Best Mets Pitching Peformances: 1960s

We’ve reached the final decade! And there’s a lot of good stuff in here (don’t miss the Larry Bearnarth or Grover Powell entries!)

Click the decade to see the other 5 parts: The 1970s The 1980s The 1990s The 2000s The 2010s

A reminder: This is a list, not a ranking. Ranking all these games is too hard!

Other reminders:

* Starting pitching dominates the list but relief appearances are included too. I call this “The Sid Fernandez Game 7 Rule.”

* I could have easily put 15 Tom Seaver starts, 10 Dwight Gooden starts, and 10 Jacob DeGrom starts on here. But in the interests of inclusivity, I chose to limit their presence at least a little bit. I wanted representation from the Grover Powell’s and the Tom Gorman’s too.

You’ll still got plenty of the Big 3 – they combined for 21 appearances, or more than 1/4 of the list.

The way to look at this in totality is simply: If you were telling the history of the Mets, what games would be included in your story of exemplary pitching performances.

We begin at the beginning – 1962 makes the list!

I welcome your praise, gripes, memories, and personal statements.

In the end, If you don’t like what I’ve done, make your own list 🙂

Thanks to the newspaper reporters who covered these games and captured the quotes and descriptions used throughout these pieces.

June 22, 1962 – Al Jackson vs Colts

Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 9 K, 2 BB (Mets 2, Colts 0)

Opponent: Finished 64-98, last in NL in runs scored

What they wrote: Dana Mozley’s game story in the Daily News noted that Jackson was “working all the edges with his sharp-breaking curve and fastball.”

The reporter also watched as Richie Ashburn made a leaping catch in the fifth inning, and shortstop Elio Chacón and second baseman Charley Neal combined on a nifty play on a ground ball in the eighth inning.

Summary: This was the first *great* pitching performance in Mets history. After allowing a weak single by Joe Amalfitano and a walk in the first inning, Jackson retired 22 in a row. It was a nice bounceback from allowing 8 runs in 8 1/3 innings in his prior start against the Cubs.

August 14, 1962 – Al Jackson vs Phillies

Line: 15 IP, 3 R, 6 H, 6 K, 5 BB (Phillies 3, Mets 1)

Opponent: Finished 81-80, 7th among 10 NL teams in runs scored

What they wrote: “Before he reached the point where a Purple Heart might have been in order-he bowed for the 15th time- Al Jackson deserved some sort of citation for endurance yesterday at the Polo Grounds.” – Dana Mozley, Daily News

Summary: “It’s not sore, just tired,” Jackson said of his arm after losing a 3-1 decision to the Phillies in 15 innings, 4 ½ hours and 215 pitches. He would have thrown more had he not induced six double plays. “It was one of those days when the arm held up well.”

As was often the case throughout his Mets tenure, Jackson merited a better fate, but for the shortcomings of his 120-loss teammates. They went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Leadoff man Richie Ashburn reached base five times but never scored. The winning rally for the Phillies began with a Marv Throneberry error, of course.

August 20, 1963 – Grover Powell vs Phillies

Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 6 K, 4 BB (Mets 4, Phillies 0)

Opponent: Finished 87-75, 5th among 10 NL teams in runs scored

What they wrote: “He is bright, talkative and a little kooky. Someone asked him what he was gonna do with the baseball he used for the final out, and he said “I’m gonna get all the guys to sign it, then I’m gonna take it home and stick it in my front window and put up a sign that says ‘Grover Powell lives here.’ – Stan Hochman, Philadelphia Daily News

Summary: Keith Olbermann turned me onto this game with a reference in his book The Big Show about what it was like to host SportsCenter. Grover Powell pitched in 20 games in his one-year career and the Mets won two of them. Powell wore No. 41 before Tom Seaver did and on this day he did his best Seaver foreshadowing.

Powell twice stranded the bases loaded in the first seven innings to keep the game scoreless before the Mets broke through for two runs in the eighth. He retired six straight in the last two innings to end the game and snap the Phillies’ eight-game winning streak. Not bad for the guy from Wyalusing, a dairy town three hours north of Philadelphia.

