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Best Games I Know: Mets 3, Other Guys 1

In my previous blogging days, I had a series that I called “The Best Games I Know” which was meant to represent the best Mets wins of a certain type. It was usually picking games against a particular opponent, though I also expanded the genre to encompass the best triples and best sacrifice flies in team history. I also did one series that I called “Bad Pitcher, Good Game” devoted to exactly that.

One time, I went so far as to find the best Mets games of a certain score, because it seemed like the Mets had a historic number of amazin’ 6-5 wins. So I thought I’d try that again. But what score to do?

I picked Mets 3, Other Guys 1 and I suppose the hook there is that my birthday falls on a 31st.

3-1 is about season hellos (Opening Day 2015) and player goodbyes (a famous and terrific one makes the list). 3-1 represents good days for Nolan Ryan, Ray Sadecki, Mickey Lolich, John Pacella and Wes Gardner, and George Foster, Jeromy Burnitz and Devin Mesoraco. The bad side of 3-1 is despair, but we shan’t discuss that game, instead preferring days of Mets celebration.

It is entirely possible that in this list that I missed a notable or historic 3-1 game – that I missed a player with a personal achievement or story of some sort. But I went through the box scores of all 151 in Mets history and I think I’ve got a good list that intentionally represents a cross-section of Mets players and history (in other words, I could have picked 5 Tom Seaver games but didn’t). If I left one out that you like, feel free to note it in the comments. Chances are I saw it but chose a different direction.

My initial list of contenders numbered 52 of those 151. In the end, I shuffled the deck and dealt these up as 10 of my favorites:

.500 (April 16, 1966 vs Braves)

This is a notable game in Mets history. By beating the Braves on this date, the team improved to 1-1, marking the first time in club history that it had a .500 record.

This game had some noteworthy controversy. A Hamilton was all the rage, except it was Jack and not Alexander and the raging ones were the Braves manager and star players. Jack Hamilton went the distance for the Mets, allowing only five hits. But the Braves fired some bullets Hamilton’s way after the game.

 “Hamilton doesn’t throw fast enough for his ball to break so quickly,” Braves manager Bobby Bragan said, per the Daily News. “The umpire kept saying he wasn’t throwing a spitter, but I know different.”

“I got those spitters every time up and never missed getting one with two strikes,” Joe Torre said. And Hank Aaron noted  “he even threw me spitters on his change.”

Hamilton denied the charge.

Ed Kranepool got the Mets going with a two-run home run in the first inning. The key moment in the game came in the fifth inning when  with the Braves having runners on second and third and one out, Felipe Alou’s ground ball was snagged by shortstop Roy McMillan, who threw home to catcher Choo Choo Coleman, who tagged out Dennis Menke to keep the Mets up, 2-1. Ken Boyer’s eighth-inning hit scored an insurance run for the final tally. By the way, the Mets won the next game too to go over .500 for the first time.

It didn’t last.

Also could list: Roger McDowell, AKA “The Second Spitter”  provided foreshadowing for Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS by pitching 4 2/3 perfect innings in a 3-1 win over the Braves on May 14, 1985.

‘Oo’h! (April 23, 1968 vs Astros)

It was a good day for fans of 0s and ‘oo’s. Rookie starter Jerry Koosman extended his streak of zeroes in the runs column to 21 to start the season before allowing a single blemish in the fourth in a 3-1 win. He’d start a new run with five more blanks, finishing with a four-hitter and 11 strikeouts in improving to 3-0 on the season, his ERA a meager 0.33. His 21 scoreless innings tied reliever Hal Reniff for longest scoreless streak in Mets history to that point.

The other ‘oo’s were for Greg Goossen, playing first base for the first time in his career. Goossen was the only Mets player to produce two hits, including one that netted the third run in the sixth inning. The other vowel of note in this game was an ‘E.’ The Astros made four of them, including back-to-back ones in the sixth that resulted in the go-ahead run scoring.

Also could list: Another in the double-O brigade, Dwight Gooden, tossed seven zeroes, striking out 10 to earn the 10th win of his rookie season against the Pirates on August 11, 1984. And for hitters, there’s Chris Woodward, who hit a walk-off two-run home run in the 11th inning to beat the Padres, 3-1 in 2005.

The only part of the farewell that was ‘terrific’  (June 12, 1977 vs Astros)

This is probably the most famous of the 3-1s, the final game for Tom Seaver prior to his trade to the Reds on June 15. Seaver pitched a complete game five-hitter, retiring Art Howe on a deep fly to left field with two men on base to end the game in Houston.

