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Boswell That Ends Well

For those discouraged by the recent prospects of the Flushing 9, it is important to remember that a lot of good things can happen to a baseball team in a rather short period of time.

It was 36 years ago Saturday that the Mets had one of their most significant regular-season victories and conveniently for us, it happened in walk-off fashion.

The Mets entered September 10, 1969 on the precipice of great things, just 1/2 game out of first place after beating the first-place Cubs twice at Shea Stadium. Chicago travelled to Philadelphia afterwards while the Mets caught a scheduling break, with a doubleheader against the expansion Expos.

The first game started in twilight and the Mets, winners of four straight, put Jim McAndrew on the mound against rookie Mike Wegener. Neither a first nor second inning run by the Expos dampened the Mets spirits, as they responded with unearned runs in the first and fifth to knot the game at two apiece. The game evolved into a pitchers duel, albeit a rather odd one between two moundsmen who struggled with their control, but kept their foes off the scoreboard. Wegener, who never reached double digits in strikeouts before or afterwards in a two-year career, whiffed 15 and walked seven. McAndrew walked five, but yielded only four hits. Both starters went deep into the contest, deeper than most nowadays would allow. Mets manager Gil Hodges stuck with McAndrew, even letting him bat with the score still tied, a man on base and two outs in the ninth. He lasted 11 innings and Expos manager Gene Mauch did likewise with Wegener, leaving him alone for 11 as well.

Hodges finally relented and pinch-hit for McAndrew with two on and two out in the inning, but Jim Gosger struck out to end the scoring chance.

In the 12th inning, with Ron Taylor pitching, the Expos failed in an effort to take the lead, though they came close to doing so. With two outs, Angel Hermoso singled, as did Kevin Collins, who was batting for Wegener. Hermoso tried to take third on that hit, and was successful as Tommie Agee's throw got away. However, the fundamentally sound Taylor backed up the plate, and when Hermoso tried to score, Taylor pegged the ball to catcher Jerry Grote in time to get the out and end the inning.

Bill Stoneman, who would throw a no-hitter against the Mets in 1972, was Mauch's choice to take the ball in the 10th, an odd choice considering he had pitched a shutout just two days previous (he would toss another two days hence), was rarely used in relief, and Mauch had a full slate of relievers to choose from.

Stoneman got the first two Mets out in the 12th, but then magic struck in the form of a single to center by Cleon Jones, a walk by Rod Gaspar, and a game-winning single to center by Ken Boswell (there's a great picture in the New York Times the next day of Expos second baseman Gary Sutherland sprawled out and unable to field Boswell's hit).

The Cubs game against the Phillies was still going, and was close through the middle innings, but the win gave the Mets a piece of first place for the first time in their eight-year history. Philadelphia extended its cooperation, snapping a 2-2 tie with a run in the seventh on a John Briggs single and three insurance tallies in the eighth, sending the Cubs to a 6-2 defeat, their seventh straight loss. The news came through on the Shea Stadium scoreboard after the third inning of the nightcap, just before 10:15 pm with a peek at the standings and the words "Look who's No. 1." You can imagine the crowd reaction to that, news that guaranteed that the Mets would end the day no worse than tied for first, and a simultaneous cheer for the Mets having scored six runs in the inning.

Trivia buffs will tell you that Nolan Ryan was the man who pitched the Mets into first place for good. He had one of his best starts as a Met that night, allowing only one run and three hits, striking out 11 in a complete-game 7-1 triumph. The rest of the world took notice of the Mets success.

"Mets March to Head of Class" read the Washington Post headline the next day. "Hysteria Rocks Shea" said the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times told a fine story, of how Hodges had received a stuff rabbit, from a fan who "deemed a rabbit's foot not enough." The Mets had won six straight since Hodges put the rabbit on his desk.

Buoyed by that performance, the Mets won their next three by shutout (they had 10 shutouts in the month), including a pair of 1-0 triumphs in a doubleheader against Pittsburgh, in which pitchers Jerry Koosman and Don Cardwell drove home the only runs. Talk of miracles came to fruition and two weeks after moving into first place, the Mets clinched the NL East title and were on their way to the postseason.

True Metsbuffs know...The Mets went more than six years before getting another walk-off win against the Expos. The next one didn't come until an 18-inning triumph on September 16, 1975.

FYI: It's likely the next story posted won't be until Monday


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