Dec 21, 2015

All Time Mets Left Handed Pitcher: Jerry Koosman (Part One- 1967-1972)

Jerome Martin Koosman was born December 23, 1942 on a farm in Appleton, Minnesota. As a child he left hander went ice fishing and played baseball in their family’s hay loft with his brother.

He was drafted into the army in 1962, & there was no baseball team where he was stationed. Lucky enough his dentist, who was a general in the same unit helped Koosman get to El Paso Texas where they did have a baseball team. After a few warm up pitches at the try out, he was told he was in the starting rotation.

Koosman was serving at Ft. Bliss, Texas and made a friend who was from Queens, New York. He also was the son of an usher at Shea Stadium. John Luchese wrote to his dad telling him the Mets team should check this Koosman guy out, he could sure throw. The scouts came and offered him a contract right away after seeing him pitch.

Quotes: Koosman said “It seemed every time we spoke they lowered the offer by a hundred dollars. I figured I better sign before I owed them money.”

At the start, Koosman was struggling so badly in the farm system, he was almost traded away. On a road trip with two other guys named Jerry, their car was damaged in an accident in Georgia. They called for money to get a new car.

Jerry sent word out to future Mets General Manager Joe McDonald, who was working at the minor league level at the time,  asking if he could send over an additional $500. The organization gave him the loan, and Club president George Weiss figured he’d trade the Koosman kid away once his loan was paid back. But soon, Koos began pitching well and his future with the Mets was secured.

In 1966 he was 12-7 at A ball Auburn in the New York/ Penn. League posting a 1.38 ERA. In 1967 the Mets staff in 1967 as one of it first pitching stars. He made his MLB debut in relief at Philadelphia on April 14, 1967, striking out two Phillies & walking two in 2.2 innings of work. He would make five appearances through the end of May, before going back down to AAA Jacksonville.

There he was 11-10 leading International League in strikeouts & (183) while posting a 2.43 ERA. He came back to New York in September & went 0-2 in five games, making his first starts in Houston & at San Francisco.

In 1968 he pitched the second game of the season & was spectacular as he shut out the Dodgers on a four hitter in Los Angeles. He would go on to have an incredible rookie season, staring the year off with back to back shut outs and a 4-0 April. In his second game he struck out ten San Francisco Giants at Shea Stadium pitching a seven hit shutout. In his third start he struck out eleven Houston Astros, allowed one run on four hits pitching his third straight complete game. Right away, people took notice.

At the end of May, Koosman went on a six game winning streak going into late June. He was 11-3 & kept his ERA under 1.50 through June 24th. After a July 12th win, where he pitched a six hit shutout against the Chicago Cubs, Kooz was 12-4 with one of the league's best ERA’s at 1.82.

He made his first All Star team, and earned the All Star game save in 1968, pitching a scoreless 9th inning, striking out Carl Yastremski for the final out in the 1-0 National League win. He returned from the break in July to pitch back to back four hit shut outs; the first against Nelson Briles & the Cardinals in St. Louis where struck out 12 batters. Then on July 26th he beat the Cincinnati Reds 2-0 at Shea Stadium, striking out eight batters.

On August 19th he matched zeros with the San Francisco Giants Bobby Bolin. Koosman lasted 12 innings then gave way for Ron Taylor who allowed a 17th inning RBI single to Ron Hunt, as the Mets lost 1-0. Overall in August he was 2-3. On September 13th he threw a three hit shutout at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates, he also closed out the season with a three hit one run performance against the Philadelphia Phillies. Koosman just missed out being a twenty game winner due to a 3-3 September, as he finished up his rookie year going 19-10 leading the team in wins, (4th best in the NL).

He posted an incredible 2.08 ERA (4th in the NL) still the third best Mets single season mark in their team history. He struck out 178 batters pitching in 262 innings, throwing seven shut outs (3rd most in the NL) & 17 complete games, which is the second best mark in Mets history. He pitched seven shutouts which was third best in the NL.

He set franchise records that year in wins, shutouts, ERA and those totals are still Mets rookie bests. Koosman was named to the Topps All-Star Rookie Team and finished runner-up to Johnny Bench for the Rookie of the Year honors by just one vote.

Trivia: During a game that season, Jerry Grote fired a ball back at Koosman from behind the plate, tying him up around the belt area. Koos called him to the mound & said “if you ever throw a ball back at me like that, I’ll break your freaking’ neck”. Grote never did it again, and Koos earned his catchers respect in a relationship that would last another decade.

Koosman was generally the number two starter for the Mets in the coming years behind Hall of Famer Tom Seaver. Seaver and Koosman became one of the league's top righty/lefty starting combos, sometimes known as “The Tom & Jerry Show”. Koosman would be the victim of low run support, something Seaver & the rest of the pitchers would also suffer from through the years. But the good-natured Koosman never complained, he always went about his business & pitched his best.

