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Four Play

This is one of those rare days when I'm up for posting twice...if you came directly to this post, or missed the post from overnight, it can be found here... http://metswalkoffs.blogspot.com/2006/06/mets-blowouts-and-other-minutiae.html

The 1963 season didn't start much better than the bumbling 1962 campaign. After their Opening Day loss, manager Casey Stengel was quoted as stating "We're still a fraud." It took the team 20 innings to score a run and six games to string together a multi-run inning. They were outscored 39-10 over their first eight games, all defeats, and were shut out four times within that span.

That's what made the events of April 19-21 so unlikely. The Milwaukee Braves, who had already swept the Mets once this season, came to town for four games looking to pad a 7-2 mark. Their lineup featured future Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews, and future Hall of Famer Joe Torre. Their pitching staff was guided by Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette. Those familiar with the sport would likely have predicted a mismatch, perhaps on par with that which took place this weekend in Arizona.

There were a pair of historic home runs in this game, begun by Roger Craig for the Mets and Bob Shaw for the Braves. Eighteen-year-old Ed Kranepool hit the first of his career in the second inning, giving the Mets an unusually pleasant situation, a 1-0 advantage. They stretched the advantage to 3-0 when Jim Hickman and rookie Ron Hunt hit back-to-back triples, foreshadowing events to occur later in the game, but frittered away the edge in the top of the 8th. Aaron got the Braves to within a run with his 300th career home run and Milwaukee tied the game on a pinch-single by Don Dillard.

The Mets looked like their typical selves in the last of the 8th, when a line drive double play halted a potential go-ahead rally, and in the top of the 9th, when Ken MacKenzie walked Mathews with the bases loaded to put the Braves ahead. MacKenzie did escape the subsequent bases-loaded scenario, but the Mets were still down, 4-3, heading to their last scheduled at-bat.

Choo Choo Coleman led off for the Mets against reliever Frank Funk and singled, beginning the rally. Tim Harkness flew out, but Hickman followed with his second hit, a double that sent Coleman to third, and brought Ron Hunt to the plate.

Hunt had been sold to the Mets by the Braves prior to the 1963 season in one of those deals that afforded the Mets the option to send him back if they were displeased. Hunt was scrappy, netting five hits in his first three games of the season and it was evident that the Mets had made a smart purchase. Given the option to do what they had already done, bypass Hunt, the Braves declined, because an intentional walk would have brought Duke Snider to the plate. Instead, they brought in Claude Raymond to pitch.

On a 1-1 count, Hunt came through with a double that scored Coleman and Hickman with the tying and winning runs, ending the Braves 7-game win streak. Newspaper accounts describe the subsequent celebration as resembling a World Series victory. Mets owner Joan Payson was so excited that she delivered flowers to Hunt and his wife, who was watching her husband in person for the first time. In typical Mets fashion, the Hunt's had allergy issues and declined future such bouquets. His season could be described as one of coming up roses in more ways than one. He emerged as the Mets best player and was runner-up to Pete Rose for NL Rookie of the Year.

Fresh from their victory, the Mets decided the following day that they smelt another. The reeling Braves mustered only seven hits against Al Jackson, who with the help of a home run from weak-hitting Norm Sherry, beat Warren Spahn, 3-1.

With two victories in tow, the Mets pursued a matching set in a doubleheader the next day. They rallied from a 5-3 8th-inning deficit with a five-run explosion. Hickman hit a grand slam after Tim Harkness was purposely passed in the preceding at-bat. In the second contest, Hickman homered again, and after the Mets spotted the Braves two runs, they scored nine of their own in the final three trips to the plate. Milwaukee left town on the short end of an 8-5, 9-2 dumping.

Sparked by a walk-off, the Mets had both their first four-game win streak and four-game sweep in franchise history. The New York Times noted how the Mets, in a brief glimpse of brilliance, went from miserable to marvelous, but the good vibes didn't last long. The team finished the season with a record of 51-111.

True Mettets know...Ron Hunt is the only Met to twice get the winning hit in a walk-off win in which the final score was 1-0.

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