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Season Wreckers

There wasn't much of a race for the NL East flag through the summer of 1976 because the Philadelphia Phillies pulled away from the competition with ease. By the last week of August, their lead over second place Pittsburgh had stretched to 15 1/2 games. This would be a coast to the finish, much like it was supposed to be for the 2005 White Sox in the AL Central.

Not quite.

Things weren't so hunky-dory in Philadelphia after the Phillies dropped 14 of 17, including two of three to the Mets. Some of the losses were quite torturous, like back-to-back 1-0 defeats and a 15-inning loss to the Reds in which the Phillies couldn't close out leads in the ninth or 13th innings.

Meanwhile the Pirates got red-hot, much like the Cleveland Indians have this season. They won 15 of 17 games, including a three-game sweep of the floundering Phillies. On the morning of September 13, Pittsburgh was within a very reasonable four games, with 21 to play, including a couple shortly against Philadelphia.

And then the Pirates ran into the Mets.

As we've mentioned previously, the 1976 Mets sprinted to the finish of an 86-win season and the Pirates had the misfortune of running into them at the wrong time.

First the Mets took two in Pittsburgh, the first behind Tom Seaver and the second by scoring twice in the ninth. The Pirates recovered enough to win both their games against the snakebitten Phillies but then came their downfall. I suppose, if you like bad puns, you could say the Pirates season went down the toilet on their trip to Flushing.

Pittsburgh won the first of four games, trimming its deficit to three with 16 to play. The Pirates felt good about their chances but not so good about their opponent the next day, as Tom Seaver shut them down. In the third game of the series, Pittsburgh had a 6-2 lead but couldn't hold it as the Mets rallied in the middle innings to pull out a 7-6 triumph. Skip Lockwood closed this one out with seven strikeouts in three frames and the Pirates ran themselves out of the game when pinch-runner Miguel Dilone was caught stealing for the final out. Still, the Pirates were within four games of the top spot, and they had to think that a miracle finish was still within the grasp of reality with a couple of weeks to play.

There was no fish to save Pittsburgh in the series finale on September 20 (exactly 29 years before the day of Mike Jacobs' walk-off hit), but instead a game in which the Buccos walked the plank. The Mets took a 3-0 lead against John Candelaria, but the Pirates rallied against Mickey Lolich and took a 4-3 edge in the eighth inning on Willie Stargell's solo homer.

Pittsburgh had the ball in the hands of capable submarining closer, Kent Tekulve to try to get the last three outs in the ninth and pick up an absolute must-must-must win. Tekulve got the first two batters, but John Milner followed with a pinch-single, giving the Mets one good scoring chance with the top of the lineup coming up.

The leadoff man on this day was a rookie centerfielder from Brooklyn named Lee Mazzilli, whose heritage made him immediately popular with the fans, though his .152 batting average entering the day did not. Like Mike Jacobs, who 29 years later to the day came through with a walk-off hit against the Marlins, Mazzilli was called up from Double-A and given a chance to play at a position in which the Mets were lacking offensive production. Like Mike Jacobs, Mazzilli, came through in a big way. His ball went a little farther than Jacobs' single, as Tekulve's 2-0 fastball found its way into the Mets bullpen for a game-winning walk-off home run.

The Mets had a dramatic win. The Pirates had another crushing defeat, one that essentially took them out of the NL East race. Pittsburgh split its next four with the Cubs, losing twice in walk-off fashion. The Phillies recovered, pulled away, and won the NL East by nine games.

I suppose we'll find out in these next two games between the Mets and Marlins whether Mike Jacobs' hit on Tuesday had the same sort of effect as Mazzilli's, taking a team out of the postseason hunt. Mazzilli's success in that game carried over, and though he closed the season 0-for-11 in his last three games, he won a permanent starting role in 1977. We'll see if Jacobs can do the same with his initial success.

True Metoids know... Some random knowledge about #329 in my database as Mike Jacobs joins the walk-off annals...

The Mets now have four walk-off singles, two walk-off home runs, and a walk-off walk this season. The seven walk-off wins is one shy of their 2004 total.

Each of the last 5 Mets walk-off wins have come in extra innings.

This is the third time in the last four years that a Mets rookie has had a walk-off hit in September (Esix Snead in 2002, Craig Brazell in 2004).

This is the sixth time in Mets history that they have had a 3-2 walk-off win in a game that went 12 innings.

This is the fifth Mets walk-off win to take place on September 20, but the first since September 20, 1981.

2005 is the now 11th straight season in which the Mets have had at least two walk-off wins against one team.

More than one walk-off win by Mets
2 wins in season, unless noted

2005- Marlins
2004- Tigers
2003- Phillies
2002- Cubs
2001- Marlins (3 wins), Phillies
2000- Brewers
1999- Pirates
1998- Pirates, Giants
1997- Braves, Pirates
1996- Pirates
1995- Padres

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