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The Summer of False Hope Continues

New York Times writers are very picky when it comes to choosing words, so when the three-year embargo was finally lifted, allowing the words "rousing" and Mets to be used in the same sentence, it must have caught the attention of a lot of readers picking up their Sunday editions on June 8, 1980.

This was in reference to the story of the game the day before, a nationally televised contest on a Saturday afternoon at Shea against the defending champion Pittsburgh Pirates. After winning in walk-off fashion on Thursday, the Mets carried that momentum into a nice victory on Friday, a 9-4 triumph featuring an eight-run second inning against Bert Blyleven and a long shutout relief stint from Tom Hausman. The Pirates had drubbed them by the combined tally of 18-3 in their prior two meetings, so this was a nice way to turn the tables.

Saturday, the Mets started John Pacella, whose major-league tenure is best known for his pitching motion, which caused his cap to fly off on every follow through. Pacella had good days and bad days for the Flushing 9 and this was one of those that leaned in the negative direction, as he left after four-plus innings, charged with three of Pittsburgh's four runs, putting the Mets in a 4-1 hole at the midpoint. The Mets had looked like their old selves earlier in the game, as among other things, Frank Taveras was thrown out trying to steal home.

The Mets rallied for two runs in the seventh inning, chasing Pirates starter Jim Bibby, but missed out on a chance for more. John Stearns doubled in one run and Elliott Maddox brought home another with a sacrifice fly, but then Stearns, the goat horns barely removed after a failed bunt attempt in a key spot two days previous, got thrown out at the plate after Doug Flynn's single.

Considering that the Pirates were the defending champs, most probably figured that would be the Mets best shot at tying the score. Rookie pinch-hitter Jose Moreno drew his first major league walk to lead off the eighth, stole second, and scored on Steve Henderson's two-out single.

Mets reliever Neil Allen got through the ninth, and after the Mets failed to cash in a scoring threat in the bottom of the frame, the 10th, but ran into trouble with the score still even in the 11th. With two on and two outs, Phil Garner singled home the go-ahead run, giving the Pirates a 5-4 lead.

Pirates manager Chuck Tanner chose Grant Jackson to get the last three outs of an expected win, but after a one-out single by Alex Trevino and a walk to John Stearns, Tanner pulled Jackson in favor of Friday's blown-out starter, Blyleven. This was of no consequence to the next batter, Joel Youngblood, who ripped a ground-rule double to left center field. The ball hopped over the fence, preventing the likely scoring of Stearns, but that was okay, considering that the hit tied the game. With runners on second and third, Blyleven intentionally walked Elliott Maddox to load the bases.

I know Ron Hodges as an over-the-hill backup catcher who towards the end of his career wasn't capable of much at bat and in the field. Older Mets fans know that Hodges had a history of big hits, his biggest coming against the Pirates during the Mets title chase of 1973 (we'll get around to this one). Mets manager Joe Torre knew Hodges as a lefty bat, who hadn't played much in the last two weeks, but who had a better chance of getting a hit than Flynn, for whom he pinch-hit.

Hodges came through, singling between first and second to plate Stearns, arms raised skyward, with the winning run. Joe Torre described the triumph as "gratifying," a word with which he has refamiliarized himself with this season. That's another word you didn't hear too often in those days regarding the Mets. But these were the "New Mets" and some people actually started to believe in the truth of the slogan, "The Magic is Back!" The Summer of False Hope was in full swing.

True Metlievers know...The Mets have had a walk-off win against the defending World Series champions in five different seasons: 1966 (1965 Dodgers), 1972 (1971 Pirates), 1980 (1979 Pirates), 1996 (1995 Braves), and 1999 (1998 Yankees).

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