get some on the board. Don’t worry, we’re about to have plenty more.


A fourteen-inning game, unless we’re talking Marichal vs. Spahn on July 2, 1963 (the contest that went sixteen at Candlestick, settled only when Willie Mays took Spahn deep for a 1-0 Giants victory), implies relief pitching would have to be a factor. On that September night in 1980, boy was it ever. And boy, were the relievers good. I don’t mean that night. I mean as time went on.

Not that time doesn’t go on in a fourteen-inning game. The Mets and Cubs played for four hours and twenty-eight minutes to reach their 10-5 decision. I think I was home from the San Gennaro Feast in ample time to take in the conclusion.

The starting pitchers didn’t altogether indicate that a half-dozen seasons down the road they’d be considered two of the three most formidable pitchers in the senior circuit. Scott acquitted himself in what we’d eventually call a quality start: six innings, three earned runs on nine hits and two walks. Had he been even that fallible in 1986, it’s possible we’d have won that pennant in four games. Against our Mike, Buckner made the most of grounding into a double play, bringing in Ivan de Jesus from third in the first; Jose Figueroa, an outfielder trying to make the most of what turned out to be his only major league season, knocked in O’Berry from third in the third; and Krukow made clear the National League didn’t need no stinking DH when he drove home Jim Tracy from third.

Tracy would go on to manage three clubs of his own for all or part of eleven seasons between 2001 and 2012. In 1980, like so many of the players filling out this September spot on the schedule, he was getting his feet wet. He’d play 42 games in ’80 and 45 in ’81. The next twenty years would take him through the minors, to Japan, back to Triple-A, then the dugout in the Midwest League, the Southern League, the Eastern League and the International League, where his minor league managing earned him spots as a major league bench coach for Montreal and Los Angeles. He worked under Davey Johnson in 1999 and 2000 before taking over for the most recent (let’s not say last) manager to lead the Mets to a world championship. How much he was guided in handling a pitching staff by what he experienced on September 12, 1980, as he climbed the ladder would be mere speculation. But let’s speculate that he might have taken a few notes.

The aforementioned pinch-hitting decision Torre made, when he went Jorgensen for Almon, then Morales for Jorgy, was instigated when Cubs manager Joey Amalfitano pulled Krukow in the sixth. Up until then, their Mike wasn’t exactly mastering our Mets, but like Scott, he was holding his own. Rookie Hubie Brooks got Krukow for a run-scoring single in the second, bringing home Youngblood, who had stolen second (the fourteenth bag swiped for a cleanup hitter who stole more than he slugged). In the third, nominal RBI man Treviño grounded into a double play with nobody out, but it was enough to usher Wilson in from third. In the fourth, it was Brooks producing again, this time with a single to score Mazz.

It’s 3-3 in the sixth, three earned runs apiece on the starters’ ledgers. Krukow walks Youngblood, gives up a tie-breaking triple to Brooklyn’s own Lee Mazzilli. A one-out walk to Brooks and Torre’s decision to strike while the momentum is warm with Jorgensen forces Amalfitano’s hand. Amalfitano’s major league playing career spanned the 1954 Giants to the 1967 Cubs. He stayed in the game from the time he was done playing to just a couple of years ago. He didn’t manage in the majors for very long, but he coached forever then moved into a couple of different front offices. He was a valued member of the Giants organization until 2021, retiring just as he was about to turn 87. Today, he and Mays are among the ten living baseball players who can say they were New York Giants. You don’t stick around that long without learning some things and knowing some things.

On September 12, 1980, Amalfitano had learned enough to know that it was time to take out Krukow. What Amalfitano and nobody else — not even the eventually sainted Torre in the other dugout — could know was the caliber of relief pitching about to go on display at Shea.


With Torre having brought in lefty PH Jorgensen, Amalfitano countered with a lefty RP, Willie Hernandez, spurring Torre to call Jorgy back to the bench and insert righty Morales. Baseball chess! Chess might have seemed a better alternative to the 45,000 or so potential ticket-buyers who opted for other things to do with their Friday night, but this sort of thing is always worth the price of admission, particularly if it works out for your rooting interest. In the nearest term, it worked out for the Mets, with Morales’s grounder enough to provide the Mets with the run from third. When Mazz sprinted home, the home team led, 5-3. Pity on those of us who had chosen the East Bay Diner and the Ferris wheel afterward over a night out in Queens.

