Remembering Mets History (1978) "Bad Dude" John Stearns Wins Out in Home Plate Collision with Big Dave Parker

Friday June 30th, 1978: Joe Torre's fifth place Mets (33-45) were in Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium to play Chuck Tanner's fourth place Pirates (35-38) for a weekend series in the Steel City.

A nice crowd of 31,947 came out as the Mets pitcher Nino Espinosa (6-7) went up against Pirate rookie hurler Don Robinson (4-2).

Trivia: Nino Espinosa would lead the 1978 Mets staff with eleven wins (11-15) & also tie for most losses. Nino pitched 203 innings but struck out just 76 batters while walking 75.

In the top of the 3rd inning, Mets pitcher Nino Espinosa doubled, Len Randle singled & Tim Foli brought in the first run with a sac fly. The two pitchers both pitched well as the game stayed 1-0 until the 5th inning.

In the Pirates 5th, Phil Garner doubled & stole third. He scored on Frank Taveras base hit to tie the game.

In the home 7th, the Garner doubled again. Ken Macha then doubled & shortstop Frank Taveras singled again to make it 3-1 Pirates.

In the top of the 8th, Lenny Randle & Tim Foli both singled to start the inning for New York. The Pirates, Grant Jackson came in to pitch, he got Lee Mazzilli & Steve Henderson to both to pop out in foul territory. But then "the Hot Dog" Willie Montanez came through with a double bringing the Mets within a run 3-2.

Espinosa, Paul Siebert & Dale Murray pitched the Mets through the 8th.

In the 9th, John Stearns led off with a double. The Pirates relief ace, Kent Tekulve came on & got Doug Flynn to foul out. The Pirates brought in Dave Hamilton to face Ed Kranepool. Kranepool, who at this point was one the games best pinch hitters, came through with pinch hit single, scoring Stearns to tie the game.

Pirate manager Chuck Tanner went to his bullpen aging, this time to Ed Whitson. Lenny Randle then tripled, bringing in Kranepool. Joel Youngblood singled as well scoring bringing in Randle. With two out Steve Henderson brought in Youngblood with another single. 

The Mets took a 6-3 lead into the 9th inning with Dale Murray on the mound to save it. Murray got the first out, but then gave up singles to speedsters Frank Taveras & Omar Moreno. 

Then Big Dave Parker came to bat. Parker had won the 1977 batting title. He would win the 1978 batting title & that years MVP Award, hitting 30 HRs with 32 doubles, 12 triples, 117 RBIs & a .394 on base %.

In this game Parker would hit one of his 12 triples, scoring both Tavares & Moreno making it a one run 6-5 game, exciting the Three Rivers Crowd to their feet. 

With two outs, in the bottom of the 9th, the Pirates still down by a run with the winning run Parker, on third base.

The next batter was (future Mets coach) Bill Robinson. Robinson hit a fly ball to left field, Dave Parker tagged at third base, the Mets outfielder, Joel Youngblood who had a good arm, caught it & threw home. 

Parker took off all six foot five, 230 lbs of him barreling into Mets catcher John Stearns. Stearns caught Youngblood's throw, stood his ground tagged out Parker, and was knocked away from home plate. 

Quotes- John Stearns: "I gathered my senses & to my surprise the ball is still nestled in my mitt, like a sleeping baby. I showed it to the umpire & the game was over. I look over at Parker & he was still on the ground, moaning from a fractured jaw." 

The Mets won the game 6-5.

Trivia: John Stearns was one of the toughest guys in baseball. A former college football defensive back, Stearns was more football player than baseball player.

Stearns is the same guy who once tackled a fan who got onto the playing field that security & the police could not catch.  

Stearns had taken on Gary Carter & the Montreal Expos in a another bench clearing brawl. He also had taken on the Big Red Machine at one time. Stearns even tackled the Atlanta Braves mascot Cheif Noc-a-homa, after the Chief had been taunting him. 

John Stearns stood at six feet tall, weighing in at 185 lbs. But it was he, who walked away from the home plate collision without damage.

As for Dave Parker, he had broken his cheekbone & would miss two weeks of action. When he returned, he wore first wore a hockey style goalie mask & then a protective face mask on his helmet around his facial area, much like a football helmet. 

The legend of "Bad Dude" John Stearns continued to grow..................


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