After starting their 1967 season with a loss, just as they had for the previous six years, the New York Mets sent their newest young star, Tom Seaver, to the mound for the second game of their season-opening series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.1
An audience of 5,005 “polar bears,” among them movie director Alfred Hitchcock, showed up on a chilly afternoon to see the Mets take the field.2 The crowd paled in comparison to the more than 31,000 who showed up on Opening Day.
Joe Fox of the New York Daily News called the 22-year-old Seaver “the kid from California.”3 Mets manager Wes Westrum said he had little advice for his new right-hander, just telling him, “[T]hey use the same bat and the same ball and the same home plate in the big leagues.”4 This advice came as the rookie faced a formidable Pirates lineup that included three future Hall of Famers.5
Matty Alou, whose .342 batting average in 1966 had led all major-leaguers, led off with a double off “the kid” and went to third when Roberto Clemente grounded out to first baseman Ron Swoboda with one out. Seaver then got his first major-league strikeout — fanning Donn Clendenon — to end the Pirates half of the first. Seaver had two more strikeouts as he retired the Pirates in order in the second.
Left-hander Woodie Fryman started for the Pirates. The 27-year-old Fryman, whom the New York Daily News’s Joe Fox incorrectly called the “oldest looking 23-year old in baseball,” was coming off a 12-9 record as a rookie in 1966.6 After Fryman retired the side in order in the first, the Mets took the lead in the second. Tommie Reynolds, playing in left field for the injured Tommy Davis, singled with one out. Jerry Buchek, who had joined the Mets on April 1 in a trade from St. Louis, lined Fryman’s first pitch over the left-field wall, giving the Mets a 2-0 lead.
Pittsburgh got on the scoreboard in the third as Seaver faced the formidable Pirates lineup a second time. Alou led off with a walk and Maury Wills singled. Clemente then singled. Alou scored and Wills reached third. Seaver did not let the run rattle him. He struck out Willie Stargell and Clendenon. Bill Mazeroski’s fly out ended the Pirates rally.
The Pirates tied the game in the fourth. Seaver struck out leadoff batter Gene Alley. After walking catcher Jesse Gonder, he struck out Fryman; it looked as though he was headed for a quiet inning. Then Seaver hit Alou and Wills hit his second single, scoring Gonder to tie the game.
Fryman, “a control pitcher, lost his control in the fifth.”7 After walks to Ken Boyer and Swoboda with one out, Pirates manager Harry Walker called Vernon Law — 37 years old and in his 16th major-league season, all with the Pirates — out of the bullpen. Law came into the game with a 10-1 record as a starter against the Mets over the past five years. The last time the Mets beat him was on August 19, 1964. Law got the final two outs of the frame.
Seaver made it through the fifth. He walked Clendenon. After Clendenon was caught stealing, Seaver retired the next two batters. He got Gonder to fly out to start the sixth but then ran into trouble. He gave up a double to pitcher Law. Then Seaver hit Alou for the second straight time, prompting Westrum to go to his bullpen. “I just ran out of gas,” Seaver said afterward.8
Right-hander Chuck Estrada “made his debut as a Met in typical Met peril: [two] men on base and Clemente batting.” Estrada gave up a single to Wills to load the bases but got out of the jam when Clemente hit into a third-to-first double play. Estrada then “settled into a relief pitching duel with Law, who had started pitching in 1948, when Seaver was three years old.”9
Law kept the Mets in check until the eighth. Buchek led off that inning with a single and moved to third on a sacrifice and a groundout. Westrum originally planned to send up Chuck Hiller but pinch-hit Larry Stahl for Bud Harrelson when it appeared that Hiller would be intentionally walked. After Stahl grounded out, Hiller, who set a club record with 16 pinch hits in 1966, batted for Estrada.
Pirates pitching coach Clyde King went to the mound to talk to Law. “He asked me if I wanted to pitch to Hiller or [Don] Bosch,” said Law. “When he was with the Giants I just tried to throw Hiller strikes. I don’t know Bosch.”10
Hiller sent Law’s second pitch to right field for a double. Clemente tried to make a shoestring catch but was able only to knock the ball down. Buchek crossed home as Clemente scrambled to get the ball.
Hiller said afterward, “Sure he wanted to pitch to me. What the heck, Tommy [Davis, who was poised to pinch-hit after Hiller] led the league in batting two times in a row.”11
Ron Taylor pitched the ninth for the Mets. For the few fans who remained and “endured years of heartache and the 548 defeats, everything was set just right for the Pirates’ half.”12 Wills hit a shot that looked as though it would drop for a hit. But Bosch came running in and caught the ball at his knees.
