Met fans are an interesting bunch.  Many have been the losing seasons in the Mets’ 53 season history, but something, somewhere, got its hook into each one of us, or we’d have tossed in the towel long ago and screamed “NO MAS!”  

I remember as a kid rewriting the Mets them song, Meet the Mets…”step right up and beat the Mets!”  But perhaps it had to do with a few of your and my favorite games, that drove the hook in deep.  We may have tried to wriggle off of it, but it has been impossible to do.

The song “My Favorite Things” was sung by Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music in 1965.  “These are a few of my favorite things…”  Back then, the Mets’ misery was apparent to all – when winning 53 games was a successful season!  But as they say, it is darkest just before the dawn.

Back in the 1960’s, the Mets wouldn’t wait until you were old like Dilson Herrera at 20 to call you up.  They called Eddie Kranepool up for a 6 at bat cameo when he was 17!!  And in 1966, in September to be precise, they called up one Nolan Ryan.  His first outing was the first of “A Few Of My Favorite Games”.

After all, I’d grown up watching a team that COULDN’T STRIKE ANYONE OUT.  I believe, and I could be wrong if someone wants to check, that the Mets’ single game strikeout record by a pitcher was 10, in their 5th season.  How pathetic is that.  And as a kid, I noticed that.  This team couldn’t strike anyone out!

So as a kid who used to buy the Sporting News to see how guys in the minors were doing (yeah, I even following the minors stats back then) I noticed Nolan Ryan running up ridiculous strikeout #’s, 300 in 202 minor league innings in 1966 as it turned out, mostly in A ball with a few innings in AA.  So was I excited when they called him up!!

Even more exciting was watching his first outing against the power-laden Braves, the team of Aaron, Torre-in-his-prime, Eddie Matthews, Felipe Alou and Rico Carty.   Here, David, let me introduce you to Goliath.  They scored nearly 800 runs that year, and hit 207 HRs.  A deadly offensive opponent

The Mets had their ace (Dennis Ribant) going that day.  He started the day 11-6, unheard of for a Met pitcher in those first 5 years, and sported an ERA well under 3.00 at 2.67.  But these were the Braves…he got hammered, and was followed by Dick Selma, who tossed a very nice 4 2/3 of relief. 

THEN, IN THE 6TH, THE TEXAN GUNSLINGER HEADED TO THE MOUND – NOLAN RYAN.  My eyes were glued to the set, and I prayed the black and white picture would not roll while he was pitching.  I remember seeing the first laser Ryan threw.  I couldn’t believe my eyes!

His first batter was an easy one, the pitcher, Pat Jarvis. Punched him out!  Then .300+ hitting Felipe Alou flew out and Eddie Matthews (Hall of Fame Eddie Matthews, mind you) got caught looking, for a 3 up, 3 down, 2 K inning!!!

So they sent Nolan out for the 7th, too.  Another easy inning shaping up.  Hank Aaron (yep, that Hank Aaron) steps in and grounded out, 1B to pitcher covering – guess he couldn’t get around on the heat.  Then 34 homer, .314 hitting Joe Torre stepped in, and made it homer # 35.  Welcome to the big leagues, Private Ryan.   Then another milestone, as he walked deadly slugger Rico Carty, his first of 1000’s of career walks surrendered.   A guy with a familiar first name, Mack Jones, stepped in and lined out.  C’mon, Nolan, where are the K’s?  Denis Menke, thank you, struck out swinging to allow the gunslinger to do that cowboy strut back to the dugout.   A saunter he would replicate for 27 major league seasons!

2 innings, a homer, a walk, and 3 K’s.  And I was more excited at the end of those two innings than I was before he started pitching.  I’d seen a guy who threw harder than Koufax!!  On the Mets!!!

A VERY bright beacon of hope in a 5th straight, 100 loss +, last place finish season.

The next year, another beacon showed up – a guy from Fresno named Tom Seaver.  Little could I have imagined that those two fireballers together, Tom and Nolan, would combine for over 9300 strikeouts.

And little did I realize that just 3 years after that Ryan September 1966 outing, the Mets would be moving into first place and on their way to winning a World Series.

Yep, that was my first favorite Met game, September 11, 1966.

Nolan Ryan had one more outing that year, against Houston, and he got roughed up in his one inning, but recorded all 3 outs on Ks.  Six in 3 innings…a harbinger of things to come for the Mets.

I plan on writing about a handful more of regular season games in the days ahead. Hope you get to share the memories of those too.

I am going to go up to, but prior to, the Gooden era, games in the early era that drove the hook in deep and helped keep me a Met fan over these decades into the 2000s while another team in another borough won so often that if being a fan were a logical decision, I’d have switched brands long ago.

But what about you – do you remember Ryan’s debut?  First, I should ask if you were born by then!


Hobie said...

Thanks for the memories, Tom. Not so much that game, which I confess escapes the neural net, but of those days of scouring the Sporting News A, B, C & D league stats and awaiting phenom arrivals.

So my somewhat analogous story is that I was hyped over a guy named Don Locke. Went something like 18-8 with 250K in 200 IP at Auburn one year (and batted >.300) and made it to the Show in 1964. That year I attended every Shea doubleheader (8 in all I think), including two in three days in Aug vs. Houston. Anyway got to see Don Locke start/win the nightcap of one, beating Don Larsen. Predicted big things… bigger than Grover Powell even… alas.

Thomas Brennan said...

Nothing like beating Don Larsen! Good story, Hobie. Tough to get to the show, and tougher to stay.

Mack Ade said...

The thing I remember the most about Ryan in those days was his wildness and the fact that he wasn't any big loss to the fan base...

the Dodgers had a guy like that in the late 50s... high 90s... Danny McDevitt... just couldn't find the catcher's mitt

Hobie said...

Two words, Mack.

Karl Spooner.

Mack's Mets © 2012