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Walk-off Piracy

Entering Wednesday night, the Mets have beaten the Pirates 312 times, though Jim Tracy would surely argue that #312 was stolen from his team on Tuesday afternoon.

Tracy's post-Chavez eruption was reminiscent of catcher Randy Hundley's outburst, circa September 1969, when Tommie Agee scored a critical run during a Mets-Cubs showdown. One of the reasons this post was delayed until late afternoon, Wednesday was because I spent a chunk of my day pondering similar such plays at the plate in Mets history. But rather than reminisce about being on the wrong end of Ray Fosse's phantom tag in the 1973 World Series, or other such matters, I figured that I'd instead try to write about another instance or two in which the Mets stole a ball game from the team whose name honors theft.

Greg from "Faith and Fear" was quite helpful in offering up suggestions and I'll put one to good use here. He provided a brief summary of the July 31, 1983 Banner Day Doubleheader against Pittsburgh and I shall elaborate on them here.

It took 24 innings, some good fortune, and 6 1/2 hours of baseball to sweep two from the Pirates that afternoon. The Mets trailed 4-0 4 batters into the opener after Jason Thompson's grand slam off Walt Terrell (who, for those who remember 1984, had a bad history on Banner Day). Scott Holman filled the role of unsung hero, replacing Terrell and blanking the Pirates for four innings, but the Mets still trailed 6-1 after 6 innings.

A Mookie Wilson RBI double got the Mets a run closer in the 7th, but the key to this comeback was a 4-run 8th, which began with back to back home runs from Keith Hernandez and George Foster. An error by Dale (son of Yogi) Berra helped extend the inning and eventually Wilson tied the contest with a two-out single off Kent Tekulve.

Jesse Orosco got the Mets through the next four innings, part of a stretch for the southpawthat our Faith and Fear colleague called one of the great reliever runs in Mets history. By the last of the 12th, the bedsheet-toting fans must have been restless for victory, and so were the Mets players. Hits by Darryl Strawberry and Brian Giles, and a walk to Tucker Ashford loaded the bases with one out for light-hitting Bob Bailor. Though Bailor wasn't known for his punch with the bases loaded (.229 career average in such spots), he punched a single to left field off Jim Bibby to bring home the winning run.

The Mets didn't realize it at the time, but they had basically exhausted their supply of hits for the day. Thankfully, they had veteran Mike Torrez pitching in Game 2 (such usage of the words thankful and Mike Torrez was previously limited to praise from Yankees fans for events of 1977 and 1978). While Pirates rookie Jose Deleon, in his third major-league start, was holding the Mets hitless, Torrez (who led the NL with 17 losses that season) did his part by keeping the Bucs bats scoreless.

The Mets didn't muster a hit until the ninth inning (Deleon's 9-inning, 11 K outing was reminiscent of one by Larry Dierker against the Mets, circa 1966), but Hernandez erased the good work of Hubie Brooks by hitting into an inning-ending double play.

Torrez did something that I don't believe any Mets pitcher has done since- worked 11 innings (he pitched 10 in his prior outing on July 26). Mets manager Frank Howard, who had utilized his bullpen frequently in Game 1 (no Pedro Felicianos around to complain) stuck with Torrez deep into Game 2, until pinch-hitting for him in the 11th frame. His choice to relieve Torrez (11 IP, 0 R, 8 H) was Orosco again and if Jesse was tired, he didn't show it. The Pirates went harmlessly in the 12th and the game remained 0-0.

Wilson led off the 12th with a single, went to second on a Brooks sacrifice and held on an intentional walk to Hernandez. With Foster up, Wilson heard instructions from third base coach Bobby Valentine, telling him not to be afraid to take a chance if it meant scoring a run to win the game. Foster hit a ground ball to second, and Wilson took off in full sprint. Upon taking the throw from Johnny Ray for the force out, Pirates shortstop Dale Berra realized, after a moments pause, that Wilson was Enos Slaughter mad-dashing around third base. Berra's throw home to catcher Tony Pena was high and Wilson was ruled safe with the winning run.

''I think we stole a run on that one,'' Wilson told the media afterwards.

True Metrates know... This marked the 4th time in Mets history that they swept a doubleheader with both wins coming in walk-off fashion. On three of those occasions, the same pitcher who won Game 1, won Game 2. Jesse Orosco joined Craig Anderson and Willard Hunter on that illustrious list. On the other occasion, the same pitcher (Pirates reliever Roy Face) was the losing pitcher in both games of the double dip.

They also know that Jay Payton, who got a walk-off hit on Tuesday thanks to Bobby Crosby's bowling over of Tigers catcher Vance Wilson (a colleague called it a "knock-off" win) had three walk-off plate appearances for the Mets. Payton had a walk-off home run, double, and walk, with one coming in each of the 3 seasons from 2000 to 2002.


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