In 1969 Koosman started out slowly, taking losses in his first two starts before earning a win, when beating the Pittsburgh Pirates with a five hit shut out on April 23rd. He only made two starts in May but would then go on to go 7-1 through June & July. In that stretch he threw seven complete games, starting out with back to back one run performances against Los Angeles & San Diego.

On June 18th he pitched a four hit shutout against Rick Wise & the Phillies in Philadelphia. In his next start he beat the St. Louis Cardinals Mike Torrez with nine strike outs in a 1-0 Met victory. In July the team did give him run support as he went 3-1 although he allowed three runs or more in five of six games.

On July 8th, the day before Tom Seaver's imperfect game, Koosman beat the first place Chicago Cubs sending the message these Mets are for real. In that game the Mets scored three runs in the bottom of the 9th inning off Fergie Jenkins with help from some misplayed balls by outfielder Don Young.

From mid August through the end of the season, he won eight of his last nine decisions. On August 27th in San Diego he pitched a two hit, six strike out game against the Padres. On September 1st he took the only loss in that winning stretch, where he a gave up four runs in the 1st inning to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

He threw five straight complete games in September, none bigger than on the night of September 8th at Shea Stadium. The Mets went up against the first place Cubs at crazy sold out Shea Stadium, the Chicago lead had dwindled down to just 2 1/2 games. Koosman went up against the Cubs ace, Hackensack New Jersey's own Bill Hands. Cubs manager Leo Durocher ordered Hands to knock down the Mets lad off hitter Tommie Agee & he did.

Koosman was never one who let hit players get hit without retaliating back, the next inning the Cubs slugger Ron Santo came up & Koosman drilled him in the hand sending the message back. Later when Kooz came up Hands threw at him as well & Koos shouted back at him. In any event the Mets & Koos won the game 3-2 as he struck out 13 Cub batters.

The hitting hero was Tommie Agee who homered & drove in two runs in the 3-2 Met win. In the series the Mets got within a half game, it was the series that included the famous black cat running onto the field & in front of the Cub dug out as well as the Shea crown waving handkerchiefs singing "Goodnight Leo".

In his next start at Pittsburgh Koos pitched a three hit 1-0 shutout in the first game of a double header. He drove in the only run with a base hit off Pittsburgh's Bob Moose. In the second game Don Cardwell pitched a one run shut out & dove in the only run of that game, making it a strange afternoon. Kooman then came out & threw a six hit shutout in Montreal against the Expos on September 17th. In his next to last outing of his season he pitched a four hit shutout in Philadelphia, striking out seven batters.

He finished the year 17-9 with a 2.28 ERA (5TH in the NL) 180 strikeouts & 68 walks in 241 innings pitched. He had 16 complete games (9th in the NL) and six shutouts (4th in the league) in 32 starts.

Post Season: In Game #2 of the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves, Koosman was shelled from the mound, giving up six runs in 4.2 innings of work, three of those runs coming on Hank Aaron’s fifth-inning home run. The Mets were already ahead 9-6; they added two more runs to win the game giving Ron Taylor the victory.

Koosman was the pitching star of the 1969 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles and certainly could have won the MVP award himself.

In Game #2 he had a no hitter going until the 7th inning against the mighty O's line up at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. Paul Blair led off the inning with a single, he stole second & would score the tying run 1-1. But the Amazing Mets went ahead in the 9th inning with two out singles from Ed Charles Jerry Groter & pinch hitter Al Weis who drove in the game winning run.

In the bottom of the 9th after getting the first two outs, Koosman walked Frank Robinson & Boog Powell. Gil Hodges removed him, and the Oriole fans gave him a huge ovation for his performance that afternoon.

Ron Taylor came in getting Brooks Robinson to ground out to save the game. Koosman got the win pitching 8.1 innings, allowing one run, on only two hits, with four strikeouts and two walks.

The Mets won the next two games, and Koosman took the mound at Shea Stadium, for Game Five which could wrap up the whole series. He fell behind 3-0 giving up two HRs in the third inning one to the opposing pitcher Dave McNally & the other to Frank Robinson. He got back into the dugout angry and told his team, “I’ll hold them here, get me some runs”.

In the 6th inning Cleon Jones took a pitch that may have hit his foot, no call was made at first. The ball rolled into the dug out, next Gil Hodges comes out of the dug out with a ball with shoe polish on it as proff it hit Jones. Umpire Lou Dimuro agreed & gave him first base. The Orioles manager Earl Weaver went nuts, years later Koosman admitted Hodges had told him on the bench to rub the ball on his shoes so the polish would be visible.

