The 1969 New York Mets are by far, up to this point, the greatest Orange and Blue team ever assembled in their history. They have never finished above 9th place, let alone with a winning record. On June 2, 1969, however, the Mets have the chance to do what no Met team has done in the prior 8 seasons: be at the .500 mark this late into the season, which would send a message to the entire league that the formerly bumbling Mets franchise is for real. Carrying a 4-game winning streak into the day, the Mets stand at 22-23, 8 1/2 games out of 3rd place. They are more than ready to take down their ancestors, the Dodgers, after sending their other ancestors, the Giants, out of town without a victory.
In front of 22,600 patrons, the southpaw, Jerry Koosman, toes the rubber for the Metropolitans. The Dodgers stand in at 28-18, just a 1/2 game behind the Atlanta Braves in the West. The right fielder, Bill Russell, walks up to the plate to lead the game off against Koos, but is quickly put down as Jerry gets him to strike out looking with his wicked fastball. Mets fans in attendance will have to wait another 43 years to see the first no-hitter in team history, as the center fielder, Willie Davis, singled up the middle. Koosman walks the 1st baseman, Wes Parker, to put 2 on with 1 out. He gets the left fielder, Andy Kosco, to strikeout looking, however, and the 3rd baseman, Bill Sudakis, to fly out to right, removing himself from the 1st unscathed.
The Dodgers have their own southpaw going in Claude Osteen, who has a 7-3 record with an ERA just 3.00. While he gives up a 2-out single to Center Fielder Tommy Agee, he gets through the 1st unscathed as well.
The game stays scoreless in the early innings, the southpaws exchanging zero after zero. Brisk winds whip around the top of Shea Stadium, and it becomes a factor in the bottom of the 4th. Tommy Agee leads off with a single but is forced out at 2nd on a ground ball by Right Fielder Cleon Jones. Left Fielder Ron Swoboda flies out to right field. It looks as if Agee’s hit will be squandered, but Osteen walks 3rd Baseman Ed Charles, pushing Agee over to 2nd. The next batter, Catcher Jerry Grote, hits a very high pop fly to the 3rd base side, not quite to the outfield grass. Sudakis, the 3rd baseman, goes back but soon shows he is having trouble with the catch. The shortstop, Ted Sizemore, is alongside the 3rd baseman and could take charge to catch the ball. He has only recently been converted to the position, however, and is a little shy about giving way to the more experienced infielder in Sudakis. He fights the ball, twisting and turning, but as it comes down into his glove Sudakis cannot handle it and it drops for what is ruled a single. Agee scores and the Mets have a 1-0 lead. On the very next pitch, the 2nd baseman, Al Weis, drives a double to right field, plating Charles and sending Grote to 3rd. Jerry Koosman then strikes out looking to end the windy inning, carrying a 2-0 lead back out to the mound.
Koos just keeps on dealing. If a runner gets on, a double play erases him. Meanwhile, Claude Osteen keeps shutting the Mets lineup down as well. He ends up going 7 innings, 7 hits, 3 BB, 3 SO and 2 ER.
The top of the 8th arrives with Jerry still on the mound. He makes quick work of the catcher, Jeff Torborg, and get Ken Boyer, pinch-hitting for Osteen, to fly out to left field. Bill Russell arrives at the plate with visions in the Shea Faithful’s eyes of a 1-2-3 inning. It is not meant to be, as Bill Russell homers to ruin the shutout and cut the lead to 1. Willie Davis puts a charge into a pitch, but ends up flying out to left to end the inning.
Quick work is made of the Mets in the bottom half by relief pitcher Pete Mikkelsen, so Jerry Koosman walks out to the mound vying for a complete-game 1-run victory. Wes Parker leads off by drilling one to right field for a double, advancing to 3rd on the errant throw. With the tying run 90 feet away, it is time for the Mets to buckle down and show their true colors. Andy Kosco walks up to the plate as Jerry stares in. He checks the runner at 3rd, sets and pitches. Kosco pops the ball up to the 2nd baseman. Much as it was in the 4th inning, the wind still spins over the top of Shea, whistling a taunting hum to the young Mets fielders. In the past, these were the situations where the Mets would lose baseball games. This was where their pitchers would get frazzled with an error behind them and the game would become lost. On this day, in this year, however, Weis settles under it and makes the catch for out number 1. Up walks Bill Sudakis, the tying run only a flyball away. Koosman once again checks on Parker at 3rd. He sets, pitches…and Sudakis pops it up to the 3rd baseman, Ed Charles. Charles looks as if he is going to settle under it, but the wind keeps bringing the ball back to the plate. Charles stays with it, however, as Grote stays aside to let the 3rd baseman make the catch near home. 2 out.
Up walks the Dodgers’ 2nd baseman, Jim Lefebvre. The 22,600 people who have made their way to Shea stand on their feet, wanting their adolescent franchise to grow a couple inches taller. Koosman once again checks the runner on 3rd. Sets…and pitches a fastball that is hit high to left field. The flyball needed is a batter too late, as Ron Swoboda settles under it to make the catch and preserve the 2-1 Mets victory.
This is their 5th straight win in what turns out to be an 11-game winning streak. The Mets are never under .500 the rest of the year. They settle into winning baseball for most of the summer but never come within 4 games of 1st place, bottoming out at 10 games out on August 13. From there, however, they play the best baseball the Metsies have ever played, going on to win the division by 8 and…well…you know the rest.
And on Monday, June 2, 1969, a brick in the championship foundation is laid with this 2-1 win over those Dodgers from Los Angeles.
“This is collective maturity, nothing less, and it’s the reason the Mets and their followers have real hope of making the over-.500 neighborhood a permanent home before long.”
–Leonard Koppett, New York Times, 6/3/1969