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Donn Clendenon RIP

Donn Clendenon's timing for big hits was one of his best traits as a New York Met.

Clendenon died a few days ago, after a long battle with leukemia, at age 70. He is best remembered for his play during the 1969 season as a valuable midseason acquisition who starred during the World Series upset of the Baltimore Orioles. In the fifth and deciding game, his home run, with the Mets trailing, 3-0, helped the Mets rally to a victory and a world championship.

The next season, Clendenon was terrific, driving in a club-record 97 runs. His skills eroded quickly however and the 1971 season turned out to be his last as a Met.

The slump that marked the end of Clendenon's run of success began in May and carried over the course of a month. In the midst of a 2-for-36 funk, he ended up benched, used as a pinch hitter and defensive replacement, which was his role on June 19, 1971 when the Mets hosted the Phillies on Helmet Day.

The thought that this would be a pitchers duel between Tom Seaver and Rick Wise was quickly erased. Deron Johnson's two-run homer gave the Phillies a second inning lead, which they padded with a run in the third. The Mets got one run back in the fifth, but the Phillies answered right back by tallying in the top of the sixth. Seaver left having allowed four runs and 12 hits, the latter a total he surpassed only once in his Hall of Fame career.

Fortunately for the Mets they were playing for a team whose ineptitude carried it through the early part of the 70s and the Flushing 9 tied the score when Ken Boswell's RBI single produced one run and two Phillies errors brought home two more. That turned the contest into a bullpen battle. Phillies relievers wiggled out of jams in the seventh (the Mets left the bases loaded), the ninth (Clendenon reached on a pinch double but was thrown out at third when Ed Kranepool tried to advance him along), and the 12th (Clendenon doubled again, but this time the Mets left the bases loaded, again).

Fate seemed to favor the Phillies, particularly when they scored an undeserved run in the 14th when Larry Bowa reached on Boswell's error and came home as part of a double steal. The Mets had stranded 14 through the first 13 innings, so it looked like this would be chalked up to opportunity missed, until second-year man Ken Singleton changed the karma by belting a game-tying home run with one out in the bottom of the frame. The Mets, with no one left on their bench, left two more men on base because pitcher Danny Frisella, forced to fend for himself, popped out to end the inning with the score, 5-5.

Reliever Bill Wilson, who yielded the home run to Singleton was back on the mound after Frisella deftly maneuvered through trouble, stranding two in the 15th. It looked like this game was heading one more frame, not surprising considering that Ed Sudol was umping, as Clendenon strode to the plate with two outs.

Clendenon was a big man, 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, with a big swing, who stood out from his teammates because of his size and strength (he was easily recognizable whenever he came back to Shea Stadium for team reunions or appeared at baseball card shows). It was rare that someone like Clendenon would go more than a month between home runs, but this was one of those instances, as his last one was on May 17. This time, he sized up a pitch properly and hit it over the right field fence for a well-timed game-winning home run.

True Metdenons know...The 1971 Mets beat the Phillies four times via walk-off. That is the most walk-off wins by the Mets against an opponent in a season. The 2005 Mets enter Thursday with three walk-off wins against the Marlins after having won the last two games via walk-off.


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