Next Donn Clendenon & of all people Al Weis, both homered to give the Mets the lead. Koos went on to pitch a complete game five hit victory, walking only one while striking out five Orioles. One of the most memorable pictures in Mets history is Koosman leaping into catcher Jerry Grotes arms the Amazing Mets won the 1969 World Series against all the odds in the world.              

     

In 1970 he pitched the second game of the season taking a tough 2-1 loss to Doc Ellis & the Pittsburgh Pirates. Also in April he had a another tough loss against the Philadelphia Phillies, when he pitched against Rick Wise to 1-1 tie through nine innings. Koosman allowed two runs in the tenth inning on base hits to Larry Hisle & Johnny Briggs taking the loss.

In his next start on April 24th, he pitched another nine innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers. That night the Mets bats were also shut down by Dodger pitching & they lost the game in the 15th inning on a Tom Haller base hit.

Finally on May 9th he earned his first win of the year, although he allowed five runs on ten hits the Mets beat the Giants 14-5. In his next start at Philadelphia he struck out ten batters and four hit the Phillies 6-0, throwing his first shutout of the year. On June 5th he was hit in the mouth with a line drive off the bat of Mets pitcher Gary Gentry during batting practice.

He was knocked out & had to have his jaw wired shut for six weeks. Manager Gil Hodges had Koosman drink milk shakes & a beer every game he was on the bench in order to keep his weight up.

Koosman struggled to remain at .500 through the end of July although his ERA was just at 2.82. From August 8th through September 5th he went 5-0 as the Mets helped him with better run support. On August 21st he shut out the Cincinnati Reds on a seven hitter. On September 5th he beat Ken Holtzman & the rival Chicago Cubs in the heat of a tight pennant race. The win put the Mets just two games back of the first place Pirates & a half game behind the second place Cubs.

On September 20th, Koosman beat Bob Moose & the first place Pirates in the first game of a double header. He threw a complete game two hit, one run victory. The win placed New York just 3 1/2 games back of the Pirates, although they would fade away from the race during the next two weeks, as the Pirates won the Eastern Division.

On the year Koosman posted the second most wins on the Mets staff to Tom Seaver, with a 12-7 record posting a 3.14 ERA (5th best in the league). He strck out 118 batters, walking 71 batters in 212 innings pitched. That year he pitched one shut out with five complete games.

In 1971 he began the year with no decision in the third game of the season, pitching ten innings allowing just one run against the World Champion Cincinnati Reds. He began the year at 3-1 but then lost two straight decisions at the end of May, including a ten inning two run performance in San Francisco against the Giants. That day he pulled a muscle in his back pitching in the cold weather at Candlestick Park & it affected him for the rest of his season.

In July he went down until mid August with another injury and went 2-4 upon his return, losing five of six decisions. He finished the year at 6-11 with a 3.04 ERA in 26 starts. He had 96 strike outs with 51 walks, in 165 innings pitched, tossing four complete games.

In Spring Training 1972 the Mets team flew North ready to start the season. Koosman stayed behind wondering if the season would start on time due to a possible players strike. He found Minnesota Viking's center Mick Tingelhoff at the hotel pool & the two became friends. Tingelhoff had been a catcher playing baseball in high school & offered to catch as Koosman pitched to him to keep his arm in shape.

Afterward as he went to his room he heard sirens outside his window & rushed to the lobby of the hotel. He had found out manager Gil Hodges had been rushed to the hospital after suffering a heart attack. When he got to the hospital he found out the bad news from his pitching coach Rube Walker, that Hodges had passed away. Koosman as well as the rest of the team was devastated.

When the season got under way, Koosman had trouble with his wind up. He found himself at 0-3 and new manager Yogi Berra, put him in the bullpen to work out his issues. Things got better & on May 25th he earned his first career save against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. He got back into the rotation by June 10th pitching six innings, while allowing two runs against the Houston Astros.

He won four straight decisions through July 1st, including a four hit shutout against the Expos in Montreal. He was 6-3 at that point but would then lose eight of his next ten decisions. A rough August had him go 1-4 with two complete games losses as well as three outings where he didn't get past the fourth inning. He did better in September but the Mets finished in third place (83-73) never quite recovering from the shock of Gil Hodges death.

On the year Koosman went 11-12, tied for third on the staff in wins with Jim McAndrew. Koos struck out 147 batters while walking 52 batters in 163 innings pitched.

That 1972 season saw the emergence of that year's Rookie of the Year Pitcher Jon Matlack who went 15-10 with a 2.32 ERA for New York. In the coming years Koosman, Seaver & Matlack would be among the league's best trio of pitchers.

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