My Moment with a Miracle Met, August 20 Game Thread (by Ububba)

The summer when I was 10 years old, my mother shipped me off to a sports camp in Fayetteville, N.C. The first week was tennis instruction, second week was basketball and the third week was baseball. I would stay with a friend who lived in Army housing in nearby Ft. Bragg. He and I would do the day camp, pretty much for the whole month of July 1974.

My memories? During the tennis week, I was taught how to serve with some authority—all about the footwork, y’see. During the hoops week, I learned the ball-handling drills Pete Maravich once employed when he was growing up in the area. (The instructors called it “Rhythm,” and if you could do the whole routine correctly, it sounded like a breakbeat.) And during the baseball week, it was basic stuff—look for a good pitch at the plate, keep your eye on the ball, don’t turn your head when a hot grounder’s blazing in your direction. But through it all, the baseball week provided the most marvelous memory.

Why? The campers got the opportunity to meet and take instruction from a Miracle Met of 1969. Now, he wasn’t a Koosman or Gentry. He was a contributor—6 wins, 7 saves in 83 IP—but not enormous component to the staff. He didn’t even pitch in the post-season vs. the Braves in the NLCS, which the Mets swept, or in the World Series, which saw the Mets shock Baltimore in 5 games.

His name was Cal Koonce, a twice-sold-but-never-traded, journeyman right-hander, who toed the rubber for the Cubs, Mets and Red Sox, mostly out of the bullpen. He was a Fayetteville local, but when he first showed up on that youth-league diamond, you would’ve thought that Tom Terrific himself had paid a visit.

Why? The ring, baby. From the moment he stepped out of his car, you could see it from across the field.

Eventually, all the day-campers crowded around him just to get a good look at that glittering chunk of a World Series ring—and boy, was it a beauty. Before he ever picked up a ball that first day, he held the ring out for us to inspect. It had a great, big diamond in the middle, a Mets logo on one side and Shea Stadium on the other. Awestruck? You betcha—all of us.

He answered all our questions, silly or otherwise, and showed us a couple pitches. When it came time to show off the action on his curve, for some reason, he pointed to me to put on the catching gear. I usually played first base and, if the situation were different, I might’ve protested, but not here, not for a former big leaguer. Before I knew it, I was yanking shin guards out of a duffel bag.

I remember warming him up and feeling as if his follow-through carried him halfway to home plate. It was obviously an easy motion—after all, he was throwing to a 10-year-old—but it was the fastest pitch I’d ever caught. Zzzzzip—thud! And after he signaled that the hook was coming, damn if it didn’t break side-to-side the first time he threw it and down to my ankles the second.

Looking back, it was a bit of a thrill to be “catching a big leaguer,” but at the time, I was just happy that none of this tosses went to the backstop. When we were done as “a battery” and just before he went onto another instruction, he gave me the nod—I’d done alright. I’m sure I was beaming the rest of the day.

In the years immediately afterward, I became mildly fascinated with the Mets and read two terrifically funny books about the franchise. “Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game” by Jimmy Breslin detailed the day-to-day foibles of the hopeless ’62 squad, which still holds the record for most losses in a season (120). And “The Year the Mets Lost Last Place” by Paul Zimmerman & Dick Schaap zeroed in on a crucial stretch of the miracle ’69 season. No doubt it was all informed by that afternoon with Cal Koonce.

Of course, that minor fascination didn’t last long. Every time I’d turn on a TV game from Shea Stadium, I’d see wind-swirled garbage flying around the place and pitchers incessantly stepping off the mound to let another jet from LaGuardia do another loud flyover. I have friends who actually wax poetic about Shea, but it always looked like a dump to me—and I found little charm in that place (or that team) beyond those two books and that one summer thrill of catching a Miracle Met.

Still, thanks for the memories to the late Cal Koonce.

Back to Life, Back to Reality: With MLB’s best record, the Braves are kicking much ass. Their 13-3 August (including a 5-1 stretch vs. Washington) has essentially clinched the division. Meanwhile, the Mets are 7-7 vs. Atlanta and showing some signs of life with a decent starting staff. Their lineup remains a mystery—they’re 7th in the league in scoring runs despite ranking 14th in NL OPS. And somehow again, we miss the magnificent Matt Harvey, the one guy who has sold tickets in Flushing and done ratings on SNY.

Tonight, it’s Brandon Beachy (looking sharper each start) vs. Georgia native/Braves killer Zack Wheeler (let’s kick his ass this time). We’ll be at Citi Field as well, scorecard in one hand, beer in the other. Go Bravos.

