“We’re No.1! We Really Are!”
September 24, 1969
Joe Torre grounded into five historic double plays during his career. Four of them came as a member of the New York Mets on July 21, 1975, setting a National League record for a single game. Mets fans had better memories of the fifth, which had come six years earlier when Torre still manned first for the St. Louis Cardinals.
That grounder, at 9:07 p.m. on Sept. 24, 1969, was the finishing touch on a 6-0 shutout for Gary Gentry, who outdueled Hall of Famer Steve Carlton. The win clinched the NL East title for Gil Hodges‘ “Amazins,” who had been in first place for just two weeks.
A packed crowd of 54,928 came into Shea Stadium for the home season finale expecting something special, and weren’t disappointed when the night started with a flourish. After a single by leadoff hitter Bud Harrelson and a walk to Tommie Agee, first baseman Donn Clendenon (acquired from Montreal in mid-July) launched his 10th home run as a Met over the center field wall.
Ed Charles, who had been released and re-signed over the off-season, would continue the barrage with a two-run shot to make it 5-0. As he rounded third, Charles clapped his hands to “let the fans know this was it.” Charles added: “At my age, I might not have any more left.” When Clendenon’s second home run of the night in the fifth made it 6-0, the party was beginning.
After Torre made the final out, thousands of fans stormed the field. Small craters began to appear in the outfield as overjoyed fans collected patches turf as souvenirs. There was just as big a party in the clubhouse, where bottles of champagne were sprayed around. Don Grant, chairman of the board, was drenched by Nolan Ryan as the rest of the team shouted, “Here’s to Casey!”
For even though Casey Stengel had predicted before the team played its first game that the Mets would be “Amazin,'” the legacy of his hapless 1962 club still persisted at the start of the 1969 season. The Mets had never finished better than ninth in the league; Las Vegas bookmakers had set the odds for them to finish the season atop the newly-formed NL East at 100-1.
Indeed, it looked like the same old Mets in the season opener at Shea as they fell to the Montreal Expos 11-10. But even though they trailed the division-leading Cubs by eight games as early as May 4, Hodges’ club refused to be intimidated. When the second series of the season between the two rivals began, Cubs pitcher Bill Hands hit Tom Seaver between the shoulder blades. In the next inning, Seaver retaliated with a pitch to Hands’ stomach, and the Mets went on to take two of three.
Still, the Mets stood nine-and-a-half games behind Chicago on Aug. 13, in third place. But after the Cubs lost three in a row to the Pirates the weekend after Labor Day the Mets trailed by only two-and-a-half, setting up a key two-game series at Shea.
As in May, brushback pitches would be the name of the game. Hands hit Tommie Agee in the first inning of the first game; Mets starter Jerry Koosman answered by plunking Cubs third baseman Ron Santo on the right arm in the third. In the bottom of the inning, Hands tried to retaliate when Koosman squared to sacrifice Bud Harrelson to second base. But Koosman was able to pop up a bunt in self-defense when Hands unleashed a pitch heading for Koosman’s eyes.
Agee would have the last laugh, hitting a two-run home run in the third and scoring the go-ahead run in the sixth. The Mets won 3-2, chopping the Cubs’ lead to one-and-a-half. Behind ace Tom Seaver, New York beat Ferguson Jenkins 7-1 the next night and followed up by sweeping a doubleheader against the Expos. Another Cubs loss gave the Mets a taste of first place for the first time in team history.
The “Miracle Mets” followed up their first division title with a convincing three-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves in the League Championship Series and capped off their remarkable season with a five-game World Series victory against the Baltimore Orioles.