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The Mets seemed to have a unique rapport with their fans and talked about them frequently. They didn't resent it even when they were booed. Ed Kranepool won a game in July and got a tremendous ovation. Often the brunt of jokes, he said, "The last time they cheered me was when I signed." Swoboda, after striking out five times in one game, said, "They booed the hell out of me and if I was them I would have followed me home and booed me there, too."
Swoboda obviously learned something that day. In the Series he batted .400, drove in the winning run of the final game and made two magnificent catches. All the Mets, in fact, showed in the Series that they had come a long, long way. Following their defeat in the first Series game, their pitching settled down—something it was unable to do in the playoffs. After Don Bu-ford's first-inning homer, when it seemed that Baltimore was about to decimate the Mets, only one Oriole leadoff man reached base in the next 26 innings. Only four times in all did an Oriole start an inning with a hit.
Baltimore's failure to handle New York pitching was most evident when Buford, Paul Blair, Brooks Robinson and Dave Johnson were at bat. These four hit a composite .080 for the Series and did not produce one extra base hit after Buford's fourth-inning double in the first game. Of the skimpy total of 23 hits that the Orioles collected, five came out of the ninth spot in the order. And of the nine runs batted in by Baltimore three were accounted for by Pitchers McNally and Mike Cuellar.
If there was a turning point in the Series it came in the second inning of the third game, with the Mets leading 1-0 on Agee's leadoff homer. With two out, Grote, who caught all five games, walked and was moved to second by Harrelson's single. Jim Palmer threw a terrible pitch to Gentry, who promptly drove it into right center for a double to score Grote and Harrelson. In 74 at bats during the regular season and the playoffs, Gentry, one player who has never been accused of being a "pretty good hitter for a pitcher," batted home only a single run and hit but a solitary double. He was sweating out an 0-for-28 slump when he jumped on Palmer's bad pitch.
The third game may well turn out to be the best that Tommie Agee will ever play; it probably is the most spectacular World Series game that any centerfielder has ever enjoyed. Agee is easily the best example of Gil Hodges' patience. Twenty-seven different players had worked in center field for New York before Agee arrived in 1968 from the Chicago White Sox. On the first pitch of spring training that year he was hit in the head by Bob Gibson of the Cardinals, and early in the regular season he went through an 0-for-34 slump. He hit only .171 in Shea Stadium and seemed to take the Great Circle Route under fly balls. He was pressing. But, although he could not seem to do anything right, Hodges kept playing him, telling Agee not to quit on himself.
At first, 1969 was not an easy year for Agee, either. He encountered slumps and Hodges benched him but, as the Mets played good ball, Agee became a vital man in the attack. He started rallies on offense and stopped the opposition with fine catches in the outfield.
But nothing he did in the regular season approached his third-game performance. Behind 3-0, Baltimore started what looked like a big rally in the fourth inning by putting two runners on with two out and Elrod Hendricks at bat. Normally a pull hitter, Hendricks hit a pitch to deep left center, and Agee, shaded toward right, went galloping after the ball. He caught it two steps from the wall with a spectacular backhand catch to end the inning. Three innings later, after an even longer run, he dove to rescue a potential triple with the bases loaded. Agee had made a difference of five runs on defense with his fielding and one on offense with his homer as New York won 5-0. The crowd of 56,335 at Shea Stadium sensed for the first time that the Orioles, doubtless a very fine team, could be had by the Mets.
New York's drive to the division championship, the National League pennant and finally the World Championship was surrounded by such hysteria and commercialized sentimentality that certain hard statistics were all but overlooked. The foremost of these shows how well New York played in Shea Stadium. From the middle of August through their final victory in the Series, the Mets won 26 of 31 games there—a percentage of .839. Before their final playoff victory over the Braves, New York pitchers gave up only six home runs in their last 253 innings played at Shea, a remarkable accomplishment since Shea Stadium is considered by home-run hitters as a hitting successor to the Mets' ancestral home, the Polo Grounds. Little wonder Baltimore had trouble.
The Orioles must now suffer through a long winter after what had been, until they met the Mets, a superior season. When Bowie Kuhn, the imposing new Commissioner of Baseball, shook hands with Weaver after the Series he said, "I've just congratulated the Mets and told them they'd beaten the best damn team in sight." The Orioles certainly were, and had it not been for an amazing catch here, a miraculous stab there they might have reversed the whole course of what, mystically, the whole country had begun to regard as inevitable—the triumph of the rankest underdogs. Instead, they return to Baltimore, where only a million watched them this year and perhaps fewer will care to view them the next.
Probably no man has suffered through a more frustrating Series than Frank Robinson. When he wasn't being walked by the careful Met pitchers, Robinson hit the ball hard—once for a home run, in the fifth and last game. But four of his smashes ended in nothing but beautiful outs. As Baltimore packed for its return home, Robinson said, "I'm awfully disappointed it all had to end this way for us. It would be silly to try and take anything away from the Mets because they just played great ball. But don't forget about us. We'll be back."