1969 marked the first year of the new playoff system in major league baseball. Each league was divided into five team divisions and the division winners played for the right to go to the World Series.
In the National League the Mets faced the Atlanta Braves in a best of five game playoff and in spite of home runs in each game by the Braves’ Hank Aaron, the Mets swept Atlanta to advance to the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles.
Met’s manager Gil Hodges who had played on the winning Dodger teams of the late forties, fifties and early sixties used a combination of veteran players including former Red Art Shamsky and former Pirate Donn Clendenon together with rising stars like Tom Seaver masterfully to win 100 games. Cleon Jones led the team in hitting with a .340 average and Tommy Agee led them in home runs with 26 with no other player having more than twelve.
It was their pitching where they excelled, led by Tom Seaver 25-7 with a 2.21 ERA and lefthander Jerry Koosman 17-9, 2.28 ERA. Ron Taylor in the bullpen compiled a 9-4 record and thirteen saves and young Nolan Ryan was 6-3, striking out 92 hitters in 89 innings.
The heavily favored Orioles won 109 games and dispatched the Minnesota Twins in three straight games although they had to go extra innings in the first two.
Lefthander Mike Cuellar led the staff with a 23-11 record, 2.38 ERA and was helped by Dave McNally 20-7, Jim Palmer 16-4, 2.34 ERA, Tom Phoebus 14-7 and Pete Richert 7-4 in the bullpen with 12 saves. The Orioles staff had fifty complete games.
They were led in batting by Boog Powell 37 home runs, 121 RBI’s, .304 average, Frank Robinson 32 home runs, 100 RBI’s and a .308 average and 111 runs scored, Brooks Robinson 23 home runs and 84 RBI’s and centerfielder Paul Blair with 26 round trippers and 20 stolen bases.
The series opened in Memorial Stadium in Baltimore with co-AL Cy Young Award winner Mike Cuellar opposing NL Cy Young Award winner Tom Seaver. Seaver gave up a home run in the first inning and the Mets could not get anything going against Ceullar as the Orioles won 4-1.
Lefthander Jerry Koosman started against Dave McNally in game two and the Met’s lefthander held the powerful Orioles to only two hits through 8 2/3 innings to win 2-1 with the help of a Donn Clendenon home run and a Ron Taylor save to even the series at one game each.
The series shifted to Shea Stadium in New York for the first World Series game there that did not include the Yankees, Giants or Dodgers. Jim Palmer faced Gary Gentry and with the help of Tommy Agee’s first inning home run and two sensation run saving catches in centerfield, Gentry combined with reliever Nolan Ryan to shut out the Orioles 5-0.
Ed Kranepool added a home run and for Ryan that would prove to be his only World Series appearance of his 27 year long major league career-proving how difficult it is to get to the Fall Classic.
Seaver was back in game four against Cuellar and in a close game the Mets led in the bottom of the ninth 1-0 on a Donn Clendonen home run but the Orioles had runners aboard until Ron Swoboda made a catch in right field to save the winning run from scoring.
The New York scored an unearned run in the bottom of the tenth to win 2-1 and led the series 3-1.
Jerry Koosman was back against McNally who helped his own cause with a two run home together with one by Frank Robinson to give the Orioles a 3-0 lead. The Mets answered with a home runs by Clendenon with one on and by light hitting Al Weiss to tie the score in the sixth.
It was the Mets’ day however (maybe it was the fact that Joe DiMaggio threw out the first pitch) and Cleon Jones doubled in the go ahead run and the team that had been in bottom of the National League since its inception eight years earlier had defeated the mighty Orioles by sweeping the last four games of the series.
The team that only four years before had been a depository for players at the end of their careers (44 year old Warren Spahn had pitched to 40 year old Yogi Berra and they had 74 year old Casey Stengel a manager) held the powerful Orioles to only five runs in the last four games of the series.
Clendenon won the series MVP and new Corvette with his three home runs and .357 batting average.
The Orioles would return the following year against the Reds and the Mets would be back in 1973 against Oakland.
Ron Griffitts a contribution columnist for the Daily Advocate