Sometimes 1966 is intrinsically more interesting than 2018, so I’ll dwell on 1966 a bit more than usual today.
Sixty six games into the 1966 season, the Braves were now in full reversal of the current pleasant surprise: 28-38, a full 12 games out of first place. The 67th game was a tough 2-1 loss in 11 innings. All-Cruelty team member Bob Veale threw a complete game, 11 inning, 5 hit gem. Naturally, Hank Aaron hit a homer for the only Braves run, his 23rd on the season, which tied up the game in the 8th. The Braves lost the game in the 11th when submarining Ted Abernathy gave up a homer to Willie Stargell. Roberto Clemente knocked in the first Pirates run.
An interesting strategic note on the game, one which shows just how much the game has changed. Here was the Braves’ 10th inning at the plate:
1. Woody Woodward, batting 8th, pops out.
2. Ted Abernathy, the pitcher, hits for himself and strikes out.
3. John Herrnstein, who had substituted in left field for Rico Carty several innings earlier is pinch hit for by pitcher Tony Cloninger, who also strikes out.
Now let’s be clear: the Braves weren’t out of pinch hitters. Indeed, after Cloninger struck out, Gary Geiger came in to play left field. Geiger was hitting .228 at the time with a .677 OPS. Cloninger, a good hitting pitcher (just wait for his most famous game at the plate coming up real soon) was hitting .179 with a .559 OPS. And there were certainly plenty of pitchers available if you wanted to pinch hit for Abernathy as well. True, Geiger was a lefty, while the big fella from Iron Station, NC was a righty and was used as a pinch hitter with some regularity. But just try to picture a major league manager doing that now.
This game also had an unusual Retrosheet play which was actually really important in the game. Retrosheet gives a coded description of every play. Deciphering Retrosheet descriptions of plays is fun once you get the hang of it for games you didn’t see. (For example, Sid’s Slide is S7/L7S.3-H(UR);2-H(UR);1-2, meaning a Line drive single to short left, runners on 2nd and 3rd score unearned runs, runner on first goes to 2nd. The biggest problem with Retrosheet notation is that you don’t really show plays not made, so the description would have been the same whether Bonds threw home or not.)
In this game, in the top of the fifth with 2 outs and Bill Mazeroski on 2nd and Donn Clendenon on first and Veale at (or perhaps on) the plate we get this play: S8/G.2-3;1X3(85) Veale singles on a grounder to center and Clendenon is thrown out at 3rd (8-5) before Mazeroski can score from 2nd. Nice play by Felipe Alou from center field. With Retrosheet I can just about picture it, though I’m not sure what Mazeroski was doing, and Retrosheet ain’t talking.
OK… back to current reality. Once again, we play the Mets, this time on a getaway 12:10 start. I have lived in the NYC area for over 30 years now, and I’ve only met about 7 Mets fans. Indeed, the best Mets fan I know is a NY transplant to Atlanta who I met in Junior High in 1970. He still, inexplicably, roots for the Mets, currently from Barcelona. If I were a Mets fan that’s about as close as I’d want to live to the current team as well. (Hey Billy: if you read this feel free to explain yourself in the comments.)
It’s actually quite odd. I don’t literally mean that there are no Met fans. I go to a few games a year, and I don’t think the people who cheer when the Mets accomplish something are Audio-Animatronic cyborgs or anything. And SNY broadcasts all the games, and I presume it’s not just for the fans of other teams. And it’s not because the Mets are bad. I have rooted for a team that from 1966-1990 had two postseason appearances and not a single postseason game won, a team that from 1975-1990 finished last or next-to-last 75% of the time. And it’s not because there’s another better team in town: the Cubs were always more popular than the White Sox and the more popular Red Sox ran the objectively better Braves out of town. I think it’s more like the Pauline Kael theory: Ms. Kael, when asked about the 1968 election, said; “I don’t know how Nixon could have won. Nobody I know voted for him.”
By the way, if you haven’t seen it, watch this video from Syndegaard’s ejection in retaliation for the Dark Lord breaking Tejada’s leg. (note that the end has some salty language):
So the Mets pitched their really good pitcher, Jacob deGrom, against Mike Soroka. It was deGrom’s 4th start against the Braves this season. deGrom has a 1.57 ERA, which is actually higher than the Mets’ average runs scored in the last 10 games. After 3 ½ hitless innings, Dansby doubled and Freddie singled him home. Not quite enough… we’re still probably going to need another half-run.
Soroka was so intimidated by deGrom that he was afraid to give up a hit until the 7th. Once he gave up a single he lost all confidence and was only allowed one more batter, Frazier, whom he struck out. Rookie nerves, I guess. Minter erased the “threat,” which is apparently the baseball code one uses when the Mets get a baserunner.
The Braves managed to turn back-to-back doubles into no runs in the bottom of the 7th.
Winkler pitched the 8th. deGrom, disgusted, refused to pitch the 8th, so Blevins let Freddie hit a homer to make it 2-0. He’s 12-23 against Blevins lifetime – that’s obviously why you put Blevins in the game in that situation. That provided the other half-run with a half-run to spare.
Vizzy pitched the 9th. He allowed 2nd and 3rd with two outs and popped up The Boss to end the game. Bring on the Friars Club.