In the slightly longer view, Hernandez recorded an out while permitting a run; intentionally walked Jose Moreno, pinch-hitter for Scott (more chess!); and then struck out Mookie. The earned runs were Krukow’s. Hernandez at least got the Cubs out of the inning.

Willie Hernandez? If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Willie Hernandez had stardom ahead of him. The substantially longer term would be very kind to the southpaw. He’d have to leave Chicago. Like Krukow, he’d wind through Philadelphia. Like Krukow, he’d move on and scale new heights. In 1984, as the Detroit Tigers’ closer, he was essentially unhittable. The Tigers ran the AL East table all the way to a pennant and world championship. Willie’s 32 saves without a single one blown until the division was safely clinched drew raves. He made the first of three consecutive All-Star teams and was elected the American League Cy Young and the American League MVP. He also recorded the final outs of that year’s ALCS and World Series. Willie Hernandez, who pitched two-thirds of an inning and allowed an inherited run to score in a battle of more than nominal interest only to draft-position obsessives, would go on to post 147 career saves.

You didn’t know that amid a 5-3 Met lead inside a mostly empty Shea where all you cared about was not losing a thirteenth game in a row, and knowing it might not have moved you. Still, that’s a pretty good relief pitcher you just watched pitch in relief.


The Mets would counter with their own. One of the most wonderful things a young player can do in retrospect is emerge. Well, in 1980, Neil Allen emerged as a reliever who could end games. We were probably still referring to firemen rather than closers then, but whatever role Neil was filling, he was taking care of business. Back when the Mets were still winning games, in August, Neil was saving them without fail, converting four consecutive save opportunities in a little over a week just before the Mets fell off the competitive map in the NL East. He’d been the National League’s Player of the Week in early July and his 22 saves would land him fourth in the NL before the season was over.

Unfortunately, 22 was how many saves Allen had when September commenced. The Mets not teeing up save chances had much to do with that, but one that was within Neil’s statistical grasp got away. After Willie Hernandez got his men, Torre turned to Allen to do the same. The lead Scott bequeathed him was 5-3. It didn’t last. Allen walked Figueroa, retired Buckner, but then gave up Kingman’s two-run homer. It was only the seventh, but technically it was a blown save.

“I’ll take my chances with a two-run lead in the seventh inning with Neil Allen on the mound,” Torre said, figuratively standing in front of a young player who had not come through in the clutch. Joe indeed stuck by his 22-year-old with the live arm and Allen recovered enough to keep the game tied at five, punching out Tracy, grounding out second baseman Mike Tyson, and then throwing a spotless eighth. No, no more saves for Allen in 1980, but there’d be eighteen in strike-shortened 1981 and another nineteen the following season. Between ’80 and ’82, only two National League relievers piled up more saves than Allen. Neither of Neil’s peers in this category pitched for a team that consistently posted losing records.


A reliever who might have anticipated a career’s worth of similar frustration countered Allen’s effort in the eighth. Bill Caudill had come up to the sub-.500 Cubs in 1979 and persevered through a summer stuck in the basement in 1980. The Cubs would win only 64 games; Caudill would pitch in 72 overall. Chicago’s North Siders would be no more impressive in the two halves that composed 1981’s split season. Then he’d be traded in 1982 to an outpost that seemed to have studied futility at Cubs U. Bill was suddenly a Seattle Mariner. The Seattle Mariners had been stuck in a rut since their founding in 1977, not altogether uncommon for an expansion outfit, but not very cheering, either.

