Saturday, September 1, 2012

1969 World Series: Simply Amazin'

The Teams
National League: New York Mets (100-62) - First World Series
American League: Baltimore Orioles (109-53) - Second World Series (Won in 1966)

What Happened
The Summer of '69 was the middle of a great sports year for New York sports fans. The Jets had gotten things started, upsetting the Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl behind a guarantee by Broadway Joe. That fall, the Knicks started a season that ended with an NBA championship coming to Madison Square. But before all of that could happen, New York had to make room for the Miracle Mets.

For the first seven years of their existence, the only miracle the Mets performed seemed to be whenever they somehow won a game. No expansion team ever started so poorly, and the ineptitude of those early Mets became fodder for baseball jokes for a generation. But something clicked in 1969. They had a great, young pitching staff, anchored by 24-year-old future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver. They had an outstanding defense, one that would save countless runs for their young pitchers.

As for the offense, well, manager Gil Hodges did what he could. Making liberal use of the platoon system that former Yankee - and Met - manager Casey Stengel had perfected in the 1950s, Hodges somehow found a way for his team to score enough to stay in the NL East race. In mid-August, it all came together, and the Mets ended the season on a 38-11 run to storm past the Cubs and into the playoffs. After easily beating Atlanta in the NLCS, the former punchlines were suddenly in the World Series.

Though the Mets had won 100 games during the season, they were heavy underdogs against the 109-win Orioles. Don Buford led off the series for the Orioles with a home run off Seaver, and Baltimore cruised to an easy win in Game 1, a game that was supposed to be just the first of four straight Baltimore wins. After all, this team was even better than the one that had swept the Dodgers three years earlier, and these Mets weren't nearly as good as those Dodgers. Right?

Well ... Jerry Koosman took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in Game 2 before finally giving up two hits that tied the game. But the Mets bounced back, getting three straight two-out singles in the top of the ninth to take the lead, then holding their breath as Ron Taylor got Brooks Robinson to ground out with two on to end the game. Not only did the Mets have their win to avoid the sweep, but they had gotten a road win. They could now win the series without having to go back to Baltimore.

With the series possibly in the balance in Game 3, Mets centerfielder Tommie Agee took over, putting together one of the greatest all-around games in World Series history. His first-inning home run was just the start. With the Mets up 3-0 in the fourth and two runners on, Baltimore's Ellie Hendricks blasted one deep into the left-center gap. Agee ran the ball down just before crashing into the wall to save two runs. Then in the seventh, Gary Gentry walked three straight Orioles with two outs. 24-year-old Nolan Ryan came in to face Paul Blair. Blair hit a low line drive to right center field that looked dangerous, but Agee came out of nowhere to make a diving, sprawling catch. Agee had saved five runs with his glove and added another run with his bat, the major player in New York's 5-0 victory.

After Agee's heroics, the Mets were on cloud nine. Their fans believed, and probably most importantly, they believed in themselves. After winning a 10-inning thriller in Game 4, they fell behind 3-0 in Game 5. Donn Clendenon hit a two-run home run in the sixth to make it 3-2, and Al Weis tied it with a home run in the seventh. Then in the eighth, Ron Swoboda's double gave the Mets the lead. Three outs later, left fielder Cleon Jones closed his glove on the final out, and the Mets started celebrating. The fans were on the field before the Mets could even escape to the clubhouse. Liquor stores around Queens sold out of their supply of champagne within 10 minutes of the final pitch. It was all to celebrate one of the most improbable championships in baseball history.

Defining Game
It wasn't easy to score in Game 4. Clendenon homered in the second inning, but that was all the offense New York could manage off Mike Cuellar. But that single run was enough for Seaver until the ninth inning, when a sacrifice fly by Robinson tied the game. The Mets couldn't push a run across in the bottom of the ninth, and Seaver held back a Baltimore rally in the top of the 10th, bringing the game to the bottom of the 10th. Jerry Grote led off the inning with a short double to left field, and after an intentional walk, J.C. Martin came up with instructions to bunt. He laid down a good one in front of the plate, and reliever Pete Richert had only one play. As he threw to first, his throw hit Martin and sailed off into right field, allowing Grote to score the game-winning run. Baltimore argued - correctly - that Martin was running inside the baseline and should have been called out, but the umpires weren't moved. The call stood, 

There were Mets with betting hitting numbers than Clendenon. There were pitchers who made convincing arguments that they could have been MVP. But Clendenon won the award with three swings of the bat. He homered in Games 2, 4, and 5, but it was more than just the home runs. All three home runs opened the scoring for the Mets, kick-starting their offense just when they needed it.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

New York 1252 (10) 5
Baltimore 410 13

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:

32. 1969 - New York (N) def. Baltimore (A) 4-1
33. 1935 - Detroit (A) def. Chicago (N) 4-2
34. 1934 - St. Louis (N) def. Detroit (A) 4-3
35. 1964 - St. Louis (N) def. New York (A) 4-3
36. 2003 - Florida (N) def. New York (A) 4-2
37. 1977 - New York (A) def. Los Angeles (N) 4-2
38. 1996 - New York (A) def. Atlanta (N) 4-2
39. 1921 - New York (N) def. New York (A) 5-3
Numbers 40-49
Numbers 50-59
Numbers 60-69
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

No comments:

Post a Comment