Taylor said after the game, “I thought, ‘Oh geez!’ Once Wills gets on base anything can happen.” Bosch told reporters, “I was cheating in a little shallower in the ninth, just from watching him the times before. With Wills, you’ve got to cheat. If you give him a single, it’s as good as a double.”13
With Wills out of the way, Taylor struck out Clemente and Stargell to clinch the Mets win and earn the save. Estrada earned his first — and only — win as a Met.
Although Seaver didn’t get a win, he caught the attention of sportswriters. Charles Feeney of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote “Young Seaver showed fine poise for a rookie. He had his strikeout pitch and this kept the Bucs under control.”14 Seaver won his first game on April 20, 1967, when he pitched 7⅔ innings in the Mets’ 6-1 win over the Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium.
Estrada’s win gave the Mets a 1-1 record. It was the earliest in the season that they had won a game in their short history. “The names of the heroes go around in a dizzying swirl: Tom Seaver, Jerry Buchek, Tom Reynolds, Chuck Estrada, Ron Taylor, Don Bosch. None of them ever wore a Met uniform in a winning game before. The mind boggles at the impact,” wrote Newsday’s Steve Jacobson.15
Seaver said later, “Some people, who’d watched the Mets stumble through their first five seasons, cracked jokes after the game; ‘Break up the Mets. They’ve reached .500. From here on, it’s all downhill.’ I didn’t laugh. I hadn’t been raised on the Met legend; I wasn’t part of that losing history.”16 By the end of the season, Seaver had begun to make believers of Mets fans when his 16 wins, 170 strikeouts, and 2.70 ERA earned him the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, I used the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites for box-score, player, team, and season pages, pitching and batting logs, and other pertinent material.
1 Seaver was originally drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1965 but did not sign. He was then drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 1966. But Commissioner William Eckert ruled the contract invalid because Seaver had signed it during the college baseball season. After the contract was voided, Seaver planned to return to the University of Southern California but the NCAA ruled him ineligible. When Seaver threatened to sue baseball, Eckert said any other team could match Atlanta’s original offer and if more than one team was interested, there would be a drawing. When the Indians, Phillies, and Mets all expressed interest in Seaver, the drawing was held and the Mets won the lottery.
2 Joseph Durso, “Mets Beat Pirates, 3-2, on Hiller’s Pinch Double in 8th for First Victory,” New York Times, April 14, 1967: 43.
3 Joe Fox, “Mets in Win Column, Clip Pirates, 3-2, on Hiller’s 2B,” New York Daily News, April 14, 1967: 66.
5 Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, and Bill Mazeroski were elected to the Hall of Fame. Donn Clendenon hit .291 with 76 home runs in his first six seasons with the Pirates. Maury Wills had joined the Pirates in a three-player trade with the Dodgers on December 1, 1966. He had stolen 421 bases in his eight years with Los Angeles, leading the league in steals six times. Matty Alou had become a Pirate in a three-player trade with the Giants on December 1, 1965. He led the league with a .342 batting average in 1966.
7 Charley Feeney, “Pittsburgh Finds Mets Tough Roadblock, 3-2,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 14, 1967: 26.
10 Steve Jacobson, “Mets Stand Knee Deep in Heroes,” Long Island Newsday April 14, 1967: A29.
15 Jacobson. During the team’s early years, the Mets made many moves, mostly through trades, to try to improve the team. Seaver joined the team in 1967 after one year in the minors. Buchek had arrived in a trade with St. Louis. Tommie Reynolds was taken from the Kansas City Athletics in the 1966 Rule 5 draft. Chuck Estrada spent five years with the Baltimore Orioles before being sent to the Chicago Cubs in 1966 as part of a conditional deal. He was signed on November 30, 1966, after the Cubs released him. Ron Taylor was purchased from the Houston Astros on February 10, 1967. Don Bosch was traded to the Mets in a four-player deal with the Pirates on December 6, 1966. Other new players in 1967 were Tommy Davis, who came from the Dodgers in a four-player trade on November 29, 1966. Don Cardwell arrived in the Bosch trade. Pitchers Danny Frisella and Don Shaw were called up from the minors that year after spending 1966 with the Tidewater Tides.
16 Peter Golenbock, Amazin’: The Miraculous History of New York’s Most Beloved Baseball Team (New York: St. Martin’s Publishing Group, 2016), 190.