Yet Caudill heads to the Pacific Northwest and makes the best of a rainy situation. Inside the Kingdome, Caudill leads the Mariners to a fleeting fling with respectability. In late July, they’re three games above .500 and four games out of first place. Seattle had never seen anything like it. Nor had they experienced a closer like Caudill. Taking his promotion to closer and running with it, Bill not only posted big numbers — 12 wins, 26 saves — but he elevated his persona to a legitimate Character of the Game. In Seattle, Caudill transformed into the Inspector, as in Clouseau. His entry music was “The Pink Panther Theme”. He wasn’t shy about donning a Sherlock Holmes-type getup. He took a magnifying glass to the M’s bat rack in search of hits. He was having fun, the ballclub was having fun, and the fans were having fun. Caudill was also having the year that would turn around his career. The Mariners would fall out of the race and not return to contending until a kid named Ken Griffey, Jr., was all grown up, but Bill managed to match his saves total in 1983, increase it by ten after arriving in Oakland in 1984 (making his first All-Star team) and finally get to pitch for a first-place team in Toronto in 1985. Caudill would put 106 saves in the books by the time he was done pitching in 1987.

On September 12, 1980, Bill had exactly none on his ledger. But he did throw a scoreless seventh, brushing aside a first-and-second situation when he struck out Steve Henderson. In the words of Inspector Clouseau himself in the 1968 film of the same name, “You’ll soon be laughing at the other side of my face, my friend!” They’d smile in Seattle a couple of years down the road. At Shea this Friday night, what was left of the home crowd had cause to grimace.


When both Caudill and Allen were done with their respective evening’s work, the mound belonged to Dick Tidrow. Tidrow knew about pitching for high stakes. He was one of the stalwarts of the Yankees’ staff when the Yankees were breaking their delightful pennant and World Series droughts (all good things must end). Saved ten games as backup fireman to Sparky Lyle in 1976 and was the pitcher of the record on the winning side once Chris Chambliss socked his walkoff home run in Game Five of the ALCS; won five games in six starts down the stretch in ’77 after spending most of the season in a setup role; made 25 starts for the team that roared back from 14 down in ’78. There was a do-it-all aura surrounding Tidrow that was as familiar as his thick mustache. “I thought some years I did as good a job as Sparky or Goose [Gossage],” Dick told Vic Ziegel in Inside Pitch, not bothering with false modesty. “But it was in a different part of the game.” If you rooted against the Yankees in the late 1970s, you dreaded the specter of Tidrow. Though he had his slumps, you just assumed he’d figure out how to negotiate a tough inning.

The Cubs traded for him in 1979. They didn’t have much in the way of big games in which to deploy Dick, but they certainly had a long one on their hands in Flushing. It wouldn’t show up among either his 100 career wins or 55 career saves, but let the record show that on September 12, 1980, Tidrow finessed his way through the eighth (stranding the bases loaded when he grounded Treviño to second) and shrugged off a Cub error (Buckner’s on a Mazzilli grounder) in the ninth. Two scoreless innings. Definitely something to dread if you rooted for the Mets. Tidrow had been pitching in the bigs since coming up to Cleveland in 1972 and would keep pitching in the bigs until the Mets let him go in 1984. Like his Cub manager Amalfitano, he’d find a home in the Giants front office, where’d he’d be instrumental in developing the pitching that would bring three world championships to San Francisco in the 2010s.

If this game was growing long, maybe it figured, given the longevity that was to attach to so many of its participants.


The Met pitcher who came in after Tidrow entered would do some sticking around of his own, both immediately and in the distance. Jeff Reardon was another 1980 rookie, carrying that designation after his 1979 callup to Shea lodged him squarely on Torre’s radar (Reardon had the unusual distinction of technically making his debut in a game that happened more than two months before he arrived in a majors, retroactively penciled into the box score of a suspended June game when it continued come August). Reardon was pitching well enough in 1980 as a setup man to merit consideration as a closer, but the Mets had Allen emerging in that role. As Tidrow could have told him, there was value in setting up. Reardon was on his way to leading the Mets in appearances with 61 and finishing second on the entire staff in wins with eight — all out of the bullpen. Allen had that fourth-place finish in saves, while Reardon was earning a couple of points in Rookie of the Year voting. What Mets starters were lacking in victories (Mark Bomback’s ten led the rotation), Met relievers were making up for in promise.

