If it weren’t documented in books, scorecards, and newspaper articles, Juan Marichal’s endurance would be the stuff of legend, like Paul Bunyan, posthumous sightings of Elvis Presley, and the Loch Ness Monster.
With a windup gesture extending his left foot somewhere toward Pluto, the San Francisco Giants right-hander sustained 14 innings against the New York Mets on August 19, 1969. But Mets center fielder Tommie Agee finally bested Marichal with a solo home run in the bottom of the 14th, breaking a scoreless tie and giving the Mets their fifth victory in a six-game winning streak. The three-day Woodstock festival in the Catskill Mountains, 100 miles to the north of Shea Stadium, had just ended, but peace and music meant a victory and Meet the Mets for the rooters of the city’s NL ballclub.
The 31-year-old Marichal went to Shea Stadium with a 1-4 record in his last five outings. “I felt sure things would work out for me because I wasn’t pitching that bad,” said Marichal before the game. “But I was sorry I didn’t win at least two of the four. If I had, we would have been out in front [of the National League West] by two or three games.”1
But the lonely win showed signs of propulsion — it was a 3-0 shutout against the Chicago Cubs in his last game before taking on the Mets. The Giants hoped to keep pace in a tight division; five of the six teams were separated by only 1½ games entering the day’s action.
Showing early command, Marichal registered two of his 13 strikeouts in the first inning — Agee and Bobby Pfeil, a rookie part-time infielder and pinch-hitter. Wayne Garrett, another rookie infielder, and Ed Kranepool whiffed in the second, followed by Mets starting pitcher Gary Gentry in the third.
New York chipped away at Marichal in the fourth inning. Cleon Jones banged a one-out single for his first hit in a 3-for-5 night, filched second, and advanced to third on Art Shamsky’s 4-3 groundout. But the possibility of scoring ended when Garrett struck out for the second time.
Meanwhile, Gentry was matching Marichal zero for zero. A member of the 1967 College World Series champion Arizona State University Sun Devils, Gentry paired with the Mets organization in the amateur draft after that season. It was not Gentry’s first draft call, though — the Astros, Orioles, and Giants had selected him in the past two years.
Gentry signed with the Mets less than a week after ASU’s championship. “Some said he got what he deserved after spurring the other suitors and winding up with the worst team in baseball,” wrote Gentry’s SABR biographers, Matthew Silverman and Andrew Schiff.2
Gentry’s choice was prophetic. After going 4-4 for the Double-A Williamsport Mets in 1967 and honing his craft toward a 12-8 record for the Triple-A Jacksonville Suns in ’68, Gentry ascended to the parent club in 1969. He made the Mets roster as a rookie in 1969 and held a spot in the starting rotation from the start of the season.
In the top of the fifth, the Giants triggered a wave of worry in Queens; Hal Lanier singled with one out and Gentry made a late throw to Kranepool on Marichal’s sacrifice bunt. Facing the top of the Giants batting order with two men on base, Gentry navigated through the pressure by striking out right fielder Bobby Bonds. Former Met Ron Hunt grounded to third baseman Pfeil, forcing out Lanier on an unassisted play.
The Mets kept Bonds busy in the bottom of the fifth: Kranepool, Bud Harrelson, and Duffy Dyer flied out to the right fielder. In the bottom of the seventh, Marichal struck out Garrett for the third time. The game remained scoreless.
San Francisco had runners on the corners in the ninth, inspiring Mets fans to hope that baseball divinities favored the colors blue and orange. Gentry walked Willie McCovey — the NL leader in home runs and RBI in 1968 and 1969 — who moved to second on Bob Burda’s sacrifice and to third on Bobby Etheridge’s groundout to second. Pinch-hitter Dave Marshall drew an intentional walk, increasing the opportunities for a third out on a grounder. And that’s exactly what happened.
In the bottom of the ninth, Agee and Pfeil struck out again, and the action moved to extra innings.
Mets skipper Gil Hodges kept Gentry in the game. It was the seventh time the right-hander had gone nine innings in ’69 and the only time he endured into extra innings. (He went the full nine twice more in the regular season.)
