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The Run Home Derby

Their success on Sunday notwithstanding, the Mets have struggled to hit home runs throughout 2009. So, rather than partake in chatter related to Monday's Home Run Derby, I thought I'd create my own little project. I call it the Run Home Derby.

I took about a week to compile the most memorable plays at the plate in Mets history, IE: instances in which someone was indulging in a different kind of home run. The play could be by a Met, as was the case in a couple of instances, or against the Mets, which make up a significant portion of the listings.

For those who like the "Best Games I Know" series, think of this as the "Best Plays I Know." They are listed chronologically, beginning with those from the 1960s, and I encourage you to submit any I may have omitted.

April 15, 1965

The Karate Kid had a winning maneuver called "The Crane." The Mets, on this date, had one called "The Krane."

In the second inning of their meeting with the Astros, the Mets turned a 9-2-6 triple play, with help from their All-Star bound first baseman.

With runners on first and third, Jimmy Wynn flied to right for the first out. Walt Bond tried to score from third but was thrown out by Johnny Lewis.

When Lewis threw home, Ed Kranepool deked the other baserunner, Bob Aspromonte, into thinking Kranepool had cut the ball off. When Aspromonte came to the realization that Lewis had thrown through, he broke for second base. As it turned out, he was too late in doing so. Mets catcher Chris Cannizzaro pegged the ball to Roy McMillan, who tagged Aspromonte out for the triple play.

Oh, and the Mets won by walk-off on a Bobby Klaus home run off the foul pole.

June 4, 1969

If you want to pick the best defensive play of 1969 by a Mets outfielder, the choices are plentiful.

If you want to pick the best one by an infielder, this one may rank as not only the best of the year, but one of the best in team history.

It came in the top of the 15th inning of a scoreless game between the Mets and Dodgers. Billy Grabarkewitz was on third base, when Willie Davis hit a rocket that nicked Mets pitcher Ron Taylor Second baseman Al Weis charged in, made a backhand, barehand pickup and threw home to nail Grabarkewitz at the plate.

Wrote John Wiebusch of the Los Angeles Times: "It was an impossible play, but that is the kind of baseball the Mets are playing."

Keep in mind that the Mets were 8 1/2 games out of first place at the time.

They would win in the home 15th when Wayne Garrett's single and Willie Davis' misplay scored Bud Harrelson with the winning run.

July 2, 1969

Forgotten amongst Tommie Agee's fine works in 1969 was this amazing triumph. The Mets led 4-0 in the 8th inning in St. Louis before Vic Davalillo hit a game-tying grand slam.

In the home 9th, the Cardinals came very close to a walk-off. With Curt Flood on first and two outs, Vada Pinson doubled to centerfield. Flood challenged Tommie Agee to try to score the winning run, but Agee threw him out from deep center.

The story of this one wasn't so much the play at the plate, but the aftermath. That was the first of Tug McGraw's six shutout innings of relief. Somehow he escaped untouched through a pair of bases-loaded jams, seven hits, and four walks.

The Mets won it in the 14th when Agee singled, stole second and scored on Ken Boswell's hit, and Boswell came home on Wayne Garrett's bases-loaded walk.

August 30, 1969

One of the more bizarre plays of the 1969 season was captured perfectly in the Stanley Cohen book A Magic Summer. A tied game in the bottom of the ninth inning in San Francisco remained so when Willie McCovey doubled into an inning-ending double play.

That shouldn't make sense, but it does, much like the play itself.

With Bob Burda on first, McCovey hit an opposite-field double down the left field line. Rod Gaspar retrieved the ball in the corner and, in desperation, threw home on the fly. The following description is Cohen's:

" ...the wily Grote decoyed the runner. He stood idly at the plate as if no play were imminent until the ball was nearly upon him. Then he snatched Gaspar's throw on the fly and made a lunging tag on Burda for the second out."

Sounds normal enough...until you get to the next part of the play. Grote inexplicably took the ball and rolled it back to the mound. McCovey, seeing that, raced for third, and would have been safe against the 2009 sleepy-time Mets. But this was 1969 and Donn Clendenon was alert enough at first base to retrieve the ball and fire a strike to nail McCovey at third. Clendenon than won the game with an extra-inning home run.

"I don't think I ever did anything like that in all the years I played baseball," Grote told Cohen. "But Gaspar's throw stunned me. The fact that a person could throw the ball from the left field corner to home plate in Candlestick Park, and whoosh, a perfect strike, shocked me so much, I totally forgot there were only two outs."

September 8, 1969

The closest play at the plate in Mets history came in one of their most important games of the 1969 season, courtesy of Randy Hundley's glove and Tommie Agee's legs. Legs beat glove by to the plate (after a nice throw by Jim Hickman) by a smidge and Hundley's temper tantrum probably rivaled any of those from his newborn son, Todd.

Wayne Garrett's single produced the run that made the difference in a 3-2 Mets win that left the Cubs just 1 1/2 games in front.

"There's no doubt in my mind that I tagged him," Hundley told the media afterwards, and we have little doubt he'd say the same thing 40 years later.

Think about this though. That's four plays, each decided by a slim margin, that went the way of the 1969 Mets. That's what happens when it's your year. And when it's not, you get what's happened the first few months in 2009.

We'll space out the list of the remainder of plays over the next two days.


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