Thursday, November 28, 2013

1969 World Series Fantazy Cards - Game Four

For game 4 of the 1969 World Series the Mets had the Baltimore Orioles right where they wanted them. They were up 2 games to 1, playing home at Shea, and had their righty ace Tom Seaver on the mound. Game 3 had been pivotal but the Mets and their fans felt that this was the one game they had to win. Tom Terrific, the Franchise, was pitching!
The guy was in no small way one of the main reasons the New York Mets went from lovable losers to wonderful winners. We HAD to win!

After the game one loss in Baltimore some were trying to tag Tom with the title of choke artist, claiming he couldn't win the big games. This was the biggest game in Tom Seaver career. A win and the Mets were in the drivers seat. A loss and suddenly things would be even again at 2-2 and they would not be able to avoid a trip back to Baltimore.

Tom would not only prove that he could go the distance. He would prove that he could go farther.

Mike Cuellar had bounced around the Majors and Mexican leagues from 1959 until he found his groove playing for the Houston Astros in 1966. He went 12-10 that year but his 2.22 ERA was second in the N.L. only to Sandy Koufax. Cuellar was traded to the Baltimore Orioles in 1968 and slipped nicely right into the O's rotation.

He and Seaver had a couple of things in common in 1969. Both won the Cy Young Award that season, Cuellar sharing it with Denny McLain. And both of them lost no-hitters in the 9th inning during the season. On August 10th Cuellar took on the Minnesota Twins. A clever pitcher with an excellent screwball and curve ball, he wasn't blowing em away. Still, he had 8 Ks that day. He was pitching to contact and setting them down one after the other. The Twins remained hitless until the 9th when Caesar Tovar broke up the no-no. That was his 15th win and Mike went on to win 23 with a 2.38 ERA.

Leading off the second inning Met slugger Donn Clendenon deposited a Cuellar fastball into the Orioles bullpen for a solo homer. The Mets were on the board.

Donn was exactly what the Mets needed in '69. An experienced righty slugger. They picked him up in August and he was the last piece of that 1969 puzzle I'm always talking about.

In the Baltimore second Seaver got in a jam. Facing the bottom of the lineup he gave up back to back singles to shortstop Mark Belanger and Oriole pitcher Mike Cuellar. Cuellars hit was a perfectly executed swinging bunt that blooped over Harrelson's head at short.

With no out Met manager Gil Hodges expected another bunt attempt from Don Buford and had his corner infielders in tight at first and third. Baltimore skipper Earl Weaver tried to cross him up and had the leadoff batter swing away. Buford hit a high hard chopper that should have ended up going into right field for a hit.

But Donn Clendenon was somehow able to leap up and snatch it in mid air. He turned, threw and got the force at second. The great play still left runners at first and third, one out. Weaver continued to burn the book and had Paul Blair also bunt. Ace Tom Seaver played the bunt like a pro, allowing it to land softly and firing him out at first.

Tom still had to get past the much feared
Oriole outfielder Frank Robinson, now
with two in scoring position. Seaver kicked it up a notch and got him to foul out to Clendenon, getting himself out of a tough one. 
The score remained 1-0 Mets.

Leading off the 4th Mark Belanger hit a looping line drive to left. Cleon Jones was a very good fielder. Consistent, not too flashy. He was great at coming in on balls just like this one. He showed why as he slipped under the ball and gloved it cleanly denying Baltimore of yet another hit. Defensively the Mets were outshining even the greatest expectations. With the exception of the game one homer that Swoboda just missed and the ball trapped by Cleon in game 3, if a Met could reach the ball, he caught the ball.

This must have been a very frustrating series for Bird manager Earl Weaver. Hardly anything went their way and the Mets were playing like a well oiled machine. His guys were hitting the ball well enough but practically nothing was dropping in. The Mets were known for their good defense but this was ridiculous.

