Hank Webb's Balk Should Have Prevented 25-Inning New York Mets Loss to Cardinals

Harold FriendChief Writer IFebruary 19, 2012

Hank Webb
Hank Webb

As I was about to turn off the Nassau Expressway to enter the Van Wyck Expressway on the evening of Sept. 11, 1974, Bob Murphy announced that Ken Reitz's drive to left field cleared the Shea Stadium fence to tie the game at 3-3.

Now, I might be able to watch the rest of the game at home.

Jerry Koosman had started for the New York Mets against the St. Louis Cardinals' Bob Forsch. All Koosman had to do was retire Reitz to seal a 3-1 win, but it didn't happen.

I arrived home, which was within walking distance of Shea Stadium, about 10 minutes later and turned on the television. I never imagined that it would stay on until 3:13 a.m.  And I had school the day after the game.

Yogi Berra sent in Teddy Martinez to pinch-hit for Koosman in the Mets' half of the ninth inning. Reitz threw him out to end the inning. Former Cardinals right-hander Harry Parker took over for Koosman.

The Mets threatened with two outs in the 10th, but the "Mad Hungarian," Al Hrabosky, induced Wayne Garrett to ground out to first baseman Joe Torre to strand John Milner at third.

I went into the kitchen, took my nightly helping of Dairylea ice cream and went back to the game.

In the Cardinals' 12th, a rookie left-handed batter named Keith Hernandez batted for Mike Tyson. He hit a drive to fairly deep right field that Dave Schneck put away. That was the first time that I saw Hernandez.

The Mets threatened a few times but failed to score. The Cardinals were quiet. I was getting tired.

The innings passed, but the score remained 3-3. It was almost 2 a.m. I had to see the rest of the game. I had listened to the 24-inning game against the Houston Astros in 1968, and this game was reaching its epic innings total.

A win was more important to the Cardinals than to the Mets. The game had started at 8:05 on Sept. 11. The Cards were in second place, trailing the Pittsburgh Pirates by three and one-half games. The Mets were ensconced in fourth, 11 games behind.

It got exciting in the top of the 20th. Reggie Smith led off with a single to center. Torre then reached on catcher's interference by Duffy Dyer, but Dyer made amends when he fired a strike to shortstop Wayne Garret.

In the Mets' half of the 20th inning, with Garrett at the plate, Berra disagreed with Ed Sudol on a called strike. Berra argued vehemently. Sudol told Yogi he was free the rest of the morning. Yogi joined me and a few others in watching the game on television.

Just when it appeared that we would be up all night, the Mets reverted to their old habits.

Bake McBride, whom the great Harry Kalas referred to as "Shake and Bake," led off the 25th inning by legging out an infield chopper up the middle. He took a huge lead off first base  because the Cardinals were going to play hit-and-run.

Mets right-hander Hank Webb caught McBride leaning the wrong way. Webb's throw to Milner at first base was in the dirt and ended up in foul territory in short right field.

McBride raced to third as Milner chased the ball, picked it up and fired home to catcher Ron Hodges. "Shake and Bake" rounded third and headed home.

Milner's throw seemed to have beaten McBride, but Hodges dropped the ball. Sonny Siebert pitched a scoreless 25th.

Now, the following little-known event that occurred on Sept. 11 is trivial when compared to another Sept. 11 event, but it is nevertheless interesting.

According to Retrosheet.org, second base umpire Bob Engel had called a balk on Webb's move to first base. "Umpire Engel is quoted as saying that he called a balk, but a recent rule change allows advance on overthrow." Why didn't McBride have to stay at second base on the balk?

Previously, the ball was dead on a balk (unless it was put in play), and the game might have gone longer. Official records show no balk.

What a great game!


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