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The Summer of False Hope Begins

I have been disparaged by some of my colleagues, family members and friends over the past three months, because I had the gall (John Gall?) to refer to this year's Mets tease as "The Summer of False Hope" (SOFH to some). The term was not meant in a derogatory fashion but rather what could serve as the title for the 2005 highlight film, were there to be one. Admit that your hopes were raised by some of these wins. Cliff Floyd's walk-off home run on June 11 probably sucked in a few fans and the four-game sweep in Arizona put a lot of those folks into a euphoric state that preceded the cliff-falling road trip through Florida, Atlanta, and St. Louis. Sure, it's not over yet (was it an omen that upon flipping to a radio station after one loss, I heard the lyrics "Don't stop....believing"?), but barring an unlikely run (16-3, 17-2?) in these last 19 games, it's likely the 2005 season will end in disappointing fashion.

This is not the first time that Mets fans have, to borrow a Vin Scully phrase from Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, really been put through the ringer. In fact, the original Summer of False Hope (Note: Though I thought and hoped I was the originator of this phrase, a google search found it on both a 2004 Indians blog and a San Antonio Spurs e-mail group), is celebrating its silver anniversary this season.

The False Hope of 1980 was more of a bright, brief glimmer than that which has taken place in 2005. It really got going with walk-off wins, four of them within a 10-day span just before the summer actually commenced. I'm going to post stories about three of them (one was already posted at this link, with a follow-up here) this week, simply because I can't think of anything better to do during this rut of ugly baseball. But before we get to that, here's the backstory leading up to the 1980 season.

The 1977 Mets were a bad joke
The 1978 Mets were a really bad joke
The 1979 Mets were the joke that got booed off the stage

So the surprise that was the early part of 1980 was a bit unexpected, especially after the Mets started 9-18 in their first campaign under the Fred Wilpon/Nelson Doubleday ownership. The idea that anyone would "Show Up at Shea" was farfetched at this point, though the Mets started to play a little bit better, winning 10 of 14. Then they sagged, losing four straight, putting their record at 19-26.

The slogan for the season was that "The Magic is Back," but that wasn't really true until this 10-game run, which began on June 5 in the second game of a series with the Cardinals. The Mets had lost 1-0 to the Cardinals in 10 innings the day before, concluding an inept run in which they scored four runs in four games. Then Cardinal Jim Kaat would probably share a laugh with then Mets skipper Joe Torre if he knew that his pitching in that last triumph caused Torre to tell the media "This game represented the height of frustration."

It looked like things would get worse actually because the Mets couldn't do anything against Cardinals starter Bob Sykes and his 10.12 ERA. The only reason the Flushing 9 stayed in a 1-1 game was that their starter, Craig Swan, was terrific for nine innings, yielding just five hits and striking out eight.

The Mets blew a great chance in the 8th inning after loading the bases with two outs against reliever Roy Thomas. Catcher John Stearns, one of the few bright spots for the Mets during an era of despair, went the Carlos Beltran route, popping up a bunt to end the scoring threat. This couldn't have been a popular move considering that Stearns had singled and tripled in the game when he had swung away.

Golden opportunities aren't supposed to come around twice, but on this occasion, some mysterious force, for reasons unknown, felt compelled to give the Mets a second chance at success, this time against reliever George Frazier.

Steve Henderson led off the last of the ninth with a single, then immediately stole second to give the Mets a vision of victory. Joel Youngblood walked and then Alex Trevino showed Stearns how to bunt for a hit, placing one past Frazier to load the bases.

Now given the Mets struggles, it wouldn't have been at all surprising for them to gak up this scoring shot, but Mike Jorgensen made sure they did not. He worked the count to 3-1 then lifted a single to right field over the drawn in outfield. Henderson came home with the winning run.

It was a good win, certainly a much needed one, but the rest of the baseball world didn't really take notice because of the Mets pathetic status. The Summer of False Hope had begun but the run couldn't fully be appreciated until it really got going.

True Metptomists know...No player went longer between walk-off hits for the Mets than Mike Jorgensen's whose last walk-off hit before this one came on September 12, 1971. He wouldn't have to wait as long for his next one, which we'll get to later this week.

Note: I was 5 in 1980, so I lived through this season only peripherally (the most significant baseball-related thing I can remember from that era was hitting a wiffle ball against a fence during recess from kindergarten class at All Soul's School on 79th Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan (1981?) and going to a Mets-Giants game, complaining that baseball was boring (1979?)). 1980 was also right around the time of what was known as my "Write it down" phase, in which, from ages 2 through 5, I bugged my parents endlessly to jot down notes at inopportune times. Had I been aware of my baseball surroundings, I might have penned something akin to what was written about 1980 on another website To read about 1980 from the perspective of someone who really lived through it, I strongly suggest that you go here

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