Major League Baseball came to Queens with the opening of Shea Stadium in 1964. Shea hosted its first Mets game on April 17 of that year and its first All Star Game less than three months later on July 7. It remains the only Midsummer Classic to take place in Flushing. And the stars of baseball honored the great William Shea, father of the Mets, with an unforgettable game.
The event presented some memories of old New York NL baseball. Former Brooklyn Dodgers and then-Los Angeles Dodgers manager Walter Alston managed the NL squad. The intimidating Don Drysdale, who pitched two seasons for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1956-1957, started the game for the NL. Willie Mays, a New York Giants hero, started and hit cleanup for the NL. Mets fans watching on television at home were greeted by a familiar face. Original Mets announcer Lindsey Nelson called the game along with former big leaguer Buddy Blattner.
Tickets to the game were much cheaper than today. The least expensive face value of a ticket to tonight's game at Chase Field is $90. Compare to the $5 my father paid for his upper deck seat to the 1964 edition at Shea. Ah, the perils of inflation. Ron Hunt was the lone Mets representative. He started at second base and finished the game 1-for-3 with a single.
The AL scored first, on Harmon Killebrew's RBI single in the top of the first inning against Drysdale. Killebrew drove in Jim Fregosi, who would come to the Mets later in his career as the centerpiece of the 1971 Nolan Ryan trade. NL pitchers settled down for the next four innings, as Drysdale and Jim Bunning combined to hold the AL off the scoreboard through the fifth inning. Bunning pitched two scoreless innings in his return to the site at which he'd tossed a perfect game less than a month earlier.
The NL took the lead, 2-1, in the fourth inning behind solo homers from Billy Williams and Ken Boyer off AL pitcher John Wyatt. They added a run in the fifth when Dick Groat doubled home Roberto Clemente to make it 3-1. The lead wouldn't be held, as Brooks Robinson drove in Mickey Mantle and Killebrew with a triple in the sixth inning to tie the game. The AL took a 4-3 lead in the seventh when Fregosi hit a sacrifice fly to drive in Elston Howard. This set the stage for an exciting bottom of the ninth inning which saw an 82% shift in Win Probability.
Mays led off the ninth inning with a walk and stole second base against AL pitcher Dick Radatz, now in his third inning of work. Mays' teammate Orlando Cepeda then drove him in with a pop fly single to right field, tying the game at 4-4. After a Boyer popout and intentional walk to Johnny Edwards, Hank Aaron pinch hit for Hunt, hoping to send the NL-leaning fans home happy. But Aaron struck out, giving way to power-hitting Phillie Johnny Callison. The game would not see extra innings, as Callison launched a game-winning three-run homer to right field, winning the game 7-4 for the NL. Here is the up-and-down WPA chart from the game, via Baseball-Reference:
The fans were treated to a special game, featuring three home runs, including the game-winning blast, and a chance to see legends like Mantle, Mays, Aaron and Clemente compete on the same field. Callison was deservedly named MVP and later provided this quote, via Baseball Almanac:
That homer was the greatest thrill of my life, but I remember thinking that it was only the beginning. It was going to be the Phillies' year. We had everything going our way. Everything.
What kind of Mets blog would this be if it passed up a chance to take a gratuitous shot at the Phillies? Everything didn't go the Phils' way in 1964, as the infamous "Phold" took place. They blew a 6.5 game lead with 12 games to go down the stretch, failing to make the playoffs. Maybe a Mets fan shouldn't gloat about another team collapsing.