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Rocky Mountain High

The Mets weren't a particularly good team in their first seven seasons of existence, but their penchant for dramatic comeback victories is such that you can find one from practically every one of their 44 years of existence.

Ron Swoboda reminded us of this when we briefly chatted with him about Mets walk-offs on Thursday. Now a broadcaster for the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs, Swoboda had his share of remarkable Mets moments, such as the two home runs he hit to beat Steve Carlton the day in 1969 that Carlton whiffed 19 Mets and the 9th inning diving catch that was an significant moment of the Mets win in Game 4 of the World Series that season. Swoboda, known by the nickname "Rocky," had one walk-off hit during his career with the Mets and he shared his memory of that moment with us.

First, some background, with some help from Swoboda and Bob Lipsyte's story of that game in the New York Times. It was August 4, 1966 and the Mets trailed future Hall of Famer Juan Marichal and the Giants, 6-1 in the eighth inning. Marichal had a perfect game for 5 2/3 innings and historically was dominant against the Mets, but somehow, the folks from Flushing managed a terrific rally.

The Mets cut the lead to 6-4 with three runs in the eighth and chased Marichal from the game after Ken Boyer led off the final frame with a home run. Two singles sandwiched around a botched bunt put runners on first and second, with one out. The Giants changed pitchers bringing in southpaw Bill Henry to pitch to leadoff man Chuck Hiller, but Mets manager Wes Westrum had a righty bat on the bench to pinch-hit in second-year man Swoboda, who had already homered to beat Henry earlier in the season.

The count went to 2-0 and Swoboda crushed the next pitch, a fastball, over the left field fence for a game-winning three-run home run, one that knocked the Giants out of first place, and sent Swoboda and family to see the Broadway show Man of La Mancha, in a great mood.

Hiller worked for the Mets in a variety of capacities for 24 years, but passed away last year. Whenever Swoboda bumped into Hiller, he reminded his former teammate of a promise, one that didn't make the newspaper that day.

"I always kidded Chuck," Swoboda said. "Before I came up, he said 'If you hit a homer, I'll kiss your (butt). He never got to pay it off."

True Metographers know...Ron Swoboda is the Mets all-time leader in walk-off walks, with four.

"That's odd, isn't it?" said Swoboda, who couldn't come up with a reason for his success in that department. "I was a bit of a free swinger. Sometimes you walk because you're swinging the bat well, and sometimes you'll walk because you'll miss a pitch that you should have hit. Those (walk-offs) aren't the ones you remember. "

No other player has more than one walk-off walk with the Mets.


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