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Showing Some Sack

Guest columnist Barry Federovitch was looking for an outlet for this material, and thought this would be a good place.

On the day of perhaps college football's greatest upset, Appalachian State over Michigan, the Mets (after one of their most devastating regular-season series in years) showed, in lieu of a more appropriate term, ''some sack’’ on Saturday, winning a second straight game in their traditional chamber of horrors, Atlanta.

The 2007 National League title is far from being resolved, but while in football the term ''sack'' means being knocked down, in baseball it means getting up, which the Mets did with a vengeance. It means responding when things are bleakest, toughest, showing character when the momentum is very much against you or the prognosticators say you have little chance.

Some of the all-time ''sack'' performances by the Mets, as a team and individually, have been:

1964 (Oct. 2-4, at St. Louis) - The Mets had 108 losses when they went to Sportsman’s Park and the Cards needed only one win to clinch the National League pennant. But in the first game of a three-game series, Al Jackson outpitched one of the all-time Met killers and money pitchers, Bob Gibson, 1-0. With the Reds and Phillies desperate for help, the Mets knocked out 17 hit’s the next day to bomb the Cards, 15-5. All that stood between the first three-way tie for the National League pennant in history was a third straight Met upset … and in the top of the fifth on Oct. 4, the Mets gained a 3-2 lead. But that’s where the Cinderella story ended, the Cards going on to win the game, the pennant and the world title. Alas, no one could say the Cards didn’t earn it as the Mets, in just their third season, showed some serious sack.

1969 (The Tommie Agee Show, 9/8/69) - There were numerous instances of the Mets showing sack in the Miracle Year (Al Weis’ two homers in Chicago, Jerry Koosman hitting Ron Santo in this game, Tom Seaver coming back from a dead arm to win 10 straight down the stretch, etc.). But the Spirit of ‘69 was best epitomized by Agee, who had an 0-for-34 slump in early 1968 and yet a little over a year later was one of the toasts of baseball. On Sept. 7, 1969, Phillies pitcher Billy Champion knocked down Agee, whereupon the Tommyhawk responded with a homer. Cubs pitcher Bill Hands didn’t learn his lesson. The next day, Hands knocked down Agee … a move that might have resulted in the Cubs losing the game. Agee responded his next time up with a two-run homer, later hustled his way to a double and slid under Randy Hundley with the game-winning run. The Mets were unstoppable after that with the Cubs having been sacked.

1970 (Jerry Koosman; Sept. 20, Game 1) - Many of the Mets used to say that if you had a big game to win, turn to Koosman. Well after the Mets dropped the first two games of a critical four-game set with Pittsburgh late in the season, they had a doubleheader with Kooz in the first game and Seaver in the nightcap. Koosman, who suffered multiple injuries in 1970, not only beat one of the best hitting teams in baseball in Game 1, but nearly no-hit them, a Jose Pagan sixth-inning homer and Willie Stargell eighth-inning single the only blemishes in a two-hit 4-1 victory. Seaver dropped the nightcap, but for a few hours Koosman kept alive a dying season with a money sack performance.

1973 (Buzz Capra, Sept. 18, 1973) - Buzz Capra had a brief, mostly inglorious career as a Met with his one claim to fame that he beat Juan Marichal 1-0 in a game in which he drove in the only run. But Capra, who would enjoy success the following season as an Atlanta Brave, also recorded perhaps the most important out of the 1973 stretch drive. Situation: Mets lose Monday game of series with Pirates and are about to lose 4-1 Tuesday, whereupon they stage a five-run rally, keyed by RBI hits by Ron Hodges and Don Hahn (sack runners-up). Having already used Tug McGraw to keep the game close, manager Yogi Berra cannot turn to Harry Parker, who has a sore arm. So he must choose between rookie Bob Apodaca (making his big-league debut) and Capra, who has been awful most of the season. He chooses Apodaca, which backfires when the rookie walks his first two men. So the whole season rests upon Capra. After a sacrifice bunt and groundout cut the deficit to 6-5, a walk reloads the bases putting Manny Sanguillen up with the tying and winning runs in scoring position. Capra goes to 3-1 on Sanguillen … and then induces the game-ending flyout. After that, the sacked Pirates never respond.

