What is it with the Mets and long games?
Any team is going to have a few anomalies in its closet. The Florida Marlins have won two world championships but no division titles. In a sixty-year period from 1939-98, the Red Sox won seventeen batting titles (counting full seasons only), all by left-handed hitters. No Cincinnati pitcher has won the Cy Young Award. The Twins have won two championships, and have never won a World Series game on the road. The Mets have never thrown a no-hitter. The Mets have never had an MVP. Or a batting champion. Or a Manager of the Year.
Since 1900, there have been eight major-league games of twenty-three innings or more. The Mets, a team that has existed for less than half of that period, were in three of them. Saturday’s 2-1 win over St. Louis, a relative sprint at twenty innings, was the sixth game in the last sixty years that was scoreless after eighteen; the Mets have been involved in three of them (thank you, Elias Sports Bureau).
How do you explain such a thing?
Mostly, you don’t. Things happen; there are a lot of baseball games in a season, and a lot of years to study, and a lot of studying done by a lot of people. Odd clusters happen in any set of random events.
It probably helps that the Mets have generally had lousy offenses and played in good pitcher’s parks. Of the five Mets games described above (one fits both categories: scoreless after 18, twenty-three or more innings), three took place at Shea Stadium; one was at the Houston Astrodome, an even better pitcher’s park. The remaining game was Saturday, in St. Louis.
But mostly, it just happens.
Each of the long Met games was filled with oddments and notabilities. Taking them in chronological order:
May 31, 1964: San Francisco 8, Mets 6, 23 innings. It was the longest game in National League history, clocking in at seven hours and twenty-three minutes. (The longest in innings – Brooklyn v. Boston, 1920, 26 innings, a 1-1 tie called because of darkness – took a snappy 3:50 to play, about average for a Yankees-Red Sox game today.) It was also the second game of a doubleheader, a Sunday tradition from the past where one ticket admitted you to the ballpark for two games. That one ticket bought you nearly ten hours of baseball on this particular date.
The Mets trailed 6-1 after three innings, and fans could be forgiven if they headed to the exits early (not that I’ve forgiven you yet, Mom). They tied the game in the seventh. In the tenth, Willie Mays moved from center field to shortstop, one of his two career appearances at the position. In the thirteenth, Gaylord Perry came in to pitch; he later wrote that he threw his first major-league spitters in this game. In the fourteenth, the Giants put runners on first and second with no out, but Orlando Cepeda lined out to shortstop Roy McMillan, who stepped on second and threw to Ed Kranepool to complete the triple play. In the twenty-third, Del Crandall pinch-hit for Perry after ten innings of shutout relief; his double brought home the go-ahead run. Each team used six pitchers in the game; seven Mets and five Giants played all 23 innings, including both catchers (Tom Haller and Chris Cannizzaro).
October 2, 1965: Phillies 0, Mets 0, 18 innings. Again, the second game of a doubleheader, this time a twilight-night pair on the next-to-last day of the season. Starting pitchers Chris Short and Rob Gardner each went fifteen innings; Short struck out eighteen Mets to tie a National League record for extra-inning games. Gardner, a 20-year-old lefthander, gave up five hits and two walks in his start; it would have been the only shutout of his career if only his teammates had scored. The game was called due to a Saturday night curfew; the two teams got to play another eighteen innings in a daylight doubleheader the next day.
April 15, 1968: Houston 1, Mets 0, 24 innings. Just one game on this date, but (1) it was a night game, then the longest in baseball history; and (2) it was getaway night for the Mets, due back home to open the season two days later. It’s also the longest scoreless skein in one game – 23 innings – and of course the longest 1-0 game ever. Ron Swoboda and Tommie Agee both went 0-for-10 for the Mets – batting third and fourth, no less – with five and four strikeouts respectively. The game ended when shortstop Al Weis let a ground ball go through his legs with the bases loaded. The Mets starter, Tom Seaver, allowed two hits in ten innings before departing; sixteen years later, he was the winning pitcher in a twenty-five inning, two-day affair between the Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers (suspended after 17 innings due to the American League curfew, continued before the next day’s scheduled game).
September 11, 1974: St. Louis 4, Mets 3, 25 innings. Jerry Koosman was one out away from a complete-game victory when Ken Reitz homered in the top of the ninth to tie the score. The two teams loaded the bases in three consecutive half-innings beginning in the bottom of the twenty-third, but neither could put a run across. The Cards got the winning run in the top of the twenty-fifth on a botched pickoff: with Bake McBride leading off first, pitcher Hank Webb threw wildly, McBride circled the bases, and catcher Ron Hodges dropped the throw on the play at the plate. Umpire Ed Sudol called balls and strikes, as he had at the Mets’ twenty-four inning game in Houston and the twenty-three inning game against the Giants. Wayne Garrett, Mets third baseman, was 0-for-10 with a walk, making him one of just five players since 1920 to go hitless in eleven plate appearances. The night saw an incredible feast of baseball for New York, as the Yankees played twenty-six innings themselves in Baltimore – a doubleheader whose first game went seventeen innings.
April 17, 2010: Mets 2, St. Louis 1. Finally, the Mets win one! Nineteen pitchers – two of them position players for the Cardinals – worked in the game, scoreless after eighteen. Kyle Lohse, a pitcher, played three innings of left field for St. Louis; Joe Mather’s interesting position line read PH-CF-3B-P, while Felipe Lopez’s was SS-3B-P-3B (the Fox broadcasters speculated that he must have been on a pitch count before going back to third). The Cardinals loaded the bases in the tenth, twelfth, and fourteenth; the Mets did not advance a runner to third base until there were two outs in the top of the sixteenth. The Mets got single runs in the nineteenth and twentieth innings; Frankie Rodriguez blew the save in the bottom of the nineteenth, and Thursday’s starter Mike Pelfrey came on to pitch the twentieth and end the game at last. Mets outfielder Jeff Francoeur had eight chances to extend his season-opening ten-game hitting streak; he went 0-for-7 with a sac fly.
Anything can happen in baseball. When you watch the Mets, though, you can be sure it won’t happen quickly.