This month in baseball history: The 1969 World Series, Part Two

The heavily favored Baltimore Orioles beat the New York Mets in Game One of the 1969 World Series. Game Two seemed like a must-win affair for the Mets.

They sent Jerry Koosman to the mound to face Dave McNally. These were two of the very best left-handed pitchers in baseball at the time.

Koosman was a farm boy from Minnesota. He hadn’t played high school baseball because his high school didn’t have a team. He honed his pitching skills playing ball in the Army.

Koosman was probably the closest thing to a “red ass” on the Mets. His catcher, Jerry Grote, might have been the second closest.

Grote liked to fire the ball back to pitchers with whom he was unhappy. Once, after he did this to Koosman, the lefty threatened to mess Grote up if he ever did it again to him. Grote never did.*

Koosman was a power pitcher. McNally, from Montana, relied on finesse. He specialized in retiring hitters on ground balls.

Some modern analysts would downgrade McNally, on the theory that ground outs are not a “true” outcome — that is, they are not independent of fielding (only strikeouts, walks, and home runs are). Yet, many modern analysts also downgrade hitters if they hit lots of grounders. By the same token, shouldn’t pitchers who consistently induce grounders be given credit?

Year after year, McNally succeeded with his approach. That he was known as “McLucky” was due to the run support he received from the Orioles, not because he was lucky to get batters out.

McNally would not be “McLucky” in Game Two of the Series. Both pitchers could have sued their teammates for lack of run support.

Both got through three innings without giving up a run or coming very close to doing so. However, Donn Clendenon led off the top of the fourth for the Mets with a home run to the opposite field. This gave New York its first lead of the Series.

Koosman was in great form. Through five innings, he had retired 15 of the 16 batters he faced. And he done this with only 49 pitches. The only Baltimore baserunner had been Dave Johnson whom Koosman walked in the second inning.

Koosman set down the Orioles again in the sixth inning. But McNally was pitching well, too. The Mets hadn’t scored since Clendenon’s home run, one of only two hits the Orioles’ left-hander had allowed.

In the top of the seventh, Ed Charles doubled off of McNally with one out. But Grote popped out and, following an intentional walk to Al Weis, Koosman grounded out. The score remained 1-0, Mets.

Koosman lost his no-hitter, his shutout, and his lead in the bottom of the seventh. Koosman had retired lead off batter Paul Blair twice on curve balls. But when he shook off Grote and opted for another curve, Blair lashed it into left field for a single.

Frank Robinson, the O’s best hitter was up next. Robinson flied out. So did the dangerous Boog Powell.

With Brooks Robinson now up, Blair stole second base. Brooksie hit a grounder up the middle and into center field. Blair raced home with the tying run.

That brought Johnson to the plate. He smoked a ground ball that seemed destined for left field. However, Charles made a fine diving play and threw to Weis to retire Robinson at second base.

With the score tied 1-1, both teams went down quietly in the eighth inning. It looked like the Mets would do the same in the top of the ninth. McNally retired Clendenon and Ron Swoboda easily to start the inning.

But with two out, Charles hit an 0-2 fastball past Brooks Robinson for a single. Grote followed with a single to left.

That brought Weis to the plate. McNally seemed to be tiring and the Orioles had Dick Hall, a right-hander, ready in the bullpen. But if Earl Weaver had gone to Hall, Gil Hodges would have countered with one of his lefty hitters — maybe Ken Boswell or Art Shamsky — all of whom were better than Weis. So the Orioles stayed with McNally.

Weis responded with a line single to left. Charles trotted home from third. The Mets were back on top, 2-1.

Koosman still had to navigate his way through the ninth inning. The Orioles had the top of the order due up, so it wouldn’t be easy.

Don Buford, who as the first Oriole batter of the Series had homered off of Tom Seaver, popped out to lead off this inning. Blair, who had broken up Koosman’s no-hitter, got ahead of the him 3-1, but grounded out.

With two out, Frank Robinson walked. He had been hobbling during the game, so Weaver replaced him with pinch runner Merv Rettenmund.

Koosman fell behind Powell, 3-1. This was the third consecutive hitter to reach three balls against Koosman.

Koosman threw ball four. He was clearly out of gas. Hodges replaced him with Ron Taylor, who had pitched well in the 1964 World Series as a St. Louis Cardinal.

Taylor had to face Brooks Robinson, who had driven in the O’s only run. A single would almost surely tie the game again.

Taylor fell behind this dangerous hitter, 3-1. After Robinson fouled off what might well have been ball four, he hit a sharp ground ball. Charles, playing deep, fielded it cleanly. With Rettenmund closing in on third base after a good jump, Charles decided his play was at first base.

His long throw was in the dirt, but Clendenon scooped it up to get Robinson on a close play.

The Mets had beaten the Orioles to tie the Series at one game apiece.

* The material in these three paragraphs, and a considerable amount of other stuff in this series of posts, comes from Wayne Coffey’s excellent about the 1969 Mets — They Said It Couldn’t Be Done.