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Mets Top 100 Home Runs: From No. 11 (Willie Mays) to No. 15 (Howard Johnson)

In 2009, I did a project for my website, Mets Walk-Offs and Other Minutiae, celebrating the best home runs in Mets history. I selected the top 60 regular season home runs and the top 15 postseason home runs. The reason I picked 60 was because it represented the top 1% of home runs in Mets history (and 15 just felt right for postseason).

This was fun to do, but it was imperfect. I had one egregious omission. I tended to favor oddities.

It’s time to give that project an update. And why not do it as a top 100?

The Mets have hit 7,671 regular season home runs. The top 80 represent about the top 1%. And the top 20 postseason home runs get us to an even 100 to celebrate.

Come along for the ride. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the reminiscing. Hopefully you’ll find it Amazin’. 

The rest of the list can be found here.

15. Howard Johnson owns Todd Worrell and the Cardinals (April 24, 1986)
The 1986 Mets clinched the NL East on September 17. But in reality, they really clinched it the moment that Howard Johnson homered against Todd Worrell in the ninth inning of a game on April 24.

This was the opening game of a 4-game series in St. Louis. The Mets were 7-3, the defending NL champion Cardinals were 7-4. The Cardinals led 4-2 in the 9th inning and brought in their closer, Todd Worrell to finish the game.

George Foster led off the inning with a double and went to third base when Tim Teufel grounded out. Hojo had pinch-hit earlier, so this was his second time at-bat. Johnson had expected to start that day against a right-handed pitcher and was perturbed by his exclusion for the lineup.

“I just want half my job back,” he said, referring to his platoon with Ray Knight.

He also wanted to make up for a game-costing error he made in a loss to the Cardinals in the home opener.

Johnson took out his anger on the baseball, hitting a bomb to right field for a game-tying home run (“Mets need a long ball. They might have it!” said Tim McCarver on the game broadcast). Foster drove in the go-ahead run in the 10th and the Mets were 5-4 winners.

“I like to be thought of as a player who delivers in the clutch,” Johnson told reporters afterwards. “It’s been hard for me sitting on the bench watching Ray hit all those home runs. That’s why this home run was so sweet.”

The Mets won the next three games in the series and left town with a 4-game lead in the division. But they had basically eliminated who they thought would be their toughest competition.

My favorite stat: This is how much Howard Johnson dominated Todd Worrell. From 1988 to 1989, his plate appearances went

- Game-tying homer
- Intentional walk
- Go-ahead homer
- Intentional walk
- Intentional walk
- Home run
- Walk
- Intentional walk.

Hojo finished his career 6-for-13 with 4 home runs and 6 walks against Worrell.

14. Piazza and Hundley in Houston (September 16, 1998)
When I made this list in 2009, this was an egregious omission.

By the way, I’m sure people will point out at least one egregious omission when I’m done. The worst one I’ve realized so far was one I’m going to label “53a.” I’ll get to that one in a moment.

In the final weeks of the 1998 season, the Mets and Astros played an incredible series in Houston. The Mets won three of four, with three of the games going extra innings.

The series finale was a pitcher’s duel, albeit an excruciating one, between future teammates Bobby Jones and Mike Hampton. Carl Everett’s home run marked the game’s only runs for eight innings. Not that both teams didn’t have their chances. Jones allowed three other hits but walked five. Hampton allowed eight hits and six walks, but somehow didn’t allow a run in his 136 pitches.

The Astros gave the ball to Billy Wagner in the ninth inning. Todd Pratt’s leadoff single gave the Mets some hope, though it was snuffed out by the next 2 hitters striking out and flying out. Then John Olerud reached on an infield hit.

This brought Mike Piazza up in a classic “please hit a home run” moment. And on a 2-2 pitch, Wagner tried an up-and-away fastball that Piazza launched on a line drive over the fence in right center. His 200th career home run got his teammates coming out of the dugout to celebrate a 3-2 lead.

“I can’t take this anymore,” Piazza told reporters, laughing after the game. “It’s really nerve racking.”

But the game wasn’t over yet. Brad Ausmus tied the game with a home run in the bottom of the ninth against fill-in closer Dennis Cook. The Astros probably should have won the game in the 10th, but after three two-out walks, Greg McMichael struck out Ricky Gutierrez on a 3-2 pitch in the dirt to send the game into the 11th inning.

