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Miracles were happening at Shea ten years before the Pope showed up.
On October 6, 1961, the Mets signed a lease with the City of New York, promising to occupy a yet-to-be built ball park in Flushing Meadows for the next 30 years. Eight years later, 54,195 fans packed into the no-longer theoretical Shea Stadium to watch the team defeat the Braves 7-4 and clinch their first ever trip to the World Series.
Just as they had the day before in Atlanta, the Mets offense connected for three home runs, with Tommie Agee and Ken Boswell both going deep for the second consecutive game. The round trippers made a winner of Nolan Ryan, who struck out seven in seven innings, all coming in relief of starting pitcher/birthday boy Gary Gentry (see below). At 3:34 p.m., Ryan induced a grounder off the bat of the Tony Gonzalez. Third baseman Wayne Garrett fielded it and fired the ball to first for the game's final out, at which point the celebration began. Fans tore Shea's turf to shreds and likely ruined the Mets' chances of getting their rental deposit back from the city. Not that Mayor John Lindsay would have cared. He was too busy being doused with champagne in the winning team's clubhouse.
- Gene Clines, turning 66, was a speedy, slap-hitting outfielder who poked a few singles and swiped four bases for the 1975 Mets. Clines never graduated from bench duty during his lone season in New York, though his sideburns were clearly working overtime.
- Former manager Joe Frazier would have been 89 today. In 1976, Frazier spurred the Mets to 86 victories. At the time, only the 1969 team had posted a better win-loss record. However, the Mets stumbled out of the gate in 1977, losing 30 of their first 45 games and Frazier was summarily KO'd by impatient ownership.
- Gary Gentry is 66. Tom Seaver debuted in 1967. Jerry Koosman joined the rotation one year after that. When Gentry went 13-12 with a 3.43 ERA as a rookie in 1969, the Mets figured they had their top three starters sorted out for the foreseeable future. It didn't quite pan out. Arm and anger management issues led the team to trade Gentry to the Braves after the 1972 season. He flamed out further in Hotlanta, earning an unconditional release midway through 1975. Gentry then signed with the Mets' Double-A affiliate, but on the third pitch of his comeback, he tore his flexor tendon and retired.
- Of the six catchers to make an All-Star appearance as a Met, none logged more time behind the plate for New York than Jerry Grote, 70. With the team from 1966 to 1977, the first pitch he caught was delivered by Jack Fisher. Twelve years and over 1,000 games later, the last one to pop into his mitt came courtesy of Skip Lockwood. Said Tom Seaver of his longtime battery mate, "He's the best catcher a pitcher could want to throw to."
- One year after not pitching in the majors, Darren Oliver, who celebrates birthday number 42 today, returned to big league duty with the 2006 Mets and was a key contributor to the team's excellent bullpen. Now six years into his second career as a reliever, Oliver continues to be a quality late-inning arm.
- Robert Person is 43. As a rookie in 1995-96, Person struck out 86 batters over 101 2/3 innings. GM Joe McIlvaine, making the savviest move of his front office tenure and one of the best trades in Mets history, parlayed the promising start to Person's career into three years of John Olerud's services.
Game of Note
The at-bats of 13 Cincinnati Reds ended with a desperate flail at a Tom Seaver pitch during the opening tilt of the 1973 NLCS. Terrific though Tom was, the game ended in the bottom of the ninth when Johnny Bench connected with an errant offering from the Franchise and deposited on the far side of Riverfront Stadium's outfield wall. The walk-off homer tarnished an otherwise spectacular performance from the Mets' ace. In addition to ringing up Reds by the baker's dozen, Seaver hit an RBI double to plate the only run his team would score in the 2-1 loss.
Amazin'-ly Tenuous Connection
Pope John Paul II became the first pontiff to visit the White House on this date in 1979. Three days earlier, JP2 became the first, though not the only, pope to visit Shea Stadium. After all, who can forget when Marlins reliever "Pope" Donn Pall gave up two hits and a run in an inning of work back in September 1998?