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Carlton Willey, early Mets pitcher, dies at 78

Carlton Willey, the first Mets pitcher to hit a grand slam, has died. Their best pitcher in 1963, Willey, 78, died July 20 in his hometown of Cherryfield, Maine. Family members told Bangor's WABI-TV that he died of complications from lung cancer.

The righthander's eight years in the major leagues included a World Series appearance for the Milwaukee Braves against the Yankees in 1958.

He played in the major leagues from 1958 to 1965 after the Boston Braves signed him. While playing for the Milwaukee Braves and Mets, the righthander compiled 38 wins and a 3.76 ERA. The Sporting News named him rookie of the year in 1958 after he posted a 9-7 record and 2.70 ERA.

Willey pitched 57 games for the Mets, winning 10 and losing 18 with an ERA of 3.29 from 1963 to 1965. He struck out 128 and walked 92 in 241 innings.

His best Mets season was his first, at the Polo Grounds. He went 9-14 in 1963 and led the team with a 3.10 ERA. But he allowed 24 home runs in 183 innings.

Willey tied the Mets' season record of four shutouts in 1963, previously set by Al Jackson in the inaugural season of 1962. Jerry Koosman broke the mark in 1968 with seven shutouts.

In September 1963, Willey retired the Giants' three Alou brothers - Jesus, Matty and Felipe - in order, the first time in history three siblings batted consecutively, and were retired, in the same inning.

Known as Carl to most fans, the 6-foot Willey looked even more promising the next year when he tossed 26 consecutive shutout innings in spring training. But on April 4, 1964, the Detroit Tigers' Gates Brown lined a shot off Willey's jaw, breaking it. Willey returned a couple of months later, perhaps too early, and pitched in merely 27 games in 1964-65. He compiled a 1-4 record, starting only six games, and retired after the 1965 season at age 34.

In July 1963, he hit his grand slam off Ken Johnson of the Houston Colt 45's.

A friend of Willey's, Steve McLain, recalls when Willey hit the grand slam, at the Polo Grounds in 1963, despite a lifetime .099 batting average. "His father was at the game that day," McLain says. "And the boy who caught the ball somehow found Carlton's dad and gave him the ball . . . His friendship was one I will always cherish. He was a real gentleman."

Willey pitched only one inning in the 1958 World Series, notching two strikeouts - of Bill Skowron and Gil McDougald - in the eighth inning of a 7-0 Game 5 loss. The Yankees won in seven games.

The online Baseball Almanac related Willey's experience in that Series. "That was my first year up, and that was quite a thrill," Willey told Hugh Bowden in The Ellsworth American in 2007. "When I walked from the bullpen to the mound, my legs were so weak I didn't know which way I was going.

"When I got to the mound, a kid ran out onto the field and came right to the mound where I was. He said, 'How do you think you'll do?' 'Well,' I said, 'I don't know, but I'll find out.' . . . The cops came and took him away."

Signed by the Braves in 1951, Willey missed the 1953 and 1954 seasons because of service in the Korean War. After his baseball career, he was a scout for the Philadelphia Phillies and also ran a house painting business.

With AP

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