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Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Day the Mets Really Did Lose Last Place


TRIVIA QUESTION:   For which team did Donn Clendenon play the most years?

ANSWER TO TRIVIA QUESTION IN THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: 
The 1963 Chicago Cubs gave up their carnival of coaches routine and hired Bob Kennedy as their full-time manager. Kennedy led them to an 82-80 record in his first year and a fifth place finish. Kennedy did not flourish with the Cubs and was replaced shortly after the start of the 1965 season.

If you are a New Yorker (even if you love the Yankees) you will never forget September 10, 1969. Nor should you. The Mets played a double header that day and when they won the first game, they moved into first place for the first time in their history without retreating back to second place. In other words, you might say this was the day the New York Mets really did lose last place.

It was the first of two against the Montreal Expos at Shea Stadium. A total of 23, 512 fans showed up at Shea, a pretty low number for what would turn out to be the final turning point in the history of the Amazin' Mets. The Expos were on the verge of losing more than 100 games. 

In what would turn out to be an epic pitching battle, Montreal sent Mike Wegener to the hill against Jim McAndrew.  Wegener, a rookie, would pitch the game of his life. With a 5-14 record in his debut campaign, which began with his first big league pitch on April 9, he would spend one more year with the Expos before being out of baseball.

McAndrew on the other hand was in his second season and would end with a 6-7 record but did toss a pair of shutouts. The 25-year old right-hander was an 11th round pick of the Mets. 

The Expos were truly a team of castoffs. Names like Coco Laboy, Ty Cline, Ron Fairly, Ron Brand and Mack Jones would support the likes of an aging but still great hitter, Rusty Staub. The Mets were a team of draft picks supported by veterans such as Tommie Agee and Art Shamsky. It was one veteran who came to the Mets via the Expos who would make his mark with New York that year in the World Series. 

In January 1969 Donn Clendenon, who had been selected by the Expos in the expansion draft refused to report, leaving the Pirates. So he was traded by the Montreal Expos with Jesus Alou to the Houston Astros for Rusty Staub. Donn Clendenon refused to report to his new team on April 8, 1969. The Montreal Expos sent Jack Billingham (April 8, 1969), Skip Guinn (April 8, 1969) and $100,000 (April 8, 1969) to the Houston Astros to complete the trade.

Six months later in June he was sent by the Montreal Expos to the New York Mets for a player to be named later, Jay Carden (minors), David Colon (minors), Kevin Collins and Steve Renko. The New York Mets sent Terry Dailey (minors) (May 16, 1970) to the Montreal Expos to complete the trade.

Clendenon was in the line-up against his old team this day.

The game started ominously enough when Ty Cline rapped a triple off McAndrew to lead off the first. When Gary Sutherland hit a ground ball to shortstop Bud Harrelson, the usually stellar fielder booted it and Cline scored the run. Since Rusty Staub hit a fly ball which would have driven home Cline later in the inning, the was considered earned.

In the bottom of the inning, the Mets manufactured a run which WAS unearned. Agee led off with a walk, moved to second on a passed ball Brand could not handle, took third on a ground ball and scored when Shamsky, the former Red power blaster, singled him home. The score was tied 1-1.

The second inning it was more of the same, literally, for McAndrew. Just like Cline, Mack Jones led off with a triple and came around to score on an error by Clendenon, who tried to get Jones at third. The ball sailing past Wayne Garrett. Jones put the Expos ahead, 2-1.

Both pitchers sailed along until the fifth when the Mets recorded the fourth run of the game. With two out Agee hit a grounder to third which Laboy couldn't handle and Agee was on first via the error. Garrett singled and Cleon Jones drew a walk to load the bases for Shamsky. Wegener chose this moment to Balk in the run to tie it at 2-2. Wegener gives up his second unearned run.

Again both pitchers were masterful and while Wegener walked a few guys he was mowing down Mets with strikeouts. They went into the 11th inning tied. Jim Gosger pinch hit for McAndrew and Ron Taylor came in and didn't allow a run. In the 12th Wegener had had enough and was lifted for a pinch hitter. In the bottom of the 12th, Bill Stoneman (he of the no-hit fame) came into relieve. With two out he gave up a single to Cleon Jones who moved to second when Rod Gaspar drew a walk. That brought up Ken Boswell who sharply singled up the middle and running on contact, the speedy Jones came around to score, a 12 inning victory 3-2, with the Mets ONLY earned run of the game.

After pitching brilliantly, neither McAndrew or Wegener got the decision.  Wegener went 11 innings giving up five hits, and struck out 15  hitters while allowing zero earned runs. For his part McAndrew went 11 innings and while he walked five he only gave up four hits.

The Mets went on to win their next five in the middle of a streak winning 14 of 15 games and never fell out of first place. They finished winning nine of their last 10 games and won 24 games in September. The rest is history going on to beat the Orioles in the World Series.

Clendenon starred in the post season. He hit three homers, batted .357 and was named MVP. Not bad for a guy who refused to play in Houston and ended up the property of three teams in 1969. He retired after the 1972 season with 159 home runs and a lifetime .274 batting average.

Please pick up a copy of my book "Tales of My Baseball Youth; A Child of the 60's" at www.bobbrillbooks.com, or on Amazon.


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