If Reardon promised Torre he’d take the Mets as far as he could the night of September 12, throwing five innings of shutout relief made him as good as his word. Jeff hadn’t gone five in a game ever before. He wasn’t designed to go five. He was a reliever who had no hinges, which is to say we’re not talking about a swingman here. Reardon’s career would yield 880 appearances, all of them in relief. But when a game is tied in the ninth and you’ve already used your usual last line of bullpen defense, it’s a whole new ballgame.

It may not have been an unprecedented performance in Mets history — legendary marathon games occasionally poking their heads into franchise lore as they did — but Reardon doing what he did for how long he did it against the Cubs represents a unicorn outing. Consider that 23 times a Met has pitched five or more shutout innings of relief in a regular-season extra-inning game. One of those times, it was Larry Bearnarth going seven scoreless. That was in the 23-inning nightcap of the 32-inning doubleheader of May 31, 1964, a game where throwing seven innings in relief and giving up zero runs was overshadowed by another pitcher, the recently passed Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry, throwing ten scoreless innings in relief en route to the Giants’ 8-6 win (Galen Cisco, who pitched nine, took the loss). Perry wasn’t yet the formidable starting pitcher he’d grow into. He helped his own cause when he got comfortable throwing a spitter, which he wasn’t supposed to do, but it was extras and Perry decided he had to begin getting outs on a regular basis, both for the game’s sake and his career’s. According to Perry, this was the game…at Shea…against the Mets…when he threw protocol to the wind and let his moisture fly. Ten scoreless innings told him he should make the spitball a feature of his arsenal. He didn’t mention this curious little addition to his repertoire until he wrote a book about a decade later, by which time he was on his way to 314 wins in all when he finished beguiling batters in 1983. That game against the Mets in 1964 was only the seventh W of his career. Say what you will about flouting of the rules, but Gaylord and the spitter went pretty far.

There is no record of Bearnarth or any of the other Mets who went deep in extras while producing five or more zeroes resorting to such tactics.

Twenty-two times the Met reliever who accomplished all that could be asked under desperate circumstances had at least one major league start in his background. Bearnarth versus San Fran was actually throwing a scoreless five-plus extra-inning-game stint for the second time in his Met tenure; Larry was the winning pitcher after going seven scoreless against the Milwaukee Braves in 1963. He’d also done a little starting.

Tug McGraw, in case all you know about him is he shouted “You Gotta Believe” for a couple of months, unfurled ten such outings in extra-inning affairs between 1969 and 1973. He’d done his share of starting.

The last Met to produce an outing of this nature, Rick Reed in 1997, was doing what he could to help his floundering team on its season-opening California road trip, but he’d been a starter before he joined the Mets; he’d thrown a seven-inning start four days earlier in his Met debut; and he’d be a starter of renown for the rest of his Met days.

Danny Frisella, who manned innings 17 through 21 in the 24-inning loss at the Astrodome in 1968, had made starts.

Jerry Cram, who yeoman’d the typographically accurate 25-inning loss of 1974 to the best of his ability (8 IP, 0 R from the 17th to the 24th) had made a couple of starts as a Royal, albeit five years earlier.

If you want to expand our web to include Met relievers who pitched at least five scoreless innings in an extra-inning postseason game, you then also have the privilege of considering Roger McDowell’s five breath-holding, tie-maintaining innings chock full of zeroes from the Game Six before the Game Six, the one at Houston. In theory, Davey Johnson could trust McDowell for such an extended outing because he had seen him start games twice in 1985, with Roger going at least five innings both times. The first of them eventually turned into the eighteen-inning, ancient Rusty Staub all over the outfield win over the Pirates in which the fort was held by occasional starting pitcher Tom Gorman for seven shutout innings of relief.

Reardon was the only pitcher in this specific cohort who couldn’t rely on as much as muscle memory to go deep. Yet deep he went on September 12, 1980. It was bullpen depth like crazy on display that night.

It would be bullpen depth like crazy for Reardon for many days and nights ahead. GM Frank Cashen made a calculated decision in 1981 that with two young closer-caliber righties in his pen, he could afford to trade one for much needed pop. Thus came the swap of Jeff Reardon to Montreal for Ellis Valentine. The trade worked great for the Expos. Reardon took over as the Expos’ fireman, and Mets fans saw him on the Shea mound on the final weekend in ’81, nailing down the first (and only) postseason berth in Montreal history. Reardon was just getting started in relief. He’d go to Minnesota and record an even more noteworthy save, that of the seventh game of the 1987 World Series. In all, Jeff Reardon pitched in sixteen seasons, recording at least two saves in each of them. A lot more in the majority of them. Jeff retired with 367 saves, currently twelfth-most in relief annals.

