Silver anniversary: Davey Johnson runs out of players

A quarter century ago, Mets manager Davey Johnson got stuck in an unenviable position: He ran out of position players before he ran out of game. Ejections and pinch hits forced him to get creative, as the Mets somehow managed to prevail over the Reds in 14 innings.

It began normally when Johnson trotted out his excellent lineup to play the Reds that day: Gary Carter behind the plate, Keith Hernandez at first, Wally Backman at second, Rafael Santana at short, Ray Knight at third, and an outfield of Lenny Dykstra, Darryl Strawberry and Danny Heep backing up starting pitcher Bob Ojeda.

By the end of the game, only Carter, Hernandez and Dykstra would still be playing—and Carter well out of position.

That old gang of Davey’s stayed together for five innings. Leading off the top of the sixth, however, Strawberry was ejected for arguing a called third strike. Well, that’s no serious problem. Just have Kevin Mitchell take his place in right field.

That same inning, Johnson called on back-up outfielder George Foster to pinch hit for Ojeda. Again, no big deal. There’s a fully stocked bullpen with more than enough pitchers to go around (and, boy would this game ever prove the Mets had an extra reliever or two to use as they saw fit). But this meant the Mets had just used two of their backup outfielders. The only man left on the bench with outfield experience was Mookie Wilson. And it was only the sixth inning.

Seventh inning: Johnson makes another one of his moves: He calls on Tim Teufel to pinch hit for Backman. They were the team’s second basemen and Johnson platooned them. The Reds had a new reliever in, and Teufel now gave the Mets the righy/lefty edge. That’s three starters down.

Bottom of the eighth: Desperate times call for desperate measures. The Mets are down 3-1 with Cincinnati batting. Johnson needs to call a new pitcher, but also has the pitcher’s slot due up in in the top of the ninth. Wilson is the obvious choice to pinch hit then, but rather than burn him as a pinch hitter, Johnson decides to make a double switch right now. Wilson replaces Heep in left as a new reliever takes the mound. And Wilson will bat in the reliever’s slot next half-inning.

The rationale makes sense. If Mookie just pinch hits, he’s gone for the game. Now, if the game ends in the ninth, it doesn’t make any difference either way. But, if the game goes into extra innings, you can still use Mookie, instead of burning him for one at-bat.

Got it? Well, regardless, Heep heads to the bench, joining Strawberry, Ojeda and Backman. Almost half the Mets’ starting lineup is done. Plus, Foster has been used as a pinch hitter.

And—(cue ominous music)—they have no one left on the bench to play the outfield in case of emergency.

Leading off the top of the ninth, Johnson pulls another trick, sending backup infielder Howard Johnson to pinch-hit for weak-hitting shortstop Santana.

If the game goes into extra innings, HoJo can play shortstop. He does have experience there for the Mets. Sort of. In the past, Johnson has used him as a shortstop when Sid Fernandez starts. Fernandez is an extreme groundballer who fans a good number of batters, making defense at short far less important. Under those circumstances, Johnson figures HoJo’s superior bat is worth more than Santana’s substandard glove. Here, down 3-1 in the ninth inning, Johnson again figures HoJo’s bat is what they need.

So Santana joins Strawberry, Heep, Dykstra, Foster and Ojeda on the bench. All these moves make sense, but the Mets bench is pretty damn thin. They have backup catcher Ed Hearn, and that’s it. Plus the bullpen. They’ve still got plenty of guys available in the bullpen.

And that matters because sure enough, the Mets tie the game in the ninth. It’s an incredibly sloppy half-inning all around. Pinch-hitter HoJo fans to lead off but takes first base on a dropped third strike. Then fellow offensive addition Wilson hits into a double play, nullifying all that. After a two-out walk and double, Hernandez hits one to right that Cincinnati outfielder Dave Parker pooches, and two runs score.

It’s now 3-3. And heading into overtime.

