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Walking Off The Tightrope

Let's flash back to happier times, like say Wednesday, which if things break right will be remembered as one of the most Metmorable wins of a great season.

I tried to come up with the appropriate name to describe the manner in which Billy Wagner skated through the ninth inning and came up with the idea of the "Walk-Off Tightrope," which in my world shall describe any scenario in which the Mets won a game by one run, and the opposition had a bases-loaded opportunity in its game-ending scenario (thank you, Jeff Francoeur and Andruw Jones).

Turns out the game was payback for Willie Randolph and hitting coach Howard Johnson, who might recall the disaster that was July 8, 1992. That game was a 2-1 loss to the Braves, one in which the Mets loaded the bases with nobody out in the ninth inning, but didn't score because Johnson popped out and Randolph hit into a game-ending double play. The winning pitcher that day: Tom Glavine (victory #66). Funny how it all ties together.

I found nine other instances of more pleasant scenarios (tightrope victories), with the help of and will describe them in brief. If you know of any others, please let me know.

April 27, 1971, Mets 2, Cardinals 1
After Jerry Koosman gave up a leadoff single to Joe Torre to start the ninth inning for the home team, Gil Hodges put the baseball in the capable hands of Danny Frisella, who showed a knack for escaping difficult situations. Frisella would make matters difficult by loading the bases, but escaped by coaxing a popout from Ted Sizemore and striking out pinch-hitter Joe Hague to earn the save and end the game.

August 17, 1972, Mets 2, Braves 1
Tug McGraw's best work would be needed against the Braves to preserve Tom Seaver's victory. McGraw inherited a second-and-third, one out scenario in the ninth and then intentionally walked pinch-hitter Hank Aaron to load the bases. McGraw wiggled through, getting then-Brave Felix Millan to hit into a force play, and Marty Perez to pop to first to end matters.

September 12, 1972, Mets 4, Phillies 3
Amazingly, this was the only other instance that I could find in which the Mets won a one-run game, that ended with the opponent hitting into a double play with the bases-loaded. In this case, the tightrope-walker was again Frisella, and the opponent was a rather pathetic Phillies squad that cut a Mets three-run lead to one, and had the sacks filled for pinch-hitter Deron Johnson. Much like Andruw Jones, Johnson was in a yearlong funk, one that continued with a Bud Harrelson-to-Lute Barnes-to Ed Kranepool game-ending 6-4-3 twin killing.

May 11, 1973, Mets 4, Pirates 3
This was a game where the ninth inning was made a lot more nerve-wracking then it had to be. It was one in which Tug McGraw had to get the save twice. He thought he had it the first time, but a Felix Millan error with two outs in the ninth lengthened the game. That was followed by a Willie Stargell double and an intentional walk to Richie Hebner, loading the bases for Milt May. But McGraw managed to take care of things, on his own, getting May on a comebacker (1-unassisted) to end the game.

September 18, 1973, Mets 6, Pirates 5
A critical victory during the miracle comeback, in a game in which the Mets faced a 4-1 ninth inning deficit, rallied for five runs to take a 6-4 advantage. With Bob Apodaca clearly nervous in his big league debut in relief, he walked two, necessitating his departure. Buzz Capra came in, got two outs while walking two more, putting the game in the hands of Manny Sanguillen. Capra got Sanguillen on a fly to left to preserve the one-run win.

April 23, 1980, Mets 3, Phillies 2
The beginning of the Mark Bomback era (or error) was a bizarre victory over the Phillies (the first of Bomback's career). The eventual champs would score only once against Bomback, then once against Neil Allen in the eighth. In doing so, they ran out of position players, and once the bases were loaded with two outs in the ninth, Phils manager Dallas Green was forced to use pitcher Randy Lerch as a pinch-hitter. Lerch was no slouch but Jeff Reardon managed to strike him out to end a one-run Mets victory.

May 26, 1996, Mets 1, Padres 0
Somewhere in my vast library of cassettes, I have my call from the upper deck of the final out of this contest, a really good game in a really mediocre season. Bernard Gilkey hit a first-inning home run and then neither the Mets nor the first-place Padres would score again. Oh, San Diego would come close with an assist from John Franco, who was trying to secure a victory for hardworking Bobby Jones. Franco loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth inning and stretched the count on last-man Jody Reed to 3-2 before striking him out, swinging, to end a very tense game.

September 19, 1998, Mets 4, Marlins 3
A day after gagging away a game to the Marlins, the Mets and Franco nearly duplicated their efforts in the ninth inning of a must-win scenario in the wild-card race. Franco loaded the bases on two walks and a hit-by-pitch, then sliced-and-diced his way into a 3-2 count on catcher Mike Redmond before recording, what to that point, was the biggest strikeout of his Mets career.

September 7, 2002, Mets 5, Phillies 4
A rather meaningless late-season torturefest, though not so to Tyler Walker, who earned his first major-league victory in this contest. This was a game that the Mets led by two entering the ninth, then let the Phillies come back without swinging a bat. Armando Benitez walked four, including Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell on a combined eight pitches to force in a run. Benitez redeemed by striking out Travis Lee and retiring Mike Lieberthal on a comebacker with 3 men on to end the game.

True Metrope walkers know...Want to thank Dave Smith of Retrosheet for tying up a loose end. Smith confirmed something that we thought to be true a few days ago: That Luis Castillo had the least major-league experience (two games) when he got his walk-off hit against the Mets on August 9, 1996. The runner-up is former Dodger Mike Deveraux, who beat the Mets with a walk-off hit in his third major-league game, September 6, 1987.


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