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Catch as Catch Can

It seems an appropriate time to tell this story, with catchers and pitchers due to report in a couple days. You may recall that Casey Stengel once said something to the effect of "You've gotta have a catcher. Otherwise, you're going to have a lot of passed balls."

Well, it took the Mets five years to bear this out, but Stengel's wisdom proved to be prophetic.

The bizarre season that was 1967 took a twist ever so unusual on that July 27, when the Mets were in Los Angeles to take on the Dodgers.

We'll pick up the action in the 7th inning, wiht the Mets trailing 3-2. With two on and two outs, backup catcher John Sullivan struck for a game-tying single to center. Mets manager Wes Westrum elected to pinch-hit for pitcher Danny Frisella with another catcher, Greg Goossen. That move, in and of itself wasn't so strange, but the companion to it- having regular catcher Jerry Grote run for Sullivan- put the Mets in the position of using all three of their catchers in the inning. Goossen whiffed, so the game remained tied. Mets reliever Hal Reniff stranded the bases loaded in the Dodgers half, keeping the game even until the 8th.

Ron Perranoski came in to pitch for the Dodgers in relief of Don Drysdale, who had injured himself the previous inning. Thus, Perranoski was permitted extra time to warm up. This, for whatever reason, annoyed Grote who threw a towel out of the Mets dugout, which in turn drew the heave-ho from one umpire.

This left the Mets with quite a conundrum. Grote was their last available catcher. In a moment of humor, Yogi Berra approached the first base ump and asked if he could be activated to catch. Permission was not granted.

The good news for the Mets was that Bob Johnson's single drove in two runs to give them the lead. The bad news was, that with no other alternatives available, Tommie Reynolds was picked over Tommy Davis, Ron Swoboda and Ed Kranepool to be the backstop. Reynolds, a rather mediocre batsman, was on the roster as a backup outfielder who could play all three positions. His claim to fame, to that point, had been a walk-off home run on Father's Day against the Cubs, but since then he was a meager 4-for-29.

The Dodgers scored three runs off Reniff and Ron Taylor to take the lead in the home 8th, with a Dick Schofield stolen base helping to assure the go-ahead tally on Nate Oliver's double, but the Mets rallied to even things by scratching out a run on two singles and a double play in the visitors 9th. Reynolds got through the 9th and 10th in his new spot unscathed, but his luck changed in the home 11th.

Oliver walked against Jack Fisher to start the inning and advanced to third on a one-out single by Len Gabrielson. With Bob Bailey up, Fisher threw a pitch that sailed up and in. Reynolds believed that Bailey offered and nicked the ball with his bat. The home plate ump decreed it a swing and a miss. By the time Reynolds retrieved the ball, the winning run had crossed the plate.

The newspaper description of this game, as well as that by Mets historian Dennis D'Agostino is quite humorous. The aftermath of events is that Grote was fined a whopping $100 and Reynolds never caught again.

The scoring on this was changed, after the game had concluded, from wild pitch to passed ball (it would be one of 22 the Mets would have that season). So it should be a lesson to us as pitchers and catchers arrive as to the importance of having enough well-trained players sporting the tools of ignorance.

True Metchers know...The 1964 Mets set a club record that still stands with 32 passed balls.

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