In the 10th, the Mets pitcher is due up again. Rather than use his last man on the bench, Johnson takes the unusual step of calling on pitcher Rick Aguilera to pinch-hit for reliever Doug Sisk. Aguilera won’t pitch next inning—he’s purely a pinch hitter here. But he’s the best hitting pitcher they have. Instead, lefty Jesse Orosco enters the game.

And then comes the bottom of the 10th, when all of Johnson’s maneuvers seem to come crashing down on him.

When Pete Rose, appearing in one of the last games of his career, laces a pinch-hit single, young phenom Eric Davis pinch runs for him, stealing second and third. After he steals third, all hell breaks loose.

He bumps Mets third baseman Ray Knight. Unhappy, Knight decks Davis. The benches empty. When the smoke clears, Davis and Reds reliever Mario Soto are ejected for the home team, while the visiting Mets also have two men thumbed: Knight and Mitchell.

Problem: Both of them are position players still in the game. The Mets have only one position player on the bench: backup catcher Hearn. And the team has holes at third and right. Good thing Johnson didn’t use Hearn as a pinch hitter a little bit ago.

Solution: Well, let’s get creative. First, Carter has some experience at the infield, so put him at third. Sure, his experience is at first, but Hernandez wasn’t the one ejected. (Carter did have a whole big one inning at third 11 years earlier, but that doesn’t help much).

So Carter at third, and Hearn at the backstop. Who replaces Mitchell in the outfield?

Here’s where Johnson gets really creative. He has a southpaw pitcher in the game right now in Orosco. And he’s got a right-handed reliever he really trusts ready to go in Roger McDowell.

So let’s platoon them. When Orosco is the better match-up, he’ll take the mound against lefties, and McDowell will patrol the outfield. And then McDowell will face righties with Orosco in the outfield.

Johnson takes the platooning a step further. Since Orosco will face lefties, he’ll put McDowell in left field where the ball is less likely to be hit. Following similar logic, Orosco will go in right field when McDowell is on the mound. Wilson will bounce around from corner to corner as need be.

And center fielder Dykstra is under orders: Anything hit to the pitcher side of him, run to get no matter what. And he follows those orders. On one lazy fly to left, he runs right in front of McDowell to make the catch. I think he even stepped on his foot. But he can’t always get there, and Orosco hauls in a line shot to right for an out. Fortunately for the Mets, most Cincy balls are grounders.

Let’s take a step back here. For the final four innings, the Mets defensive lineup has a pitcher in the outfield, a catcher at third and an infielder who can sorta play short at short.

Somehow, they manage. For four innings the balancing act doesn’t totter. In the top of the 14th, HoJo rewards his manager’s faith in his bat with a three-run dinger, and the Mets win 6-3. Few wins come quite so bizarrely.

Aside from that, many other events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (something happening X-thousand days ago) today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you just want to skim:

Day-versaries

1,000 days since the Phillies beat the Rays 5-4 in Game Three of the World Series by scoring the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.

4,000 days since the big league debut of Joel Pineiro.

6,000 days since 260 players meet in Orlando during the 1994-95 off-season. The big story comes from Lenny Dykstra, who indicates that he might play despite the ongoing strike.

7,000 days since Felipe Alou debuts as big league manager.

8,000 days since Dave Stieb throws his fifth complete game one-hitter, all of which come before he throws his only no-hitter. Robin Yount singles off him with two outs in the sixth.

15,000 days since Jim Edmonds born.

15,000 days since Fergie Jenkins sets a career high (that he’ll twice tie but never exceed) when he fans 14 men in one game. He does it while pitching only eight innings.

Anniversaries

1857 Jack Glasscock (nicknamed “Pebbly Jack”) born.

1876 Johnny Ryan tosses 10 wild pitches in his major league debut. Shockingly, he never pitches again. His Louisville team loses to the Cubs, 30-7. Cal McVey gets six hits for the Cubs in the game.

1884 Providence phenom Charlie Sweeney misses practice because he’s drunk and later refuses to leave the mound when the manager pulls him from the game. He’ll be suspended, which helps set up Old Hoss Radbourn’s memorable 59-win season for this very team.