“That’s a great scenic spot where Marie Antoinette was gonna come when she left France, except she got her head in the way of a knife,” Powell said. 🙂

Not to be outdone by his pitcher’s quotes, the Mets manager had a counter.

“Not bad for a 14-year-old pitcher,” said Casey Stengel afterwards. “Just imagine what he’ll be like when he’s 16.”

Powell died of leukemia at age 44. His Mets baseball card is on his tombstone along with the words “He achieved his dream.”

June 9, 1964 – Larry Bearnarth vs Cubs

Line: 10 IP, 1 R, 6 H, 6 K, 3 BB (Mets 6, Cubs 5, 12 innings)

Opponent: 76-86, 7th among 10 NL teams in runs scored

What they wrote: “The brand new scoreboard, the still new Mets, and the refurbished Cubs broke down in that order at Shea Stadium last night …” – Red Foley, New York Daily News.

Summary: Who needs a working scoreboard?

Twice in a 10-day stretch, Larry Bearnarth was called upon for marathon relief duty and on both occasions, Bearnarth was terrific. The first instance came on May 31 in that crazy 23-inning game with the Giants in which Bearnarth held the Giants scoreless from the eighth through the 14th.

In this one, Bearnarth allowed only one run in 10 innings and the Mets made up for that lone tally by scoring twice in their half of the 12th inning to win the game (helped by a Ron Santo error).

Bizarre aside: I don’t know if this is a tall tale, but Dick Young wrote a crazy story about Bearnarth’s time in Venezuela in the winter of 1965. Bearnarth had said not-nice things about the country in a newspaper interview. In his next start, even though Bearnarth had a shutout going, he got bombarded with epithets and had things thrown at him. He threw a baseball into the stands in response, hitting the fan who was taunting him. The home plate ump told Bearnarth that he better leave the field, lest he get killed.

As Bearnarth tells it, the next morning, Bearnarth apologized, reached a financial settlement with the fan he hit, and the fans and local media were forgiving. At least in that moment.

Bearnarth left the country the next day.

October 2, 1964 – Al Jackson vs Cardinals

Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 5 H, 2 K, 1 BB (Mets 1, Cardinals 0

Opponent: 93-69, 2nd among 10 NL teams in runs scored

What They Said: “I just got locked up with the wrong pitcher.” – Bob Gibson

Summary: The Mets played spoilers at least for a little bit in the crazy final days of the 1964 NL pennant race. For anyone who thought they’d lie down against the Cardinals, think again. All Al Jackson did was outpitch future Hall-of-Famer Bob Gibson to snap the club’s eight-game losing streak.

Jackson’s best accomplishment was holding Bill White to an 0-for-4. White had driven in a run in each of his previous 9 games. Jackson credited his dipping sinker as the reason why he was so good in this game.

The Cardinals spent much of the game impersonating the Mets, making 3 errors. They loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, but Jackson got Dick Groat to line to Joe Christopher in right field to avoid any damage.

April 20, 1965 – Warren Spahn vs Dodgers

Line: 9 IP, 2 R, 8 H, 5 K, 1 BB (Mets 3, Dodgers 2)

Opponent: 97-65, 8th among 10 NL teams in runs scored

What They Wrote: “Warren Spahn gave every indication in 1964 that he was getting too old to remain a big winner in the majors. Apparently he stopped off somewhere between seasons for a vitamin pick-me-up that has taken a couple of years off his 43-year-old left arm.” – Mike Rathet, AP

Summary: This is one of the the weakest lines for any pitcher on our list, but let’s cut Warren Spahn some slack given that he was 4 days shy of his 44th birthday. This was his first win as a Met and 357th overall.

“This might be the biggest one of them all,” said Spahn, though that’s admittedly an in-the-moment exaggeration given that he was mad at his former manager with the Braves.