I liked Earl Weaver. He was a spunky character and I've always enjoyed managers like that. He was fiery and animated and quick of step, the antithesis of Gil Hodges. His arguments with umpires were always classic performances. Sometimes he would pantomime rolling up his sleeves while shouting and it appeared as if he was ready to punch out the official. Many times, like pictured, he would try to beat the ump to the punch. He was a great act. And a great manager. So he must have been frustrated.

Down 1-0 with Mark Belanger at the plate in the 5th Weaver, shouting from the bench, had some colorful things to say to the home plate ump Shag Crawford. Shag approached the Baltimore dugout and instructed the manager to be quiet. Weaver claims he could not hear Crawford because of the loud Shea crowd and followed him back to the plate to ask him what he said.
The home plate ump must have been shocked to turn around, look down, and see Weaver standing there. 
The official didn't wait for an explanation, just threw up his arm, tossing Weaver from the game. The last time a manager was thrown out of a World Series game before this was in 1935.

The Mets could not get past first base in the middle innings. Cuellar had settled down and made way for Eddie Watt in the 8th with the Mets still hanging on to a one run lead.

From the 5th to the 9th Seaver was cruisin'. No one was touching him. Only Paul Blair reached on a walk in the 6th. Then in the top of the 9th the Met pitcher was severely tested. Blair flied out to start the inning, then Frank Robinson hit a single to left that Cleon could not pick.

Boog Powell followed with a bouncer through the hole at second, a clone of his game three seeing eye single and once again, F.Robinson moved to third.
With a 1-0 lead and the tying run 90 feet away, New York needed two outs. Seaver was not about to hand over the ball to the pen. Gil Hodges might have considered it. He hesitantly visited the mound after the Boog Powell single and had some words with the young Met pitcher. He had faith in Seaver and just wanted to make sure Tom shared that faith. As long as the ace was able to battle, he would be on the front line. And he wasn't about to leave this game until his arm fell off. Brooks Robinson came to the plate and Seaver challenged him.
On Seavers first pitch Brooks, hitting out of the shadows, stroked a rope of a liner towards dead right center. Not high and hard enough to make it thru the gap but too soft and shallow to ever get to.

Any sane fielder would have went around behind it, letting it land but easily keeping it from splitting the gap. Ron Swoboda was many things, and I don't know if he is clinically insane, but what he did here was both crazy and wonderful.

He went for it. Full tilt he ran right to the spot where the ball was coming down. He could not reach it running, he knew that as soon as he started after it. At that moment he knew he couldn't reach it and he also decided he couldn't let it drop.

Swoboda raced across right and closed the gap by diving, fully extending himself and sticking his arm out before him. With a backhanded stab of his glove he picked the sinking drive off right before it touched the outfield grass. Momentum took him into an unavoidable tumble.

Aware of the situation, Rocky popped to his feet and threw the ball to the plate. Frank Robinson, who was on third, was able to tag and tie the game but if that ball off Brooks bat had landed it could have been much worse. If it made it through the gap and had gone all the way to the wall the Orioles would have scored two runs and taken the lead.

All the Mets were making the plays out in the field. People today still talk about Tommie Agee's two catches in game three. Tommies catches were so crucial, both rally killers, making the third out each time. They were incredible. 
But this catch....this was the impossible catch.

I have seen many great plays over the years, in World Series and regular season. As far as the catch alone, disregarding the situation, this still stands as one of the most awesome catches ever made in the history of post season baseball. If this had been the third out of the inning and this World Series game ended with a score of 1-0 Mets there would be no argument. Imagine that!

But it was only the second out and the Birds had tied the score at 1-1. Seaver was still in a pickle as he had two men on. He got Oriole catcher Ellie Hendricks to hit a deep fly to right center that was also intercepted by Swoboda, this time on the run.

With the score tied 1-1 the Mets threatened in the bottom of the 9th but could not plate a run to end it. Singles by Cleon Jones and Ron Swoboda put runners at first and third with two out. Art Shamsky was called on to pinch hit for Ed Charles but could only top a grounder to second.