1979 (Mystery sack) - 1979 marked arguably the low point in the Mets franchise: attendance dipped to 788,000. Angry fans two years removed from the Tom Seaver trade to Cincy stayed away in droves. Shea Stadium was at its aesthetic low point and the team’s play wasn’t much better. On the road at Chicago and St. Louis to end the season, the Mets fell to 57-99, one loss shy of 100 losses … then somehow won their final six games to avoid the triple-digit losses. The mystery is this: If the team had so much gumption to win those games, why couldn’t it win 5-10 more games to be a little more respectable?

1985 (Ron Darling, 10/1/85, at St. Louis) - There were a lot of sack moments in 1985 when the Mets won 98 games and thrilled a city. But the most memorable and clutch came in the first game of a late-season series in St. Louis. Down three games to the Cards with only six to play, manager Davey Johnson held back Dwight Gooden for Game 2 and pinned the team’s hopes on Ron Darling against lefty John Tudor, who was in the midst of one of the great hot streaks in baseball history (20-1 after a 1-7 start). Tudor at this point was virtually unbeatable, but Darling battled him to a scoreless tie, tossing nine shutout innings against a Cardinal team poised for the kill. Jesse Orosco got the win in the 11th after Darryl Strawberry homered off the clock in deep right center, but Darling stared into the eye of the tiger and showed some serious sack.

1986 (Bobby Ojeda, Game 3 World Series) - In many ways, Bobby Ojeda in 1986 became for the Mets what Jerry Koosman had been in 1969 and ‘73 - the crafty lefty who could take his game to another level when it mattered most. He showed some sack in outpitching Nolan Ryan in Game 2 of the NLCS in Houston with the Mets down a game and took it to another level when he stymied the Red Sox in Game 3 of the World Series. It was that sack that the Mets desperately missed when Ojeda went down with a mysterious gardening injury late in 1988.

Mike Piazza (Take your pick) - Of all the Mets offensively, Mike Piazza is arguably the all-time sack king. His all-time best sack moment? Take your pick. Was it the post 9-11-2001 homer against the Braves? Was it the laser-beam homer that capped a 10-run rally against Atlanta in 2000? Was it a Roger Clemens homer? How about a late-inning homer in ‘98 at Houston against Billy Wagner? Piazza rose to the occasion many times as a Met, often when things looked bleakest.

And finally …

John Maine/Mike Pelfrey (this weekend in Atlanta) - I’m not sure which is more impressive, the guy slumping winning the first game with the Phillies breathing down the Mets’ necks or the guy who is 0-7 finally winning his first in the most important start of his career. Does it matter? In tandem, Maine and Pelfrey assured the Mets of leaving Atlanta no worse than two games out of first, stopped the bleeding after a disastrous Philadelphia series and really epitomized what the term ‘’showing some sack’’ means.

The Mets all-time sack team:
SP- Tom Seaver (1967)
SP- Terry Leach (1987)
SP- Bob Ojeda (1986)
SP- Al Leiter (2000)
SP - Jerry Koosman (1968)
RP- Tug McGraw (1973)
RP- Bob Apodaca (1975)
C- Mike Piazza (take your pick) by a slim margin over Gary Carter (1985)
1B- Ed Kranepool (1971)
2B - tie Ron Hunt (1964) and Wally Backman (1986)
SS - Bud Harrelson (1973)
3B - Ray Knight (1986; by a slim margin over Wayne Garrett)
OF- Cleon Jones (1973)
OF- Tommie Agee (1969)
OF - Lenny Dykstra (1986)
PH- Rusty Staub (1983-84)
Manager - Gil Hodges (1969)


Anonymous said…
"Shea Stadium was at its aesthetic low point..."

There was a high point?
Anonymous said…
Absolutely, Paul! Some like to think Shea has always been a dump. To steal a line from Ringling Bros., it has often been a ''Circus of Dreams'' for Mets fans. But the de Roulets really let it get rundown in the late 70s. If you ever get an old video of one of their games from that era, you'd be surprised Shea lasted to 1987, let alone 2007.
The Mets can't do a lot about the neighborhood around the park, but aesthetically speaking it has been much much worse.
-- Barry Federovitch

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