1893 Jesse Haines, arguably the worst starting pitcher in the Hall of Fame, born.

1905 Doc Cramer born.

1905 Weldon Henley pitches a no-hitter for the A’s in a 6-0 win over the Browns. I never heard of him either.

1907 Star second baseman Larry Doyle makes his major league debut.

1908 Tim Jordan of Brooklyn hits the first ball over the fence in Pittsburgh in nine years. The Pirates win anyway, 2-1.

1909 Ty Cobb steals second, third and home in one inning. It’s the first of four times he’ll do this.

1911 The Dodgers beat the Reds 1-0 in a real pitchers duel. The two teams combine for three hits all game (two by Brooklyn). The only run is unearned.

1912 The White Sox make a great move, claiming Eddie Cicotte for the waiver price from the Red Sox. Cicotte leads the Sox to two pennants, but Judge Kenesaw Landis, the commissioner, bans him for life for his role in throwing the 1919 World Series.

1913 Slim Sallee does something very rare for a pitcher: he steals home. He’s the only Cardinals pitcher to ever do it.

1915 The Indians purchase Jim Bagby from New Orleans in the Southern Association. He’ll win 30 games for them in 1920.

1916 John McGraw loses his 1,000th game as manager (1,454-1,000).

1923 Walter Johnson fans his 3,000th batter. He’s the first person to do so. No one else will join him for over 50 years, when Bob Gibson becomes the second member of the club.

1925 The New York Yankees purchase a slick fielding shortstop from Hartford in the Eastern League: Leo Durocher.

1926 Cincinnati’s Curt Walker legs out two triples in one inning as the Reds score 11 in the second against Boston en route to a 13-1 win.

1927 Red Lucas of Cincinnati loses his no-hitter in a tough manner. A sixth inning grounder goes through the legs of second baseman Hughie Critz and the scorer rules it a hit. It’s the only one Lucas allows, as the Reds beat the Dodgers, 3-0.

1932 Cubs infielder Billy Jurges returns to the lineup after getting shot on July 6.

1934 Dazzy Vance becomes the eight pitcher to record 2,000 career strikeouts. Now there are 64 members of the club. Yet the late-blooming Vance is still eighth on the all-time list of most Ks from age 30 season onward.

1935 The Red Sox win their second straight game thanks to a Wes Ferrell walk-off home run. Yesterday he did it as a pinch hitter in a 7-6 victory over Detroit, today he does it as the starting pitcher, winning 2-1 against the Browns.

1936 Ernie Lombardi has possibly his worst game at the plate: 0-for-4 with three Ks. He has one other three-K game in his career, but at least he got a hit in that one.

1937 Hall of Fame center fielder Earl Averill records his 200th home run.

1939 Bobo Newsom ties his personal best by fanning 12 batters in a game. He loses 4-2, as he also allows 16 hits. Sounds like some bad defense back there.

1942 Red Sox manager Joe Cronin fines Ted Williams $250 for loafing.

1944 Sparky Lyle born.

1945 Bucky Walters ties a personal best by pitching 13 innings in one game. He gets a complete game 2-1 win over the Giants despite allowing 16 hits and two walks. New York leaves 13 men on base.

1947 Detroit’s Roy Cullenbine sets a record by walking in his 22nd straight game.

1948 The Red Sox beat the White Sox 3-0, in what turns out to be the first of 18 straight wins for pitcher Ellis Kinder against Chicago.

1950 Hall of Fame manager Joe McCarthy leaves the Red Sox over ill health, ending his legendary career. Replacing him in the Boston dugout is veteran skipper Steve O’Neill. Only two managers in baseball history have managed in more than six seasons and posted a winning record each time (even in partial seasons). They are McCarthy and O’Neill. As you can guess, the 1950 Red Sox will have a winning record.

1951 Willie Mays has the first of his 63 multi-home run games.

1952 The Tigers release pitcher Fred Hutchinson. He still manages them, though.

1953 The Tigers release pitcher Hal Newhouser.

1954 Casey Stengel does quite a bit of roster juggling in a 10-inning game against Chicago. In the last two innings, he puts star center fielder Mickey Mantle at short, and plays veteran shortstop Phil Rizzuto at second base. It’s two of only 16 innings Mantle ever plays at shortstop with the Yankees, and the first time Rizzuto has played anything other than shortstop for them. It all works out as Mantle homers for the Yankees win in the 10th.