Seaver declined to talk to reporters after the game saying he had the flu. A few days later he’d be in tears after learning of the deal to Cincinnati. On this day, a young columnist for the Daily News named Mike Lupica wrote “The Mets were never going to get equal value for Seaver since as far as anyone can find out, Cy Young and Christy Mathewson are still dead.”

Also could list: Seaver had several gems that ended with 3-1 final scores. The best of those was a 10-strikeout one-hitter against the Pirates on September 26, 1971 (Vic Davalillo broke up the no-hit bid with a single in the seventh).  I could have easily done the writeup on that game but went for his goodbye start instead.

3-1 was also the final score on September 22, 1969, two days before the Mets clinched the NL East when Seaver notched his 24th win. Twas also the score of a great pitcher’s duel between Seaver and Bob Gibson on May 7, 1971, which the Mets won with two runs in the eighth.

Clincher! (September 22, 1988 vs Phillies)

The 1969 and 1986 NL East clinching games are remembered much more than the 1988 counterpart, and understandably so, but this is still a good place to reminisce about a memorable victory.

The 1988 Mets had room to spare after a 22-5 burst took their record to 93-57 and turned a 3 ½ game lead over the Pirates to 11½ games. The Mets’ pitching had been the story of this run, surrendering no runs or one run in seven of the first eight games of this hot stretch.  Pitching was the story of the division clincher too. Ron Darling pitched a complete game six-hitter. He struck out only two in the first eight innings, but doubled that in the ninth, including Lance Parrish to end the 3-1 victory.

Darling was nearly hooked in the eighth inning when the Phillies put two on base, but he told pitching coach (and acting manager) Mel Stottlemyre that he wanted to finish his one. (Davey Johnson got ill mid-game).

“I just want to be known as someone who goes out every fifth day and leaves his heart on the mound,” Darling said.

Also could list: Darling’s boothmate, then-Cardinals first baseman Keith Hernandez, hit a game-tying home run in the ninth inning against Mets starter Mike Scott on May 24, 1981, but the Mets got Neil Allen a win by scoring twice against Cardinals closer Bruce Sutter in the 10th. John Stearns drove in the winning run.


Bobby Jones dominates the Giants … but not that game (April 22, 1994)

Some foreshadowing came in Bobby Jones’ 13th career major league start. Facing a Giants lineup that included a 3-4-5 of Willie McGee, Matt Williams, and Barry Bonds, Jones dominated, allowing only two hits in eight scoreless innings.  The Mets beat Mark Portugal who was riding a streak of 14 straight winning decisions.

There was a similarity to Jones’ October 2000 outing in the form of an arduous first inning in which Jones walked the bases loaded before escaping (Jones loaded the bases in the fifth in the playoffs).  He allowed only two singles and was never seriously threatened thereafter.

“They just look lost,” Giants manager Dusty Baker said of his hitters. “Don’t ask me about Jones. I can’t tell good from bad anymore. Everybody we face looks like a potential 1994 Cy Young candidate.”

Also could list: Imagine how frustrated Dusty would have been with the Mets-Giants game on June 12 1976 when John D’Acquisto and company held the Mets to two hits but lost to Craig Swan, 3-1. Nine D’Acquisto walks didn’t help matters.

Seems like old times (September 9, 1999 vs Dodgers)

Yes, it was the Mets who defeated the Dodgers in Los Angeles on this particular day. But this was more a case of the Dodgers being beat by some of their old friends.

Mike Piazza gave the Mets the lead for good with a two-run home run in the sixth inning. Orel Hershiser had arguably his best game with the Mets allowing only Gary Sheffield’s first-inning home run and Mark Grudzielanek’s infield single in eight frames.  In a game in which Hershiser struck out only one, he needed a big play from his defense and got it when Roger Cedeno robbed Sheffield of a game-tying home run in the seventh.

“It was kind of a magical night,” Hershiser said afterwards, knowing he’d had a few in that ballpark before.

Also could list: On the subject of old and friends, let’s remember Opening Day 2015 when 41-year-old Bartolo Colon and the Mets beat the Nationals, with aptly-named Buddy Carlyle getting the save.

