Saturday, May 31, 2014

May 31, 1968 - Jaster Flirts With Perfection

Friday, May 31, 1968 - At Shea Stadium, a nice crowd of 41,075 amazin' fans was in the house for the first game of a four-game series, hoping to see their boy - Tom Seaver - deliver a rare win over the St Louis Cardinals.

Southpaw Larry Jaster - the notorious Dodger killer - got the start for St Louis, and was dominant from the outset, handling the Mets' lineup with such ease, longtime St Louis sportswriter Bob Broeg was overheard joking to a colleague, "Geez, I wonder if Jaster thinks these guys are the Dodgers?"  As a rookie, two seasons prior, Jaster started five games against the defending World Champions and shut them out five times.  In that same season against the rest of the league, he was 6-5 with an ERA of 4.66.  Go figure.

Granted, the Mets' lineup on this particular night wouldn't evoke memories of Murderer's Row, but they were still major league hitters, technically; and just one year away from winning an improbable World Series showdown with the Baltimore Orioles.  Proof that anything can happen in baseball.

Don Bosch CF
Cleon Jones LF
Ron Swoboda RF
Jerry Grote C
Ed Charles 3B
Greg Goosen 1B
Phil Linz 2B
Al Weis SS
Tom Seaver P

The Cardinals got to Seaver the second time through the batting order, in the third-inning, when Lou Brock led off with a slicing triple down the left field line, followed by Curt Flood's single to right, scoring Brock.  After Roger Maris and Orlando Cepeda were retired on fly balls to left field, Seaver uncorked a wild pitch with Tim McCarver batting, moving Flood up to second base.  With Mike Shannon on deck, Seaver elected to walk McCarver intentionally, but the strategy backfired when Shannon delivered a run-scoring single.

That was it for the Redbirds.  Seaver allowed nine hits and three walks in his nine innings of work - but just those two runs.  He also struck out eight.

In the meantime, Jaster struck out seven in his first five innings of work.  Most importantly, he hadn't allowed a base runner.  In the sixth-inning, he once again set the Mets down in order, but failed to record a whiff for the first time in the game.  He was tiring, but still keeping the Mets' hitters off balance; unable to make solid contact with any of his pitches.  Three up, three down in the seventh.  By now, the crowd was stirring with every out the St Louis pitcher was recording.  After retiring the first two batters in the eighth-inning - Grote on a ground out to short - Charles on a foul pop up to third baseman Shannon - part-time first baseman/catcher/pinch hitter Greg Goosen lined a single to left field, breaking up the perfecto.

Goosen would appear in just 38 games all season, but manager Gil Hodges decided to give the left-handed swinging Ed Kranepool the night off.  Ironically, Goosen, who hit a paltry .208 in '68, was lost in the expansion draft to the Seattle Pilots prior to the '69 season, missing out on being a part of a World Series champion.  However, in 52 games with Seattle, Goosen (.309/.385/.597) displayed a keen batting eye with nice power, hitting ten home runs.  Go figure.

Phil Linz ended the eighth-inning threat by flying out to Curt Flood in center.

The perfect game was over, but Sadecki still had a rare (one-hit) shutout going against a team not called "the Dodgers".  The first batter in the bottom of the ninth, Al Weiss, was retired on a fly ball to center.  Pinch hitting for Seaver (2-5 after this loss) - Jerry Buchek flew out to Brock in left.  Then, Don Bosch, another part-time player getting a rare start for the Mets, lined a single to left, for the second hit of the game.  Moments later, Bosch was forced out at second, on a Cleon Jones' grounder to Dal Maxvill to end it.

Jaster (3-2) had lowered his ERA to 0.95 after this performance, but his career had already reached its peak.  He would finish with a disappointing 9-13 record with a high (for the times) 3.51 ERA.  He would then be claimed by the Montreal Expos in the expansion draft, posting a 1-6  record to go with a 5.49 ERA.  Then off to Atlanta for part-time duty for a couple of seasons, before finally ending his major league career at the tender age of 28.

The third-place Cardinals (24-21) would go on to sweep the Mets in the four-game series, then roll into Houston to sweep the Astros in four straight to claim sole possession of first place - a lead they would never relinquish.    

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