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Queens Chronicle

Our hometown heroes for 50 years — Part III: 1967-1969

A New York Mets anniversary special

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Posted: Thursday, May 3, 2012 2:11 pm | Updated: 1:27 pm, Thu Jul 19, 2012.

The eighth season changed it all. After averaging 105 losses in each of their first seven years, the New York Mets jumped from the bottom to the top of the baseball world in 1969, proving that every underdog has his day. Although there were some hints of the magic to come in the prior two years — namely the pitching of Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman and the batting of Cleon Jones and Jerry Grote — the team’s 1969 explosion and World Series win in five games seemed to come out of nowhere.

The Mets by the years: 1967

Record: 61-101, 10th in the National League.

A return to the cellar is mitigated by the arrival of “The Franchise,” Tom Seaver, who rewrites all Mets pitching records, going 16-13 with a 2.76 ERA, 18 complete games and 170 strikeouts, to become the first player from a last-place team to win Rookie of the Year. Seaver also becomes the first Met to pitch in the All-Star game, saving the National League’s 14-inning win with one scoreless frame.

Tommy Davis, acquired from the Dodgers for Ron Hunt, bats .302 before going to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Tommie Agee. With 11 games to go, Wes Westrum resigns as manager and is replaced by “interim” manager Salty Parker; Gil Hodges is named permanent manager in the off season.

 

1968

Record: 73-89, ninth in the National League.

With Hodges at the helm, the Mets boast the best young pitching staff in baseball. Seaver (16-12, 2.20 ERA, 205 strikeouts) is joined by rookie sensation Jerry Koosman (19-12, 2.08 ERA, seven shutouts) as the Mets go fourth in the league in ERA (2.72) and second in strikeouts (1,014) and shutouts (25).

Cleon Jones bats .297 and Jerry Grote hits .282; Grote is the starting catcher in the All-Star game, which also sees both Seaver and Koosman pitch.

The Mets win their first home opener, 3-0 over the Giants, and they post a winning road record, 41-40, for the first time in club history. Near the end of the season, Hodges suffers a mild heart attack, but is given the OK to return in 1969.

1969: the Miracle Mets

Record: 100-62, World Champions.

The Mets stun the baseball world by winning it all in 1969. An 11-game winning streak in June puts them over .500 for the first time, and after spending almost the entire summer in second place, they win 38 of their last 49, including streaks of 10 and nine in a row, to overtake the Chicago Cubs and finish atop the National League Eastern Division.

Seaver goes 25-7 with a 2.21 ERA, 208 strikeouts and five shutouts to win the Cy Young Award, while Koosman overcomes early-season arm trouble to go 17-9, with a 2.28 ERA and six shutouts — together giving the Mets one of the greatest righty-lefty duos ever. Rookie Gary Gentry goes 13-12 with three shutouts. Ron Taylor and Tug McGraw save 13 and 12, respectively.

Cleon Jones bats .340 with 92 runs scored, while Tommie Agee recovers from a poor ’68 season to lead the club with 26 home runs, 76 RBIs and 97 runs scored.

Memorable wins include a 4-3 win over Chicago on July 8, in which the Mets score  three runs in the bottom of the ninth; Tom Seaver’s near perfect 4-0 win over Chicago the next night; a 14-inning, 1-0 win over San Francisco on Aug. 19, with the winning run coming on Agee’s walk-off home run; the 3-2 win over Montreal Sept. 10 that put them in first; a 4-3 win over St. Louis Sept. 15, in which Swoboda’s pair of two-run homers offset Steve Carlton’s 19 strikeouts; and the clinching 6-0 win over St. Louis at home on Sept. 24.

After winning the division, the Mets sweep Atlanta in the League Championship Series, and go on to stun the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles 4-1 in the World Series, holding the powerful Birds’ lineup to a .146 average. Koosman wins two games; Donn Clendenon hits three home runs; and Al Weis at .455 leads the hitters. Clendenon is named the series MVP.   

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