It wouldn’t go much longer. With two outs in the top of the 11th, Todd Hundley, who had been left to do little when Piazza joined the team, homered to center field to win the game. It was a sweet moment for Hundley, who to that point had been having one of the worst seasons by a position player in Mets history.

“The extra work and batting practice is paying off,” Hundley said.

Three Turk Wendell strikeouts ended the Astros night, closing out another amazin’ Mets win. Had the Mets made the postseason, this one’s probably in the Top 10. But alas …

My favorite stats: Mike Piazza hit .481 with 3 home runs and 10 RBI in 7 games vs the Astros in 1998. He reached base 18 times in those 7 games.

Todd Hundley’s .161 batting average in 1998 ranks 6th-lowest among Mets with at least 100 at-bats in a season. The “record” is Norm Sherry’s .136 in 1963. Right in front of Hundley is Bobby Bonilla’s 1999 (.160).

53a. Todd Frazier Ties The Game (August 9, 2019)
I blame whatever you call the opposite of recency bias for not including this home run initially.

I’ve tried to emphasize the historical aspect of this project and have not allowed myself to overweight some of what happened in 2019. I included Dominic Smith’s season-ending home run and Pete Alonso’s 50th through 53rd, but I left off one that probably should have been in the mid-50s on this list.

I’m referring to the Mets-Nationals game at Citi Field this past August 9, when they won for the 14th time in 15 games in incredibly improbable fashion.

The Mets trailed 6-3 in the ninth inning but only needed nine pitches to tie the game. J.D. Davis, who homered earlier against Stephen Strasburg, doubled against Sean Doolittle. Wilson Ramos, a former National, singled. Then, Todd Frazier took a 2-1 fastball from Doolittle and hooked it just inside the left field foul pole, off the glass wall on the club level for a game-tying three-run homer.

"You don't feel like you're out of a game when you're on a run like this,” Frazier said. “You can't really explain it to people.”

The Mets won the game later in the inning on Michael Conforto’s RBI single that cost Conforto his jersey and undershirt.

At the time, the Mets were in a pretty good place mentally. The Nationals were not. On the rival team’s broadcast, F.P. Santangelo described it as “a punch to the gut.”

Give the Nationals credit. They went 32-15 the rest of the way and went on to win the World Series. The losses in this series were big moments for them too.

My favorite stat: This was the first time a Mets player hit a game-tying 3-run home run in the 9th inning AT HOME since Victor Diaz's game-tying home run broke the Cubs hearts in September 2004 (a home run that did not make our list but could be considered another egregious omission).

13. Asdrubal Cabrera walks it off and flips the bat (September 22, 2016)
“When you write the story of this game, where in the world do you begin?” – Al Michaels after Game 4 of the 1988 NLCS (ugh!)

I asked myself that very question when trying to summarize this game for ESPN, as I was filling in for Adam Rubin on the beat that night.

In a sentence, it was a 4-hour 23-minute “baseball torturefest” in a sport “in which logic and reason don’t always apply.”

Remember too that it was the next game following Ender Inciarte’s robbing Yoenis Cespedes of a game-winning home run, turning potential victory into crushing defeat.

The Mets seemed headed towards another of that ilk - twice. They trailed 6-4 in the ninth inning and 8-6 in the 11th inning but found their way. They tied it on Jose Reyes’ ninth-inning home run and won it on Asdrubal Cabrera’s three-run home run in the 11th. Cabrera punctuated that home run with the bat flip of all bat flips (which the Phillies didn’t forget about).

“I wasn’t thinking to hit a home run,” Cabrera said. “I was thinking ‘make good contact.’”

As far as memories go, I imagine this will always be my favorite regular season game. Others liked it a lot too.

“Tonight’s game personifies what a season is like,” Terry Collins said. “Up and down and up and down.”

Good thing for the Mets that it ended on an up.

My favorite stat: This marked the first time in Mets history in which they won a game that they trailed by multiple runs in the ninth inning AND extra innings (via Elias Sports Bureau)

12. Clinching Day (September 24, 1969 vs Cardinals)
“They had a hot streak that never stopped,” Cubs manager Leo Durocher.

