On this day in 1969, the New York Mets lost 8-2 to the Houston Astros as Larry Dierker tossed a five-hit complete game in front of 30,590 fans at the Astrodome. The loss dropped the Mets to 62-51 and into third place in the new National League East -- this was the first year the leagues were split into divisions -- and 10 games behind the first-place Chicago Cubs.
It was a big surprise that the Mets were even that far above .500. The franchise born in 1962 had never finished over .500, with New York's 73-89 mark in 1968 easily the best of those first seven seasons.
The Mets hadn't spent a day of the 1969 season in first place, losing their opener and getting off to a 6-11 start. Still, the 10-game deficit was the team's largest of the season. Considering the franchise's history and the size of the deficit that late into the season, it's hard to believe the youthful squad had dreams of winning the division.
But it did. After the loss in Houston, the Mets returned to Shea Stadium for a 10-game homestand. They went 9-1, including a 1-0 victory in 14 innings over the San Francisco Giants -- Tommie Agee hitting the walk-off home run with one out off Juan Marichal, who pitched the entire game. According to John Snyder's book "Mets Journal," the Mets had prevented a potential run in the top of the 13th inning when manager Gil Hodges employed a four-man outfield against Willie McCovey (the NL MVP that year). McCovey drove a ball to deep left-center, where Cleon Jones made a leaping catch against the wall -- a play he wouldn't normally have been in position to make.
By then, the entire city had Mets fever. Even though that was a Tuesday night game, the Mets drew nearly 49,000 fans. The next night, Jim McAndrew threw a two-hit shutout in front of 48,414 fans. Six days later, in the second game of a doubleheader, McAndrew tossed another shutout. The Cubs' lead was down to 3½ games. On Sept. 2, the Cubs still held a five-game lead. But then the Cubs lost eight in a row and 11 of 12, including two memorable losses to the Mets at Shea.
In the first game, Bill Hands' first pitch for the Cubs knocked Agee sprawling into the dirt. He'd later hit a two-run homer. Jerry Koosman fanned 13 in a 3-2 victory. The next game was the infamous "Black Cat" game, when somebody released a cat in front of the Cubs' dugout. The Mets won 7-1 as Tom Seaver improved to 21-7 with a complete game.
From there, it was all Mets. From Sept. 6-13, they won 10 in a row. They'd win nine more in a row before closing the regular season with a loss, but they had long since clinched the division title, finishing 100-62 -- eight games ahead of the Cubs. Facing that 10-game deficit, the Mets went 39-11 while the Cubs went 18-27.
In the postseason, the Mets swept the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series and then shocked the Baltimore Orioles in five games to win the World Series. The Miracle Mets, born and raised in two amazing months.
What was remarkable about the club was its youth. Check out the roster. The eldest of the eight position player regulars was 26 (although 33-year-old Donn Clendenon was acquired during the season to platoon at first base). The rotation featured 24-year-old Seaver, 26-year-old Koosman, 22-year-old Gary Gentry and the 25-year-old McAndrew. Tug McGraw (24 years old) and a fireballing kid named Nolan Ryan (22) pitched primarily out of the bullpen.
"To understand the achievement of these Mets," wrote Roger Angell in The New Yorker, "it is necessary to mount an expedition that will push beyond the games themselves, beyond the skill and the luck. The journey will end in failure, for no victorious team is entirely understandable, even to itself, but the attempt must be made, for winning is the ultimate mystery that gives sport its meaning."
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It's Aug. 13. The 2015 New York Mets are 62-52, nearly the identical mark of their miracle ancestors on the same date.
Those '69 Mets were built around a young staff of hard-throwing pitchers. The 2015 Mets are built around a young staff of hard-throwing pitchers. Both scraped together just enough offense. Maybe Yoenis Cespedes will hit a 14th-inning walk-off home run at some point. Maybe David Wright returns from the DL and fills the Clendenon role of veteran bat.
They say baseball is cyclical. Or something like that. All I know is there's a story brewing in Queens. Maybe it's not exactly a miracle. Maybe that word can't be stolen from the archives of Mets history. That's OK. Let's just sit back and enjoy these final 50 games and beyond.