Sep 24, 2018

Remembering Mets History: (1969) The Amazing Mets Clinch the NL Eastern Title

Wednesday September 24th, 1969: At 9:06 PM on this historic night, the Amazing Mets clinched their first NL Eastern divisional title. 

After seven years of existence, & finishing in last place five times, the Mets were champions of their division. They were the first champions of the newly formed Eastern Division, since divisional play was in its infancy in 1969.

Gil Hodges sent out another fine young arm on his staff, rookie Gary Gentry (11-12) to the mound, going up against Steve Carlton (12-11)  as the Mets hosted the reigning NL Champion; St. Louis Cardinals (82-74). Two weeks earlier, Carlton set a record with 19 strike outs in a game but was beaten by the Mets 2-0.

Tonight, Gary Gentry went out and pitched a four hit complete game shutout, striking out five batters & walking two.Gentry went to 12-12 with a 3.53 ERA on the season.

The Mets were revved up tonight, playing in front of 54,928 excited Shea Stadium fans. They knocked "Lefty" Carlton out in the first inning, as the offense went to work.

Bud Harrelson led off the game with a walk, & Tommie Agee singled. Then the Mets slugger, Donn Clendenon blasted a three run HR, bringing the fans to their feet in a loud roar. The dug out jumped up & came to the field to greet a happy Clendenon on his 15th HR of the year.

Ron Swoboda started out by drawing a walk. Ed Charles "the Glider", the oldest player on the team at 36, hit his third HR of the year. "The Glider"clapped his hands as he rounded third base, just to let the fans know "this was it & because at my age, I might not have any more left", he later admitted to the media. Clendenon would add another HR later in the 5th inning, his 16th of the year. It was Clendenon's 34th RBI since joining the Mets in mid June, icing the 6-0 Mets victory.

In the 9th inning Lou Brock led off with a base hit & Vic Davalillo follwed with another. Gentry then struck out Vada Pinson for the first out. Then it was the Cards Joe Torre, who hit into a double play (Bud Harrelson to Al Weiss to Don Clendenon) to end the game. 

The Mets players jumped for joy to celebrate and then the Met fans swarmed the field, turning it into a chaotic frenzy. They ripped everything apart making the outfield grass look like the surface of the moon. There were torn up clumps of dirt a foot or more deep looking like carters on the moon. US Astronauts had just landed on the moon two months earlier. 

They Shea fans chanted "We're number one, We're Number one" as they stormed the field in celebration.

The crowd refused to leave the ballpark until the police rounded everyone up over an hour later, exiting them through the center field gates. Several arrests were made & few injuries were also reported.

Mets VP in charge of Shea Stadium said "We'll have it back in shape for the playoffs. Fortunately the club is going on the road and we have more than a week. It's a mess, a wonderful mess."

In the clubhouse the Amazing Mets celebrated with champagne. Tom Seaver doused a smiling Manger; Gil Hodges "Here's to you skip". Jerry Koosman shook the bottle & sprayed the press. A usually low keyed Nolan Ryan poured some bubbly over Chairman of the Board; M. Donald Grant's head.

Ed Kranepool (an original Met from 1962) shouted "Here's to you Leo"  The reference was to Chicago Cubs manager Leo Durocher who's team had held on to first place most of the season. 

Kranepool had had dental surgery the day before, and had a swollen jaw said "screw the jaw, I've waited too long for this." Some of the players raised their bottles & remembered Casey Stengel saying "here's to Casey!"

The Mets were in the midst of a nine game win streak at this point. At 96-61 they were six games up in front of the Chicago Cubs. On October 2nd, 1969 they would win their 100th game of the season. At the start of the season the at Mets were 100-1 odds to win the world series.

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