That’s 67 more than the instigator of this examination, Bruce Sutter.


Sutter, you’ll remember, was the fireman who extinguished hopes before you ever got them up. I went looking for a representative line to match my recollection of what Kiner and other Met announcers would say about Bruce shortening games. This game doesn’t support that characterization. It wasn’t that kind of game. What this game required from the standpoint of most every reliever was extending. And that Sutter did. He picked up for Tidrow (reversing their usual order of appearance), setting down the Mets in order in the tenth, with a little fuss in the eleventh, then with no apparent difficulty in the eleventh.

Sutter was no secret. He began notching saves for the Cubs in 1976 and hadn’t much stopped, regardless that the Cubs of the era weren’t doing much winning. Nineteen Eighty marked the fourth of five consecutive All-Star selections. In 1979, he led all of baseball in saves with 37. It netted him the Cy Young Award. On September 12, 1980, he was already up to 26 saves for a team that had only 54 wins to its credit at that point. He’d wind up the year at 28 to lead the NL for the second of five times. In a little more than two years, he’d be earning the save of his life: Game Seven of the 1982 World Series, meaning that if you were among the few watching this Mets-Cubs game, you were seeing three different pitchers — Sutter, Hernandez and Reardon — who would close out three different World Series across the next eight Octobers.

You couldn’t have known that then, but you knew about Sutter. It wouldn’t have surprised you that in the upcoming offseason, he’d be sought in a trade by St. Louis, for whom Sutter would record that final World Series out and for whom he’d top out at 45 saves in 1984, at the time the single-season National League record by eight. Bruce broke a record shared by three relievers — one of them him. Injuries would curtail his career, but he hung in long enough to post 300 saves, third-most ever at the moment he threw his final pitch. He retired after the 1988 season. Sutter’s résumé, round number and reputation as split-finger pioneer endured long enough to vault him to Hall of Fame election in his thirteenth try, in 2006.

Thirty-eight of Sutter’s saves came against the Mets, the most he compiled versus any opponent. Eight of those were registered in 1980, so yes, the sight of Sutter really did indicate for the worst that a Mets game would soon be over. Yet, somehow, Sutter was neither the closer in the spotlight on September 12, nor — arguably — the most accomplished reliever to show his stuff this Friday night.


The Cubs did indeed ship Sutter to its archrival in the winter of 1980-81. Even with Buckner earning a batting title, Bruce stood out as the best player Chicago had, and therefore their most glittering trade chip. Like the Mets, they needed a bopper, and the Cardinals made their biggest offensive prospect, Leon “Bull” Durham, available. Others were thrown in, but Durham for Sutter was the crux of the trade. The Cubs had only so many games to save to begin with…and if they had save opportunities arise down the road, they could feel pretty good about tapping Tidrow in the interim (nine saves in the strike-shortened season) and, especially, the youngster they had waiting in the long-term wings to take on Sutter’s role. The Mets got a pretty good sneak preview themselves.

Enter, in the bottom of the thirteenth inning, succeeding Sutter (and Reardon, who had just completed his fifth frame), was another September callup in a game flecked with them: Lee Smith. He’d appeared in all of six games, all losses, since September 1. Again, these were the Cubs. There weren’t many wins on the line in September. This game, though, had been sitting on the table for inning upon inning. The thirteenth would be a good time for somebody to make not just an impression but get a win.

The Mets continued to attempt to make a dent in the scoreboard. They hadn’t crossed the plate since Willie Hernandez only partially extricated the Cubs from Mike Krukow’s sixth-inning jam. Dan Norman led off the thirteenth as pinch-hitter for Reardon and walked (Dan would join Jeff in the package that brought Ellis Valentine to New York eight-and-a-half months later). With the potential winning run on first, Torre instructed Wilson to sacrifice. Mookie did his part, bunting Norman to second. Amalfitano got out his chess set once more and let Smith know he should toss four balls to his catcher O’Berry, putting Mets second baseman Wally Backman on first to set up a double play. Lee didn’t get that to happen, but he came close enough, grounding Treviño to short and forcing Backman, then striking out Youngblood.