86 thoughts on “My Moment with a Miracle Met, August 20 Game Thread (by Ububba)”

  1. “We’ll be at Citi Field as well, scorecard in one hand, beer in the other.”

    I guess I could think of places I’d rather be tonight, but not many.

    Beachy seems to have that assertive approach back that served him so well last year.

  2. Braves: 76-48, +132 run differential (pythagorean: 77-47)
    Dodgers: 72-52, +48 run differential (pythagorean: 68-56)

    According to both MLB and ESPN, the Dodgers have surpassed the Braves for #1 in their respective power rankings this week. How? Who knows.

  3. From the last thread:

    I think Fredi has improved drastically since 2011 as an in-game manager. He isn’t putting too much work on any one reliever when he can help it. Most of his moves that are questionable have an arguable defense. The only annoying thing he has done this year is the thing with letting the pitcher hit then pulling him after one batter the next half inning.

  4. @3 The only way to judge the Dodgers as the best team is baseball is to give a lot of weight to recent results over the full-season standings. I don’t buy “momentum” per se but the Dodgers are a different/better team now (with Hanley and Puig) than their early-season makeup. I’d certainly agree that they’re a good team right now, though I wouldn’t put them ahead of the Braves.

  5. @3

    LA is a larger TV market. This is how ESPN works. Plus, it is all opinion. We will find out who the better team is come October, the only time it really matters.

  6. @blazon

    Since you were asking for more opinions on the posters, I really like Yankee Stadium, Kauffman Stadium and Fenway Park (and I think I’d really like U.S. Cellular Field, too, if I recognized that ballpark feature). The rest are varying degrees of fine, with the exception of the Chase Field one, which I’m not a fan of at all.

  7. Bethancourt homered again last night. His OPS is up to .787. How many big league teams would be thrilled to pencil him in as their starting catcher next season? I suspect well over a dozen.

  8. ububba…

    the tackiness of the old Shea was redeemed for me on occasional visits with my son by the home made posters and banners brought in to each game by the Met fans..they seem to have gone the way of the dodo long since which is a shame…

    wish I could remember more of them- there were lots of different ones for various game situations and some fans brought several and shuffled them like a deck of cards to find the one that was apropos – what sticks in my mind is the chicken- handsomely drawn in color, larger than life size, and brandished vigorously(the fan standing, full erect) at the opposing pitcher and manager on an intentional walk…

    corny as hell but what great fun.

  9. @8
    If Gattis’ defense is a real concern for the organization, then Bethancourt has to be held on to for at least the first part of next year. However, if Gattis shows the ability to manage the game and provide average defense, we have a heckuva trading chip.

  10. However, if Gattis shows the ability to manage the game and provide average defense, we have a heckuva trading chip.

    Evan Gattis since returning from the oblique strain:

    .238/.281/.310 (590 OPS)

  11. In all, he’s batting .247/.305/.486. I remember someone comparing him to Wilin Rosario on twitter. That seems reasonable to me. The question is whether he can learn plate discipline at the major league level. Even if he can’t, I think he could probably eke out a Lairdlike living as a backup catcher who has power and an arm but no plate discipline. (Or, if you like, a poor man’s John Buck or Miguel Olivo.) Guys like that can hang around the majors for a good long while. I’d like to see him get a whole lot of chances to fail in a Braves uniform, though.

  12. I think that has more to do with the league pitching him differently, and they probably had time to scout him better when he went down with injury. I’d like to look at the data, but how I mentioned previously, he’s getting way more breaking pitches than he was in the beginning of the season. I could be wrong, but I’d imagine a rookie with no book on him just gets a ton of big league fastballs until he proves he can hit them. Gattis has done that, he’s had enough at-bats, and the league has figured out that he can’t hit a major league breaking pitch yet.

    Let’s be honest. Gattis was essentially taking BP for the first two months of his career. Same with Puig, and they’re both great fastball hitters.

  13. The Dodgers have been more or less unbeatable for two months and have better high-end talent than the Braves. The Braves are deeper, but I still wouldn’t want to run into Kershaw/Greinke/Ryu in a short series.

    @4: My only complaint with Fredi Gonzalez this year has been leaving Simmons at leadoff for too long, and even there it’s not like he was spoiled for alternatives — you can’t play Freeman or McCann or Uggla there, and Heyward and Upton weren’t exactly covering themselves with glory for most of the year. Clint Hurdle will win MoY if the Pirates don’t collapse, and if they do Mattingly will, but I think Gonzalez has had a vintage Bobby Cox season this year.

