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The Best Games I Know: Mets vs Cardinals

Well, this is what happens when I get a day off from work and can't find a way to get baseball out of the brain. I challenged myself to come up with a list of the 10 best Mets wins over the Cardinals in the history of the rivalry. The criteria was simple: If I felt it belonged on the list, it made it. I may have wrongfully included and excluded...that's up for you to decide. Hopefully you'll enjoy the stroll down memory lane.

Oh, and when you're done, click on my other blog entry for the day, a nice companion to this list.

#10 Games 1 and 4 of the 2000 NLCS (October 11 and 15)

These games don’t stick in the minds of Mets fans as much as some of the others on this list will and that’s okay because Metmorability tends to clutter the brain a bit. A brief refresher tells us that the Mets set the tone for the series with two runs in the top of the first inning of Game 1. Timo Perez started things off with a leadoff double and after that, the Cardinals were never able to figure out a way to take him out of the series. The Cardinals failed to score after loading the bases in the first inning against Mike Hampton and that too set a precedent for the way things would turn out, as Hampton pitched the Mets to a relatively angst-free 6-2 triumph. Game 4 was keyed by a first inning in which the Mets first four hitters, and five of their first six hit doubles (an LCS record for doubles in an inning), offsetting Jim Edmonds’ two-run homer in the top of the frame, clearing the way for an offensive onslaught, and a 10-6 win.

True Metophiles know…The Cardinals actually outhit the Mets in both of those games (9-8 in Game 1 and 11-9 in Game 4)

#9 Clinching the NL East tie in 1969 (September 23)

I think the walk-off bias in me got this one on the list, as 1969 is certainly well represented without it. It basically came down to this game against
Opening Day, 1996, which when you measure the grand scheme of events, doesn’t quite have the significance of this particular contest. I blogged on this game recently and was fascinated to discover that game-winning-hit getter Bud Harrelson owned losing pitcher Bob Gibson (20-for-60 with 14 walks). Of all the stats I’ve uncovered in my year-and-a-half on the walk-offs beat, that might be the most Amazin’ of them all.

True Metophiles know…That the pitcher against whom Bud Harrelson had the most hits is former Cardinals pitcher (and Hall of Famer) Steve Carlton. Harrelson was 23-for-90 (.256 batting average) against Carlton.

#8 Keith Hernandez’s walk-off hit (September 12, 1985)

The blog entry about this game is one of my favorites and it’s a shame that I had to file this game under the “Wish I’d seen it” category. It’s probably better for my long term health that I didn’t bear witness to the Mets blowing a 6-0 lead in a game with first place on the line (25 games left in the season, the two teams even in the standings, with no wild-card to speak of). Thankfully, Hernandez was there to rescue them against Ken Dayley in the 9th inning and the speed of Mookie Wilson, combined with Vince Coleman’s defensive ineptitude, produced the winning run.

True Metophiles know…That Keith Hernandez had nearly an identical batting average against the Cardinals (.293) as he did against the Mets (.292)

#7 Gary Carter’s home run on Opening Day (April 9, 1985)

I always worry when a Mets player has a dynamite debut, wondering whether he’ll turn out to be the next Gary Carter or the next Bobby Bonilla (perhaps I should also ask “Or the next Xavier Nady?”) You can talk all you want about great Welcome-to-the-Mets-moments, but there’s none better in my book than Gary Carter’s walk-off home run off Neil Allen in the last of the 9th on a chilly April afternoon. If you want to talk about the great Mets-Cardinals rivalry of the 80s, it starts with this game.

True Metophiles know…The Mets current catching instructor, Tom Nieto, oft-seen in the Mets bullpen these days, was the Cardinals catcher when Carter hit his home run.

#6 Steve Carlton strikes out 19, loses (September 15, 1969)

“It was the best stuff I ever had,” Steve Carlton told reporters after breaking the major-league record for strikeouts and I imagine the Hall of Famer would say the same thing 37 years and many win later. Ron Swoboda, twice a strikeout victim, was twice a home-run hitter, accounting for all four Mets RBIs in a 4-3 ‘only-possible-in-69’ triumph. The win pushed the Mets lead in the NL East to 4 ½ games heading down the stretch of the season. Your 19 victims: Amos Otis (4), Bud Harrelson (2), Tommie Agee (2), Ron Swoboda (2), Ed Charles (2), Al Weis (2), Gary Gentry (2), Jerry Grote (1), Donn Clendenon (1), Tug McGraw (1)

True Metophiles know…I didn’t check this note, but I trust it to be correct, considering it ran in the New York Times game story. This was the 20th straight game in which the Mets did not allow a home run, and if that’s so, the streak extended to 23 before being broken.

#5 Howard Johnson’s home run off Todd Worrell (April 24, 1986)

The 1986 Mets went from 2-3 to 13-3 mainly because they swept four straight from the defending NL champion Cardinals in St. Louis. In the first of those games, the Mets trailed 4-2 in the 9th, when Howard Johnson’s two-run home run tied the game against Cardinals closer Todd Worrell. The Mets won it against Worrell in the 10th on George Foster’s RBI single. The Mets swept the series as part of a Cardinals tailspin in which they went from being 7-1 to 8-3 and basically out of the NL East race by early May.

