Tom Seaver, one of the greatest pitchers to ever take the mound, passed away at the age of 75, adding to the abject awfulness of 2020. Seaver, often referred to as “The Franchise,” is one of those players who not only defines an era of baseball but the game itself.
When I heard about his death, I immediately went to find his career statistics. If there’s anyone with a better Hall of Fame resumé than Tom Seaver, I’ll be shocked. The man was a walking record book.
But his career numbers aren’t what’s important today.
Instead, we’re looking at one game in particular.
The 1969 season was one of Seaver’s best. Why? Tom Terrific would win his first Cy Young, and finish second in MVP voting behind Willie McCovey. Those are high honors for a player at any point in their career. Seaver did these things in his third season as a pro.
“The Franchise” was unbelievable all year.
So it becomes a bit of a head-scratcher as to why he struggled the way he did in the postseason. In the 1969 NLCS, Seaver made only one start as the Mets swept the Braves 3-0 on their way to the Fall Classic. But the game he pitched wasn’t a sure thing. Far from it.
Seaver, who had been the most suffocatingly dominant pitcher in the game, looked unlike his normal self. Tom Seaver looked human. As Gil Hodges took him out of the game after the 7th inning, the Braves had taken a 5-4 lead.
Seaver had given up five runs, all earned, on 8 hits, while walking three and striking out two. A very un-Seaver-like performance in every way, including the early exit. His teammates bailed him out, scoring 5 runs in the top of the 8th, securing the win.
Seaver’s woes would continue in Game 1 of the World Series against the powerhouse Baltimore Orioles, managed by Earl Weaver and powered by the offensive greatness of Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, and Brooks Robinson.
The Orioles were a powerhouse.
The Mets were just lucky to be there, an upstart franchise not even a decade old. And yet, they were ready to fight. In Game 1, the Mets sent The Franchise to the mound hoping that he can rebound from his less than terrific NLCS performance.
On his second pitch, Orioles outfielder Don Buford took Seaver out to deep right-field. The Mets would never take back the lead, as they would fall to the Orioles 4-1. Seaver’s box score? Six hits, four earned runs, one walk, three strikeouts, over five innings.
Tom Seaver started 35 games in 1969 and he pitched five innings or less in only 4 of those games. Something had to change. Tom had to find his Terrific again.
If there is one game that perfectly encapsulates Tom Seaver’s career, and how he is as a pitcher, it’s Game 4 of the 1969 World Series. It’s not his no-hitter in 1978 with the Cincinnati Reds. It’s not April 22, 1970, when Seaver set a major league record by striking out the final 10 batters of the game against the Padres. A game, I might add, where he also tied the MLB record of 19 strikeouts in a 9-inning game.
No. It’s Game 4 of the 1969 World Series.
The Mets entered the game with a 2-1 series lead looking to give themselves room to breathe in the series. A win in Game 4 would give them three chances to close it out, as well as put the Orioles on the ropes. A loss would allow the Orioles new life, evening the series and offering a lifeline to a team who doesn’t miss opportunities twice.
So Seaver takes the mound, hoping to make an impact on this series, and maybe finally show the world why he’s the unanimous choice for Cy Young winner.
Game 4 is one of those staring contest pitcher’s duels. You’re waiting for one guy to crack, for someone to flinch, for someone to slip up. And it wasn’t until the top of the 9th, with the Mets just two outs away from a 3-1 series lead, that Tom Seaver blinked.
After getting the leadoff batter to fly-out, Seaver gave up singles to Frank Robinson and Boog Powell. Stepping into the box with runners on the corners was future Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson.
The cameras pan to the Mets bullpen, where two arms are loosening.
Brooks Robinson hits a sinking line drive to right field that Ron Swoboda miraculously catches, but Robinson tags and crosses the plate. The score is tied 1-1. Disaster has struck yet again for Tom Seaver.
The Mets get the next two outs. The score is tied. No one crosses the plate in the bottom of the ninth and we go to extra innings.
And Tom Seaver takes the mound in the 10th.
Four decades into the future, another Mets pitcher will attempt to close out a World Series game, going longer than they went all season. In his 35 starts in 1969, Seaver went the full distance 18 times. That’s insane. And here he is, stepping out onto the field to throw one more inning, in a pivotal game in a tough World Series.
Tom Seaver ends his night with a strikeout. The Mets walk it off in the bottom of the 10th.
Seaver’s final line? Ten Innings pitched, six hits, one earned run, two walks, and six strikeouts. It’s not the most staggering of pitching lines, but it’s what’s beyond the box score in this case that matters.
Tom Seaver put the team on his back and went out and made good on his role as a teammate. That’s the kind of pitcher Tom Seaver was.
The Mets would take Game 4 and eventually Game 5, bringing their Miracle season to a close with a World Series championship. Game 4 might have been just one win of the four the Mets needed, but it’s the biggest one for Seaver.
A pitcher’s record has decreased in value over the years, but some W’s carry more weight than others. This one, in particular, is the gold standard of wins from Tom Terrific, the greatest New York Met of all-time.
You will be missed, Tom. By all those who saw you pitch, by all of those who hear of your greatness and by all of those lucky enough to have been in your presence.
Here’s to you, #41.
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