This Week in 1960s Baseball
Glancing Back, and Remembering Gary Gentry
In his first major league season, Gary Gentry pitched for a championship team: the 1969 Miracle Mets. He was an integral part of the New York Mets’ triumph that season. And pitching for a team for which no success was anticipated, Gentry’s success, so early in his career, was miraculously instant. Continue reading
Lights Out: Jerry Koosman Pitches the New York Mets to a World Series Championship
When: October 16, 1969
Where: Shea Stadium, New York, New York
Game Time: 2:14
Looking back now, maybe we should have been able to predict how the 1969 season would end.
The New York Mets of 1969 would not be denied their miracle. The franchise that redefined on-the-field ineptitude in the early 1960s won it all by the end of the decade, and did so by beating a Baltimore Orioles team that, had it won the 1969 World Series, might have been recognized as one of the best teams of all time.
That Orioles squad was loaded. The team had power, was solid defensively and featured outstanding pitching depth, both in the starting rotation and in the bullpen. The Orioles got big seasons out of Boog Powell (.304, 37 home runs and 121 RBIs) and Frank Robinson (.308, 32 home runs, 100 RBIs). The Orioles fielded four Gold Gloves (Paul Blair in center field, Dave Johnson at second base, Mark Belanger at shortstop, and, of course, Brooks Robinson at third). And the pitching staff was led by Mike Cuellar (23-11), Dave McNally (20-7) and a 23-year-old Jim Palmer (16-4) on the verge of becoming a perennial 20-game winner.
The 1969 Baltimore Orioles won 109 games during the regular season and, in the first American League Championship Series, swept the Minnesota Twins in three games. They entered the World Series as seasoned favorites.
The odds might have been in their favor. Fate wasn’t.
The Mets didn’t exactly limp into the World Series. They won 100 games during the regular season (27 more than they had won in 1968). They swept the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series. And they had two of baseball’s best young pitchers in Tom Seaver (25-7, 2.21 ERA) and Jerry Koosman (17-9, 2.28 ERA).
The Orioles behind Cuellar beat the Mets and Seaver 4-1 in the first game, but Koosman pitched a two-hitter in the second game, with the Mets winning 2-1. Gary Gentry and Nolan Ryan combined to shut out the Orioles 5-0 on four hits in the third game, and Seaver pitched a six-hit gem in the fourth game, beating the Orioles 2-1 with the aid of Donn Clendenon’s home run.
Shea Stadium was the site for the fifth game, pitting Koosman against McNally. The Orioles scored three runs in the third inning on home runs from McNally and Frank Robinson. But Koosman was masterful the rest of the way, shutting down the vaunted Orioles bats with six scoreless innings.
Meanwhile, the Mets cranked up their last miracle of the season. Cleon Jones was hit by a pitch to lead off the sixth inning and Clendenon homered off McNally to cut the Orioles’ lead to 3-2. In the seventh inning, Al Weis hit a lead-off home run to tie the game.
Baltimore’s bullpen ace Eddie Watt came on to pitch the eighth inning. Jones doubled to open the inning, and advanced to third on Clendenon’s ground out. Ron Swoboda doubled to drive in Jones. After Ed Charles flied out to left field, catcher Jerry Grote hit the ball back to Watt with Swoboda running on the pitch. Watt bobbled the ball, allowing Grote to reach first base safely while Swoboda scored. It was all the scoring the Mets would need.
Koosman came out to pitch the ninth inning, facing the Robinsons and Powell, the heart of the Orioles’ batting order. Frank Robinson worked Koosman for a walk. Powell hit a grounder to Weis at second for the force out on Frank Robinson. The Orioles brought Chico Salmon in to run for Powell, but he would have nowhere to go. Brooks Robinson flied out to Swoboda in right field, and Dave Johnson flied out to Jones in left field to end the inning, the World Series, and a decade of baseball like no other.
Lights Out: Steve Carlton Strikes Out 19 New York Mets in a Losing Effort
When: September 15, 1969
Where: Busch Stadium, St. Louis, Missouri
Game Time: 2:23
The hallmark of a championship team is that it knows how to find a way to win even when it isn’t at its best. Or when its opponent is.
The Cardinals’ starting pitcher, Steve Carlton, was having a breakout season in 1969. The 24-year-old Carlton had won 14 games in 1967 and 13 games in 1968, but was becoming more dominant as he matured. He was averaging eight strikeouts per nine innings and entered the game with a 1.92 earned run average. He was also on a two-game losing streak due to lack of support from a Cardinals’ lineup that had produced only two runs in his last pair of starts.
The Mets’ starter was Gary Gentry, who was 11-11 and coming off a six-hit shutout of the Montreal Expos in his previous start. Gentry and Carlton matched scoreless innings in the game’s first two frames, then the Cardinals scored in the third inning when Lou Brock walked and Curt Flood singled. Brock tried to score but was thrown out at the plate, allowing Flood to advance to second base and then score on Vada Pinson’s single.
Carlton allowed three singles in the first three innings, but also struck out seven Mets batters. In the fourth inning, Carlton walked Donn Clendenon to lead off the inning and then gave up a home run to Ron Swoboda. But he struck out three more Mets batters that inning, and had 10 strikeouts through the first four innings though the Cardinals now trailed 2-1.
The Cardinals regained the lead in the fifth inning. With two outs, Brock singled and stole second. Flood singled to center field, scoring Brock to tie the game. Pinson singled to right field, moving Flood to second base. Flood scored the third run on Joe Torre’s single to center. The inning ended with no further scoring when Tim McCarver flied out to left field.
Meanwhile, Carlton continued to be a strikeout machine. He fanned Amos Otis and Tommie Agee in the fifth inning. He struck out Swoboda in the sixth inning. He struck out Otis again in the seventh inning with two runners on base.
That gave Carlton 14 strikeouts for the game.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Tug McGraw took over for Gentry and pitched a scoreless inning despite an error and a walk. In the top of the eighth inning, Agee led off with a single and then Carlton struck out Clendenon looking, Carlton’s fifteenth of the game. But Ron Swoboda launched his second home run of the game and ninth of the season to put the Mets back on top 4-3. Carlton got his sixteenth strikeout to end the eighth inning.
McGraw retired the Cardinals in order in the bottom of the eighth, and Carlton fanned the side in the ninth inning, giving him 19 strikeouts for the game. But it wouldn’t be enough. Despite an error and a Brock single, the Cardinals couldn’t score against McGraw in the ninth.
Carlton would finish the 1969 season at 17-11 with a 2.17 ERA, second lowest in the National League behind Juan Marichal. He topped 200 strikeouts for the first time in his career, something he would do seven more times. But he would never again strike out as many as 19 batters in a single nine-inning game. In fact, only one left-hander (Randy Johnson) has matched that performance.
Steve Carlton’s heartbreaking 19-strikeout loss is one of the performances featured in Lights Out! Unforgettable Performances from Baseball’s Real Golden Age.