The expectations for the 1970 New York Mets were never higher. Coming off a World Series title, with a dominant, healthy pitching staff intact and a revered manager, few doubted the Mets were primed for long, successful run.
The 1970 Mets pitching held up their part of the deal, leading the National League in ERA, strikeouts, fewest hits and runs allowed.
Tom Seaver picked up where he left off a year earlier. On April 22, Seaver struck out 19 in a 2-1 win over the San Diego Padres. But, despite strong pitching from Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry and Nolan Ryan, the Mets offense sputtered …
All they needed was a hot streak and they got one in June. After a five game losing streak they surged, winning 15 of the next 20 and ending June in first up two games on the surging Pirates, with the Cards and Cubs lurking about.
July saw the lead swap between the Pirates and the Mets. The Cubs were back a bit and the Cards dropped off. When August 1 rolled around, the Mets were 55-46, a half game ahead of Pittsburgh and two ahead of the Cubs. Seemingly having their offense back in gear, they were in a good position. Last year, they had a great finishing kick, and the New York press were expecting a repeat performance.
Not this year.
It started when they were swept in a doubleheader by the Padres scoring just two runs against the likes of Danny Coombs, Tom Dukes, Ron Willis and Dave Roberts. They split two games with the Cubs, then went on a 13-game road trip including stops in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. They survived the trip at 6-7 and emerged just three games back going into August 18th.
The nine game homestand to follow would be the Mets time, fans and media thought. The Reds were in for four, but the other teams shouldn’t be a problem. They split with the Reds, which was good, but split with Houston and lost two of three to the Braves. Then they lost three in a row at Houston before winning on August 31st at St. Louis.
The NL East was tight. The Mets were 1 ½ games behind, but in third behind the Pirates and Cubs.
They survived trips to St. Louis and Chicago without hurting themselves, then swept the Expos and won two of three from the Phillies. At 76-67, they were tied for first. This was IT, now. All they needed was to maintain the hot streak.
The Cards took two of three to finish the homestand. Then they went to Montreal and lost two of three to the Expos. The freakin’ Expos, as Sal from Queens would have said.
Back home, they started a four game set against the Pirates sitting two behind at 78-71. They needed to score some runs.
Steve Blass beat Jim McAndrew 3-2. Luke Walker beat Gentry 2-1, falling to third. They won game one of a Sunday doubleheader behind Koosman. Seaver was starting the nightcap against someone named Fred Cambria. Cambria had started just four games in the bigs, and was 1-2 with a 3.81 ERA. No contest.
They did score three runs off of Cambria and chased him in the sixth.
Unfortunately, the Mets scored three in the sixth (and five total) off of Seaver and he was done in the sixth as well.
The Mets tied it in the 7th when they plated two against John Lamb with help from Joe Gibbon and Dave Giusti. It was relief ace against relief ace, tied at five entering the 10th.
McGraw faced off against Willie Stargell, and Stargell clobbered one against McGraw, putting the Pirates up. After a single and a sacrifice, McGraw exited after 3 1/3 innings. He basically tried to save their season and almost did. Stargell could whack one against anyone.
But the Mets had no one left in the pen they trusted. Ron Taylor and Ron Herbel were out with tired, sore arms. Danny Frisella was a rook and didn’t look that great against the Pirates earlier in the series. Don Cardwell and Rich Folkers were questions rather than answers. Nolan Ryan was going to start the next game in Philly.
The season came down to…Dean Chance. The one time all-star was purchased on the 18th of September from Cleveland because of the issues with Taylor and Herbel. His all-star days were behind him, but he was a vet. Except that his arm was gone, too and he had no fastball, and didn’t adjust very well to the fact that he couldn’t just blow it past people anymore – which is why he was available.
His first appearance as a Met started with an intentional walk. He faced Gene Alley, not anyone’s pick to click. Fastball. BAM! Triple. Two runs scored. Then, to add insult to injury, Giusti pulled off a squeeze bunt scoring Alley.
That was it. The whole season, gone, with one swing of the bat by a meek hitting shortstop. Instead of down one against a tiring reliever, they were down 9-5, and fell by that score. They half-heartedly played out the string, the zest out of their game, and finished third, six games behind at 83-79.
The big problem was that they could not score runs, especially in late and close situations. They also were horrible hitters when they were ahead, with an 89 OPS+ in those situations.
Some members of the team, like Clendenon, Agee, Shamsky and Wayne Garrett, played well. Jones had a decent season, but was a big disappointment as his average dropped almost 70 points from the year before. The rest of the team was a sinkhole, with the big blame resting on Foy, who had a low BA and only six home runs. It was kind of unfair, since he had the highest OBP of the regulars, but no one cared. You gotta blame someone, and blame the third baseman was a familiar tactic in Mets-land.
Seaver pitched his ass off, as was normal, and had an ERA+ of 143 and 19 complete games. In fact, almost the entire staff except for Folkers, Caldwell and Chance had ERA+ over 100.
The Mets never did get back to their heady plateau of 1969 with this bunch. They eked out a World Series appearance in 1973, and looked decent in 1976, but it wasn’t until 1984 when the Mets were the talk of New York again.