The Mets are hoping a change of scenery is what they needed as they begin a weekend series against the Brewers tomorrow. So today on “Glory Days,” we’ll profile a man whose true days of glory came when he was a Milwaukee (and Boston) Brave. If you thought Richie Ashburn was past his prime when he played for the Mets, meet Warren Spahn.
Dateline: April 20, 1965. In what would be his final season with the team, Casey Stengel led the not-so-Amazin’s out west to take on the eventual world champion Los Angeles Dodgers. On the mound for New York was the legendary Warren Spahn, whose contract was purchased by the Mets during the offseason. Spahn was 44 and coming off his worst season in the bigs but had started out his Shea tenure with a quality start six days earlier (much like our current ballclub, they couldn’t score for him either and lost). But Spahn was about to have an even better day going up against Claude Osteen of the former Brooklynites.
Flash forward seven innings: the game had started knotted up and it had yet to be untied as both the Mets and Dodgers had failed to score a run. But in the top of the 8th, Chris Cannizzaro led off with a single and was pinch-run for by Johnny Lewis. After Spahn bunted Lewis to second, Cleon Jones hit a single to center that sent him to third. Up came Roy McMillan to perform the ultimate in small-ball: the squeeze play. And squeeze he did, sacrificing himself to bring home Lewis and finally break the so-far glacial ice. Spahn did his job, retiring the first two Dodgers and getting out of trouble from a two-out triple to end the inning.
In the 9th, pinch-hitter Ed Kranepool, the real Mr. Met, hit a single to center. After Charley Smith fouled out, Billy Cowan attempted to bunt Kranepool over to second. But Cowan would get much more than that as LA pitcher Bob Miller threw the ball away, sending the runners to second and third. Bobby Klaus walked and that was it for Miller; Ron Perranoski was called on to get the Dodgers out of the jam. But the speedy hero of the last inning, Johnny Lewis, delivered this time with his bat, slashing a single that scored both Kranepool and Cowan and gave New York a seemingly-insurmountable 3-0 lead. Warren Spahn, unfortunately, was about to make things much more interesting.
Wes Parker led off the bottom of the 9th with a single, then Willie Davis reached on a groundball Kranepool couldn’t handle. Tommy Davis and John Roseboro each singled and all of a sudden the Mets were clinging to a 3-2 lead (see how important a good insurance policy is?). But Spahn dug deep and showed the grit that would eventually land him a plaque on the wall in Cooperstown: he struck out Jim Lefebvre, got Ron Fairly to ground into a fielder’s choice, then sat down (the other) John Kennedy by way of the K, earning his first win as an M-E-T and 357th overall. His line the next day showed up as follows: 9 innings, 8 hits, 2 runs (1 earned), 1 BB, 5 K.
Unfortunately for Spahn and the Mets, that gem in front of 36,161 Californians at Chavez Ravine was as good as it would get. He won only three more games in a New York uniform while losing 12, and the 50-112 Mets would finish dead last for the fourth straight year. Spahn was released on July 17 and signed with San Francisco two days later, winning the final three games of his career out west. The 1965 season is a forgotten footnote on the illustrious career of one of the finest pitchers to ever play the game: he won 363 games, the most ever for a southpaw, and took home the Cy Young Award in 1957, the year his Milwaukee Braves broke New York City’s eight-year streak of World Series victories. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1973, his first “official” year on the ballot (some renegade sportswriter voted for him prematurely in 1958).
April 20. A good day for Addie Joss in 1910 (tossed his second career no-hitter) and Tom Seaver in 1967 (collected his first major league win). Also the last good day for the Red Baron in 1918 (shot down his 79th and 80th victims before losing a dogfight, and his life, the next day). A bad day for the United States Army in 1861 (Robert E. Lee resigns his commission in order to fight for the Confederacy) and anything living in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 (Deepwater Horizon explosion). A great day for Warren Spahn in 1965.