It would be appropriate after dropping so many great names in relief pitching into this retelling to next inform you the Met who took the mound in the fourteenth was Tug McGraw or John Franco or Edwin Diaz, but Tug was in Philadelphia, John was still at St. John’s, and how old do you think Edwin is? Nah, the bullpen is out of certified legends. Torre turned to Tom Hausman, who a New York deli man could have assured you was no chopped liver for most of 1980 — a damn reliable middle reliever in front of Reardon and Allen at the height of the Magic is Back summer — but September 12 wasn’t Tom’s night. He gave up those five runs at the hands of O’Berry and Vail, providing a bulging lead not likely to be surrendered by any opposite number.

It happened to be the Mets’ luck that Hausman’s opposite number in the bottom of the fourteenth remained this kid Lee Smith. Lee couldn’t best his counterpart among Lees, as Mazzilli singled to lead off the home fourteenth, but that would be that for the Met attack. Henderson struck out. Brooks grounded out. The Mets’ last, best hope was Mario Ramirez.

Apologies to the memory of Mario Ramirez, but if your last hope is the backup shortstop to the backup shortstop…Ramirez was in the game as a result of Torre having pinch-hit for Almon while regular shortstop Frank Taveras was serving a two-game suspension issued by the National League for an incident the week before in Los Angeles…and it probably bears mentioning that Frankie had in the interim gotten into a clubhouse fistfight with coach Joe Pignatano, so shortstop as a position is feeling pretty iffy in general…and that backup to the backup shortstop is a minor league callup batting .200 under the best of circumstances…and that backup to the backup shortstop is facing young Lee Smith, who is protecting a five-run lead with two out in the fourteenth with smoke and strength…

…you don’t really have a last hope, let alone a last, best hope.

Ramirez struck out. Smith had just recorded the first win of his career. The battery that accomplished what seemed impossible — ending this game — shook hands on its combined accomplishment and complimented one another for the wire service reporters who sent word back to the Chicagoland papers.

“My catcher deserves as much credit for the win as I do,” Smith said. “I probably will never forget Mike for this particular game, and if it wasn’t for him, we would still be playing.”

“He was throwing real well and had all the confidence in the world for a rookie,” O’Berry retorted. “We would have won the game eventually as hard as he was throwing.”

“I’m just trying to contribute something to the ballclub,” Smith added, as a humble freshman might. “Hopefully, I’ll make the team again next year.”

Lee didn’t have to worry. He’d be making teams for years to come. He’d be making them practically unbeatable at the ends of games, too. The righty would notch his first save on August 29, 1981, with the Cubs bringing him along slowly. Smith would let his fastball quicken the pace of his progress once he assumed closer responsibilities in 1982 with 17 saves. From 1983 through 1993, he’d never total fewer than 25 in a given year, reaching his personal best when he put up 47 in 1991, breaking the single-season NL record set by his 1980 Cub teammate Sutter. (The record is now held by Eric Gagne, who saved 55 for the 2003 Dodgers under the managerial auspices of Smith’s and Sutter’s 1980 Cubs teammate Jim Tracy.)

Like Bruce, Lee was destined to travel, though more so. Smith pitched for eight different major league team in a career that lasted until 1997. Also like Bruce, on the strength of a tower of saves and a sense of awe, his journey ultimately took him to Cooperstown, elected to the Hall of Fame on a 2019 veterans committee vote after the writers decided holding the all-time career saves record for thirteen years, from 1993 until Trevor Hoffman passed him with No. 479 in 2006 wasn’t quite the stuff of immortality. Smith, who ranks third in saves to this day, behind Mariano Rivera and Hoffman, grabbed the all-time lead himself when he saved his 358th game. The record-holder before Lee?

That would be Jeff Reardon.


