The 1970 baseball season opened on Monday, April 6, and Tuesday April 7. On the 6th, Washington and Cincinnati held their traditional league openers. The rest of baseball followed on the 7th.
Teams normally send out their best pitcher on Opening Day. 1970 was no exception. The following Hall of Famers pitched their team’s opener: Ferguson Jenkins (Cubs), Phil Niekro (Braves), Gaylord Perry (Giants), Bob Gibson (Cardinals), and Tom Seaver (Mets). Other notable aces who opened included Mickey Lolich (Tigers), Chris Short (Phillies), Jim Perry (Twins), Tommy John (White Sox), Dave McNally (Orioles), and Mel Stottlemyre (Yankees).
There were twelve opening games back then. Five of them produced shutouts. They were hurled by Lolich (against the Senators), Gary Nolan (against the Dodgers), Short (against the Cubs), Jim Perry (against the White Sox), and Andy Messersmith (against the Brewers).
Speaking of Opening Day shutouts, Walter Johnson holds the record for them. He pitched seven shutouts in his 14 openers. They included a one-hitter in 1910, a two-hitter in 1915, an eleven inning shutout in 1916, a three-hitter in 1917, a thirteen inning shutout in 1919, a four-hitter in 1924, and a fifteen inning shutout in 1926, at the age of 38.
In the most exciting opener of 1970, neither starting pitcher figured in the decision. In the last Opening Day game ever at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field, Tom Seaver gutted his way through eight innings, and Steve Blass through ten. Both pitchers allowed nine hits and three runs.
The game was decided in the eleventh inning. Mike Jorgenson led off for the defending World Champion Mets with a single. Ron Swoboda bunted. Catcher Jerry May pounced on the ball but his throw to second base pulled Gene Alley off the bag. Wayne Garrett bunted both runners along on a sacrifice. With first base open, reliever Chuck Hartenstein intentionally walked Jerry Grote.
Gil Hodges sent left-handed hitting Ken Boswell to bat for his pitcher, Ron Taylor. Danny Murtaugh countered by bringing in veteran southpaw Joe Gibbon. Hodges countered by having the dangerous right-handed hitting former Pirate Donn Clendenon bat for Boswell.
Pittsburgh fans booed the ex-Buc, but Hodges was on point. Clendenon singled home Jorgenson and Swoboda.
In the bottom of the inning, Hodges brought in ace reliever Tug McGraw to close the game. The home fans had been rowdy throughout the day. Now, they threw debris at Swoboda in right field.
McGraw walked the first man he faced, Roberto Clemente. With litter continuing to pour onto the field, the umpire stopped the game and the grounds crew cleaned up.
McGraw then retired Willie Stargell and Al Oliver on pop ups.
With two out, some teenagers ran onto to the field. The game had to be halted again, as security guards chased the kids.
When play resumed, McGraw struck out Alley to end the game.
It was the Mets’ first Opening Day win in franchise history. However, the Pirates, not the Mets, would go on to win the NL East title in 1970.