In the time it took the Mets and Expos to finish their game on July 9, 1977, they could have watched Luke Skywalker’s journey from farmboy to war hero in the summer blockbuster Star Wars twice.1 Ending after 4 hours and 17 minutes on a two-run homer by Lenny Randle, the Expos-Mets marathon was a summer epic of a different kind. This Saturday night NL East matchup drew 10,407 to Shea Stadium, a fair number considering the sub-.500 records of both squads. The Mets were 31-52 with a nine-game losing streak and a devastating 4-16 record in their last 20 games.
It was part of a downslide after the Mets traded Tom Seaver, on June 15. Not since the Dodgers and Giants left for California two decades before had the New York City area been equally stunned by baseball news.2
Montreal fared a bit better at 38-43 and brought momentum with an 8-2 record in its last 10 contests. But the team faltered, ending the season at 75-87.
It was an endurance test of sorts for newly appointed Mets skipper Joe Torre, who took over when the front office fired Joe Frazier on May 31. “We’re not as bad a team as the record indicates, and we should be a representative team,” the nine-time All-Star declared upon getting the job for a squad that was 16-30 at the time. “I don’t know how it will work, managing my own former teammates. Maybe some of the excuses won’t work now. But May is a little early for a team to quit.”3
Montreal scored first in the 7-5 loss to the hometown nine. Andre Dawson singled in the top of the third; Del Unser followed with a fly out to right field; and Steve Rogers’ sacrifice moved the 1977 NL Rookie of the Year to second base. Dave Cash’s opposite-field double to right brought him home. Randle’s “diving catch” of Chris Speier’s line drive ended the sequence.4
Dawson padded the lead with a two-run homer in the top of the fifth inning, scoring ex-Met Wayne Garrett, who had led off with a single.
The Mets responded with four runs in the bottom half. It started with Mike Vail’s single and a walk to Lee Mazzilli; Doug Flynn loaded the bases with a bunt single. Torre sent Bruce Boisclair to pinch-hit for Craig Swan and the Connecticut native delivered with a double that sent the three runners home. On right fielder Ellis Valentine’s throw to home plate, Boisclair went to third. Randle’s sacrifice fly scored him.
Bobby Valentine’s groundout to third quieted the Mets rooters, but it lasted about as long as a television commercial for Crazy Eddie’s, a chain of electronics stores based in the New York City area with a fast-talking, frenetic-sounding pitchman shouting at the camera about prices so cheap, they’re insane. Henderson banged a two-out single, stole second base, and reached third on Gary Carter’s bad throw. Rogers ended the inning with a strikeout of John Stearns, forcing the blue-and-orange-clad fans to settle for a one-run lead at 4-3.
Montreal tied the score in the top of the sixth. With two outs, right-hander Rick Baldwin walked Valentine and hit Carter. Garrett’s RBI single sent Valentine across the plate. Bob Apodaca got the call to relieve Baldwin — it was one of 59 game appearances Apodaca made in 1977, his last year as a big-league player. The righty struck out Dawson and retired the Expos in one-two-three fashion in the top of the seventh. Torre had Ron Hodges pinch-hit for him in the bottom of the inning; the popular backstop struck out.
Rogers went nine innings, giving up eight hits, one walk, and four runs. He struck out five before Expos skipper Dick Williams sent Sam Mejías to pinch-hit for the right-hander to lead off the top of the 10th. It was a three-up, three-down sequence for Montreal — Mejías struck out looking, Cash flied to Mazzilli, and Speier struck out looking.
Joe Kerrigan started the bottom of the 10th for the Expos; his first batter was John Milner, batting for Skip Lockwood. When Kerrigan walked Randle, there was likely the thought of a stolen base running through the minds of the Shea Stadium crowd; Randle stole 33 bases in ’77. But Valentine’s lineout to first baseman Unser resulted in a double play when he fired to Speier at shortstop to retire Randle.
The score stayed gridlocked until the top of the 11th. Jackson Todd took the pitching baton from fellow righty Lockwood, who had taken it from Apodaca in the top of the eighth. Valentine singled, stole second, and scored his second run of the game on Carter’s single.
New York clawed back with a run in the bottom of the inning on Henderson’s solo home run.
Bill Atkinson assumed pitching duties in the bottom of the 12th and handled the New Yorkers with aplomb. Mazzilli was retired on a comebacker, Flynn flied out to left fielder Warren Cromartie, and Todd struck out. The right-hander stayed on the mound in the 13th, striking out Randle and Henderson.
Dick Williams went to the bullpen again in the bottom of the 14th, picking southpaw Will McEnaney to continue stifling the Mets. And that he did for the next three innings.
The squads stood at 5-5 in the bottom of the 17th, when Mazzilli gave some hope to the Flushing Faithful with a leadoff single. But Flynn and Paul Siebert, who had relieved Lockwood in the 16th inning, each hit into force outs, leaving Randle as the next Met with the responsibility of furthering the offense. Randle did just that with a two-run blast ending the marathon. His heroics extended to defense — three catches for the highlight reel of the game. New York Times scribe Parton Keese selected “a sliding, diving stab of a foul bunt” as the outstanding snare of the trio.5
Randle’s performance gave the Mets a glimmer of brightness in an otherwise dreary 64-98 season, which was compounded by the crosstown Yankees heading toward their first World Series title in 15 years. Randle’s .304 batting average was the highest on the Mets in 1977.
The author used Baseball Reference.com and Retrosheet.org for box scores and play-by-play information.
1 Star Wars emerged as a 1977 summer blockbuster spawning five sequels and three prequels; a CBS holiday special featuring musical numbers; three Family Guy parodies; a merchandising bonanza redefining the way that movie studios value revenue streams beyond the box office; and a space-themed trend in late 1970s popular culture (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Battlestar Galactica, Quark, Mork & Mindy, and Star Trek: The Movie, plus the video games Asteroids, Galaxian, and Space Invaders).
2 The Mets were 6-17 since June 15 and hadn’t won since June 30.
3 Joseph Durso, “Slumping Mets Dismiss Frazier and Select Torre as Manager,” New York Times, June 1, 1977: 1.
4 Bill Verigan, “Randle HR in 17th Ends Met 9-Skid,” New York Daily News, July 10, 1977: 92.
5 Parton Keese, “Randle’s Homer in 17th Ends Mets’ Losing Streak, New York Times, July 10, 1977: 149.