Shea Stadium from the top as the Mets play their first game in the new ballpark against the Pirates.
(Originally published by the Daily News on Saturday, April 18, 1964, written by Dick Young)
You take a shabby downtrodden bunch of Mets, and you wrap them in a spanking new ballpark that cost somebody $ 25 million bucks and what have you got? A shabby, downtrodden bunch of Mets, still losing, this time 4-3 to Pitt, and thereby christening Shea Stadium with tears of defeat.
For a time yesterday, the 48,736 howlers wallowing in the excelsior freshness of the luxurious ballpark, believed their beggars had become princes, but a 3-1 lead was eventually blown, a run at a time, as Willie Stargell, a four-hit man, carried the winning run across in the ninth.
AND WHO KNOCKED him in with a hit off reliever Ed Bauta? Bill Mazeroski, an old friend of Casey Stengel. There was a day, in 1960, when the Old Man managed the Yankees for the last time. Maz hit one over the fence that day to beat him in the World Series.
This time, only a single was needed. Stargell had hit to center with one down in the ninth, then sped to third on Donn Clendenon’s smash past diving Ron Hunt on the right side. Hunt then made a tremendous knee-buckling grab of Bob Bailey’s belt-high liner for the second out, but Maz singled up the middle for the tie breaker.
STRAGELL, WHO bats cleanup for the Bucs, began his glory day with the first home run to be stroked in big Shea. He drove Jack Fisher’s first serve in the second inning over the wall of beige brick in right, and sent lumber-jacked fans scrambling down the walkway for the souvenir.
That 1-0 edge was nursed into the fourth when the Mets exploded for three runs and had the New Breed howling so loud you couldn’t hear the planes skimming the left stands from LaGuardia Airport.
Till then, the Mets had only one bungle off Bob Friend, an old enemy. Friend, who was to go the distance and become 9-0 against the Mets, had been tapped for a third-frame single to right. Timmy Harkness, if he could say nothing else, can always say that he got the first Met hit in the new ballpark – and he can say nothing else at the moment.
RON HUNT opened the fourth with a drive to deep right. Roberto Clemente raced as though with the ball, and when you see Clemente’s arm go up, backhanded, you figure he is a sure thing to suck it up. But this time, the ball banged off his glove-tip and plunked onto the crushed brick path for a double.
“My foot sink just as I reach for the ball,” Roberto explained later. “I lose my balance.”
His foot sank in the rain-soaked new sod, which was particularly mushy in the outfield, and exceptionally so at the rim, which is where Clemente reached for the ball.
IF YOU MUST have bad underfooting it might as well work for the Mets – and it did. That break opened the muddy gates for three runs. Jesse Gonder followed with a hit past Maz’ dive on the right side, and Hunt came sliding home with the tying run.
At least ump Tom Gorman said he made it ahead of Clemente’s fine peg. Catcher Jim Pagliaroni and manager Danny Murtaugh thought otherwise. Murtaugh and Gorman stood around shouting Gaelic at each other for five minutes, while Pagliaroni couldn’t get in a word.
THE FANS RELISHED this first serving of pungent rhubarb in their new hash house, then roared with glee as Frank Thomas’ ensuing bounce up the middle struck the bag and trickled into center for a hit. The break came just as Maz was about to scoop the ball and toss to Dick Schofield for the force – and when things start going for you like that, you have to believe that this is your day, Casey Stengel.
He believed it when Hickman was struck on the right hand with a pitch to load the bases and Amade Samuel drilled a double into left for two runs.
NOW IT WAS 3-1 Mets with men on second and third and still none out – and it seemed as if the Mets would get a dozen. But these are still Mets, and their rallies stop as quickly as they begin.
Burright tapped to the box, and the runners held. Fisher tried a safety squeeze, and it was so safe that Larry Elliott, subbing for sore-pawed Hickman, didn’t get two steps off third as Friend threw out the batter. Then Harkness skied to left and the Mets settled for 3-1.
Next frame it was 3-2 as Clemente singled after two outs and Stargell the star doubled down the right-center slot and over the straining reach of Altman, who was also slowed a needed step by the squishy sod.
THE KNOTTER CAME in the seventh, again after two outs. Of the 16 Buc hits, in fact, nine came after two men were out – including the big one by Maz. If not for such poor timing, the Bucs, who outhit the Mets 16-7, would have romped.
Clemente came up with two down in the seventh and stroked his third straight single to center. Stargell bounced another through the right side, and Stengel decided he had gone far enough with Fisher, even on Friday. Ed Bauta relieved, facing Clendenon, a righty hitter – and here, something strange occurred.
Young fans look on to the field ahead of the first ever Mets game at Shea Stadium against the Pirates.
CLENDENON was fooled by Bauta, and sent a slow hopper to the right of second. It seemed, at first look, an easy ball to field. Then, suddenly, you realized the shortstop wasn’t going to get it. He had been fading the batter severely in the hole tight toward third. The ball oozed past and on to the heavy sod in the short left-center – and Clemente spun home with the knotter.
“I was playing him bad,” Samuel explained later, “because Bauta throws sinkers, inside.”
Now that the Bucs had caught them, it was only a matter of time because the Mets don’t do much with Friend. The runs they had scored in the fourth, in fact, were the first they had earned off him in 51 innings, dating back to the middle of 1962.
Aside from the four straight hits in that inning, they were to get just three off Friend; the historic first by Harkness, a second bouncer through the right hole by Jesse Gonder, and scratcher into short gap by Elliot.
THEN CAME THE inevitable in the ninth, when Stargell went 4-4. He is a svelte testimonial to 4-4. He is a svelte testimonial to Pitt front office. Willie showed up 2 pounds lighter than he had finished last season. Ask him how he did it, and he says he gave up eating that greasy kid’s stuff.
As for the Mets; when they were born, they went nine games before winning. Last year they were 0-8. Now they are only 0-3. There is plenty of time.
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