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Who's Sarah Bernhardt???

The 1969 Mets had not yet reached their turning point on August 4, 1969, when they faced the Atlanta Braves in the finale of a three-game series. It was evident that the Flushing 9 were closing in on something special though, having taken two straight one-run affairs from the NL West leaders to stand at 57-44 and in second place in the NL East. The Mets had succeeded in making their opponents nervous, because they were a squad capable of doing anything. This contest was another example.

The Mets were shorthanded, with a couple of pitchers out on military duty, according to newspaper stories, so when the Braves tallied four sixth inning runs against Gary Gentry, extending a 1-0 lead to 5-0, the outcome for the day looked rather bleak. The Mets hadn't managed a hit in the previous three innings against veteran hurler Milt Pappas, and with the Braves needing the game to maintain sole possession of the top spot in their division, it seemed like this one was all but in the books.

Or maybe not. Tommie Agee doubled to lead off the sixth inning and scored on a one-out single by Wayne Garrett. Atlanta felt it had gotten enough from Pappas, who was pitching on three days rest, and replaced him at that juncture with Cecil Upshaw. That move didn't work.

The Mets loaded the bases on singles by pinch-hitter Art Shamsky and Rod Gaspar, then caught a break when Grote reached, after Braves second baseman Felix Millan dropped a throw to second in trying to get a force play. That brought home a run, making it 5-2. Cleon Jones, who was out with an injury (and was only a few days removed from being pulled in mid-game against the Astros for lack of hustle), pinch-hit and drove in two more runs with a single. That made it a 5-4 game. The Braves went to the pen again, choosing rookie Paul Doyle. Bud Harrelson greeted Doyle by plating the tying run with a sacrifice fly. Doyle got out of the inning without further damage, but the score was now even, 5-5.

Jack DiLauro and Ron Taylor combined to do yeomens work out of the Mets bullpen, combining to shut the Braves out over the next five innings. Yes, this one went the bonus baseball route as Doyle was up to the challenge as well, setting the Mets down in the seventh, eighth and ninth, and Claude Raymond followed with a scoreless 10th.

This was a game that was looking for a hero and the choice of the moment happened to be the leadoff man in the 11th inning, Mets catcher Jerry Grote, who had homered off Phil Niekro earlier in the series, his first homer in Flushing that season and only his third round-tripper of the year.

Raymond ran the count to 2-0 and made the mistake of grooving his next pitch, right over the heart of the plate. Grote went the same route that the Mets catcher did on this Thursday night, opposite field with a drive that cleared the right field fence for a walk-off home run.

"If it had been anywhere else (but over the middle of the plate), I'd have taken it," Grote told reporters afterward, acknowledging that he was just trying to get on base.

The lead to the New York Times story the next day read "The Mets, who have made more comebacks than Sarah Bernhardt, made another one yesterday..." and you would have presumed, whether you understood that reference or not, that this was a pretty big win. However, it was not the one that tipped the season in their favor.

It would seem logical that this victory set off a big win streak, but it didn't. The Mets lost their next two contests, and within a week, were in third place, facing a nearly insurmountable deficit of 10 games after getting swept by the Astros. The chances of the Mets and Braves meeting in the postseason that autumn seemed rather bleak. It would take a miracle.

True 'Met'hod Actors know...Jerry Grote also holds the distinction of being the only Mets catcher to win a 1-0 game with a walk-off home run.


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