When the Mets surged into relevance in 1969, the impetus was bookend series against the Chicago Cubs in July.
On this date at Wrigley Field, Al Weis hit a three-run homer in the fourth and Ken Boswell homered in the fifth to back Gary Gentry’s solid pitching to give the Mets a 5-4 victory.
Gentry, the third starter on the staff behind Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, gave up four runs in 7.2 innings. Ron Taylor closed the game for the save.
AL WEIS CAREER
It is possible this game in 1969 is most remembered from that amazing season. On this date in 1969, and maybe each day since for Tom Seaver, he’ll remember Jimmy Qualls’ sinking single into the left-center gap with one out in the eighth inning to break up his perfect game bid and forced him to settle for one-hit, 4-0 shutout.
SEAVER: Almost perfect on this day.
It was one of 31 hits Qualls had during his career. It was one of five one-hitters Seaver threw for the Mets. Years later, Seaver got his no-hitter, but it was while pitching for Cincinnati.
When asked which meant more to him, the one-hitter or the no-hitter, Seaver said: “The one-hitter. I had better stuff that night and we were making a move on the Cubs.’’
Seaver’s game thrust the Mets into the national spotlight as a contender. I was living in Ohio at the time and rarely did the 11 p.m., sports feature clips from games other than the Indians, but they did on this night.
I always followed the box scores then, but after that game I started following them a little more closely.
One of my favorite baseball books was “The Year the Mets Lost Last Place,’’ a diary of a three-series stretch in July of 1969 when the Mets played two series with the Chicago Cubs and one with the Montreal Expos.
YOUNG: Fate finds obscure Cubs outfielder.
Dick Schaap was the author and book took the form of timeline, nearly to the minute, of those games.
One of those games came on this date in 1969 when the Mets beat the Cubs, 4-3, on the strength of Cleon Jones’ two-run double to support the strong pitching of Jerry Koosman. Jones’ double tied the game, and Ed Kranepool’s single off Ferguson Jenkins was the game-winner.
However, the emotional spin of this game centered around non-descript Cubs outfielder Don Young, who misplayed two balls to set up the Mets’ three-run ninth-inning rally. Balls get misplayed, that’s part of the game, but the twist came when Cubs star third baseman Ron Santo viciously blasted Young, first to his face in the clubhouse, and then to the media.
The next day, Santo called a press conference and apologized to Young, who played his last major league game in October of that year. He played sparingly the next two seasons and retired.
The Mets pulled within 4 ½ games of the Cubs with the victory and it was clear 1969 was shaping into a remarkable season.
We’re at the point of the season where much of the talk is about trades, so let’s look back on one of the Mets biggest deals.
CLENDENON: Big pick up for Mets.
On June 15 of 1969, Donn Clenenon was traded by Montreal to the Mets for minor leaguers Bill Carden and Dave Colon, Kevin Collins and Steve Renko.
The Mets were nine games back of the Cubs when the trade was made. Clendenon was hot down the stretch, hitting homers to beat Chicago and St. Louis, and continued to hit for power during the World Series, with homers in Games 2 and 4.
Clendenon played two more years for the Mets with limited success. On this date in 1971, his homer gave the Mets a 6-5 victory over Philadelphia in 15 innings.
Clendenon was released after the season, played in 1972 with St. Louis and was cut after that year.
Clendenon’s father was a mathematics and psychology professor at Langston University in Oklahoma, and education was a big part of his life. After retiring, Clendenon returned to school at Duquesne University and practiced law in Dayton, Ohio.
Clendenon died at 70 in 2005 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
The Mets have hit four homers since May 22, a span of 17 games. On this date in 1967, the Mets and Cubs combined for 11 homers in the second game of a doubleheader, won 18-10 by Chicago. The Mets hit four that afternoon.
Bob Johnson, Jerry Buchek, Ron Swoboda and Jerry Grote all went deep for the Mets.
The Cubs broke the game open with seven runs in the third and scored in all but two innings.