Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Shea Quest '08: How about Seaver, for openers

Shea Memory No. 5: April 8, 1975. Mets 2, Phillies 1

Tom Seaver took the mound on Opening Day 16 times for three teams. And I witnessed the best of those games in 1975.

My grandmother was my baseball buddy, and took me to the first game of the 1975 season, a huge deal because we knew Seaver was pitching. We even asked for seats on the third base side because we thought we’d have a better view of the right-handed hero.

Then, as now, I drag companions to the stadium as the gates first open. After snagging a program, we hurried out to our field level seats and I ran right down to the rail by the Phillies dugout.

And there was the recently traded Tug McGraw, in his powder blue and maroon Phillies road uniform, about to be interviewed by Ron Swoboda, then a sportscaster.

Two Mets heroes!

I remembered that one of Swoboda’s baseball cards said his nickname was “Rocky.” I’d never heard that before, but Topps wouldn’t make stuff up, right?

Mustering up all the courage an 11-year-old unsure of his facts could muster, I broke out a “Hi, Rocky!”

Swoboda looked up, said “Hi,” and went back to whatever he was doing. But I, having experienced a conversation – of sorts – with the player who made the amazing diving catch of the 1969 World Series, was pretty darn thrilled.

But the main business at hand was a stellar match-up of Tom and Steve Carlton, the third year in a row these future first-ballot Hall of Famers would battle on Opening Day.

The Phils took the lead in the third when Bob Boone walked, went to second when Carlton sacrificed and scored on a Dave Cash double.

But the Mets tied it in the fourth when celebrated acquisition Dave Kingman launched his first Met home run.

Seaver and Carlton proceeded to match zeros. Then in the bottom of the ninth, Felix Millan singled and moved to second when John Milner walked. Then, as if called for in the script, the other celebrated off-season acquisition, Joe Torre, singled home Millan for a walk-off win.

Both starters went the distance – Carlton is credited with only eight innings because the Mets scored before making an out in the ninth – which is something you’d never see today.

And both were masterful. Seaver gave up six hits but struck out nine, including future Hall-of-Famer Mike Schmidt three times.

Carlton only gave up four hits and two walks, done in when three of those seven trips to first happened in a row.

Seaver and Carlton would pair up on Opening Day again, in 1981 when Tom was with the Reds. Again, there was a 1-1 tie when each left late in the game, this one ending with a walk-off walk at the hands of the bullpen.
And it's only appropriate that Carlton was on the hill for the Phillies again when Tom made his glorious homecoming on Opening Day 1983.

Check out Seaver’s Opening Day performances:

Yr: IN H ER R BB K HR
1968 8.1 7 4 3 0 3 1 ND
1969 5 6 4 2 3 5 1 ND
1970 8 9 3 3 0 5 0 ND
1971 5 4 2 2 4 4 0 W
1972 6 5 0 0 0 6 0 W
1973 7.2 5 0 0 2 8 0 W
1974 7 7 3 3 0 8 0 ND
1975 9 6 1 1 2 9 0 W
1976 7 5 1 1 1 8 0 W
1977 7 9 3 3 1 7 1 W
1978 3 6 5 5 0 3 3 ND
1979 1.2 6 7 4 1 0 0 L
1981 8 6 1 1 3 4 0 ND
1983 6 3 0 0 1 5 0 ND
1985 6.2 5 2 2 2 3 0 W
1986 5.1 7 5 5 0 3 2 L

There are a couple nice games in there – and one terrible day in 1979 with the Reds – but I still think that 1975 duel with Carlton was the best of the lot. And it’s a Shea memory that will last forever.

1 comment:

G-Fafif said...

This may be the most underrated Opener in Mets history. I cut Hebrew School in order to watch it to conclusion. A perfect bookend for the '83 return of Tom.