• Sal Maiorana

A perfect 10 - as in strikeouts in a row - for Tom Seaver

NEW YORK (April 22, 1970) – History would like to tell us that the 1969 New York Mets were one of baseball’s all-time great teams.

History would be wrong.

They were exactly what they have been referred to ever since they stunned the world by beating the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series that year – The Miracle Mets.

Manager Gil Hodges had a collection of good, hard-working, role-playing ballplayers who happened to put it all together for one glorious, unforgettable season. And he also had Tom Seaver, the one true superstar who hoisted the Mets on his back and carried them to the promised land.

“Tom Seaver was the driving force behind the players, always pushing the team to be better than they were, never letting them settle,” said Ralph Kiner, the former slugger who became a Mets broadcaster.

Yet as great as Seaver was in 1969 when he won the NL Cy Young Award with a record of 25-7 – earning one-fourth of New York’s 100 victories – an ERA of 2.21 and 208 strikeouts in 273 innings, he never had a performance that year like the one he authored in 1970.

And on the 50th anniversary of Seaver’s major-league record 10 consecutive strikeouts against the San Diego Padres, no one else has either.

He strode to the Shea Stadium mound on a cool afternoon just moments after having been presented the 1969 Cy Young trophy and as he toed the rubber, there was a sense of satisfaction, but nowhere was there a feeling of contentment.

Seaver had more to do, more to achieve, and on this day, he wrote another chapter of greatness in his success story with those 10 straight strikeouts, part of a record-tying 19-strikeout performance that led the Mets to a 2-1 victory.

“When (Steve) Carlton struck out 19 last year, I said that no one would match that record for a long time,” said Mets pitching coach Rube Walker, who had front row view of that game because it came against the Mets. “Well, son of a gun, this guy comes along and matches it in the very next season. But I’ll tell you what; I’ll stake a lot on this prediction: I don’t think anyone’s going to come along for a long time and match those 10 strikeouts in a row.”

Old Rube was right as only one pitcher – Doug Fister of the Tigers in 2012 – has reached nine straight.

What made this game so interesting is that according to catcher Jerry Grote, Seaver wasn’t at his best at the beginning, though the Padres would likely disagree.

“Actually, he wasn’t that strong in the early innings,” said Grote. “He just kept building up as the game went on. The cool weather helped and by the end of the game he was stronger than ever.”

Seaver gave up a tying solo homer to Al Ferrara in the second, but New York regained the lead in the third when Tommie Agee singled and scored on Bud Harrelson’s triple. Neither team scored again, and pretty soon, all anyone was focused on was Seaver mowing down Padres one after the other.

With two outs in the sixth Ferrara looked at a called third strike to become Seaver’s 10th strikeout victim of the day, and so began the run of 10 in a row.

Nate Colbert went down swinging to open the seventh, and Dave Campbell – who had San Diego’s only other hit, a fourth-inning single – and Jerry Morales went down looking.

In the eighth, Bob Barton struck out swinging and Ramon Webster looked at a third strike which gave Seaver a club-record-tying 15 strikeouts, a mark that had been set just five days earlier by Nolan Ryan. The Shea Stadium scoreboard flashed that message to the crowd, Seaver caught a glimpse, then pushed Ryan down a line in the Mets record book by whiffing pinch-hitter Ivan Murrell.

“Everybody congratulated me when I got No. 16 in the eighth inning,” Seaver said. “I just told them, ‘Let’s get some more runs.’ All I could think of was that Carlton had struck out 19 of us and still lost.”

When the Mets failed to add to their lead in the bottom of the eighth, Seaver took the mound with the slimmest of cushions in the ninth. It didn’t matter.

Three fastballs were all he needed to get Van Kelly, and then Cito Gaston looked at a called third strike, the ninth straight strikeout which set the all-time major-league record. To this point, only Don Wilson, Jim Maloney, Max Surkont and Johnny Podres – who was serving as the Padres minor-league pitching instructor and happened to be in the stands on this day at Shea – had struck out eight in a row.

But Seaver wasn’t satisfied. He wanted No. 10 which would in turn tie Carlton’s mark of 19 overall. Appropriately it was Ferrara, who had homered earlier in the game, whom Seaver would have to get by.

Seaver started with a slider which nipped the corner for a strike. He then threw his only ball of the inning, then came back with a fastball and Ferrara took a mighty cut that missed.

“I was still worried that I’d make a mistake and Ferrara might hit it out,” Seaver said of the 1-2 pitch. “But when I got two strikes on him, I thought I might never get this close again, so I might as well go for it.”

Said Ferrara: “I knew he was going to give me his heat. It was his best shot against my best shot.”

Seaver’s best shot won. His fastball blazed over the inside portion of the plate, Ferrara swung and hit nothing but air.

“He was like a machine those last few innings,” said first baseman Ed Kranepool. “Whomp, whomp, whomp.”