The overall pitching line may have been unimpressive relative to others, but the finish would rank among the most memorable. With the Mets leading 3-0 entering the bottom of the 9th, Spahn allowed 2 runs and faced runners at the corners with nobody out. He then struck out Jim Lefebvre (career whiff #2,500), got a comebacker from Ron Fairly  in which he erased the lead runner, and struck out John Kennedy to end the game.

August 26, 1965 – Tug McGraw vs Dodgers

Line:  7 2/3 IP, 2 R, 8 H, 5 K, 1 BB (Mets 5, Dodgers 2)

Opponent: 97-65, 8th among 10 NL teams in runs scored

They said it: “He had the poise of a 30-year-old veteran.” – Mets manager Wes Westrum

Summary: Tug McGraw’s pitching line won’t look as good as most of the others on this list, but we can cut him some slack given that he was only 20 years old, was starting on 3 days rest off a complete game, and was pitching against the unbeatable Sandy Koufax (who entered 13-0 in his career against the Mets).

McGraw noted after the game that “I’m not an expert pitcher” and cited some nifty defensive plays, including one in the eighth inning that resulted in Maury Wills being thrown out trying to stretch a hit into a double as being the biggest key to his victory. But he was definitely worthy of the standing ovation he got from nearly 46,000 fans when he left the game.

September 12, 1965 – Dick Selma vs Braves

Line: 10 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 13 K, 1 BB (Mets 1, Braves 0, 10 innings)

Opponent: 86-76, 2nd in NL in runs scored

They wrote it: “(He) attributed his success to the fact he’s familiar now with the “smaller baseball they use up here.” – The Associated Press explaining how Selma took a ball and carried it with him everywhere after his first losing start nine days earlier.

Summary: This was one of the early standard-setter starts in Mets history and left fans hopeful for big things for the Fresno moundsman. The 21-year-old Selma’s 13 strikeouts (all swinging, per newspaper reports) were a club record. He did it against a very good lineup. Though Hank Aaron was absent, the Braves still had Rico Carty, Felipe Alou, Eddie Mathews and Joe Torre. They went a combined 1-for-15.

“I always think I’ll win,” Selma said (newspapers said he said this modestly). “I just kept throwing the ball and waiting for us to get a run. We did and that was it.”

This was a crushing loss for the Braves. They entered the day 2 ½ games out of first place. They ended it 4 games out and in a few days, they were 6 games back and done for the pennant race.

Selma had good moments through a 10-year career in which he was labeled a flake and a court jester for his weird antics. He would be taken by the Padres in the 1969 expansion draft, serve as their Opening Day starter, get traded to the Cubs, and lose to the Miracle Mets three times.

October 2, 1965 – Rob Gardner vs Phillies

Line: 15 IP, 0 R, 5 H, 7 K, 2 BB (Tie, 0-0, 18 innings)

Opponent: 85-76, 6th among 8 NL teams in runs scored

They Wrote It: “The Mets weren’t all that worried about their rookie’s arm and he wasn’t either.” – Hannah Keyser reminiscing about the game 55 years later for Yahoo! Sports

Summary: There are a lot of absurdities to this game.

It’s the best by the Bill James stat, Game Score, in Mets history.

It was thrown by a guy whose MLB career to that point spanned 13 innings in four games.

And it came on a day in which the Mets played 27 innings against the Phillies (this was Game 2 of a doubleheader) and scored 0 runs.

Gardner was actually bummed that he got the hook after 15 scoreless innings, even though he struggled to get through the 15th. He also insisted that he’d pitched better games than this in the minors.

“I wasn’t eager to come out,” Gardner told the Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin (he was from Binghamton). “I didn’t realize until after I was out how tired I was. How tired I was.”

There’s a notable postscript to the story. Gardner became a fireman in his post-baseball career and was involved in the September 11 rescue effort.

I definitely suggest clicking the link on Hannah’s story to learn more.

May 4, 1966 – Jack Hamilton vs Cardinals

Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 6 K, 1 BB (Mets 6, Cardinals 0)

Opponent: 83-79, last in NL in runs scored

What they said: “You cost me a lot of money” – Jack Hamilton to Ray Sadecki, who had the lone Cardinals hit.

