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Trees in the Forest

Today we ponder the question: If a walk-off occurs and no one is there to see it, does it really happen?

That's kind of how I felt watching the ninth inning of Thursday's loss to the Marlins, in a game in which the attendance wasn't announced because it wouldn't jive with the reality of the paltry crowd at Shea Stadium.

In the original Summer of False Hope that was 1980, the crowds dwindled significantly at the conclusion of the season. The finish to the campaign was miserable and heading into the final series against Pittsburgh, the Flushing 9 had won just 8 of their last 43 games.

This was in the day in which crowds were counted by turnstile clicks rather than tickets sold, so the tally was only 1,787 on September 29, an all-time Shea Stadium low that stood until the next day when 1,754 made it through the gates. Particularly poor weather, the kind more typical than that seen at Shea Stadium this September, didn't help matters much.

Anyhow, there was still baseball to be played and the Mets sent rookie Ed Lynch to the mound. Lynch had two good starts and two bad ones to that point, and the thing I remember reading early in Lynch's career is how he nearly had a couple of fingers severed in a childhood accident (can anyone verify this piece of minutiae?) but miraculously recovered. On this day, he didn't have the midas touch and Joe Torre replaced him with Roy Lee Jackson after Lynch faced only four batters, surrendering three hits.

The Pirates had a 2-0 lead and extended that to 3-1 by the seventh inning. The Mets put the first two on base, so the Pirates relieved Rick Rhoden with Enrique Romo. The Mets tied the game in bizarre fashion. Romo walked in one run, giving Lee Mazzilli a free pass with the bases loaded. The other score came home on an 8-5 putout (if you're scoring at home). Another rookie, Wally Backman, had issues making a path from second to third base and an apparent single to center by Claudell Washington was nullified when Backman was forced at third.

The game went extra innings, surely delighting those on hand, but Pittsburgh quickly took the lead in the 10th. Centerfielder Joel Youngblood dropped Dale Berra's fly ball, giving the Bucs a runner on second to start the frame, and Berra came home on a Bernie Carbo single. That gave the Pirates a 4-3 lead.

Bob Murphy liked to say that baseball was a game of redeeming features and the Mets redeemed themselves in the 10th (a brief aside: are football, basketball or hockey games of redeeming features?). Another rookie, Hubie Brooks singled, went to second on a sacrifice bunt, and stayed put when Frank Taveras struck out. That brought up Youngblood, who had failed earlier in the game, but had a penchant for hitting Pirates reliever Grant Jackson, finishing his career 4-for-6 against the Pirates southpaw. Youngblood cracked a 1-0 pitch and deposited it into the Pirates bullpen for a walk-off two-run home run.

"It's just another example of how in baseball a dog can suddenly become a hero," the eloquent Youngblood told reporters, who likely outnumbered remaining witnesses, after the game.

True Metbloods know...The Mets had four walk-off home runs in 1980, two shy of the team record of six set in both 1962 and 1963. All four walk-off home runs in 1980 shared a common bond. They all occurred with men on base.


Anonymous said…
No wonder 1980 seemed so exciting.

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