1955 For his 36th birthday, Dodger fans give Pee Wee Reese a cake and serenade him.

1956 The Hall of Fame announces it will hold BBWAA elections every two years from now on, and decrees that players must be retired for five years before they’re under consideration for induction. The second rule takes, but the first one will be abandoned after a few years.

1956 Scott Sanderson born.

1957 Dave Stieb born.

1960 Don Drysdale ties a personal high with 14 strikeouts in a game. It’s the third time he’s done it but he’ll never do it again. All three games come within a calendar year.

1960 Ted Williams, a month shy of his 42nd birthday, steals a base. It’s the 24th and final stolen base of his career. It also makes him part of the answer to a great trivia question: Who are the only four players to steal bases in four decades: Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines, Omar Vizquel and Ted Williams.

1962 Floyd Robinson, White Sox, collects six hits in a nine-inning game, something no AL player has accomplished in nine years.

1963 Diomedes Olivo, age “45 something” becomes the oldest man to pitch a no-hitter in organized professional baseball when he shuts down Toronto in the International League.

1964 Sandy Koufax sets a personal record (that he’ll tie next year) with his 11th consecutive win. His line in that time: 11-0, 13 G, 13 GS, 8 CG, 107 IP, 68 H, 17 R, 16 ER, 23 BB, 107 K, and a 1.35 ERA.

1964 Willie Stargell hits for the cycle.

1966 Lew Burdette records his 200th win (200-143).

1966 Gaylord Perry fans a career high 15 batters in one game. He actually has a no-hitter until the eighth inning, as he guides the Giants to a 4-1 win over the Phillies. His line: 9 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 15 K.

1967 The Braves, under manager Billy Hitchcock, set a record when they use five pitchers in the ninth inning. They win 5-4 over the Cardinals in a game that takes 13 innings. The Braves enter the inning up 4-1, but their starting pitcher allows a double and walk while getting one out. Then three relievers come in to face one batter each. Results: groundout, double, game-tying single. Then pitcher No. 5 gets the next batter out to end the inning. That last pitcher, Cecil Upshaw, tosses the next four and gets the win.

1967 The Mets trade Ken Boyer to the White Sox.

1969 In a first, the All-Star Game is postponed by rain.

1970 Catfish Hunter throws three wild pitches in one game.

1971 Cubs third baseman Ron Santo has maybe his worst game ever: 0-for-4 with four strikeouts.

1972 Reds catcher Johnny Bench and starting pitcher Wayne Simpson receive calls from someone calling himself “Louie” offering them $2,000 to deliver a fat pitch to Pittsburgh’s Bob Robertson.

1972 Tony Cloninger pitches in his last game.

1972 The Yankees retire the number eight for Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey.

1973 Mike Sweeney born.

1973 Reds shortstop Dave Concepcion breaks his ankle, ending his season.

1973 Fergie Jenkins has his best game, according to both WPA and Game Score. His line: 12 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K for a Game Score of 94 and a WPA of 0.860. However, the Cubs lose in 13 innings.

1975 In a 3-1 win for the Mets over the Reds, Jerry Koosman steals his only base ever.

1975 The Pirates sign amateur free agent Tony Pena.

1979 For the first time in the regular season, George Brett homers three times in one game. He did it once in the playoffs.

1979 In a 12-1 Cincinnati win over Chicago, Johnny Bench walks five times and goes 1-for-1.

1982 Hall of Famer Lloyd Waner dies.

1986 Cubs fire ball girl Marla Collins for posing in Playboy.

1986 Nolan Ryan and Floyd Youmans get in a great pitchers duel, which Houston wins 1-0 in 10 innings over Montreal. Through nine innings, Youmans allows two hits while Ryan surrenders only one. Both run into trouble in the 10th. After Ryan walks two of the first three batters, manager Hal Lanier pulls him. In the bottom of the inning, Youmans allows a homer to Glenn Davis to end the game. Ryan also fanned 14 batters.

