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All That Was Missing Was Dick Clark

On December 31, many will congregate in Times Square to witness the ball-dropping and begin the celebration of a New Year.

There have been a few instances on which Mets walk-off fans have had the opportunity to celebrate a ball-beyond the one taking place at the start of a year. And though the festivities may be lacking in champagne and confetti, they are just as Metmorable.

The most thrilling may have taken place on June 2, 1963, when fans not only got a ball-dropping, but they received two victories for the price of one. That was the date for a home doubleheader against the Pirates. The season was about one-third complete and the cuteness of the Mets mediocrity of 1962 seemed to be wearing off, so the fans were in need of games like these.

The opening game was a pitchers duel between Mets "ace" Roger Craig and Pirates moundsman Vernon Law. A Duke Snider home run in the 4th brought the fans to their feet and provided the Mets with the game's only run, until the 9th inning.

Craig dealt with hard luck throughout the season. On 12 occurrences, he made what is known now as a quality start (6+ innings, three or fewer earned runs), yet took the loss. In this rare instance in which victory was there to be had, it slipped through his grasp. The Pirates tied the score on Smoky Burgess' one-out single, plating Bill Mazeroski and Larry Bearnarth subsequently replaced Craig and avoided further trouble.

Had the Mets won the game in the last of the 9th, we likely wouldn't be writing about this contest today, but Pirates first baseman Donn Clendenon made a diving catch of Choo Choo Coleman's line drive and turned it into an inning-ending double play to quash a bases-loaded threat.

Casey Stengel, known for his unusual ways, had limited resources left on his bench by that point, so after Bearnarth retired the side in the 10th, he let the pitcher bat in the bottom of the frame. Bearnarth's reward for singling was to be replaced by pinch runner Rod Kanehl. Jimmy Piersall, best known for running the bases backwards after hitting his 100th homer that season, sacrificed in this instance, advancing Kanehl to second and Pirates reliever Elroy Face then chose to intentionally bypass Tim Harkness.

That set us up for the moment of drama, with runners on first and second and one out. Ron Hunt hit a fly ball to shallow left. The newspaper reports indicate that Pirates leftfielder Jerry Lynch misjudged the ball, and by the time he recovered, centerfielder Bill Virdon was racing in as well. Virdon had the opportunity to make the catch, but as he moved towards the ball, Lynch collided with him. The spheroid popped in and out of Virdon's glove and fell to the grass. Kanehl scored without a problem and the Mets had a victory both ball-dropping and jaw-dropping, with the final ruling being an error on Lynch.

Before you start blowing horns and unleashing streamers, lest we remind you that there was another game to be played. Tracy Stallard, best known for allowing Roger Maris' 61st home run, got the start for the Mets in the nightcap (his first since allowing that homer, as Times writer Robert Lipsyte points out) and was basically flawless. He didn't allow a baserunner until there were two outs in the fifth, and didn't yield a hit until Bill Mazeroski singled to center to start the 7th. Stallard departed after allowing a run-scoring triple to the next batter, Lynch, but was sporting a 3-1 lead at the time.

The Pirates, of course, tied the game with single runs in the 8th and 9th, the last scoring when catcher Choo Choo Coleman dropped the ball in a home-plate collision with his nemesis for the day, Clendenon. The score remained 3-3 after the Mets again loaded the bases in the home 9th but couldn't score, as Tim Harkness' two-out grounder to first closed the frame.

In the home 10th, the Mets both saved face and beat Face, as with one out Jim Hickman smashed a 420-foot home run off the Pirates closer, giving the Mets a doubleheader sweep and a pair of Amazin' walk-off wins. The fans didn't quite celebrate as like it was 1964. Lipsyte described them as "too drained to be noisy."

Those who Metebrate the New Year know...

* The Mets, on 4 instances, have swept a doubleheader with both wins coming via walk-off, having done so in 1962, 1963, 1964, and 1983. This was the only instance in which the same pitcher (Elroy Face) lost both games.

* This was the first of two instances in Mets history in which the team won on a walk-off error due to dropped ball. Here's the link to the other

http://metswalkoffs.blogspot.com/2005/06/fatherson-walk-off-memory.html

* Lastly, for those who thought I was making some indirect reference to the Mets "dropping the ball" on Barry Zito, you are mistaken. I think the Mets made the right choice by letting him go.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Let's not forget Mrs. Aguilera who dropped Rick, so to speak, on December 31, 1961.

I'm kind of up on New Year's Eve Mets births.
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Alright, so it's 2 days later and the challenge for me now, after reading through about a dozen game stories and listening to talk radio, is to provide a fresh perspective on walk-off #324. If you're going to be a serious reader of this blog, you know what happened already, so let's look at what made this particular walk-off stand out.

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