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A Sterling Ballgame

"And that certifies this game as the wackiest, wildest, most improbable game in history!!"
-- Braves(!) broadcaster John Sterling after pitcher Rick Camp's 18th-inning HR tied the game between the Mets and Braves at apx 3:30 am on July 4 (5 actually) 1985.

Ok, so that got me thinking. What Mets game would rank as the second-wackiest, wildest, most improbable game in history?

While you ponder that, or before you say the obvious choice of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, let's at least consider another option.

If you were to rank Mets wins by most runs allowed, the 16-13 Mets victory in the game played 22 years to the date of this posting ranks first. But it took 22 years to break the initial mark of 12, set in improbable fashion in 1963.

We refer to the second game of a doubleheader between the Mets and Reds at the Polo Grounds on May 12 of that second spring. The Mets got blanked by Bob Purkey and Bill Henry in the opener, despite getting seven hits (all singles) and eight walks, stranding 13 baserunners in a 3-0 defeat. The only runs came home on a three-run inside-the-park home run by Leo Cardenas Clearly frustrated, the home team put forth a rather Metmorable effort in Game 2.

You may recall that in that Mets-Braves clash from 1985 that at one point, a fan held up a sign reading "What the hell is going on?" You could have asked a similar question during the contest to which we're referring. The New York Times describes the scene as rather unpleasant, with enough fans throwing objects onto the field that the umpires contemplated a Mets forfeit. Writer Leonard Koppett described the crowd as "oiled up."

Likewise, so were the Mets bats, which pounded 14 hits in the contest. A Jim Hickman home run got things started in the second and a four-run third inning increased the Mets lead to 5-0.

The wild and wacky comes in when you consider that the Mets failed to hold both that lead, and another five-run advantage. Cardenas and Vada Pinson wiped out the edge by the fifth inning as the Reds pounded Jay Hook and Ken Mackenzie to knot the score, 6-6, by the end of four-and-a-half frames.

The Mets responded to the Reds four runs in the fifth by tallying five of their own. The inning included a couple of unlikelihoods, most notably Choo Choo Coleman's steal of third base (despite his nickname, he was not fleet afoot) and an RBI single by weak-hitting Chico Fernandez. Sanity came in the form of a three-run home run from Duke Snider.

On most days, an 11-6 lead was safe, even for the Mets of that era, but this advantage didn't even last an inning. The Reds doubled their run total by scoring six in the sixth, using four extra-base hits, an error and two hit batsmen to their best advantage. By the time rookie reliever Larry Bearnarth concluded the carnage, Cincinnati had a 12-11 lead.

The two teams would get through the next little while unscathed until the home eighth, when the Mets produced what was needed for a walk-up win. Walks to Ed Kranepool and Snider started the rally, and a bunt hit by Tim Harkness loaded the bases with nobody out. Jim Hickman brought home the tying run with a sacrifice fly and Coleman, in perhaps his second-best moment as a Met (his best was telling Ralph Kiner his wife's name was "Mrs. Coleman), singled home the go-ahead score.

The lead was rather precarious at 13-12, but reliever Tracy Stallard preserved Bearnarth's first big-league win by skating successfully through the ninth, tossing his glove in the air (23 years prior to Jesse Orosco) after striking out Pete Rose for the game's final out. Instead of 4 a.m. fireworks to celebrate, as their were in Atlanta, there was instead a "Running of the Bulls," Mets-fan style. I'll leave you with the last two sentences of Koppett's game story, which describe Stallard's celebration.

"He retrieved it (the glove) just in time to avoid being trampled by the happy New Breeders pouring out of the stands. He was pummeled all the way to the clubhouse in center field."

The Truly Metprobable know...The Mets are 2-134 when allowing at least 12 runs in a game.


Anonymous said…
I remember as a kid in the early 70s, the Mets were in LA., and games started at 11pm then EST. It went to extra innings, and I fell asleep around midnite, transisor radio under my pillow. I turned the radio on at 5pm, when I awoke for school, and the game was well into extra innings. The Mets won it, so it was a happy day. Any memory of what season that was? Final score? Was it 19 innings, as I seem to recall?
Anonymous said…
That would be May 24, 1973. Mets 7, Dodgers 3. Game ended 4:42 EST.
-- Barry Federovitch
Anonymous said…
Wild and wacky other than July 4-5, 1985 and a Mets win and regular season?

Well, you can't go wrong with July 22, 1986, Mets 6 Reds 3, the legendary McDowell and Orosco switching from the mound to the outfield game (also the Knight-Davis fight game, the multiple ejection game, the Dave Parker dropping the last out game).

