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Martinizing

Before Francisco Cabrera and Jerry Willard, there was J.C. Martin. I'm talking about no-name backup catchers who became noteworthy (at least in my eyes) for their walk-off accomplishments (Cabrera in the 1992 NLCS preceded by Willard in the 1991 World Series).

Martin, the Mets primary caddy to Jerry Grote for two seasons, only got one plate appearance in the 1969 World Series, but he made the most of it.

The Mets had already surprised many by taking a 2-games-to-1 series lead on the mighty Orioles, doing so on the strength of a ninth-inning RBI by Al Weis to win one contest and a one-man offensive and defensive show by centerfielder Tommie Agee to win another. In Game 4, played on Wednesday, October 15, they had their ace on the mound in Tom Seaver and Baltimore had a worthy counterpart in southpaw Mike Cuellar, who like Seaver, would go on to win his league's Cy Young. Let's appreciate the rarity of that because it marks the last time a World Series pitching matchup featured the two eventual Cy Young winners that season.

Lost in what happened later in the game was that this was a great pitchers duel. Seaver had a shutout through eight innings and Cuellar had but one blemish on his seven-inning record, a home run by Donn Clendenon in the second inning. The only jam Seaver had to deal with to that point was in the third, when the Orioles had runners on the corners with one out, but he escaped by retiring Don Buford on a bunt (the runner held at third) and Frank Robinson on a pop to first.

Seaver retired nine straight hitters before Frank Robinson singled with one out in the ninth. Boog Powell followed with a single to right, putting runners on the corners again. Gil Hodges visited the mound but stuck with Seaver against Brooks Robinson, who hit the first pitch for what appeared to be a line drive single to right. Ron Swoboda made one of the most famous catches in World Series history, diving to the grass to haul it in. The tying run scored on what turned out to be a sacrifice fly, but the Mets had actually caught a break. If the ball had skipped by Swoboda two runs would have scored and the Mets would have been behind.

Something I didn't know until reading the game story from the Washington Post was that the next batter, Elrod Hendricks, hit a foul home run, one that landed probably not far from where Cliff Floyd's against the Angels ended up, before flying out to end the inning. The Orioles would get another chance after pinch-hitter Art Shamsky grounded out with two Mets on in the last of the ninth, but couldn't convert against Seaver. Don Buford flied out and Paul Blair struck out with two men on base to retire the side.

Martin got his chance in the last of the 10th though only because the Mets had used two of their better pinch-hitters already in Shamsky and Rod Gaspar, who was on second base as a pinch-runner for Jerry Grote, who led off the inning with a double that left fielder Buford lost in the sun. Hodges thought enough of Martin that he sent him up instead of Ed Kranepool , even though Baltimore made a pitching change, bringing in Pete Richert to get a lefty-lefty matchup. Hodges must have known that Martin's only sacrifice of the season came against a lefty pitcher.

Martin did bunt, a very nice one that plopped a few feet from home plate. Richert fielded it, but his throw to first hit Martin in the elbow and bounded into the outfield. Gaspar came home with the winning run and the Mets had a 3-1 series lead. There was controversy, as Martin was deemed by photos to have been illegally running inside the baseline, but the umpiring crew declined to make a call (unlike this year, in which Joe West called Robinson Cano out for a similar infraction).

That marked Martin's last Mets moment, as he was traded to the Cubs the following spring training. But he's a particularly significant part of Mets history, as Willard and Cabrera are for that baseball team from Atlanta.

True Metsinizing know...This was the first (but not the last) time the Mets won a game on a walk-off error by the opposing pitcher.

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