That seems like a good way to describe how things went in the latter part of the season for the 1969 Mets, who went 38-11 in their last 49 games and then 7-1 in the postseason in winning the World Series.

NL East clinching day came on September 24, 1969 and featured two stars. One was pitcher Gary Gentry, who pitched a shutout in a 6-0 win over Steve Carlton and the Cardinals.

The other was 34-year-old Donn Clendenon, the key addition to the team in a June 15 trade with the Expos. Clendenon gave the Mets a middle-of-the-lineup boost that was needed on a team that won on the strength of its pitching.

Clendenon hadn’t been a booster of late entering the day. He was 4-for-30 in last 10 games. But in this game he hit two home runs, which we feel are worthy of being mentioned this high on the list. This was a season that had a lot of twists for Clendenon. He was selected by the Expos in the expansion draft and then traded to the Astros, but said he would retire before playing for Harry Walker, whom Clendenon and other black players felt was a racist.

The Expos ended up keeping Clendenon, who began the season with them before being traded to the Mets.

“This means a lot more to me than it does to most of the others,” Clendenon said (this from a great story by UPI’s Milton Richman). “I was behind a desk in Atlanta when the season started. I didn’t think I’d ever play baseball anymore. Then when the Mets got me this summer, I felt like I wanted to make my contribution and now I feel like I have. I feel I belong now.”

My favorite stat: Clendenon and 36-year-old Ed Charles were the two oldest players on the Mets that season. They both homered in this game.

11. Willie Mays says Hello (May 14, 1972 vs Giants)

So I messed up and revealed this one at No. 30 when No. 30 was supposed to be Mays homering in his first game back in San Francisco on July 21, 1972. Mays’ first Mets home run is now in its proper place at No. 11. And the rewritten version of No. 30 will follow the reprint of this one and is now in its proper place in the article links.

Sometimes baseball writes a script that is … amazin’ and Willie Mays’ first game as a Met was one of those times. The 41-year-old Mays was brought back to New York in a trade with the Giants at a time when it looked like Mays was all but done. He hadn’t homered in 19 games and 49 at-bats and he was hitting a meager .184. It’s a little unfair to say he was done though, given that he’d walked 17 times and had an on-base percentage of .394.

“I thought I would be very nervous and not able to hit at all, but I wasn’t,” Mays said of that game against the Giants. In the first inning, he did what he had been doing to that point, he walked, and scored on a grand slam by Rusty Staub.

In the fifth inning, the Giants scored four runs to tie. Mays, who was playing first base, led off the bottom of the fifth.

“Taking a swing that belied his 41 years, Willie whacked the pitch on a rising line toward the leftfield fence. Rookie Gary Maddox, realizing pursuit was futile, merely turned and watched the ball skip merrily among the busy occupants of the Giants bullpen.”
-- Red Foley, New York Daily News

“I had feelings for both sides when I hit it,” Mays said. “I wanted to help the Mets, but at the same time, I had a feeling for the Giants.”

Feelings aside, the run held up in a 5-4 Mets victory. It was an aMaysing kind of win.

My favorite stat: Willie Mays, Duke Snider, and 10 other players have hit exactly 14 home runs as Mets.

30. Willie Mays returns … to San Francisco (July 21, 1972 vs Giants)
It’s well known that Willie Mays homered in his first game with the Mets in New York against the Giants. But did you know that he also homered against the Giants in his first game back in San Francisco against the Giants?

This one came in the fifth inning, a 2-run shot against Jim Barr that turned a 1-0 lead into a 3-0 edge. The Mets went on to win, 3-1. Mays appears to have said little after the game other than that he enjoyed the moment but preferred the home run he hit against the Giants in New York. But the Giants’ folks had some good quotes.

“He hit the hell out of it,” said Giants manager Charlie Fox of the 400-foot clout.

Said Bobby Bonds: “I couldn’t cheer for him because he plays for the other team. But inside, I felt happy for him.”

My favorite stat: Willie Mays holds the record for most home runs in a season at Candlestick Park with 28 in 1962. That included 8 against the Mets, his most versus any team. Mays’ walk-off home run against Jay Hook on May 26, 1962, was the first walk-off homer against the Mets.


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