Peak Pedro (June 7, 2005 vs Astros)

On this day, Pedro Martinez was every bit the Pedro Martinez who dominated for the Red Sox in 1999 and 2000. Martinez took a no-hit bid for 6 1/3 innings (broken up by Chris Burke’s first career home run home run on a hanging hook) and allowed only one other hit in dominating a downtrodden Astros team.  

Martinez struck out 12, including the last four, dominating with the slow curveball we saw often given that Martinez’s fastball velocity was no longer at its peak. But even without an overpowering heater, Martinez was still able to do something in the Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden mode. He improved to 7-1 on the season with this 3-1 win. To this point, he had been well worth the big contract he was given.

“He means everything to us,” manager Willie Randolph said.

Also could list: Of more recent vintage, Jacob deGrom has had a couple of gems end with 3-1 scores. He struck out 13 in seven innings in a 2018 win over the Diamondbacks then whiffed 11 more in a win against them last year.  

Welcome to the show, Matt Harvey! (July 26, 2012 vs Diamondbacks)

It took the Mets another few years to get good again, but Matt Harvey’s debut in Arizona marked a turn in an upward direction.

The Mets gave Harvey a chance to relax right away, scoring twice in the first inning on a double by Scott Hairston. He was able to get through 5 1/3 scoreless innings and even had two hits at the plate. That Harvey needed 106 pitches to get 16 outs was because he was running deep counts and because he was racking up strikeouts. His best moment came in the third inning when he struck out Jason Kubel with two men on base, then after a wild pitch, caught Paul Goldschmidt looking to end an eight-pitch at-bat.

When I was warming up I looked around and kind of took everything in," Harvey said. "At that moment I really did believe that I was meant to pitch in the big leagues. It was everything I could have imagined.” 

For a time, so was Harvey.

Also could list: Another who pitched and hit his way to a 3-1 victory was David Cone. On August 12, 1989, he allowed one run in seven innings, and had three hits, with an RBI and a run scored in a win over the Cardinals.

Gee whiz! (May 30, 2013 vs Yankees)

It’s one thing for Pedro Martinez or Matt Harvey or Jacob deGrom to pitch a great game against the Yankees. It’s another when someone like Dave Mlicki, Shawn Eastes, or Dillon Gee does it.

The latter is our focus here and boy was it unexpected for Gee to pitch 7 1/3 innings, allowing only one run and four hits, and striking out 12 in this 3-1 win. Gee entered the game with a 6.34 ERA in 10 starts. He’d failed to go more than five innings in any of his last five starts.  Plain and simple, he wasn’t very good.

But boy was this a different Gee that finished off a four-game sweep. He was efficient (88 pitches to get 22 outs) and had a nasty curveball that netted five strikeouts, four of them looking. 

“I needed that on so many levels, it's crazy," Gee told reporters, acknowledging he knew his place in the rotation was not secure.

Gee’s comment was prescient. From that game on, he was a different pitcher, finishing with a 2.71 ERA in his last 22 starts. The next year, with Harvey out due to Tommy John surgery,  Gee was the Mets moundsman on Opening Day, something that would have been laughable if you’d brought that up entering this game against the Yankees.

Also could list: Oliver Perez of all people had his share of good games against the Yankees. The pertinent one for us came in 2008 when he dominated, allowing one run and three hits with eight strikeouts and (somehow) no walks in an impressive win.

On and On and On (July 19, 2015 vs Cardinals)

The Mets have had only one 3-1 win go longer than 11 innings. But it went a lot longer. A heck of a lot longer.  This was 18 innings of baseball torment.

The Mets have put their fans through quite a lot in their many marathon games, but this was extreme even for them. They totaled 16 hits and 15 walks but managed only the three runs, which took nearly six hours to play. They went 1-for-26 with runners in scoring position and left 25(!) on base.

“I’ve never seen more flying helmets in my life,” manager Terry Collins said afterwards.

The one hit by Kevin Plawecki did produce the game’s first run in the 13th inning. But after stranding three in an attempt to score more, they gave the run right back when Kolten Wong homered on the second pitch of Jeurys Familia’s save attempt in the bottom of the inning.

In true Metsian fashion, it wasn’t hits that produced the winning runs. The go-ahead run came via a Ruben Tejada sacrifice fly and an additional tally came home on Eric Campbell’s successful squeeze bunt. That was the only possible way this game was going to end.

Also could list: Daniel Murphy foreshadowed his outstanding 2015 postseason, hitting a three-run home run in the ninth inning to give the Mets a 3-1 win over the Marlins on April 27.


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