  14. An interesting nugget from an otherwise rote Heyward story by Peanut:

    This will pushed Heyward through the first two months of this season, as he battled back from the surgery and got used to the fact that his mentor, Michael Bourn, was no longer around. Heyward’s patience and perseverance has once again paid dividends, as he has batted .305 with an .887 OPS and raised his batting average more than 100 points (.146 to .257) in his past 63 games.

    I had never seen Bourn described as Heyward’s “mentor” before, but there’s no doubt that Heyward is a remarkably good defensive outfielder and a terrific baserunner, and he may have learned some of that from Bourn. It’s really interesting — they are such different players (other than the strikeouts, I guess), but it’s cool that Jason wanted Michael to take him under his wing. He’s clearly improved a great deal as a player since coming into the majors in all of the facets of his game away from the plate.

  15. Fredi may be reaching his Andy Reid ceiling. Keeps the locker room together, gets the most out of his guys, and you’re just going to have to live with the fact that he’s going to burn two timeouts in the third quarter and kick a field goal down 7 late in the game.

    There’s something to be said for that, as the Red Sox of 2012 would tell you. But my lingering worry is that the playoffs tend to magnify one’s tactical shortcomings in ways that linger more than a random regular season-game botch. That’s what always happened to Andy.

  16. Or what Alex said.

    I do think it’s a little premature to label him as not having a lot of plate discipline. After all, his ISO is around .060. Serve a couple two strike breaking pitches into right field and you’re looking at a .275/.340./.515 line that’d give him the third highest OPS on the team. Seriously, give him seven more singles on the year, and that’s what you’re looking at.

  17. Nice story, ububba. There really was nothing to like about Shea. Cold and windy until about July, poorly maintained facilities (I still love Mac’s poll about what to name the as-of-then-unnamed CitiField with the clear choice: “It doesn’t matter what they call it; within six months it will smell like urine anyway.”) and a modal clientele my wife always described as “Riker’s Island on a day pass.” (For the uninitiated, Riker’s Island is NYC’s prison and very close to Shea/CitiField.) That it could be replaced by something as nice as CitiField is astonishing to me.

    Can’t make it today or tomorrow, so you’re on your own. Go Braves.

  18. I can’t be upset by Usual Sports Entertainment Outlets ranking the Dodgers ahead of the Braves. Dodgers at current aren’t the same as the ones earlier in the year, and they’ve got more name talent at the top and in the rotation. They’re good. We’re not being slighted.

  19. #21
    “Riker’s Island on a Day Pass.” Gotta remember that one.

    Also, for anyone who’s ever flown into LaGuardia, you get an up-close view of the Riker’s fortress as you hit LGA’s landing strip. Talk about getting “Scared Straight”…

    But yeah, I really do like Citi Field. It’s a ballpark, not a mall/coliseum.

  20. AAR-

    Any chances you’ll be at Citi tomorrow also? I am taking the train up from DC for the game and would love to just say hello and thank you for keeping the website up…

    -Andrew B

  21. If I’m in the front office of the Yankees, it’s all I can do to not order a hit on Alex Rodriguez.

    We’re paying the unrepentant cheater the GDP of a developing nation, he’s suing us, he’s publicly claiming perhaps criminal malfeasance on our part and HE’S HIT .030 IN THE PLAYOFFS FOR US for as long as I can remember.

    And if my lawyers tell me there’s absolutely nothing I can do until the hearing, I’m firing Girardi for defending him.

  22. Well, the Yankees are trying to make the post-WC/post-season, an always-lucrative endeavor.

    A-Rod has actually hit pretty well in the dozen or so games since he’s returned. An oft-repeated line around here: The Cubs pitchers had more HRs than Yankee 3Bs before A-Rod returned.

    Since his return, home attendance has ticked upwards and YES ratings have spiked. So… it’s a pretty weird situation we’re seeing.

  23. The Dodgers have been the hottest team in 70 years. ESPN as a whole is biased, sure, but there’s no conspiracy here: the ranking is defensible, if not justified. Nothing to see here.

    Also of note: over the past 30 days, both the Dodgers and Braves have compiled 10.8 total fWAR. But the Tigers have compiled 11.4 over that same span.

  24. 27 – Hell Yes! There’s absolutely no reason the Yankees should have to honor a contract they bargained for in good faith. And since A-Rod isn’t a goodwill ambassador for baseball anymore he’s lost his diplomatic immunity and been found guilty in the court of opinion and that’s really all the due process anyone should get, regardless of their “unions” and “CBA”s and all that other commie lingo those hippies use to get away with stuff

  25. 31, that’s A-FRAUD. Everybody else did it just once, or to come back from injury, like the TRUE YANKEES of 2009 who really won that title like Cabrera, Pettite, Cervelli, and Hairston,

  26. #31
    After the suspension and/or settlement, they’ll end up paying plenty. Just depends on how much they pay & how much the insurance company pays.

