The Mets won on June 6th for the first time ever in 1967. That was during the Summer of Love when hits like “Light my Fire” by the Doors and “Incense and Pepperments” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock were on the airways. At that time, we’re talking AM Radio. Remember those transistor radios we would take to the beach or the pool?
On that date, to listen to the twi-night doubleheader in Pittsburgh, you would have had to tune to WJRZ AM. I cannot recall if the games were on WOR channel 9 that evening but if the Mets were televising, that would have been the only place to see them. In 1967 there was no SNY, Sportschannel, MSG, MLB Network, At Bat 12 app for your Droid, or anything else that back in 1967 that would have been assumed to be the stuff of science fiction. Speaking of science fiction, the original (and still the best) Star Trek TV series had completed it’s first season on NBC. Little did we know then that the devices Captain Kirk. Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy were carrying around would some day be real. But instead of communicating with starships, today we can talk and text each other and get the score of the Mets game no matter where we are.
What made the first of the twi-night contests interesting is that it was started by a young pitcher by the name of Tom Seaver. It was Seaver’s first year up with the big club. Seaver had a record of 4-3, on his way to a fine 16-13 season. After the season, he would be named 1967 National League Rookie of the Year.
June 6th, ’67 was also the day of the amateur draft. The Mets drafted left handed pitcher Jon Matlack as the fourth overall pick in the nation. It would turn out to be quite a day for the Mets.
Here’s the lineup Seaver would face in the opening game… Matty Alou, Maury Wills, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski, Donn Clendenon who in two years would help the Mets to their first world championship, Gene Ally and Jerry May. Seaver did just fine, shutting out the Bucs on four hits through six innings. Unfortunately the Mets could not score any runs either off of Pirate pitcher Dennis Ribrant. The game remained scoreless through nine innings.
In the top of the tenth, left fielder Willie Davis, who came to the Mets the previous winter from the Dodgers for Ron Hunt and Jim Hickman, singled. Second year player Cleon Jones came in the game and ran for Davis. Met legend Ed Kranepool struck out before second baseman Jerry Buchek singled, moving Jones to third. Third baseman Ken Boyer flied out, deep enough so Jones could score the game’s first run. The Mets led after ten and a half innings by the score of 1-0.
After catcher Jerry Grote grounded out to end the inning, Cleon Jones stayed in the game and played left field. Reliever Don Shaw, who had come into the game in the ninth, struck out Wills and Clemente before getting Stargell to pop out to end the game. The Mets took the opener 1-0.
Dick Selma started the second game for the Mets against Juan Pizzaro. In the second inning, first baseman Ron Swoboda (yes, first baseman) tripled in the first run of the game. It stayed that way until the Pirates third when Selma gave up two runs to give the Pirates a 2-1 lead. Like Swoboda’s run scoring hit, the Pirates’ two runs were also driven in as a result of a triple, this one from Willie Stargell.
Swoboda was in the thick of the Mets offense again, doubling in the fourth. The ball got passed center fielder Matty Alou for an error as Swoboda rounded the bases and scored the tying run.
Mets pitchers Selma, Bill Denehy, and Jack Hamilton combined to shut out Pittsburgh through the ninth. The Mets had not scored again so for the second game in the same day, the Mets and Pirates where headed to extra innings.
Young Ron Swoboda had accounted for both Mets runs in game 2. He tripled in the second driving in a run then doubled in the fourth and scored on a two base error. Swoboda led off the 10th and hit a bomb to deep center field, clearing the fence for a home run. The Mets led 3-2. Hamilton stayed in the game in the tenth and retired the Pirates only giving up a walk. The Mets won the game 3-2, sweeping the doubleheader.
It was a wonderful day to be a Mets fan. They had swept a doubleheader from the Pirates, a power house with future Hall of Fame players in the lineup. The Mets also drafted Jon Matlack earlier in the evening who would become a major pitching force a few years down the road.
But it was one day, not a season. In fact the Mets record at the conclusion of play on June 6, 1967 was 17-30. They were in tenth place fifteen games behind. The team was going nowhere.
However, there were clues as to what would be to come. Dominant pitching, specifically from a young man named Seaver, was on display. The Mets staff held the powerful Pirates to 3 runs in 20 innings. Players like Kranepool, Cleon Jones, Ed Charles, Bud Harrelson who had played shortstop in both ends of the doubleheader, Ron Swoboda who was the entire offense in game 2, a 24 year old catcher named Jerry Grote, all contributed that day. The seeds of a World Series champion were beginning to grow and bear fruit.
Also there was an indication of some magic with this team. The last place Mets win two 10 inning games by one run each. Perhaps a coincidence or maybe a sign that there was something special about this franchise.
Ultimately ’67 ended worse than 1966. The Mets lost 101 games and appeared to take a step backward. But 1968 would be better and 1969 became history. If in ’67, a last place team could show signs that a brighter future was on the way, can a team a game and a half out of first place today with a six game better than .500 record be showing similar signs for our future. I think it can and hopefully it will.
That’s the way it was June 6, 1967, 45 years ago today. And you can look it up.