I couldn’t swear that the Mets-Cubs game of September 12, 1980, encompassed the greatest assortment of relief pitching talent of any game ever played, but I wouldn’t bet against it. All told, if we include starters Scott and Krukow (remember them?), there were an eventual 1,535 saves on the mound that night, even if no save was recorded in this game. There were 738 pitching wins in action as well, including those 100 from swingman Tidrow and between 68 and 73 from four of the closers. Three of the relievers — Smith, Reardon, Sutter — notched at least 300 saves. Two more — Hernandez and Caudill — were good for more than 100. Allen had 75, but Neil’s numbers and ability jumped off the page enough to get the Cardinals interested in him the way they had once been infatuated at the prospect of acquiring Sutter. In 1980, the Cards gave up first baseman Leon Durham. In 1983, they gave up first baseman Keith Hernandez. There’s a little more to that trade’s backstory than inferring Whitey Herzog yearned so badly for more pitching that he willingly gave up his former MVP, but what do we care? Neil Allen gave us 69 saves, then Keith Hernandez.

In that respect, Neil was as valuable a reliever as any who pitched at Shea on September 12, 1980.

As long as were doing resonance, let’s remember Durham blossomed in Chicago, ultimately bumping Buckner from first base, making Bill available in a trade to Boston in 1984. But you don’t have to jump that far ahead to see what this fourteen-inning Mets defeat, the team’s thirteenth loss in a row, might be auguring. Before we can fast-forward through the dregs of the early Eighties and get to the Mets we would eventually know and love, let’s snap the losing streak.

The Mets managed to do that the very next afternoon, in a 4-2 win over Chicago, each team probably a little worn out from their late Friday night. Following Lee Smith’s example, Ed Lynch, yet another recently recalled rookie, posted his first career win, albeit as a starter. Ed went six innings. This time, Torre took pity on his main pen men and opted to give some play to young Roy Lee Jackson, who’d made one very shiny start in July (a 12-K shutout of the Reds), but had lately been consigned to stray innings. Jackson’s three scoreless for his first of 34 career saves — 33 of them would be in other uniforms — closed out the win and the skein. The Mets had drawn even fewer to Shea for the matinee than they had the marathon the night before, but they definitely attracted an appreciative crowd. Per Jack Lang in the Daily News, the 7,259 in attendance “stood in unison for an ovation in recognition of the end of the slump.”

“It was a nice feeling to shake a pitcher’s hand against after winning a game,” Torre said. He’d been deprived of the pleasure for two solid weeks at that point (don’t feel too bad for Joe; he’d be shaking Rivera’s hand ad nauseam between 1996 and 2007). “I haven’t been out there in so long, I wanted to stay out there.”

Just as ready to hang around the Shea scene was the center fielder who caught the final out. Mookie Wilson was already supplanting Lee Mazzilli in center. Hometown hero Mazz was now a first baseman because Mookie was a born center fielder. He was as significant as Lynch and Jackson were to steering the Mets toward the win column at last, beating out a bunt the Cub defender who attempted to field it mishandled to lead off the bottom of the first; proceeding to steal second ASAP; and scoring on Youngblood’s single. He’d also walk with the bases loaded in the fourth, not too shabby when you consider Wilson’s career batter’s box ethos of Thou Shalt Not Pass.

It wasn’t all roses for Mookie, though. When Lynch was still nursing a 1-0 lead, the center fielder, as Lang described it, “was charged with an error for holding the ball too long and then throwing weakly to second,” following a Cub single. The Chicago batter who headily advanced because the New York fielder couldn’t be bothered to field with a sense urgency came around to briefly tie the game. Years later, Wilson would reflect on that particular sequence for the News’s Vic Ziegel, calling it “the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me. That runner taught me a lesson.” Forever after, clear to his final game as a Met in 1989 and his departure from playing in 1991, Mookie Wilson would always go hard.

That runner? Bill Buckner. By coincidence, that was also the name of the Cub who couldn’t pick up the ball Mookie hit in his direction in the first.

All those superb relievers, and we choose to close with Mookie and Buckner. Honestly, would a Mets fan have it any other way?