This is basically John Maine against the Marlins and Dwight Gooden against the Cubs, albeit with fewer strikeouts. Sadecki’s third-inning bunt single was the only hit the Cardinals could muster against Hamilton. In fact, they only hit two fair balls out of the infield against a pitcher who was oft-suspected of throwing a spitball.

“As long as they think I’m throwing a spitter, I’m in good shape,” said Hamilton, who retired the last 19 batters he faced.

The Cardinals spent most of the game doing a 1962 Mets impersonation. They committed six errors and managed only that one hit.

June 10, 1966 – Dick Rusteck vs Reds

Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 4 K, 1 BB

Opponent: 76-84, 4th among 10 NL teams in runs scored

What they wrote: “Two weeks ago, Dick Rusteck couldn’t throw and Eddie Bressoud couldn’t see.” – Lede to the AP game story

This is the best of the Mets debuts of the early years. If you prefer Steven Matz’s now, that’s fine, but this one’s for the oldtimers. The references to throwing and seeing were the Rusteck getting hit on the arm by a ball in the minor leagues and Bressoud’s newfound glasses by request of team management, respectively.

Rusteck dominated on the mound and got support from Bressoud, who hit two home runs.

In each case, success was temporary. Rusteck never won another major league game. Bressoud hit .225 that season and .134 the next, his final season in the majors.

May 28, 1969 – Jerry Koosman vs Padres

Line: 10 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 15 K, 2 BB (Mets 1, Padres 0, 11 innings)

Opponent: 52-110, last in NL in runs scored

They Said It: “Jerry was like a Koufax tonight.” – Mets pitching coach Rube Walker.

Summary: Jerry Koosman missed the first three weeks of May due to injury. But once healed, he put together one of the great pitching stretches in Mets history. Over a six-start span, he allowed only three runs and 32 hits in 53 innings, and struck out 53.

This was the first game in that streak, one in which Koosman set the club single-game record for strikeouts (it didn’t last long) against a hapless expansion team. In a bit of foreshadowing to the days of Johan Santana and Jacob deGrom, the Mets didn’t get him a win though. They triumphed an inning after Koosman departed on Bud Harrelson’s walk-off hit.

“That’s as well as I’ve ever pitched” said the second-year Met to reporters afterward. “I have no reason to believe my arm’s not strong again.”

His performance the rest of the season showed that to be true.

July 9, 1969 – Tom Seaver vs Cubs

Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 11 K, 0 BB (Mets 4, Cubs 0)

Opponent: 92-70, 3rd among 12 NL teams in runs scored

They Wrote It: “Tom Seaver, an erudite 24-year-old pitcher who more closely resembles a college valedictorian made hysteria tonight and missed history by a single pitch.” – George Langford, Chicago Press Service.

Summary: It’s a testament to how great Tom Seaver was that the articles about the game in the Chicago Tribune were glowing with positivity in describing his performance. And that’s fair given that it’s arguably the best-pitched game in Mets history.

“He had the best fastball I have ever seen him have,” Ron Santo said.

Said Cubs manager Leo Durocher: “Nobody was going to beat him tonight.”

This game is the standard by which all Seaver starts are measured. The only blemish on Seaver’s record was Jim Qualls’ single with one out in the ninth inning, one of 31 base hits he’d tally in an MLB career in which he registered a paltry .540 OPS. Paltry or not, he was good enough to put a dent in Seaver’s bid for a historic game.

“Qualls is a sticky little hitter,” Seaver told reporters afterwards. “It was like a drain opened up underneath my feet. All the pressure, everything was gone.”

Langford, the writer, noted that Tom Seaver was greeted by his crying wife. He had just the right kicker to close the piece.

“Nancy’s were happy tears. The Cubs tears weren’t so happy.”