Not to be outdone in the drama department the Birds also threatened in the top of the 10th. Wayne Garrett had just entered the game to play third and, like they always say, the ball found him and he booted a Davey Johnson grounder leading off the inning. Seaver got Belanger to foul out to Grote but could not get a pinch hitting Clay Dalrymple who hit a sharp single up the middle making it first and second. The Orioles had the top of the line up now. Don Buford hit a long fly to deep right which enabled Dave Johnson to tag up and take third. The go ahead run was 90 feet away as Paul Blair came to the plate. Here in the 10th Tom Seaver rose to the challenge and struck him out to end the inning.

 Met catcher Jerry Grote led off New York's 10th frame with a pop up to short left. Oriole left fielder Don Buford broke back for a second leaving Mark Belanger with the only shot at it.
The shortstop took a round-about route to the ball and it dropped just beyond his grasp. Ironically the 1969 Baltimore Orioles were playing baseball like the 1962 New York Mets. New York had a man on second no out. If they could plate this run it's game over. Sounds easy but fans of the game, and maybe especially Met fans, know that nothing comes easy. Baseball is a wacky game where nothing should ever be taken for granted.

The wheels were turning in each managers mind. Gil Hodges had a more fleeter Rod Gaspar run for Grote at second. I imagine in a game of this magnitude Earl Weaver was still calling the shots from in the Oriole locker room.

The Birds issued an intentional walk to Al Weis, setting up the double play. Now was the end of the road for Tom Seaver. J.C. Martin was sent up to pinch hit in a possible bunting situation. The winning run was in scoring position and Hodges had three shots to end it now. He went for it, and he would have two shots to spare.

Martin laid down the most famous bunt of, certainly his life, possibly of Mets history. It was a simple bunt. A fine bunt, not a great one. As far as moving the runners over it was perfect. It dribbled in front of the plate to the right side. They would get him at first easy enough. You would think.
Baltimore catcher Ellie Hendricks came out of the crouch and called the ball. He and relief pitcher Pete Richert converged on it at the same time, almost bumping heads.

It was an easier play for the catcher, with it in front of him, but the pitcher Richert grabbed the ball and being a lefty, spun and threw along the edge of the infield grass. It was a good throw, on it's way to Dave Johnson covering first.

But runner J.C.Martin had drifted a little to his left while running up the baseline. Lil' bit. The ball struck his left wrist and shot toward the vacated area of second base.

Rod Gaspar was running on contact and took off around third and all the Oriole infielders could do, none anywhere near the ball, was watch as Gaspar streaked across the plate with the winning run.

This didn't go by without controversy as film of the play showed Martin was not in the running lane of the first baseline. He was outside it by over a foot and as a result the ball caught his wrist on its path to first. But even with the cries of unfair play the umpires said that in their judgement what the Met runner did was not intentional and it was the correct call. As in many games throughout baseball history, the human factor played a part.

Baseball has a human element that is slowly being removed from the game. Some could point to this play and use it to support the pros and cons of the new review system being implemented by MLB next season, and I believe both sides could use it equally.

The Mets had done it again! They won game 4 of the 1969 World Series in dramatic fashion, their ace pitcher Tom Seaver going beyond the call of duty in securing it. The Mets were one win away from the world championship.

Ellie Hendricks stands shocked and dejected as the Mets celebrate. No Oriole coach or player ( Weaver was tossed earlier) even argued the play. As a matter of fact no-one questioned the umpire's call until photos of the play were printed in the newspapers the following day(watch the pre-game interview with Micky Mantle and Sandy Koufax on the video of GAME 5 on the Fantazy Game Five page).

Swobodas catch and game five double.

The J.C. Martin bunt.

The New York Mets 50th Anniversary Collectors Set & MLB Films- 1969 Mets Highlights Segment
Getty Images
The pictures used on the cards of Ron Swoboda's freakin' awesome catch are not actual photographs and were photoshopped & colorized using actual images of the catch.

This wire photo of the J.C. Martin bunt was colorized for use here.

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