Last week we looked at the building of the Miracle Mets. In my opinion, this team really wasn’t a miracle at all. Successful drafting by George Weiss, Bing Devine, and Johnny Murphy built a solid organization from the ground up. Key trades by Murphy rounded out this team. The core of the team that these men built contended for years past the 1969 season. Most of this core was intact when New York won a second National League pennant in 1973.
The Mets became part of baseball history by simply taking the field on Opening Day in 1969. New York opened the season at home against the expansion Montreal Expos. Not only was it the inaugural game for Montreal, it also marked the first time a club based outside the United States played a regular season Major League game.
As was the case throughout most of the Mets history, openers were not kind to them. Coming into the 1969 season the team lost every season opener. The historic game between the Mets and Expos was played on April 8th at Shea Stadium. The year began just like every other one in Mets history. The Expos opened their history by defeating the Mets by the score of 11-10.
The 1969 season began divisional play in Major League Baseball. Both leagues expanded by two clubs. The National League welcomed Montreal along with the San Diego Padres, while the American League added the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots (who would move to Milwaukee the following year and are the current day Milwaukee Brewers). As a result of the expansion, both leagues split into two divisions (East and West).
The divisional alignment left the Mets in the newly minted National League East. Along with the Mets, the division included the defending National League Champion Cardinals, and the loaded Chicago Cubs. The way the season began, things weren’t exactly looking up for New York.
On June 15, 1969, the Mets acquired Donn Clendennon from the Montreal Expos.
On June 15th the Mets had a record of 30-26, pretty good by team standards. The club was starting to show signs of this not being another “Metlike” campaign. The team was actually in second place, an unusual spot for the perennial cellar dwellers. The bad news was they stood nine games behind the division leading Cubs.
Chicago was one of the favorites to win the new division. They featured four future Hall of Famers in Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, and ace pitcher Ferguson Jenkins. With a nine game lead, the Cubs were poised to run away with the division championship.
Then came a defining moment, on June 15th the Mets traded Steve Renko, Kevin Collins, and two minor leaguers to the Expos in exchange for veteran first baseman Donn Clendennon.
The arrival of Clendennon was one of many twists and turns for the Mets.
Tom Seaver is perfect through 25 batters on July 9, 1969. Cubs Jimmy Qualls hits a clean single to break up perfection. He was Chicago’s lone baserunner.
As play began on July 9th, the Mets stood 4 1/2 games behind the Cubs. They were still in second, however they picked up quite a bit of ground since the Clendennon trade. The Mets faced the Cubs that night, and ace Tom Seaver was on the mound. Tom Terrific was just too much for the loaded Chicago lineup that night. Cleon Jones homered, Tommie Agee, Seaver himself, and utility man Bobby Pfiel would drive in runs, in a 4-0 victory.
Seaver was the story that evening. He was perfect with one out in the ninth inning. Seaver’s perfect game bid was broken up by Jimmy Qualls. Qualls hit a clean single and was the only Cub to get on base. In Mets team lore, that night has been dubbed “The Imperfect Game.”
Following Seaver’s heroics on that July 9th, the Mets began to kick it into high gear. They managed to close in on the Cubs and on September 8th they found themselves in the biggest regular season series in team history.
The Cubs made their final trip into New York’s Shea Stadium that evening. It was the beginning of a short two game set. The Mets had closed the gap to two-and-a-half games entering play that night. Jerry Koosman pitched a complete game in a 3-2 victory. What followed the next night was legendary!
A black cat circles Ron Santo in the Cubs on-deck circle at Shea Stadium on September 9, 1969. The Mets would win the game and never look back as Chicago collapsed.
The following night the Cubs found themselves facing Seaver again. Chicago countered with another future Hall of Famer, their ace Ferguson Jenkins. The duel between Seaver and Jenkins would take a back seat to a chapter in Cubs lore. With Chicago captain Ron Santo waiting in the on-deck circle, a black cat jumped onto the field, circled the Cubs captain, and ran into the Cubs dugout! The Mets would go on to win the game 7-1 behind Seaver’s complete game. Seaver improved his record to 21-7 and finish the season at 25-7.
The Cubs collapsed through the remainder of September while the Mets continued their torrid run, and on the night of September 24, 1969 the Loveable Losers became champions! A 6-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, on Fan Appreciation Day at Shea Stadium clinched the National League East! The Mets would go on to face the Atlanta Braves in the first ever National League Championship Series!
A lot more to go in this look back at the Miracle Mets. Stay tuned for a trip through the 1969 post-season next week! See you then!