October 6, 1969 – Nolan Ryan vs Braves

Line: 7 IP, 2 R, 3 H, 7 K, 2 BB (Mets 7, Braves 4)

Opponent: 93-69, 5th among 12 NL teams in runs scored

They Wrote It: “He throws so hard, muscles pop in his lower stomach.” – Dick Young, New York Daily News  

Summary: In this series, I’ve articulated my adoration for Sid Fernandez’s relief effort in Game 7 of the 1986 World Series and Roger McDowell’s yeoman’s work in Game 6 of that year’s NLCS. But those games have their true origin in Nolan Ryan’s relief work that clinched the 1969 pennant.

The Mets were down 2-0 in the third inning of Game 3 and Gary Gentry didn’t have it. He got hooked for Ryan with runners on second and third and nobody out after Hank Aaron’s double and with a 1-2 count on Rico Carty (after a long, hard foul ball). Though Ryan would sometimes frustrate Hodges, on this afternoon, he came through with flying colors. He escaped without allowing a run, striking out Carty and (after an intentional walk to Orlando Cepeda) Clete Boyer and getting Bob Didier to fly out to left field.

The Mets took the lead by the end of the fourth inning and then re-took it an inning later after the Braves gained a temporary edge on Cepeda’s two-run homer. Ryan began the fifth-inning rally with a single. He retired the side in order in three of the next four innings. There was no annoying wildness. Just outs, the ones that wrapped up a three-game sweep and sent the Mets to Baltimore.

October 12, 1969 – Jerry Koosman vs Orioles

Line: 8 2/3 IP, 1 R, 2 H, 4 K, 3 BB (Mets 2, Orioles 1)

Opponent: 109-53, 2nd in AL in runs scored

They Said It: “(I was) praying he’d pop it up or strike out or hit a grounder so we could go on to New York and take the rest of them,” Koosman describing the final at-bat of the game, a Brooks Robinson grounder to 3rd base with two men on base.

Summary: Everything Jerry Koosman touched in the postseason turned to gold. He made 6 starts for the Mets in the playoffs and the World Series. The Mets won all six. This was his best.

How good was it? Good enough to earn a loud ovation from Orioles fans at Memorial Stadium when he exited the game with 2 outs in the 9th inning.

Koosman took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning before it was broken up by Paul Blair’s leadoff hit. He had a particularly good curveball, though Blair’s hit came on one. 

This was a game with a lot of anxious moments, given that the Mets’ winning run didn’t come until the ninth inning. Koosman, whose son turned two that day, held up under the stress fine.

“I know I was more nervous than Jerry today,” said Lavonne Koosman, Jerry’s wife.

“If I were her, I’d have given birth in the seventh inning,” said Duffy Dyer’s wife, Lynn.

The Orioles did have their share of hard hits, but the Mets gloves got in the way.

“When a team hits the ball like we did, the other team doesn’t usually come away with a two-hitter,” said Orioles slugger Frank Robinson.

Ah, but Frank these were the 1969 Mets, a team for whom anything could happen.

October 15, 1969 – Tom Seaver vs Orioles

Line: 10 IP, 1 R, 6 H, 6 K, 2 BB (Mets 2, Orioles 1, 10 innings)

Opponent: 109-53, 2nd in AL in runs scored

They Wrote It: “When Tom Seaver was striking out Paul Blair to end the Orioles 10th, leaving Dave Johnson stranded on third, Joan Payson closed her eyes …”  – Gene Ward, Daily News

Summary: The two most frequently-referenced moments from Game 4 of the 1969 World Series are Ron Swoboda’s diving catch in the ninth inning and J.C. Martin’s game-winning botched bunt in the 10th inning.

Not frequently mentioned is Tom Seaver’s 150th and last pitch of the game in the 10th inning, a 1-and-2 curveball in the dirt that completely fooled Paul Blair. Seaver had missed with a curve that hung high on his previous offering, but this pitch was perfect and had Blair swinging out of his shoes, well out in front of it, and stranding the go-ahead run at third base.

That Seaver threw that good of a pitch 150 pitches into the game is an important part of his greatness. It was Seaver’s finest postseason pitch as a Met and punctuated a big bounceback from his Game 1 defeat.

Wrote Phil Pepe of the Daily News: “This was the real Tom Seaver.”

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