Mets are nothing short of amazin' in '69 World Series

New York Mets Jerry Grote, left, and Rod New York Mets Jerry Grote, left, and Rod Gaspar, right, dose New York Mayor John Lindsay with champagne in the Mets locker room at Shea Stadium Monday after the Mets clinched the National League pennant with a 7-4 win over Atlanta. Photo Credit: AP Photo

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Two of the cruelest words in sports are "nice try."

As heartwarming as many stories might be, there always is some regret involved with a near "miracle" (Tampa Bay Rays in last year's World Series, Tom Watson in this year's British Open).

So, regardless of everything else the 1969 Mets accomplished, what really etched them in the granite of history was the World Series victory.

"There are a lot of teams in all sports who have come from nowhere to somewhere, but a lot of them haven't closed the deal," Bud Harrelson said. "We closed the deal."

Four wins in five games against the Baltimore Orioles, the final three at Shea Stadium, were collectively the Mets' finest hour. And it all seemed impossible almost to the moment it happened.

Gil Hodges Jr., the late manager's son, recalls sitting in the visiting manager's office before Game 1 in Baltimore, perusing the statistics for the Mets and Orioles. The younger Hodges, then 19, pointed out that the Orioles' top four starting pitchers combined for 73 wins, that their lineup was loaded with stars. He asked his dad how the Mets could possibly win.

"He closed the door to his office, came back, sat down and looked me straight in the face - I'll never forget it - and said to me, 'Son, I've got 25 men outside who think they can win, and that's all that matters,' " the younger Hodges said.

But only hours later, even they weren't so sure. The ace pitcher, Tom Seaver, gave up a home run on his second pitch, and the Mets lost. Seaver said he needed reassurance from veteran teammate Donn Clendenon, who told him, "We're going to beat these guys."

Jerry Koosman outpitched Dave McNally in Game 2 for a Mets win. Then the teams went to New York, and the Series entered a realm not seen before or since:

Rookie Gary Gentry defeated Jim Palmer in Game 3. Tommie Agee made two game-saving catches and hit a home run. Gentry also hit a two-run double.

Seaver pitched splendidly in Game 4, and Clendenon hit a home run, but both were upstaged by Ron Swoboda, a defensively middling rightfielder. He made one of the most famous catches in World Series history - a diving, sprawling backhanded snare that turned Brooks Robinson's potential two-run triple into a sacrifice fly.

"I always tell Brooks thanks for not hitting it right at me. He gave me a highlight," said Swoboda, whose silhouette depicting that catch is on the rightfield gate at the new Citi Field. The Mets won Game 4 in the 10th inning when Baltimore pitcher Pete Richert fielded J.C. Martin's bunt and threw toward first, only to have the ball carom off the back of Martin, who might have been running illegally inside the basepath. Nothing was called, and, with the ball loose, pinch runner Rod Gaspar raced home.

In Game 5, plate umpire Lou DiMuro believed Hodges' claim that Cleon Jones had been hit by a pitch in the foot. Clendenon followed with a home run. Al Weis, a light-hitting infielder who hadn't homered at Shea all season, hit a home run in the seventh inning, and the Mets were on their way to immortality.

Mets fan Karl Ehrhardt, the "Sign Man," a commercial artist who sat in the third base stands and held up placards befitting the occasion, unfurled his quintessential sign: "There Are No Words."

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