The texts started coming in around 6:00 pacific time. “Whatever you do, don’t check the Mets score,” read the first one. Of course I immediately looked up YahooSports on my phone.
At that point the damage had been limited to 19 runs — in the sixth inning. “Did you see the final score?” came another text around 7:30. “Uhhhh…. no comment” came a third message minutes later.
By then, of course, I had repeatedly refreshed the “progress” on my phone, with something akin to morbid curiosity. Frequent looks at the NY Post online edition and several other internet publications followed.
I saw enough to know that Jose Reyes had finally contributed some runs to a final score for the 2018 Mets. I hadn’t in my wildest dreams expected him to contribute by allowing them as the final pitcher of the night, but details, details…
“And this is the club we decided to keep together,” I muttered to myself, reflecting on how the Three Incompetent Tenors had stood pat earlier in the day at the trading deadline. This inaction despite the presence of several marketable players hanging around on the moribund Mets roster, including the starting pitcher for the evening’s slaughter, Steven Matz (who managed to give up 8 earned in less than an inning).
I believe with this loss (and today’s more mundane 5-3, never really in question, defeat at the hands of the Expos/Nationals), I can officially stop watching and caring. Made it to August, right? Barely. Now I can begin wishing for a new GM to resurrect our once-proud (is that a fair description in reality?) franchise and a winter house cleaning that somehow manages to right this badly sunken ship. Life of a Mets fan, folks, life of a Mets fan.
Now let’s go Oakland Athletics!
But we’ve got two months to go! With the MLB clock officially turning to the Dog Days of August this morning, I got to thinking of a happier time, a time when such a slaughter was inflicted by the blue and orange, as opposed to last night’s debacle, the latest in a season of embarrassments, each one smarting a bit more than the last.
Come with me to a sunny Saturday, back in 1971. August the 7th, to be exact. Almost 47 years ago to the day. Picture the setting — a block party on a scorching Saturday afternoon. Roads closed off, kegs of beer tapped for the adults, hot dogs, sodas and potato chips everywhere. Random games of softball, volley ball and basketball breaking out across a few interconnected blocks of suburbia nestled in the heart of bucolic Convent Station, New Jersey.
As a 6-year-old Mets fan, blissfully unaware that in only a few weeks “real school” would begin (a 12-year slog through public school academia), I rejoiced when one of the neighbors loudly reported the Mets had won down in Atlanta that afternoon.
On the heels of the unexpected ’69 World Series title, such news was always jubilantly welcomed by most of the neighborhood kids (the not-yet-hated Yanks were in their dark, Horace Clarke period, and not relevant at the time). The win would put the Mets three games above .500 on the year and, while unlikely to catch the soon-to-be-division champ Pittsburgh Pirates (who would win that year’s World Series over the Orioles, while cementing Roberto Clemente’s legacy as an all-time great in the process), hope remained for a late-season surge similar to what had propelled the Mets to glory only a couple of seasons earlier.
But it wasn’t the win that mesmerized me that afternoon, it was the final score. The Mets had taken the terrible Braves to the woodshed down in Atlanta, to the tune of 20-6!
I’d never heard of such a score! Heck, it was a football score. It would be the most runs the light-hitting Mets would score that year or the following, by a long shot. It was all I could talk about for the duration of the afternoon with friends and strangers, kids and adults, as the block party raged on deep into the warm New Jersey evening. The decimation of Atlanta was particularly memorable for me since my favorite Met, Tommie Agee, had led the way by going 3-3 with two runs scored.
So rather than dwell on yesterday’s drubbing, I decided to more productively channel my baseball jones this afternoon into a little research on that huge win from 1971 and the indelible impression it left on me that still makes me smile at the memory to this very day.
For starters, there was the afternoon’s starting pitcher, Nolan Ryan. The same Nollie who only a few months later would be jettisoned to the Angels for the washed up Jim Fregosi — a trade so lopsided that it’s taken on legendary status for students of the game everywhere who engage in debates on topics such as “worst trade of all time” and the like.
Ryan went eight innings in the 14-run romp, giving up all six Braves runs (all earned by the way), while allowing eight hits and his hallmark five bases on balls (he “only” struck out 7 that day). They didn’t list number of pitches in the 1971 box scores, but I think it’s safe to say that no one was worried about pitch counts back then, and given the combined number of hits and walks tallied, Nolan must have easily crossed 125 pitches before handing off to Ron Taylor to close the game in the 9th.
And yes, Taylor closed out the 20-6 final successfully. And he earned a save for his trouble (his second of the season and last one of his long career)! A save for one inning of work in a 14-run blowout? Apparently the scoring rules were a bit different back then.
More on Ryan, for good measure. In addition to picking up the win and evening his record at 9-9, he also participated at the plate going 2-4, raising his average to .125 in the process. A darn shame such a potent bat would be relegated to the pines beginning in 1973 as the Designated Hitter rule descended upon the Junior Circuit, changing the game and its strategy dramatically (not for the better, either).
Some other stats of note from that long ago whupping:
*Despite all the runs scored, the game was completed in a crisp 2 hours and 59 minutes. By comparison, yesterday’s blowout loss took 3:16, but there was no home team batting in the bottom of the 9th (one could still argue that yesterday’s contest was a surprisingly quick one given today’s “watching paint dry over four hours” standards).
*Only two homers were recorded in that 1971 matchup (there were 7 yesterday, including two from old Mets friend Daniel Murphy, who delights in delivering punishment when facing his former club). The New York homers in ’71 came off the bats of Ken Boswell and Donn Clendenon (I always thought it was cool that he had that second “n” in Donn).
*Light hitting catcher Jerry Grote went 3-6 and caught all nine innings (can we imagine for a second how hot it must have been in Atlanta that August, and catching Nolan Ryan of all pitchers in that heat?).
*The Braves only needed four pitchers in absorbing the 1971 battering (compared to 7 used by the Mets yesterday, counting the aforementioned Reyes), with Ron Reed taking the loss after failing to get out of the second inning (he actually had a better outing than Matz yesterday, who failed to escape the first).
*There were 20,827 fans on hand in Atlanta back in the 1971 game, while statistics show that 35,029 were hand on to see the Expos fight at the bat rack for the right to take a whack at Matz & Co. yesterday (tickets sold or fans in attendance? Today I’m never sure).
So there it is. And yes, I know 25-4 counts the same number of times in the loss column as today’s 5-3. But for a 6-year-old fan way back when — 20 runs was unforgettable! Let’s Go Mets.
And no, we absolutely can NOT trade any of these guys, not when there’s a pennant race going on that we can impact, right? Rebuild be damned… Puh-lease… Shaking my head, I wonder if the powers that be in our front office truly believe we can contend next year with this core. I sure don’t. Not anymore.
If I had the time and energy, I’d take a look at how many games the Braves, Phillies and Nationals all have remaining with the Mets between now and year end.
My guess is that whoever has the biggest number remaining wins the division.