Tommie Agee had the prescience of a soothsayer.
During 1970 spring training, he stated how he needed to contribute to the Mets: “I’ve got to hit for a better average, I think, and steal more bases — a lot more.”1
He succeeded on both counts, improving his batting average from .271 to .286 and his stolen-base tally from 12 to 31. But he also had more opportunities — 132 games in 1969; 149 in 1970.
Looking at the box score for the Dodgers-Mets game on July 24, 1970, one wouldn’t think that Agee was the hero of the moment with an 0-for-5 performance. But his game-winning, home-plate steal in the bottom of the 10th marked him as such. It was a welcome relief from a victory drought; the Mets were 3-8 in the preceding two weeks.
Dodgers hurler Bill Singer had a four-game winning streak coming into Shea Stadium, including two shutouts — one of them a no-hitter against the Phillies. “Sure I thought about pitching another no-hitter,” said the right-hander. “I tried to pitch the same way; it worked pretty good the last time.”2
Singer allowed five hits in nine innings; Jim Brewer pitched the 10th inning. The right-handed reliever was charged with the Dodgers’ 2-1 loss.
Jerry Koosman took the hill for the Mets, igniting ovations with his two wins against the Baltimore Orioles in the 1969 World Series fresh in the hearts and minds of Mets fans. The Friday night matchup drew 53,657.
Los Angeles scored its first run off Koosman in the top of the fourth inning. Willie Davis did the honors. Kindling the offensive with a leadoff single and a stolen base, the veteran Dodger went to third on Parker’s fly out to Agee. After Lefebvre’s pop fly to third baseman Joe Foy, Ted Sizemore’s single sent Davis across home plate. Bill Russell’s fly out to Cleon Jones gave the Mets a breather from further worry.
There was a rich opportunity for the Mets in the bottom of the second: Art Shamsky led off with a single and Jones’s double delivered him to third. New York’s fans quieted with the outcomes of the next two at-bats: Wayne Garrett struck out looking and Joe Foy popped to Grabarkewitz at third base. Singer gave an intentional pass to Jerry Grote so he could pitch to Koosman, who had an .086 batting average in 1970 and a career average of .119. Singer tallied his second strikeout of the half-inning; Koosman whiffed looking.
Cleon Jones made an outstanding catch of Jeff Torborg’s sinking liner to left field leading off the top of the fifth. Or so he thought. Though it was impressive, second-base umpire Doug Harvey pronounced that Jones’s effort did not result in a catch. Rather, the ball bounced before he snared it. “While Jones rolled around the grass, raising his glove, Torborg eased into second,” wrote Gerald Eskenazi in the New York Times. “When Jones got up to argue, Torborg took third.”3
Singer, meanwhile, kept the Mets in goose eggs until the bottom of the sixth. Ken Singleton walked, then scored on Jones’s double to left field.
Koosman allowed six hits and struck out six; Tug McGraw relieved his fellow lefty at the beginning of the 10th, retiring Parker with a strikeout and Lefebvre and Sizemore with groundouts.
There was more drama in the bottom of the 10th inning. Agee followed McGraw’s leadoff single with a fielder’s-choice bunt toward first base that put men on first and second when Grabarkewitz muffed first baseman Parker’s throw.4
Agee stole second and went to third base on Brewer’s wild pitch, one of his eight in the ’70 season. Brewer struck out Harrelson but walked Singleton and pinch-hitter Donn Clendenon.5 When Agee stole home, he collided with home-plate umpire Shag Crawford and Dodgers backstop Tom Haller, who took over catching duties in the bottom of the ninth. The tumult ended with Agee’s 23rd theft in 1970; he stole eight more bases the rest of the season.
There was no signal from the Mets skipper for Agee’s action. “Ninety-nine and nine-tenths of the time you always steal home on your own,” said Hodges. “And I’ve never given the sign for the other one-tenth. It was a very nice time to be safe.”6
Agee’s decision was curious, though. Jones, up next, had already gone 2-for-4 with two doubles. But Agee focused on Brewer’s priorities. “I knew that that pitcher out there, he was more concerned with throwing strikes than with Tommie Agee,” said the speedster. “It was that way each time I went.”7 Agee broke down his odds of scoring at 80 percent.8
The Dodgers were 12-7 so far in July before kicking off a 10-game road trip with this squeaker. They broke even for the remaining games in the month, going 3-3. Their second-place finish in 1970 was the beginning of a rebound. After losing the 1966 World Series to the Baltimore Orioles in a four-game sweep, the Dodgers finished eighth and seventh for the next two years. In 1969, the first year of the divisional realignment, they finished fourth of six teams in the NL West. In the 1970s they finished in second place six times and first place three times.
National League titles in 1974, 1977, and 1978 marked a new era of Dodgers excellence.9
For the New Yorkers, the game began a 12-game homestand against the Dodgers, Giants, Padres, and Cubs. They ended it with a 7-5 record. In 1970 Mets fans delighted in Agee’s offensive exploits, Tom Seaver’s 18 wins, and the prospect of the team repeating as World Series champions. It was not to be. New York finished in third place in the National League East, six games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The author used Baseball Reference.com and Retrosheet.org for box scores and play-by-play information.
1 Dick Young, “There’s Room for Improvement,” Daily News (New York), March 1, 1970: 39C.
2 Associated Press, “Singer Aims for No-Hitter but Loses in 2nd, 10th,” San Pedro (California) News-Pilot, July 25, 1970: 8.
3 Gerald Eskenazi, “Mets Top Dodgers, 2-1, as Agee Steals Home in 10th; A’s Crush Yanks, 11-0,” New York Times, July 25, 1970: 25.
4 It was meant to be a sacrifice bunt. Eskenazi reported that Agee hit the ball “too hard.”
6 Associated Press, “Mets Edge Dodgers, 2-1, on Agee’s Theft of Home,” Poughkeepsie (New York) Journal, July 25, 1970: 8.
7 John Wiebusch, “Agee’s Steal of Home in 10th Beats Dodgers,” Los Angeles Times, July 25, 1970: 37.
9 The Dodgers lost the World Series to the A’s in 1974 and the Yankees in 1977 and 1978.