Prophecies of August 20th

Mets fans probably weren’t terribly excited on August 20th, 1968.  We were 23 games out of a playoff spot, little on the line as we took on Ray Sadecki and the Giants.  Sure, Tom Seaver was on the mound, but at this rate, it seemed we might never have enough hitting to get him the wins he deserved.

We struck first, though: Phil Linz, better known for angering an entire Yankees’ team bus with his harmonica, doubled home Jerry Grote and Ron Swoboda in the bottom of the second.  Swoboda drove home Cleon in the third, and Agee in the fifth, and then Linz struck again, singling home Cleon once more.  The icing came in the eighth: Cleon singled home Agee, then Swoboda cleared the bases with a three run homer.

Meanwhile, Seaver went six, and Cal Koonce went the final three.  When all was said and done, August 20th, 1968 ended in an 8-0 victory, Mets over Giants.

On August 20th, 1985, on the other hand, excitement was in the air.  The Giants were in town.  Doc was on the hill.  We know how this one goes.

Doc went the distance, as he always seemed, back then, to do.  Seven hits and three walks, both uncharacteristic, but also sixteen strikeouts.  The nine shutout innings lowered his E.R.A. to 1.74.

We went ahead, once again, in the second inning: Santana and Dykstra drove in Straw and HoJo, and Doc had two runs to work with.  He got another in the fifth: Carter singled home Backman.  One would have been enough.

1985 didn’t end quite as well as we would have liked.  But August 20th, 1985 ended in a 3-0 win, Mets over Giants.

But if 1985 was the beginning of our ascent to greatness, then 1987 was the first stop on our agonizing slide back down from it.  2.5 games back on August 20th, we took on the Giants, every game vital in the standings.

It was Terry Leach on the mound this time, but he didn’t last.  Davey pulled him in the third for David Cone, with the Giants already up 4-1.  Coney righted the ship: four innings, six strikeouts, not a run to speak of.  Keith had driven in Nails in the first, but in the fourth, we took Leach off the hook.

McReynolds started things off with a homer, a solo shot.  Four batters later, Santana drove in HoJo to bring us within one.  And in the sixth, with the bases loaded, Barry Lyons, just one in a string of memorable backup catchers that started around Junior Ortiz and hasn’t ended yet, took a Kelly Downs pitch over the wall.

Randy Myers pitched three innings to seal the deal, nine up and nine down.  And thus, August 20th, 1987 ended in a win, Mets 7-4 over the Giants.

August 20th, 2014 was a relatively unimportant game, if you categorize Mets games by importance, which I must say I don’t.  We were 13.5 games out.  Zack Wheeler was on the hill, facing off against Jeff Samardzija — now, I should note, of the Giants.

We weren’t playing the Giants that August 20th, but due to the advent of interleague play, we had the next best thing: the Oakland A’s, whose stadium, Howie noted on today’s broadcast, is just visible from AT&T park, on a good day with a good pair of eyes.

We had a more familiar cast of characters, that August 20th.  We had Wright, Murph, Grandy.  Duda, d’Arnaud, Wilmer, Lagares, Edgin, Familia.  It was hardly any different from the Mets of today.

This time, it was — who else? — Eric Campbell getting us started, homering to lead off the off the third.  With Duda at the plate later in the inning, Granderson came home on a wild pitch, and two pitches later, Duda drove a ball to the apple, bringing home three more.

Wheeler got hit around for two runs in the fourth and two more in the fifth, but meanwhile, Granderson was driving in Flores and Murph was driving in EYJ, and then Wilmer was driving home Duda to extend the cushion by one more run.  Vic Black allowed a run in the eighth, but Familia shut down the A’s in the ninth to shut the door.

We were 17 games out at the end of 2014.  But August 20th, 2014 ended in a win over the other Bay Area team, 8-5 over the A’s.

***

It wasn’t Tom Seaver but Bartolo Colón, and it wasn’t Phil Linz but Yoenis Cespedes getting us started, but the gist was the same.  This August 20th, we took on the Giants, and won relatively handily.

How will an updated version of this post read in 20 years?  “Cespedes, in his first game off the D.L., homered twice — nearly three times.  De Aza hit one as well.  Colón came out after 6.1, and got the win.  Wilmer and Ruggiano and Asdrubal Cabrera had RBIs as well.  Reed came in in the eighth, and ended the ninth with a line drive double play.  August 20th, 2016, thus, ended in a victory, Mets 9-5 over the Giants.”

And then they’ll describe how the year ended, but note that regardless, August 20th was a win.  And the implication will be there, clear as day if you can pick it out.

Maybe it’s nothing, but it certainly seems that when we beat the Giants — or, Bay Area teams, if you’re that nitpicky — on August 20th, beat them solidly and securely, we’ve got good years ahead of us.  From Phil Linz to Eric Campbell, Cal Koonce to Jeurys Familia, the Mets heritage of beating the giants two thirds of the way through the penultimate month of the season is matched only by their aptitude for making the playoffs — and, often, the World Series — the year after.

Does it mean anything?  Almost certainly not: it’s a coincidence, fun to talk about but useless to make sense of.

But then again, what is a ballgame but a series of coincidences, a fielder somehow being positioned right or a pitcher hitting just the wrong spot or an umpire blinking at just the wrong time?  If it’s meaningless, then why, upon realizing it, are we Mets fans filled with hope that maybe, just maybe, 2017 will emulate 1969 and 1986 and 1988 and 2015 and send us to the playoffs the year after we beat a Bay Area team on the 20th of August?

Why?  There’s no rational reason.  It’s because we’re Mets fans, and we’ve got plenty of reasons for hope next year, regardless of what August 20th has to say about it.  But it sure is fun to talk about.

Just another one of those ridiculous little quirks that makes me glad, each and every day, to be a Mets fan.  And just another reason, one of a great many, to be a little more hopeful that 2017 holds all that 2016 is missing.

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