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Baseball's Been Jerry Jerry Good to Me

You may recall that last season, Mike Cameron had walk-off hits against the Tigers in back-to-back games. Such an accomplishment is a rarity in Mets history, having occured on only two occasions previously. One was by John Milner, against the Dodgers, on August 21 and 22, 1973. The other is one that we shall discuss here.

September 22, 1967 marked the beginning of the Salty Parker Era for the New York Mets. As eras go, it was a short one. Wes Westrum, Casey Stengel's successor as Mets manager, abruptly resigned the day before, apparently trying to beat management to the punch of firing him. Parker, the third base coach (whose real first name was Francis), was appointed manager for the rest of the season, an 11-game stint, which coincidentally was exactly the same length as his major-league playing career.

The initial thought was that Yogi Berra would replace Westrum, but management decided to go for strictly an interim hire. Berra was told he would be considered for the permanent position. There wasn't much to the Salty Parker era other than that Jerry Buchek made sure it got off to a good start.

The Mets lost Parker's first game, 8-0 in the opener of a Banner Night doubleheader against the Astros, as Mike Cuellar pitched a shutout. More than 3,700 fans paraded on the field in-between contests with signs such as "Join the Smart Set, Root for the Mets" and "We're not MAD (picture of Alfred E. Neumann). We're Just Crazy About the Mets." The second game apparently started late, and the weather got quite nippy. Thomas Rogers of The New York Times described those who stayed to absorb the nasty wind chill common to Shea September nights as surviving "an evening of duress."

Fortunately for those folks it was an evening with a happy ending. Tug McGraw struck out 10 in his six-plus innings of starting duty, but the Mets trailed 4-2. In the bottom of the eighth, Buchek came up with two men on base and launched a three-run home run to put the Mets ahead. Alas, Jack Fisher could not close the door on the Astros in the ninth inning, as Buchek, the Mets shortstop, had an infield single roll off his glove, down the left field line, allowing the tying run to score.

Buchek got another chance with two men on base in the last of the 10th and again he delivered. This three-run homer was of the walk-off variety and enabled Buchek to tie Frank Thomas' club mark with six RBI in a game.

Rookie pitcher Tom Seaver was the Mets starter the next night and he came through with a performance befitting the moniker "Tom Terrific." Seaver pitched a three-hit shutout, retiring the last nine batters to face him, but was hurt by a lack of run support. The Mets didn't score for Seaver until the last of the ninth. Bob Johnson led off with a double, Ed Kranepool was intentionally walked, and Ron Swoboda bunted for a hit. This brought up Buchek, who had a knack that season for delivering big hits. Larry Sherry's first pitch was drilled for a line drive, to left field, that bounced over the wall on one hop. The ground-rule double became a single when the winning run crossed the plate, giving the Mets a 1-0 win.

That was the high point of Salty's reign. The season concluded eight days later with the Mets finishing up at 61-101.

When Westrum resigned, the candidates for the full-time job included Berra, a Triple-A manager named Bill Virdon who would have future success in the business, and former Giants shortstop Alvin Dark.Mets chairman M. Donald Grant was quoted by the media as saying "We're looking for a man who will win the pennant for us."

Parker apparently didn't have that capability. The man whom the Mets introduced as his replacement on October 11 did. His name was Gil Hodges.

True Metroiters know...The only native of Detroit to get a walk-off hit for the Mets is none other than our favorite reference-point, Rodney McCray (aka "Moonlight McCray" and "The Katie Holmes Googlewhack.")


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