(Long Island, NY) Baseball in April is always special, and the home opener is a day that breathes new life into the players and fans alike. Trying to forget about the Mets’ September collapse was made easier by the return of baseball in New York, National League style.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Mets hosted the Philadelphia Phillies at a brisk but sun drenched Shea Stadium for their home opener after beginning the 2008 campaign 2-3 after stops in Florida and Atlanta. Lefthander Oliver Perez took the hill for the Amazin’s after moving up to the number two spot in the starting rotation following Pedro Martinez’s hamstring injury in Game Two against the Marlins, and picked up where he left off a year ago. Perez won 15 games in 2007 and battled fellow southpaw Jamie Moyer inning for inning. Unfortunately for the Mets, the bullpen blew a 2-0 seventh inning lead and fell to the reigning NL East champions, 5-2.
To celebrate the closing of Shea and the impending 2009 opening of Citi Field, the Mets retired Bill Shea’s name and placed it on the ring of honor, just to the left of their first field boss, the great Casey Stengel’s uniform number 37. The organization also has a countdown of home dates left on the outfield wall, which stated’81’ at first pitch.
Looking back on some of the great moments at Shea, it is easy to remember some of the more magical moments. Here are a few of them:
1- April 17, 1964 – The inaugural game at Shea Stadium after two seasons playing at the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan. The borough of Queens welcomed their lovable losers, who predictably dropped a 4-3 decision to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Leftfielder Willie Stargell went four for five and drove in two runs while Bob Friend threw a complete game, seven-hitter for the Bucs.
2- July 7, 1964 – The All-Star Game was held at the new ballpark and the National League defeated their junior circuit brethren by a score of 7-4. Bill Robinson, who would later become a key member of the Mets’ coaching staff in the 1980s, drove in two runs and the NL’ers scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning for the win. The winning pitcher was the great Juan Marichal.
3- October 16, 1969 – What would be called one of the biggest upsets in World Series history, the upstart Mets became champions by defeating the Baltimore Orioles, 5-3. Jerry Koosman went all the way, and when future Met manager Davey Johnson hit a fly ball to Cleon Jones in left field, the Mets won the series, four games to one.
4- October 8, 1973 – During Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson and Cincinnati Reds superstar Pete Rose had a fight at second base, following Rose’s attempt to break up a double play. The diminutive Harrelson stood his ground and stood up to the larger and thicker hit king, and the result was a bench-clearing brawl. The Mets defeated the Big Red Machine in the series to win the pennant, but fell to the Swingin’ A’s in seven games in the World Series.
5- April 5, 1983 – The Midnight Massacre of 1977 was forgiven just a bit when Tom Seaver was traded back to the Mets. The returning hero received a standing ovation from the large crowd as he strolled in from the right field bullpen after warming up prior to the game. Seaver allowed only three hits in six innings, but had a no decision in the 2-0 win over Steve Carlton and the Phillies.
6- October 27, 1986 – The Mets won their second World Championship with a Game Seven 8-5 win over Boston. Darryl Strawberry and series MVP Ray Knight went long in support of four Met pitchers to wrap up one of the most exciting World Series in years.
7- September 21, 2001 – In the first game back at Shea after the 9-11 attacks, the Mets honored the rescue workers by wearing baseball caps with the NYPD, FDNY, PAPD and EMS patches. Mike Piazza’s two-run home run off Steve Karsay in the bottom of eighth gave the Mets an emotional 3-2 win over Atlanta.
These dates may have just scratched the surface of the memories at Shea. Hopefully there will be a final chapter added this October.