Tom Seaver's First Major League Start Was Unusual for the Mets

Harold FriendChief Writer IFebruary 13, 2012

Think They Were Pretty Good Pitchers?
Think They Were Pretty Good Pitchers?Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

I pulled my 1962 Nova into the Shell gas station on the corner of the Horace Harding Expressway service road and Utopia Parkway, just about two miles east of Shea Stadium.

Bob Murphy was telling me that after five innings, New York Mets rookie right-hander Tom Seaver had struck out eight Pittsburgh Pirates and allowed two runs on five hits. The gas station attendant asked how much gas I wanted.

I thought to myself, "How about three or four Pirates runs?"  I told him to pump five gallons as the Rheingold beer commercial asked me if I wanted to vote for Miss Rheingold.

Like most fans listening to the game, I was waiting for the Mets rookie to get blasted, which was what usually happened to most Mets pitchers in those days, but this rookie appeared to be different.

But in the sixth inning of the 2-2 game, he wasn't too different.

Former New York Yankee and New York Met Jesse Gonder, a catcher that could hit but couldn't catch, led off the Pirates sixth by hitting a lazy fly ball to right field that Cleon Jones easily put away.

I was a little confused as I handed the attendant $2.40 for eight gallons of gasoline, and I kept wondering when the bottom would fall out. Mets starting pitchers rarely got to the sixth inning and more rarely had a chance to win that deep into the game.

Murphy was giving his usual great description. After Seaver had retired Gonder, Murphy reminded me that the next batter, pitcher Vern Law, the "Deacon," was a pretty decent hitter for a pitcher. Sure enough, Law doubled.

With the potential lead run on second, the batter was Matty Alou. Murphy sounded something like this:

In his first major league start, rookie Tom Seaver might be tiring a bit. The Mets outfield is playing a little more shallow than usual against the slap-hitting Alou in order to try to cut off the lead run on a hit that gets through the infield. Law at second isn't a fast runner.

Oh, look out. Alou just was hit with that pitch. He rubs his side and starts trotting to first base. And here comes Wes Westrum out of the Mets dugout. That's it for Seaver. Chuck Estrada has been warming up in the bullpen.

Maury Wills greeted Estrada with a single, but Murphy was right about Law. He stopped at third to load the bases with one out. Roberto Clemente was the hitter.

Estrada got him to hit a sharp ground ball just off third base. Kenny Boyer grabbed it, stepped on third to force Alou and then fired to first, barely nipping Clemente for the double play.

The Mets scored a run in the eighth inning when Jerry Buchek singled to lead off the inning, was bunted to second by Jerry Grote and scored on a Chuck Hiller pinch-hit double.

Ron Taylor pitched a scoreless ninth to save the win.

By this time, I was watching the game at home. It was only the second game of the season, and the Mets had their usual opening day loss, but something was different.

Yes, the 1967 Mets would go on to lose their usual 101 games, but in Seaver, they were building something. No one realized that it would be finished by 1969.