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In game five of the 1999 NLCS, Robin Ventura did something historic that the box score won't reveal. In 1973, a gem from Jon Matlack evened up the World Series.
The game was over, only nobody knew the score. 4-3? 5-3? 7-3? Bobby Valentine worked out the logic with a scrum of reporters but together they couldn't untangle it. "...Then it's a grand slam," insisted the skipper. "But he never touched the bases? Well I'll be doggone."
After five hours and forty-six minutes of fierce, nip-and-tuck ballplaying, the score question was the parlor game of the victors. There was one known known: the Mets won. How could a baseball game yield such ambiguity?
John Olerud cracked a two-run home run in the first inning in front of a home crowd at Shea, an especially delicious spectacle as Greg Maddux of the Braves was on the mound. The Mets' Masato Yoshi, cruising at first, hit a speed bump in the fourth inning as first Chipper Jones and then Brian Jordan hit RBI doubles, and the game was tied.
Then nobody scored. For four hours. The Braves sent in six pitchers and the home team rolled out nine, a lineup card's worth of right and left arms. Robin Ventura stood in, in the fifteenth inning, with the bases loaded and the game tied 3-3.
Let's step back. In 1918, Babe Ruth came up in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game with a runner on first and proceeded to bop a pitch into the seats. Babe kept a trotting-pace behind his runner and had made it to third base when the winning run crossed the threshold. So it went down into the box score: triple. There's good logic to this. In the bottom of the ninth the home team can inflict sudden death; the lights go out, so to speak, as soon as the winning-run crushes the threshold. Thirty-eight players of this era and before hit walk-off "home runs" that officially weren't. In 1920, a rule was tacked on creating an exception for four-base knocks. If your team is tied going into the home ninth and scores >1, you can bet that someone got a souvenir.
Ventura, of course, crushed Kevin McGlinchy's 2-1 offering, sending Roger Cedeno trotting home from third. But nobody else made it, as the Mets charged the the field and partied like it was 1999. Ventura was hung up (and lifted up) between first and second, so there was only one way to rule it: a single. This is baseball, after all, and one must pass through the motions, 1920 amendment or no. For one night, a strict construction of the original rule book reigned, and the only people truly unhappy? The betters holding the "over" on Vegas's 7.5 line.
Bonus: there have been two other "grand-slam singles" in history, both caused by the home run hitter crossing his leading runner on the base paths. These dopes were Dalton Jones in 1970 and Tim McCarver in 1976. Both were credited with a three-RBI single. Surely it's also happened that a hitter's been credited with a single and, on the same play, because of errant throws, come all the way around to complete an inside-the-park "grand slam single" of another color. But I can't immediately find a reference.
- Fresh from a stint with the Hashin Tigers of the NPB, Mark Johnson, 45 today, played 134 games with the 2000-02 Mets, mostly at 1B and occasionally in the outfield. In 2001 he hit .254/.338/.475 while playing nearly half a season, but an abysmally bad follow-up year ended his major league career.
- Meet the Folkers. Rich Folkers of Waterloo, Iowa, 66 today, got a cup of coffee with the 1970 Mets. It didn't go well, and the left-handed minor-league pitcher was traded away, eventually to resurface as a Cardinal.
Game of the Night
The '73 Mets, down two game to one, evened the World Series on this date by beating the A's, 6-1, at Shea Stadium. Jon Matlack pitched eight innings, allowing just three hits and an unearned run. Meanwhile Rusty Staub led the offensive charge, smacking a home run and three singles, good for 5 RBI. Staub, in his second year in blue and orange, had slugged .800 in the NLCS and owns a postseason slashline of ..341/.413/.683.
Amazin'-ly Tenuous Connection
October 17, 1771, saw the Milan premier of the opera Ascanio in Alba by the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, age 15. The Mets have had some prodigies. Dwight Gooden, at 19, was the youngest player to win Rookie of the Year and the youngest to lead the league in strikeouts. But even Doc was long in the tooth beside the rookie Ed Kranepool, who got his cup of
coffee cocoa in 1962 at age 17. For Ed, asking about voting preferences would be a clown question, bro. But at three games long, Kranepool's 1962 was a few arias short of an opera.