Mets History: Tom Seaver records win number 20 in 1969

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 24: Hall of Famer Tom Seaver is introduced at Clark Sports Center during the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony on July 24, 2011 in Cooperstown, New York. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 24: Hall of Famer Tom Seaver is introduced at Clark Sports Center during the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony on July 24, 2011 in Cooperstown, New York. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

Tom Seaver accomplished more than any other pitcher in New York Mets history. On September 5, 1969, he became the first in franchise history to win 20 games.

A few days after Labor Day, 1969, the New York Mets had already won more games than they had in any of their previous seven seasons. Tom Seaver and the 77-56 Mets faced the fifth-place Phillies for a Friday twi-night doubleheader on September 5 at Shea Stadium.

Second-place New York had cut a 10-game mid-August deficit in half and had a chance to draw even closer since the first-place Cubs had already lost that afternoon at Wrigley Field.

Seaver took the mound with a record of 19-7 for the year. It was his 99th career start and to that point, he had a 51-32 mark, 550 strikeouts, 2.49 ERA, 44 completes games and 10 shutouts. He had blanked the Giants five days earlier for his third shutout of the year—he would blank two more teams in September.

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Seaver’s most notable shutout occurred on July 9, when he came within two outs of a perfect game at packed Shea during a crucial series with the Cubs. In a season—and career—filled with memorable wins, Seaver’s “Imperfect Game” stands above the rest.

Perfection went out the door quickly on September 5, 1969, as John Briggs bunted his way on to lead off the game for the Phillies. Catcher Jerry Grote gunned down Briggs trying to steal and Seaver finished off the inning by fanning first baseman Dick Allen, the first of his seven strikeouts.

After the Mets went down in order against lefty Grant Jackson, Seaver issued a walk to Johnny Callison to start the second. It was his only free pass issued in the game, but it came back to haunt him as Deron Johnson followed with a triple. The field offered little help for the Mets ace. As Red Foley explained in the New York Daily News, “Three of Philly’s hits, although they weren’t gifts, could be attributed to the condition of an outfield that had been turned into a squishy bog by recent rains.”

One such “gift” came off the bat of Mike Ryan, whose flyball fell in front of left fielder Rod Gaspar, but the slow-footed Johnson held his ground at third base. He never scored. Seaver got Don Money to pop up and Jackson to ground out to strand both runners.

The Mets did not get the ball out of the infield in the bottom of the inning, but the Phillies were all thumbs. The Mets hit three would-be double-play balls, and the Phillies botched them all. Allen booted the first one to put runners on the corners.

After a walk loaded the bases, Jackson deflected another tailor-made DP ball and it went for a game-tying single. Seaver’s one-out grounder to short should have ended the inning, but Weis expertly broke up the double play and Money could not make a return throw to first. He did throw home to try to catch Gaspar, but Ryan botched the catch and a third run crossed the plate.

That was all Seaver needed. He retired nine straight batters after getting the lead. After Briggs doubled to start the sixth, Seaver went through the lineup again without a hit. Briggs collected his third of Philadelphia’s five hits—a triple—in the eighth, but Seaver left him stranded once more. After Grote provided insurance with a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to make it 5-1, Seaver breezed through the heart of the Philadelphia order in the ninth, striking out Callison and Johnson to earn his 20th victory.

The Mets wound up splitting the doubleheader with Philadelphia—the second-game loss in a pennant race left Seaver dejected enough to not go out on the town with wife Nancy to celebrate his 20th win—but he beat the Cubs in his next start to put the Mets a mere half-game behind Chicago. The Mets took over first place the following night and the celebrations soon followed.

Beginning with Seaver’s start against the Phillies, the Mets finished with a 23-6 mark to win 100 games and take the National League East handily. Seaver won his last 10 decisions in 1969, going the distance in each of his last eight starts. He finished the year as one of the game’s biggest stars: 25-7 record, 2.21 ERA, 208 strikeouts, Cy Young Award, Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, and a world championship ring. With ticker tape raining down on him in midtown in October 1969, Seaver was still just 24 years old.

Today there is plenty of talk about wins for pitchers being random—more luck than skill. Seaver would disagree. His goal was to finish what he started—a sentiment shared by many of his peers during one of the greatest eras for pitchers. When you complete 18 of 35 starts, as Seaver did in 1969, you’re going to win a lot. He surpassed that complete game total two more times—and equaled it twice more.

A 311-game winner, he completed 231 of his 647 career starts—a completion ratio of 35.7 percent. Seaver completed 43.3 percent of his starts as a Met (171 of 395).

Four years after his first Cy Young, Seaver repeated the feat, becoming the first Cy Young winner not to win 20. Voters were swayed by his 2.08 ERA, 290 innings, and 251 strikeouts, not to mention helping the Mets go from last to first in the final month of the 1973 season.

After an uncharacteristically mediocre 1974 season, he won the award again in 1975, the first right-hander to ever claim three Cy Youngs. He had 22 wins, a 2.38 ERA, and a league-leading 243 strikeouts. He also established a major league record with his eighth straight 200-K season.

And Seaver easily could have won two more Cy Young Awards—losing out to Chicago’s Ferguson Jenkins in 1971 despite a 1.76 ERA and 289 strikeouts (both league and career bests), but Jenkins had 24 wins to Seaver’s 20 and that made the difference at a time when Baseball Writers Association voters deemed wins as the most important number for pitchers.

Next. The Mets have a rich history with doubleheaders

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A decade later—following a heartbreaking trade to the Cincinnati Reds—Seaver (14-2, 2.54 ERA) missed the ’81 Cy Young by three votes to rookie sensation Fernando Valenzuela of the Dodgers. Seaver returned to the Mets in 1983 to burnish his already untouchable team records. His ’69 win total still tops a team category The Franchise started—and dominated.

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