7 comments to Bullpen Depth Like Crazy

  • Blair M. Schirmer

    “With Sutter, Ralph said, “it’s a seven-inning game.” I don’t think I’d heard a relief pitcher’s dominance put in those terms before.”

    —-Just an FYI, but I recall Bill James in an early Abstract saying something similar about Dan Quisenberry dominating the thinking of opposing managers from the fifth inning on thanks to Quiz’s ability to go multiple innings.

    It’s too bad, given Quiz’s 146 career ERA+ compared to Sutter at 136, and in 1.1 innings more, no less, that Quiz isn’t in the Hall of Fame. One of the two is surely deserving.

    —–As for the Mets bullpen in 2023, it’s almost startling that Cohen was willing to chase Correa but hasn’t seen the obvious need for another solid 7-8th inning guy like Andrew Chafin, who went surprisingly cheaply at just $6.25m guaranteed. With two ancient setup men and a thin pen otherwise, the Mets may be in early trouble given their antique rotation, and late trouble as in 2022 given all the problems they’re likely to have with the durability of those antiques.

    —–There are additional issues w/ the lot of Baty, Vientos, and Mauricio. The team appears to believe none have a future at 3B, yet none have been left full-time in a corner OF slot (LF, presumably) to learn the position and learn it well. Each pro rates to roughly 35 errors a season in the infield, none has meaningfully improved on that since entering pro ball, and here we are on the verge of 2023 Spring Training with a team unable to teach any one of three highly-valued prospects a position. Not only that, but Alvarez’s defense appears to be lagging, as well.

    What’s going on, Steve?

  • Dave

    Well, that was about 25 innings worth of writing. And without any help from the bullpen? Your keyboard still OK?

    Back in the 1st or 2nd inning you mentioned the Mets being currently focused on adding relievers with options. Having seen the entirety of Jacob Rhame’s prolonged tenure, I cringe. No season was ever saved by a guy who accumulated lots of frequent flyer miles between LaGuardia and Syracuse (or fill in the location of any Triple-A franchise of the past). It also speaks to how thin the historically developing arms-focused organization currently is on developing arms.

    And speaking of cringing, I share yours about Raley and whoever this Coonrod guy is.

  • open the gates

    Awesome, awesome read. Epic. A few takeaways:

    – Carrasco is the Dean of the Rotation. Wow. Guess the “Five Aces” is a thing of the past. Or maybe not…

    – Montero and Sewald never gave us a single reason to keep them when they were ours (and particularly Montero was given multiple chances), so no regrets. But yeah, the O’Day thing still grates. Not to mention Justin Turner.

    – I plan to give Messrs. Raley and Coonrod a few extra cheers when and if I see them. But you know how I feel about that. Personally, I’m glad that the off-the-field stuff that gets Mr. Cohen’s boot is of the Khalil Lee variety. Good riddance to that one.

    – I love the trip down memory lane. You referenced some of my earliest days as a Met fan. And the latent bullpen talent in that game was truly dizzying. It’s good for people to remember that Neil Allen could hold his head high in that company.

    – Reardon for Ellis Valentine is underrated in the All Time Worst Met Trades pantheon. Maybe the worst trade of the Cashen era, with the possible exception of Juan Samuel.

    – “Second baseman Mike Tyson”????

    – You are really really really dying for this season to start, aren’t you?

  • Hi Greg,

    You’ve outwritten yourself. A thing to do in the dog days of winter, I suppose. A deep, worthy dive into the world of closers. Who knew these two awful teams in or around 1980 would produce this many stellar closers–and so many in the same game! Since their starters were often unremarkable, the relievers got plenty of practice. Also why the Mets, in the pre-Davey era, played so many games which lasted long into extra innings: their offense was insipid, while the relievers were holding the fort, perhaps in suggestive cries of ‘Help! Get me off this team!’. How comforting it is to reflect upon the Mets’ current roster and its lineup of competent offensive players.

  • mikeski

    Outkick reporting today that deGrom felt “tightness in his left side” after a bullpen session and that Texas is “holding him back a day or two” as a precaution.

    (Jerry Seinfeld voice): “Oh, that’s a shame.”

  • Seth

    RIP Tim McCarver. Love him or hate him, he was the voice of the 80’s.