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The Walk-Off That Was

Regular readers may recall this tale, of "The Walk-Off That Wasn't,"

but today, I'm here to tell you the story of "The Walk-Off That Was."

The anniversary of this is pertinent, since it took place on May 3, 1971, a game between the Mets and Cubs at Shea Stadium, which turned into a fine pitching duel between Ken Holtzman and Gary Gentry. It was a walk-off made possible by the events which took place in the top half of the 9th inning.

The score was even to that point because the Cubs were able to tie it on a home run by Billy Williams off Gentry in the 8th inning, but unable to take the lead after subsequently loading the bases later in the frame.

The last opportunity for the visitors in regulation commenced in the most frustrating of manners, with Gentry walking Holtzman before being pulled for Tug McGraw. Don Kessinger bunted but the Mets were unable to record an out, as second baseman Tim Foli made an error, dropping the throw to first base. The next batter, Glenn Beckert, also bunted and this time the Mets were able to retire him at first base, but the runners advanced to second and third.

Faced with a pick your poison scenario, the Mets opted to walk Williams and pitch to Ron Santo. The decision appeared to backfire when McGraw stopped in mid-delivery and third base ump Stan Landes, called him for a balk, which would have brought in the go-ahead run, but for one thing. Home plate umpire Mel Steiner overruled Landes, declaring that he had called time prior to the pitch. Had Steiner not made this decision, the Mets would likely have lost the game.

Bailed out by the reprieve, McGraw escaped, striking Santo out and retiring Johnny Callison (1964 All-Star walk-off hero) on a ground ball to first, a 3-2 pitch in which Donn Clendenon initially muffed the ball, recovered and barely beat Callison to the bag.

Good karma being with the Mets, it was only a matter of time before they would pull out the walk-offvictory. That time came in the 11th, when Jerry Grote got his fourth hit of the game, a two-out double, and scored on a pinch-hit by Tommie Agee after Foli was intentionally walked.

True Metpires know...Mel Steiner was also the home plate umpire for the first walk-off win in Mets history, in the opening game of a doubleheader against the Braves on May 12, 1962.


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