1987 A loss drops Chuck Tanner’s career record to 1,313-1,314. It’ll stay under .500 from now on.

1987 Eddie Murray gets two bases loaded walks in one game, both from the same pitcher: Jose DeLeon.

1990 Cal Ripken lays down his first sacrifice hit since Sept. 29, 1982.

1993 Bob Tewksbury walks Colorado’s Eric Young, ending a 55.1-inning streak without a walk.

1994 Dwight Gooden is admitted to the Betty Ford Center for his drug problems.

1994 Jim Thome crushes three homers in one game.

1994 Rick Sutcliffe last pitches in a game.

1995 Big league managers Phil Garner (Brewers) and Terry Bevington (White Sox) have a brawl during the game. The next day their teams fight.

1996 Mark McGwire gets his 1,000th career hit. It took him 1,170 games.

1996 Jim Thome takes first base on ball three when the home plate umpire loses track of the count.

1997 Jeff Kent belts his 100th home run.

1997 Greg Maddux throws a complete game win on 78 pitches for the Braves against the Cubs.

1999 Orel Hershiser wins his 200th game (200-140).

1999 Mike Hargrove accidentally hands the wrong lineup card to the umpire, causing the Indians to play the game without a DH.

2000 Safeco Field in Seattle experiences a 54-minute delay when its retractable roof fails to close in a 13-5 Mariners loss to the Rangers.

2000 Barry Zito makes his big league debut.

2005 Jose Guillen of the Nationals personally measures the outfield walls’ distances with tape and declares the numbers on the walls to be incorrect.

2009 Todd Helton belts his 500th double.

2009 Manny Ramirez hits his first pinch-hit career home run. It’s a grand slam in a 2-2 tie.

2010 Derek Jeter hits an inside the park home run, the second of his career. The first was in 1996.

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Comments

  1. Jack South said...

    One of your paragraphs needs a little editing:

    If the game goes into extra innings, HoJo can play shortstop. He does have experience there for the Mets. Sort of. In the past, Johnson has used him as a shortstop when Sid Fernandez starts. Fernandez is an extreme FLYBALL PITCHER who ALSO fans a good number of batters, making defense at short far less important. Under those circumstances, Johnson figures HoJo’s superior bat is worth more than Santana’s SUPERIOR glove. Here, down 3-1 in the ninth inning, Johnson again figures HoJo’s bat is what they need.

  2. Jack South said...

    Great story by the way.  I remember watching this when I was a kid.  Wish I was older so I could appreciate it more.  Mets Classics should air it from the 10th inning on.

  3. Peter B said...

    The man on the mound when Parker “pooches” the fly ball?  If my memory serves me correctly, it was one very angry John Franco.

    Great walk down memory lane.

  4. Chris J. said...

    Peter,

    Yep – you’re right.  The first batter Franco faced hit the should’ve-been out to Parker.

  5. Chip Armonaitis said...

    Can you imaging what the blogs would have looked like if that happened today?  The internet would have blown up with everyone calling for Davey’s scalp.

  6. Chris said...

    And, don’t forget, that in 1986, the owners had agreed amongst themselves to field 24-man rosters instead of 25.  So, the Mets were down a player (and probably a position one) from the start.

  7. John Tucker said...

    Thanks for bringing back some wonderful memories and filling in some details that I’d forgotten.  I was lucky enough to have been there that night with my father.  We stayed til the end even though we both had to work the next morning at 7 and had an hour drive back to Dayton.

    Two details I remember vividly:

    1. What a can of corn Parker muffed to allow the Mets to tie the game in the 9th.  One of the least justified errors I can remember.

    2. That Davis barely moved after Knight clocked him at 3rd base in the 10th.  No reflection on Knight, more about how strong Davis was.

  8. Mike said...

    2009 Manny Ramirez hits his first career pinch- hit home run. It’s a grand slam in a 2-2 tie.  Now, that is peculiar.

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