New York’s 10th-inning rally revived the Mets fans. A single and Art Shamsky’s sacrifice put Jones on second base. He advanced to third on his second stolen base of the game; Garrett’s grounder to second kept him there. Marichal intentionally walked Kranepool, but the strategy for an infield out was unneeded. Harrelson whiffed for Marichal’s 10th K of the night.
Using the double switch tactic in the top of the 11th, Hodges sent Tug McGraw to relieve Gentry and Rod Gaspar to right field. The double switch allowed Hodges to substitute Gaspar for Gentry in the batting lineup but not the field; Gentry would have been the second batter in the bottom of the inning. It was a nice strategy, but a futile one; Marichal struck out the side. Dyer went down swinging; Gaspar and Agee got caught looking.
The Mets threatened again in the 12th. With one out, Jones got his third hit. McGraw followed in the cleanup slot, a result of the double switch replacing Shamsky with the lefty reliever.
What seemed like a routine play when McGraw bunted to move Jones to second base led to an impact more fitting Shea Stadium’s other tenants, the National Football League’s New York Jets. Batterymates Marichal and Jack Hiatt charged the ball — the former got there first and tossed it to second baseman Hunt, who did the textbook move of covering first base when its regular patrolman was absent.
McGraw’s attempt to beat out Marichal’s throw led to “a shattering collision,” propelling the ball 35 feet toward right field.3 Seeing an opportunity, Jones sprinted to home plate. But Hunt found the ball and fired it to Hiatt, who collided with Jones for the second clash — and second out — of the inning. McGraw went to third.
The scorekeeper charged Marichal with an error on the play. Hunt stayed in the game but the incident caused “strained ligaments in his left arm.” His injury kept him on the bench for several games.4 Garrett flied to Bonds for the third out.
Jones complemented his batting with an outstanding defensive moment in the top of the 13th. When McCovey ambled his 6-foot-4 frame to the batter’s box, Hodges maneuvered Pfeil to left field. This four-man defensive posture boosted the odds of catching a McCovey fly ball or, at the very least, ensured that he stay on first base by limiting him to a single for any ball hit in the outfield.
Whipping the bat around with the force of a Ferrari engine, the .324-hitting McCovey sent the ball toward the Shea Stadium left-field bleachers. If the Ringling family were watching, it would probably have sent Jones a circus contract. “But Jones leaped against the fence, bounced off it into the dirt and clutched the ball in an acrobatic catch that saved the game,” described Joseph Durso in the New York Times.5
Jones’s catch extended the left-handed slugger’s recent drought to 0-for-13.6
Agee’s one-out blast in the bottom of the 14th inning ended Marichal’s epic deeds: 151 pitches, just six hits.7 If he was indefatigable in performance, then Agee was the same in spirit. “Sooner or later, I knew I’d get a hit, even if it took until five in the morning,” said the center fielder of his one-out, game-winning homer.8
Nearly 49,000 fans9 went through the Shea Stadium turnstiles that night; Mets rooters who remained till the end of the 3-hour, 44-minute battle cheered louder than the rock music at Woodstock. The Mets remained eight games behind the first-place Cubs in the NL East, but it was their fifth consecutive win. They had started the surge of 38 wins in 48 games that would seize an unexpected division title and begin their journey to winning the world championship.
The author used Baseball-Reference and retrosheet.org for box scores and play-by-play information:
1 Jack Hanley, “Juan’s Bewildering Slump Cost Giants League Lead,” Daily Independent Journal (San Rafael, California), August 20, 1969: 43.
2 Matthew Silverman and Andrew Schiff, “Gary Gentry,” Society for American Baseball Research Baseball Biography Project, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/gary-gentry/.
3 Joseph Durso, “Mets 1-0 Victors on Agee’s Homer in 14th,” New York Times, August 20, 1969: 53.
4 Pat Frizzel, “Bit by Bit, Mason Moves Up as Giant Lodge Utilityman,” The Sporting News, September 6, 1969: 11.
8 Associated Press, “No Support for Marichal, Perry Hopes Tide Turns,” Daily Independent Journal (San Rafael), August 20, 1969: 42.