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Out of the Harkness

We had a walk-off grand slam on Sunday in major-league baseball, off the unlikely bat of Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein, helping the Cardinals beat the Braves en route to their inevitable NL Central title.

A walk-off grand slam is a quasi-rare occurrence. There were four in the majors last season, and in the typical year, you'll see about that many, though Eckstein's was the first of 2005. A walk-off slam is a lot of fun. Except when you realize that you forgot to list one in your database. As I learned on Sunday, the Mets have had at least 327 walk-off wins, not the previously referenced 326. But that's okay. I never proclaimed to have perfect maintenance of my walk-off list, and I'm glad I found a flaw. It makes for a good story anyway, one that we'll wait until the anniversary of the moment to tell, since that comes up this week.

Instead, today we'll tell the tale of the first walk-off grand slam in Mets history, which works out well, since I have a clip of the game's conclusion in my game tape collection. The Mets and Cubs went toe-to-toe for 14 innings on June 26, 1963, and the details of the first 13 frames are not particularly relevant given the way that this game concluded, other than to say that the Mets rallied from 4-0 down to tie.

The 14th was one of those wacky type of innings that come along maybe once every five baseball seasons. Mets pitchers hadn't allowed a hit for a nine-inning stretch, a pretty remarkable feat considering the quality of hurler the Mets had at the time, until two were out in the stanza. With a runner on first, Billy Williams hit a line drive to left, one apparently akin to the one that Cliff Floyd misplayed in the ninth inning in Pittsburgh not long ago. Slugging outfielder Frank Thomas couldn't handle this one, and by the time he recovered the baseball, Williams had a two-run inside-the-park homer and the Cubs had not only their first hit in a couple of hours, but a 6-4 lead to boot.

Chicago tried to close things out with reliever Jack Warner, who thus far had tossed 4 1/3 innings of scoreless relief. Alas, he could not close the door on the Amazins on this afternoon, though they tried to help him along the way. Jim Hickman and Ron Hunt singled to open the 14th, but Hickman got caught on the basepaths on Hunt's hit and was thrown out. Jimmy Piersall walked to put two on base, but Thomas the Mets prime power threat, flied out against new reliever Paul Toth. Sammy Taylor, catching his next-to-last start as a Met, was 0-for-6 and up next since manager Casey Stengel had nothing left in the way of quality pinch-hitters. That prompted one more pitching change as lefty Jim Brewer (the same one referenced in "Should I stay or should I go?"), who hadn't pitched in 17 days, was chosen to pitch to Taylor, who walked to load the bases for Tim Harkness.

Harkness hit .156 against southpaws that season and .188 against them for his career so it looked like Brewer had the edge. Harkness fouled the first pitch over by the dugout for strike one, took one inside for ball one, took another low for ball two, waved and missed at strike two, and took ball three low much to the objection of Cubs catcher Dick Bertell, with radio announcer Ralph Kiner (yes, he did radio then too) noting that "the ball game is all the way down the line."

So this set up every kids dream situation, a full count with the bases loaded and two outs in the last inning, with a chance to win or lose with one swing. Harkness took a mighty cut and clubbed one way out, into the bullpen for a game-winning grand slam. Kiner had a pretty good call that day, yelping "It's gonna go all the way!! A home run!"

It was the only grand slam in the brief big league career of Tim Harkness, one that was shortened by injuries. In a sign of the times for the Mets of 1963, Harkness, who had four hits in the game went hitless in his next 21 times at bat. On this day however, he was as clutch as clutch could be, and the folks at the Polo Grounds made him come out of the centerfield clubhouse for a curtain call, one no doubt similar to that which Eckstein received after his magical trip around the bases on Sunday afternoon.

True Metsness know...The Mets have had five walk-off grand slams. You can see a very definitive list of walk-off grand slams here and we presume Eckstein's will be added to that list.

PS: My apologies if the "Fun with Statcounter" entries bother anybody. I find the variety of visitors to this site (from perspectives of geography and how you got here) fascinating and I'm not trying to upset anyone with those posts.


metswalkoffs said…
Thanks for the compliment.

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