Tom Terrific: Seaver strikes out 19

Tom Seaver went into the Hall of Fame

Tom Seaver went into the Hall of Fame with the highest first-ballot percentage of anyone in history.
Photo Credit: Getty Images

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FLUSHING - How Newsday covered the story on April 22, 1970.

The pitching chart in Jerry Koosman's lap awaited only the final notation. There were already 95 strikes and 18 strikeouts recorded on the large white sheet, and Koosman, sitting in the Mets' dugout was prepared to cosign the document to the baseball archives. One more strike by Tom Seaver would do it.

The only obstacle remaining was Al Ferrara, the Padres' concert pianist from Brooklyn and second-inning home run hitter. Ferrara was down to the end. He knew he was protecting a count of one ball, two strikes, and he knew the fastball was coming. "I knew I was going to get the heat," said Ferrara, "because he was really bringing it."

Seaver had knocked off a modern major-league record by fanning the previous batter, Clarence Gaston. It was his ninth consecutive strikeout, and now he had one last chance to become the second pitcher in history to strike out 19 men in a nine-inning game.

"After I got the 16th strikeout," Seaver said, "I thought about Steve Carlton striking out 19 against us last year and losing the game, 4-3. We only had a one-run lead and I knew I had to pitch to Ferrara in the ninth. I kept that thought until I got two strikes on Ferrara. Then I thought, 'What the heck. I may never come this close again. I might as well go for it.' "

So Seaver went for it with his best pitch, the fastball. "I decided to challenge Ferrara instead of throwing a slider on the outside corner," he said.

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The pitch arrived at knee level. Ferrara swung and missed, shortstop Bud Harrelson leaped high in the air, and all the Mets on the bench got to their feet with the exception of Koosman. He sat in the corner wielding a pencil. "I marked every pitch," he said, "even that last one. I didn't miss one. It was the kind of game you'd rather watch than chart."

What Koosman charted and what 21,694 fans (14,197 paid) watched was an amazing exhibition. Seaver threw 81 fastballs, 65 for strikes. Seaver thew 19 curves, 11 for strikes. Seaver threw two changeups, both for strikes. Seaver threw 34 sliders, 18 for strikes. In all, Seaver threw 136 pitches, 96 for strikes.

And Seaver became the first major leaguer to strike out 19 batters in the daytime, the first major leaguer to strike out more than eight batters in succession, the first major leaguer to pitch a two-hitter on Earth Day, and the first Met pitcher to beat the Padres this season. The score, for those interested, was 2-1.

Seaver, who received his Cy Young Award before the game, started slowly, which is to say the leadoff batter, Jose Arcia, hit the ball. The next two batters struck out, but Ferrara led off the second with a towering home run over the leftfield fence. It did not seeem like vintage Seaver. "I didn't get it until late," he said.

Ferrara recalled when Seaver got it. It was Ferrara who struck out as the final batter in the sixth, and nine more strikeouts were to follow, including Ferrara again when it counted most.

"He got into a groove," Ferrara said. "He couldn't wait to get that ball and throw it at us. The guy deserved all the credit in the world because he was rushing it up there. He was about as fast as I've ever seen."

The shadows around home plate helped. Of course. Ferrara said so and Gaston agreed. Not that they were seeking excuses, mind you. "The last time up," Ferrara said, "it was his best shot against my best shot." Ferrara's homer had come off a Seaver fastball. "He challenged me and he won."

He won the battle and he won the war, and he even managed to win the game.

"He was fantastic, outstanding," said Johnny Podres, the Padres' minor-league pitching instructor who had a nice seat by the dugout. That's the same Johnny Podres who once struck out eight batters in succession for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and who shared the old record with Max Surkont, Jim Maloney and Don Wilson.

"There was no doubt in my mind he'd break that record," Podres said. "He had perfect rhythm, and I don't think he'll ever throw that hard again. It's amazing as hard as he was throwing he was still hitting the spots. If you didn't swing, it still was a strike."

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Seaver was absolutely unhittable at the end. Only three batters made contact over the last five innings, and he required only 10 pitches to strike out the side in the ninth. "I might as well have played without a glove," said Harrelson, who didn't have a single chance at shortstop.

Yet Seaver appeared curiously unexcited by the achievement. There was little drama in his voice, unlike the night of July 9 last year when he pitched 8 1/3 innings of perfect ball against the Cubs. "The commotion wasn't as great," he said. "You have to remember this was an expansion club and the Cubs were leading the league, and there were 59,000 people here for that game."

Yes, yes. But 19 strikeouts is 19 strikeouts. "I'm not blase," he said. "I'm very happy about it. But 19 strikouts doesn't exhilarate me as much as a perfect game."

The other Mets managed to take it in stride as well. Tommie Agee stood on the other side of the clubhouse facing Seaver after the commotion had ended, after the crowd had departed, after Seaver had finally climbed out of his uniform.

"Were you throwing good today?" Agee inquired.

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