Edgardo Alfonzo’s epic 6-for-6, 3-homer day at the Astrodome in 1999 is widely regarded as the best offensive performance in Mets history. For an organization built on starting pitching, however, its best-pitched game often gets overlooked. The starter that day wasn’t Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, or any other Mets legend, but a September call-up named Rob Gardner.
The Mets drafted Gardner from the Twins in the 1963 first-year draft. The Binghamton native made his major league debut in September of 1965 and struggled in his first four appearances, surrendering 13 runs in as many innings. Then, in just his fifth appearance on a big league mound, the southpaw pitched the game of his life—and arguably of the franchise.
On Saturday, October 2, Gardner took the ball for the second game of a doubleheader against the Phillies at Shea. The Mets lost the first game, 6-0, to a solid Philly team that won 85 games that year, led by superstar Dick Allen and future Hall of Famer Jim Bunning. In game two of the twin bill, the Phillies ran out largely the same lineup as they did in game one, resting just two of their eight position players.
Gardner took advantage of the possibly fatigued Phillies hitters and absolutely dominated them through nine innings. Through regulation play, Gardner held the Phillies scoreless while surrendering just three hits and one walk, and striking out seven.
Unfortunately for the Mets, Phillies starter Chris Short was even better. Short matched Gardner inning-for-inning, fanning thirteen Mets hitters over nine innings of shutout ball.
In today’s game, neither Gardner nor Short would likely have even sniffed the ninth inning. In 1965, both starters not only completed nine innings of work, but then threw an additional six innings of scoreless baseball.
After 15 innings apiece, Gardner and Short left the game for pinch hitters. Gardner finished the day with seven strikeouts and an incredible seven baserunners allowed—five on hits and two on walks—over 15 scoreless frames. Short surrendered nine hits and three walks, but struck out 18 Mets hitters in an equally brilliant performance.
Both teams’ bullpens picked up where their starters left off, keeping their opponents off the board for three more innings. Under existing National League rules, however, no inning could start after 12:50 am. Because the doubleheader’s first game didn’t start until 5:30 pm and game two became such a prolonged affair, the NL’s obscure curfew rule came into effect that day. As a result, the best-pitched game in Mets history—and surely one of the best in the history of the Phillies—was called after 18 innings and declared a tie. Neither starter got a decision.
The game lasted four hours and 29 minutes, a remarkably short amount of time considering that it covered the equivalent of two full games. Perhaps equally remarkable is the fact that, because the teams needed to replay the tied game, the league scheduled a doubleheader for the very next day.
On the final day of the regular season, the Phillies beat the Mets, 3-1, in the first game of the doubleheader. Fittingly enough, game two went to thirteen innings, and the Phillies once again prevailed by a 3-1 score, handing the Mets their 112th loss of the season. All told, the teams played an almost unthinkable 49 innings of baseball in those final two days of the 1965 season.
Rob Gardner would finish his career with a 14-18 record and a 4.35 ERA in parts of eight seasons with six different major league teams. But on that day in 1965, the lefty did something that no Met pitcher—and few pitchers in baseball history—has ever done, tossing 15 shutout innings and posting the highest game score in the history of the franchise. Given the state of today’s game, it’s almost certain that no pitcher will accomplish the feat again, regardless of how good Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, or anyone else proves to be for the Mets in 2018 and beyond.