Less famous but pretty crazy: May 11, 1988 at the Astrodome, Mets 9 Astros 8 in 10. A Dwight Gooden-Mike Scott matchup, no less. Score at various intervals:

Astros 2 Mets 0
Astros 2 Mets 2
Astros 5 Mets 2
Astros 5 Mets 5
Astros 7 Mets 5
Astros 8 Mets 5
Astros 8 Mets 8

Then the final. Except it should have been decided in regulation, thanks to this extremely controversial play (description from Retrosheet, brought to their attention by yours truly):

"5/11/1988: The Mets were playing at the Astrodome in Houston. In the top of the ninth, Tim Teufel hit a line drive that cleared the fence in left center for an apparent grand slam off Dave Smith to put the Mets ahead. However, it struck the concrete outer wall and came back on the field. The blast was eventually ruled a three-run double, which tied the game and sent it into extra innings. The Mets eventually won it in the tenth, 9-8."

Another Mets-Astros game at the Dome (and this isn't even from the famous four-game series in September 1998):

August 1, 1997, a Friday night. It's a fairly Domelike pitching duel through seven, 1-1. Top of the eighth, Lance Johnson (not long for the Mets) singles Jason Hardtke home off Billy Wagner (Johnson out at second even though he was never thrown out at third in his Met career). Mets 2-1. In the bottom of the eighth, Biggio hits a two-run homer off Greg McMichael. Astros 3-2. In the top of the ninth, Carl Everett singles home Alex Ochoa and Todd Hundley. Mets 4-3. Bottom of the ninth, an Edgardo Alfonzo error allows Jeff Bagwell to score. Tied at four. Tenth inning: two walks (including one to the notorious stubbornly swinging Lance Johnson), a bunt that goes for a single (all off Jose Lima), another single and then a Fonzie double makes it 8-4. In the bottom of the tenth, with Cory Lidle pitching, Bill Speiers drives home Derek Bell, but the Mets hold on for the 8-5 win.

In three innings, two historically lousy offensive teams in the worst offensive ballpark ever kept going at it, scoring 11 runs between them. Shockingly, the Mets won. I was shocked, anyway. It was the end of a grueling road trip that included all three California stops and then Houston. Note, too, all the future/former Mets the Astros ran out there.

One more that was pretty wild and wacky in its day: August 15, 1985, Mets and Phillies. The matchup itself is almost incomprehensible: Dwight Gooden versus Jerry Koosman. The Mets beat on Kooz for five in the first and he doesn't make it out of the second. Doc, though, has his worst start of the year. He leaves after five, with the Mets up 6-5 as the Phillie bullpen has calmed things down. The Phillies catch up in the seventh. The Mets tie it. The Phillies catch up in the eighth. Imagine that in a game started by Dwight Gooden, in Nineteen Eighty-Five, with the Mets scoring five in the first, they are tied 7-7 at Shea against the lousy Phillies by the eighth. Thankfully, three in the home eighth put it away, highlighted by a Dykstra double. Noteworthy names from the starting lineup include Tom Paciorek (two hits, two runs, two ribs; a homer) and Ronn Reynolds (single and a run in the deciding eighth). Day game that it was, Gary Carter started at first (and drove in two; also a homer). Kooz, incidentally, would start one more game and then hang 'em up for good. Hard to believe he stuck around as long as he did to face Doc.
Anonymous said…
I remember a spring exhibition game in the late '60s or early '70s in which the Mets lost 23-18. That was pretty wacky, even though it was just an exhibition game. One of the wackiest games I've ever heard (though obviously it's the reverse of what you're talking about) was the game in 1968 that the Mets lost to the Astros, 1-0, ... in 24 innings. That was totally unreal.
metswalkoffs said…
good job folks...

barry also offers these

OK, July 4, 1985 is right there. But here are some other nominees:

Sept. 20, 1973- Ball on Wall Game

July 22, 1986- Parker drop in 9th forces extras, Knight suckerpunches Davis, Orosco in the outfield

(as a tandem) Sept. 12, 1969- Two pitchers winning two games 1-0 and getting the gamewinning hits? Jeez.

1999 NLCS Game 5 - You were there. I need not tell you the details.

July 30, 1969 Game 1: Astros 16, Mets 3- Game known best for being the double slam game for the Astros. But there were plenty of oddities about this game otherwise: 1. Fred Gladding actually got a save in this game, one of the most lopsided games where a save was ever registered, even by the old rules and 2. Ron Swoboda got a stolen base, his only one of the year.
Anonymous said…
Thanks, Barry
Anonymous said…
No problem, 1970.
-- Barry

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