True Metophiles know…Howard Johnson was 6-for-13 against Todd Worrell with four home runs and four intentional walks. For those who like OPS, Johnson’s against Worrell was 2.017.

#4 Jay Payton’s hit in Game 2 of the 2000 NLCS (October 12)

This was a topsy-turvy affair, not exactly the most impressive of playoff victories, but if you win an NLCS game in the 9th inning, it basically has to make the list. Though it pales in comparison to many of the Mets other “great” postseason games, this one had a little something for the fan of the heart-pounder. For those who forget, the Mets snapped a 3-3 tie with 2 runs in the 8th, then after the Cardinals tied it in the bottom of the eighth, Jay Payton’s RBI single (subsequently misplayed by Jim Edmonds) put the Mets back ahead for good in the 9th. The other noteworthy event from this game: the coining of the phrase “The Monster is out of the cage!” by coach John Stearns, proclaiming Mike Piazza had gotten his groove back.

True Metophiles know…That the man David Wright credits for being his big league mentor, Joe McEwing, scored the winning run in this game.

#3 Darryl Strawberry homers off the clock to keep 1985 alive (October 1)

If you were going to attribute my 26-year nailbiting habit to baseball games, this would be one that goes on the ‘blame’ list. I remember watching this one as a 10-year-old and my recollection is that it was one of the most pressure-packed sporting events I’ve ever witnessed. Much of the credit for the greatness of this one goes to the 2 pitchers- Ron Darling and John Tudor. A 1-0 final in 11 innings, capped by one of the longest Mets home runs my eyes have ever seen, is pretty hard to top.

True Metophiles know… That the Cardinals stranded the tying run on third in a nerve-wracking bottom of the 11th, with the game ending on an Ivan DeJesus flyout to Mookie Wilson.

#2 Clinching the NL East in 1969 (September 24)

The game that officially made the Mets Amazin’ was a rout, made possible by a 5-run first inning, which included the first of two home runs by Donn Clendenon. Mets fans saw that rookie Gary Gentry could pitch a big game, the first of four straight shutouts by New York pitchers. Hall of Famer Steve Carlton didn’t even make it through the first inning.

True Metophiles know…That when Joe Torre grounded into a game-ending double play, officially clinching the NL East for the Mets, the on-deck batter was future Mets broadcaster (and 2006 NLCS broadcaster) Tim McCarver.

#1 Mike Hampton’s shutout in Game 5 of the 2000 NLCS

I wrote a brief note on this the other day, about how my dad predicted as we walked out of the ballpark after Game 4 that Mike Hampton would pitch the game of his baseball life. That’s my best memory of this particular contest. As far as in-game memories go, the strongest for me is yelling out “THAT’S 3 RUNS!!!” and how the upper deck of the ballpark bounced after Todd Zeile’s 5th inning double off the wall cleared the bases and gave the Mets a 6-0 lead. My dad likes to kid me about how, after the game ended, I asked if we’d stick around to watch the celebration, as if I really needed to ask.

True Metophiles know…That when Rick Ankiel appeared in relief in this game in the 7th inning (another recollection is of him nearly killing a Mets fan-entertainer behind the backstop with a wild pitch), his catcher was 2006 Met-for-a-few-minutes Eli Marrero.

Loyal reader: Thanks for reading this piece. Please check out my other entry for the day, a nice companion to this piece.


Anonymous said…
Boy, I'll never forget #3! Being up in Boston, I listened to all those games on the radio. That is the bookend game to the 9/11/85 (I think) St Louis 1 - 0 victory in 10 innings, won by Cesar Cendeno with a big HR.
Anonymous said…
Great list. Some quick honorable mentions off the top of my head:

--The Friday and Saturday games at the end of 1964 in which the Mets beat the Cards and nearly threw the National League into a three-way frenzy.

--The Carloses power display in August 2006, trumping Pujols' seven RBIs.

--Todd Zeile's ninth-inning (I think) HR to cap a come-from-behind rally on one of his many returns to St. Louis (he was booed badly for being a Met).

--While Randy Johnson was perfect-gaming the Braves, Cliff Floyd was driving in the winner against St. Loo at Shea in May 2004 (a brief turning point in that briefly hopeful season).

--Franco bests McGwire right after the slugger was traded to St. Louis in 1997.

--Mets overcome lousy Isringhausen start in June 1999 to win a Saturday afternoon thriller at Busch. Paves the way for Izzy to be traded for Billy Taylor, but it was a good game.

--Wendell strikes out McGwire in the second game of a doubleheader at Shea in August 1998 to preserve a 1-0 win.

--Opening Day 1996: Rey O's awesome from-his-knees throw to nail Royce Clayton.

--Rico Brogna goes five-for-five on The Baseball Network, the clear highlight of 1994.

--Mets sweep Cardinals in June 1990 at Busch as part of a monster 11-game winning streak and 26-5 stretch.

--Julio Machado dusts Tom Pagnozzi in September 1989 in a Mets win to keep the team breathing and, more importantly, show we have somebody with killer instinct (perhaps a bit too much, in Julio's case).

I could go on. I hope the Mets do starting tomorrow night.

Again, wonderful work. Thank you for it.

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