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Walk-off collision

Halloween came four months early for Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Dave Parker in 1978.

The Mets and Pirates played a ballgamethat June 30th that got wild and crazy for the last three innings, right down to the final play of the game. It was originally a pretty good pitchers duel between Mets youngster Nino Espinosa and his Pirates counterpart Don Robinson that was even at one through six innings.

In the seventh, the Pirates took the lead as current big league managers Phil Garner and Ken Macha hit back-to-back doubles, Macha's plating Garner. Future Met Frank Taveras singled home Macha to give Pittsburgh a two-run cushion.

The Mets got a run back in their half of the eighth on a Willie Montanez RBI double, but missed a chance for more. Likewise, the Pirates couldn't convert a bases-loaded opportunity with nobody out in the last of the eighth, and the Mets came up in the top of the ninth trailing, 3-2.

During the dog days of Metsdom (ie: 1977-1979), there wasn't much to get excited about, but this ninth inning was one of the most memorable events of that three-year period. The Mets tied the game on a pinch-single by Ed Kranepool, then took the lead on a triple by Lenny Randle, after Pirates catcher Ed Ott extended the at bat by failing to snag a Randle foul pop. In all, the Mets tallied four times against four Pirates pitchers.

A 6-3 lead was what Mets reliever Dale Murray was asked to protect and he struggled to make it through. With one out Taveras singled, then so did Omar Moreno. Parker followed with a triple to left, bringing home two runs to make it a one-run Mets lead. With the comfort zone of a good lead gone, Murray was left facing Bill Robinson, who flied to right fielder Joel Youngblood.

I've had two people tell me in the last week that Parker is worthy of Hall of Fame induction, including one who votes on such matters. They point to seasons such as this 1978 campaign in which he hit .334 with 30 home runs and 117 RBI (and not 1986 when he dropped a fly ball with 2 outs in the 9th one night, leading to an extra-inning Mets win over the Reds).

Parker is a big man at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, and he played all out. That meant in a situation like this that he would tag up and try to beat the throw home. It also meant that catcher John Stearns had better be ready for the freight train that was on the way. That was alright with Stearns, who also played with a football-like mentality.

Stearns braced himself for contact, leaving his mask on to better absorb the blow. He fielded Youngblood's throw and held on for dear life as Parker came at him full force. The result was a violent collision, with Stearns getting knocked backwards, by newspaper estimates a good 10 feet. Stearns somehow made the tag and, more significantly, held on to the ball, meaning the result was a game-ending double play and a Mets victory.

Parker came out of the collision much worse than Stearns, who had on all the body armor needed for protection. Parker suffered a broken left cheekbone and had his left eye swollen nearly shut. He didn't return to the Pirates lineup until July 16, and did so sporting a costume over his face, in the form of a hockey goalie mask that made him look like Jason from "Friday the 13th." The closest thing he got to trick-or-treat candy came at season's end, when he was voted the National League's Most Valuable Player.

True Metoween know...That yes, this wasn't a true walk-off, but so what? It's the best we could do at telling a Halloween-themed story. One other note tied in to this day: The Mets have had 11 walk-off wins that took place on the final day of a month, the most recent coming on March 31, 1998, which was Opening Day of that season.

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