As the Mets finish up a weekend series in Minnesota (which will be in a perpetual state of limbo until August 19), today’s “Glory Days” profiles a famous Miracle Met who came from just south of the Great White North: Jerry Koosman.
Dateline: July 21, 1968. The Mets are in St. Louis for the second game of a doubleheader. New York lost a tough one to Bob Gibson in the afternoon, and hot rookie Jerry Koosman was looking to get his team back on track and keep up his first stellar full season in the bigs.
Koosman and Redbird starter Nelson Briles were engaged in a knock-down, drag-out duel all evening. The first three innings went by uneventfully, but the fourth frame produced scoring threats for both teams. Cleon Jones took a leadoff walk and Ed Kranepool singled to put Jones in scoring position. J.C. Martin popped out, but Ron Swoboda got hit by a pitch to load the bases. Jerry Buchek couldn’t come through, however, grounding into a 5-4-3 double play to end the threat. Ron Davis doubled off Koosman to lead off the bottom of the fourth, but Jerry buckled down to retire Julian Javier, Orlando Cepeda, and Mike Shannon all in a row.
In the top of the sixth Cleon Jones again got a rally going with a one-out single. Kranepool’s groundout advanced Jones to second, and J.C. Martin came through with a single to break the scoreless tie. New York squandered the opportunity to put more runs on the board, but the way their man was working on the mound, that solitary run may have been all he needed.
The Cardinals’ last real threat came in the seventh inning. After Koosman struck out Cepeda and Shannon for the first two outs, he allowed singles to Johnny Edwards and Bobby Tolan, threatening the shutout. But Jerry forced Dal Maxvill (what a great name) to line out to defensive replacement Tommie Agee in center to end the inning, and Koosman faced no real trouble for the rest of the game, finishing off the night with two more strikeouts of Cepeda and Shannon. Final score: Mets 1, Cardinals 0. Koosman’s final line on his 13th win of the season: a complete-game, four-hit shutout with a lone walk and 12 strikeouts.
While the Year of the Pitcher may have inflated his stats to a certain degree, Koosman was nevertheless outstanding during the 1968 season. His ERA stayed below 2.00 for most of the season before a rough outing on September 24 knocked it up to 2.12. But a stellar complete game on the final Saturday of the year gave him a final ERA of 2.08 to go along with his 19 Ws. Along with the first of his two All-Star appearances, Jerry finished second in the voting for National League Rookie of the Year, losing by one vote to some Cincinnati catcher named Johnny Bench.
The Mets finished 1968 with 73 wins, the most in franchise history, and sported a cavalcade of potential future stars, including a budding rotation led by Koosman, Nolan Ryan, Jim McAndrew, and lest we forget, Terrific Tom Seaver. The next year’s team would, of course, honestly shock the world by becoming its champions.
Koosman spend his career in Flushing overshadowed by the man they called “The Franchise,” but the Mets’ #2 would outlast #1 by a season and a half. A year after Koosman finished second in the 1976 Cy Young voting, Seaver was traded to the Reds in the Midnight Massacre, leaving Jerry the ace of the staff. Unfortunately, it was around that time that Koosman’s age finally caught up with him, and he lost 20 games for the 98-loss New Yorkers. After winning only three more games in 1978, he was traded back home to the Minnesota Twins in an offseason deal that would eventually bring Jesse Orosco into the Mets organization. Koosman pitched seven more seasons between the Twins, White Sox, and Phillies before retiring after his 42-year-old season in 1985. He received only four votes in his sole Hall of Fame ballot in 1991, but that doesn’t diminish the 12 outstanding seasons he spent playing in front of the Shea Faithful.
July 21. A good day for Randy Johnson in 2008 (first pitcher to strike out 2,000 batters for two different teams) and the legend of the 1962 Mets in…well, 1962 (Marv Throneberry’s error dooms a third straight complete game from a New York starter). Also a good day for Jesse James and his gang in 1873 (pull off the first successful train robbery in the Old West). A bad day for the Union Army in 1861 (lose the First Battle of Bull Run) and Joe Torre in 1975 (hits into four straight double plays in a game for the Mets). A great day for Jerry Koosman in 1968.