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Pinch Me

The Mets have had a lot of pinch-hit success in 2005, including Mike Piazza's pinch-hit walk-off walk on Tuesday night against the Brewers (more on that later in the day). They had a similar amount of success in 1983, though in somewhat of a different manner.

1983 is best remembered as the year that Tom Seaver returned, Keith Hernandez arrived, Jesse Orosco emerged, and manager George Bamberger departed, but statistically speaking, the best thing the last-place, 68-94 squad could point to was that it tied a major-league record with 12 pinch-hit home runs (a mark previously held by the 1957 Reds). The team's pinch-hit batting average was only .226, which pales in comparison to the 2005 squad, but there were a good number of timely hits that show that you have to look beyond the statistics.

The 1983 Mets were good (or maybe the better word is mediocre) to the very last batter, who happened to be the best pinch-hitter in Mets history, Rusty Staub. We'll surely be writing more about Staub's success during the prime of his career, but for today, we recount his pinch-prowess. In 1983, he led the majors with 24 pinch-hits, one shy of the then big league mark held by Jerry Morales, and 25 pinch-hit RBI, tying the record held by Joe Cronin and Jerry Lynch. He also matched Dave Philley's record with eight consecutive pinch hits during one June stretch. Staub and Danny Heep (four pinch-hit home runs) were the equivalent to current Mets pinch-hitter extraordinaire Marlon Anderson.

Anyway, on Closing Day, 1983, the Mets ended the season with a home doubleheader with the Montreal Expos. Interim manager Frank Howard, basically armed with the knowledge that this was his last game, decided that it was worthwhile to hang rookies Walt Terrell and Tim Leary out on the mound on a yucky Shea day. Terrell rewarded Howard with a shutout, and former phenom Leary, making only his second appearance after missing nearly two full seasons with an arm injury (sustained in pitching in bad weather) followed that up by lasting the full nine as well.

Clearly Leary grew weary (try that tongue twister!) as the game lengthened. He allowed only one run in the first six innings but couldn't hold a 3-1 lead, yielding single tallies in the seventh, eighth and ninth, to send the Mets into their final frame down, 4-3, with Jeff Reardon on to try to close out his former team.

Long-forgotten Met Gary Rajsich opened the ninth inning with a single (the last of his 54 Mets hits), advanced to second on a sacrifice and when Ron Hodges walked, the Mets had two good cracks to win the game. Keith Hernandez pinch-hit, but couldn't advance pinch-runners Mark Bradley and Jose Oquendo, as he flied out to center. This brought "Trusty Rusty" to the plate in place of Leary and Staub delivered, lining a double into the right field corner. Both runs scored, giving Staub his share of records, Leary his first major-league win, and the season a good finish, for which the karma carried over into 1984.

True Metspinch know...Rusty Staub had seven walk-off hits with the Mets. Five of the seven came as a pinch-hitter.


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