It was a transition year for the Mets in 1964. The team, in its third season of operation, moved into shiny, brand-new Shea Stadium, and even hosted the All-Star game. However their record only improved slightly, and they were doomed to yet another 10th-place season with a final record of 53-109.

However, as the regular season drew to a close, the Mets became relevant as they were potential spoilers in the pennant race. That year the Phils lead much of the way, but faltered toward the end, including a 10 game losing streak. Going into the final weekend of the season, three teams still had a shot at the pennant. They were the Phils and Reds, who would play each other over the final weekend, And the Cardinals, who had a three game home set against our Mets.

The Cardinals had a one-game lead, and they had their three best pitchers lined up against the lowly Mets. They had a powerhouse team, with the MVP that year, Ken Boyer in the lineup as well as future Hall-of Famer Lou Brock, and another future Hall-of-Famer in his pitching prime, one Bob Gibson. The Mets, on the other hand, were without the services of banged up All-Star second baseman Ron Hunt, who batted .303 that season. To the average observer, it looked like a cakewalk for St. Louis. But it wasn’t.

Gibson started the first game of the series against Al Jackson of the Mets. Jackson was a popular starter for the Mets in their early years. He suffered as all Met pitchers did then from lack of support, he would finish the season at 11-16. He was relatively small for a pitcher, and he was a finesse hurler, relying mostly on his sinker and curve.

The Mets drew first blood. In the third inning George Altman singled, stole second and advanced to third on a grounder. Young Ed Kranepool then singled to left, and Altman scampered home with the go-ahead run. In the Cardinal fourth Curt Flood led off with a double, but Jackson worked out of the jam and Flood was left at second.

Jackson continued rolling along. In the 8th inning, he got the first two batters. Then St. Louis got a pair of singles, putting runners on first and third with the dangerous Lou Brock at the plate. Brock scorched a hard grounder, but right at Met shortstop Roy McMillan. McMillan was a premier defensive shortstop for many years with the Reds, but he was in the twilight of a long career. He was still very sure-handed, and this ball was right at him. However he never got to touch that ball. The second base umpire reacted awkwardly, and failed to get out of the way, and the ball caromed off the umpire into short left field. The crowd cheered as the runner on third dashed home with what appeared to be the tying run. However, although Brock was credited with a single, it was a dead ball. The runner, of course was sent back to third and the score remained 1-0 with the bases now loaded. Jackson rose to the occasion and retired the next hitter. He also breezed through the 9th as the Mets held on to win 1-0.

Jackson pitched a complete game 5 hit shutout to win the game. Gibson took the loss, hurling 8 innings and yielding 8 hits. Game one was in the books, and the Cards still clung to a narrow one game lead in the standings.

Game two pitted 20 game winner Ray Sadecki for St’ Louis against Jack Fisher of the Mets, another apparent mismatch. Sadecki did not pitch like a 20 game winner, he lasted only one inning as the Mets scored 4 in the opening frame. St. Louis came right back to get three runs in the bottom of the first to kayo Fisher. The Mets just kept hitting, with a six run 7th inning putting the game away. Final score of game 3, Mets 15, Cards 5.

The Mets scored their 15 runs on 17 hits, and they played errorless ball. Everyone except the pitchers got at least one hit. Kranepool was 3-5 with a homer and 4 RBI, Joe Christoper (the Mets best hitter during the season) went 3 for 6 with a homer and two runs scored. Reliever Tom Parsons got the win, pitching 5.1 innings and allowing just one run.

The Cardinals scored their five runs on 13 hits, and managed to commit six errors. Even with that fielding debacle, only 3 of the Mets runs were unearned.

The Cardinals had to be sweating as they prepared for the final regular season game. They were now tied with Cincinnati for the lead, with the Phils were one game behind. There were all sorts of possibilities, there could have been an outright winner, there could be a tie between the Reds and Cards, and even a 3- way tie was a possibility..

A near-full house of 30,146 packed old Busch Stadium for the last game of the series that Sunday afternoon. Once gain the Cards came up with a top notch starter in Curt Simmons. The one time Philadelphia whiz kid had found a second life in St. Louis, and he posted an 18-9 record with a 3.43 ERA that year.

The Mets went ahead in the top of the fifth, knocking out Simmons and holding a 3-2 lead going into the bottom of the 5th. The Cardinals bats then awoke, and they went on to an 11-5 victory. Starter Galen Cisco took the loss for the Mets, falling to 6-19. As we said, Simmons left early and was replaced in the fifth. That reliever turned out to be Bob Gibson, who had logged 8 innings in the first game of the series. In a classic all hands on deck approach, Gibson pitched four innings on roughly a day and a half rest to get the win. He finished 19-12 on the year.

There would be no playoff. In the other game of importance, the Phillies finally revived and crushed the Reds 10-0 behind future Hall of Famer Jim Bunning. The final standings showed St. Louis finishing one game ahead of both Cincinnati and Philadelphia. The Cards went on to win the World Series against the Yankees.

No one would have been surprised if the Mets had rolled over in that final series, but instead they reached deep and gave St. Louis a huge scare.

3 comments on “When the early Mets nearly upended the baseball world

  • Mike W

    What a great story. I love hearing how Bob Gibson came back on a day and a half of rest and pitched four innings. Pitchers today are soft. I hate seeing pitchers come out after six innings when pitching a great game.

    Thanks for writing.

  • BrianJ

    The start against the Mets was Oct. 2nd and the relief appearance was Oct. 4th. He then went on to pitch in three games in the World Series – 10/8, 10/12 and 10/15.

    He gave up 4 R in 8 IP in Game 2 and took the loss. He gave up two unearned runs in the bottom of the 9th to send Game 5 to extra innings. He finished with the win with 10 IP and O ER. In Game 7, Gibson allowed 3 HR and 5 ER but Mel Stottlemyre was worse and the Cardinals won, 7-5.

    Gibson ended up as World Series MVP. Hardly ever gets mentioned when people talk about Gibson today.

  • Nym6986

    Nicely done John. That was the same year that Jim Bunning threw a perfect game against the Mets on Father’s Day. Watched some of those games but not many that year. It was ‘65 and the arrival of Rn Swaboda and his 19 HRs that really locked me in as a Met Fan. Prior to Seaver, Gibson was the first pitcher who really caught my attention on the mound. No pitchers were soft in those days and most relievers were washed up starters. Thanks for a glimpse back to that season.

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