  27. Their insurance company may well tell the Yankees to go to hell after it’s become obvious they are counting on that policy to bail them out to a degree, and don’t seem to be above putting their thumb on the scale to make it happen. I’d love to see them have to try and sue for it.

  28. All of this is very entertaining. Really, it is. But I can’t help but think that the harder A-Rod thrashes, the tighter he inadvertently pulls the noose.

  29. Well, that’s that. I know you should never give up on this team this year, but 4 runs feels insurmountable tonight.

  30. I know it’s against the flowchart but I would have liked to see Walden there.

    Edit: Good job, Luis.

  31. @49, pitch/fx says he’s lost about 1 mph on his average fastball. To my eyes it seems worse, but I guess that’s something that will probably improve over time.

  32. The radio guys said he looks slower because he was throwing the 4 seam more which is a 90mph pitch for him, instead of the 2 seam, which goes 93/94, fwiw

  33. @58 yeah, Gattis is stuck in a real funk – he’s chasing a ton of pitches off the plate, and hasn’t made quality contact with many pitches in the zone either. Frankly, it seems like it’s been forever since Gattis got in a hitter’s count and made the pitcher throw him something good to hit.

  34. Yeah he’s flying way open on everything. He won’t see many fastballs and those he does won’t be strikes. Until he adjusts he’s gonna be useless. Hopefully our army of hitting coaches can help him.

  35. @57 Never heard of a guy having a slower 4 seam before. It’s supposed to be the harder pitch, to make up for the fact that it doesn’t move.

  36. Also we’re the only team in either league that throws Ike Davis strikes. Sometimes I really wonder about our pitching plan of attack.

  37. If we lose tonight, we fall to 7-8 against the Mets this year. That’s…slightly embarrassing.

  38. We might lose the season series to the Mets even though we’ve dodged Harvey like every time. Hard to reconcile that with a team that I think should make a deep run in the playoffs.

  39. He was mainly throwing his 4-seam tonight, and it was anywhere from 85-91 mph. Maybe the gamecast is confusing his change with the 4-seam occasionally, but there’s a reason his fastball hasn’t been the plus pitch it was before the surgery. I also thought the velocity came back first after Tommy John surgery, command later.

  40. If the Braves are going to have an “achilles heel” team this season, I’d much rather it be a team like the Mets that aren’t going to make the playoffs. Losing to LolMets now doesn’t reflect too well on the Braves, but it’s not like we’re not a playoff-caliber team just because one random scrub team plays us tough.

  41. Well, that game sucked. Moving on…


    If it makes you feel any better, I don’t think our crappy play against the Mets this season has anything to do with whether or not we succeed in the postseason. We also have losing records against the Padres, Brewers, and White Sox this year. None of those teams are particularly fantastic, either. It happens, and it’s pretty much random. Just be glad we won’t be facing the Mets in the playoffs.

  42. I’m pretty sure that Chip and Joe make at least one dumb, harmless-yet-classless comment like that per game. It seems to happen a lot.

  43. I guess it was Buck Belue on the pre-game show that said something pretty funny (this was obviously before Byrd’s homerun tonight). He said, “Marlon Byrd is batting .288 on the season with 20 hrs and 68 rbis. It seems like he has put up most of those numbers against the Braves.”
    after some more talk he looks up the numbers and says:

    “Yeah, here it is right here; In 14 games against Atlanta Byrd is batting .291 with 1 hr and 4 rbis.”

    Is it just me, or are Byrd’s numbers against Atlanta fairly indicative of what he’s done all year and possibly a little worse? Sorry, but I just had to laugh.

  44. Nothing to worry about today. That’s because ALEX WOOD is starting. Ike Davis might as well just stay in the dugout.

    How good does Wood have to be before people want him on the playoff roster, let alone starting a playoff game, let alone getting a modicum of the love that Evan Gattis gets? The world may never know.

  45. 79—At least Belue makes up for being clueless by having the worst radio voice in the history of the world.

  46. @83

    No kidding. I am not sure why Tony Schiavone is doing games across town, when he could easily replace Chip.

    I would love to here this:


  47. @82 I’ve never looked up Ryan Buchter before – power lefty with a great K rate and awful BB rate – from a stat line perspective, he reminds me of Mike Dunn.

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