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Doubting Thomas

They are throwing a parade on Tuesday for Pittsburgh's newest sports heroes, the Super Bowl champion football team that plays in that city, and they are a rightfully deserving group. But we're going to throw our own little parade here, paying tribute to another of Pittsburgh's finest for a walk-off of a rather impressive nature.

I'm referring, of course, to the game between the Mets and Cardinals that took place on July 9, 1964, a couple of weeks in which Shea Stadium was witness to a feat that, while not quite as amazing as the 23-inning game that took place a little more than a month prior, or as impressive as Jim Bunning's perfecto a few weeks hence, was worthy of high acclaim.

The Cardinals would eventually prove to be parade-worthy themselves, and on this day, they jumped on Mets starter Al Jackson for two first-inning runs and handed the ball to lefty twirler Curt Simmons, a pitcher whose reliability earned him two World Series starts that October. Simmons had no issues through the first two frames, but ran into trouble in the third, yielding the tying runs on a two-run single by pesky second baseman Ron Hunt.

The score remained even until the seventh when the Mets fortunes took their usual downward turn. With two outs, Curt Flood singled in the go-ahead run, handing Simmons a 3-2 lead. Simmons set the Mets down without issue in the seventh and eighth and through that point had retired 10 men in a row. The New York Times game story notes that Simmons had his offspeed pitches working quite well that day and the Mets hitters were mystified by his junk.

The Cardinals would rue that they couldn't take advantage of a scoring chance in the ninth, when after a Mets failed pickoff attempt allowed Julian Javier to take second base, he was thrown out on another pickoff try, cutting him down on his way to third.

In the last of the ninth, Joe Christopher got the Mets off the schneid, with a leadoff single, putting the tying run on base immediately and ending the jinx against Simmons. However, neither George Altman (popup) or Jim Hickman (flyout) could advance Christopher to scoring position.

The wise old sage that was Casey Stengel realized that with weak-hitting Roy Mcmillan coming up next, the best chance to win this game might actually be sitting beside him in the dugout. With that, Stengel called upon the man of the Mighty Casey of the night, Frank Thomas, as a pinch-hitter.

Thomas, a Pittsburgh native who began his major league career with his hometown team, had been battling a glandular infection and hadn't played since the previously referenced May 31 marathon against the Giants. The newspaper reported he took 10 swings during a rainy batting practice, but was ready to go if needed.

It wasn't quite Kirk Gibson vs Dennis Eckersley, but this was a night for an ailing slugger to come through. On a 2-1 pitch, Thomas hit a shot down the left field line that was right in the vicinity where the fair/foul question comes into play. Thomas thought, that with his luck, it was going to go foul, but the ball stayed in fair territory. Not only that, it cleared the fence for a game-winning two-run home run.

This was the 52nd and final Mets home run for Thomas, who would be traded to the Phillies a few weeks later, but it is the one for which he should be best remembered. It showed that he was capable of a feat akin to any Man of Steel.

True Metlers know...Had the Seahawks won, I likely would have written about the only two Seattle natives to play for the Mets- John Olerud and Glendon Rusch.


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