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On This Date in Sports July 9, 1969: Tom Terrific Almost Perfect

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The largest home crowd in the history of the New York Mets (59,038) comes to Shea Stadium and witnesses Tom Seaver flirt with perfection. The perfect game is broken up with one out in the ninth inning by Jimmy Qualls, as the Mets beat the Chicago Cubs 4-0, serving notice that the Mets were for real and a threat to the first place Cubs.

The 1969 season saw the birth of divisional play, in the National League East, it was the Chicago Cubs who led all season, thanks to a franchise-best 11-1 start. The New York Mets who in their first seven years never finished better than ninth place began the season with an inauspicious loss to the expansion Montreal Expos. When the Cubs made their first trip into Shea Stadium in April, the Cubs took three of four and left town with a six-game lead, as the Mets appeared to be a team that looked as if it would struggle again. However, as May turned into June the Mets showed signs of life, winning a franchise-record 11-straight game to climb over .500 and into second place.

As the Mets emerged from Independence Day weekend, they were hanging tight in the National League East at 45-34, five and half in back of Chicago who stood at 53-31. The Mets were hosting the Cubs in a three-game series, it was the first time the teams played since the Mets split a four-game set at Wrigley Field in May.

The day before Seaver’s magical night saw the Mets rally in the ninth inning. The Cubs managed by Leo Durocher had ace Ferguson Jenkins on the mound against Jerry Koosman. The Mets had scored first with a home run by Ed Kranepool in the fifth inning. However, the Cubs with dingers by Erne Banks and Jim Hickman led 3-1 entering the ninth inning. With Phil Regan ready to go in the bullpen, the Cubs had Jenkins on the mound trying to pitch a complete game on a muggy day at Shea. Ken Boswell started the rally with a bloop double after Tommie Agee flew out, the Mets caught a break when pinch hitter Donn Clendenon got a double. Cleon Jones would follow with a double scoring Boswell and Clendenon to tie the game. Following an intentional walk to Art Shamsky, and a grounder by Wayne Garrett, Ed Kranepool came up and won the game with a walk-off hit 4-3.

The Mets ninth inning magic combined with Tom Seaver on the mound created a buzz in New York, as the Mets set a single-game attendance record with 59,038 fans at Shea Stadium. The biggest crowd the Mets have ever had for a home game. Coming into the night, Seaver was 13-3, and quickly becoming one of the best pitchers in the National League. Ken Holtzman meanwhile at 10-4 made the start for Chicago. Seaver showed early on he was ready to dominate, striking out two of the first three batters. The Mets meanwhile got a first-inning run, as Bobby Pfeil doubled home Tommie Agee who led the game off with a triple. In the second, Seaver struck out the side putting down Ron Santo and Ernie Banks. The Mets meanwhile added two more runs in the second, as Tom Seaver helped his own cause singling in catcher Jerry Grote who reached on an error by Santo, while Agee doubled in Boswell who reached on an error by Don Kessinger.

Tom Seaver continued to mow down the Cubs in order as there was an air of magic at Shea Stadium. While the Cubs got strong relief from Ted Abernathy who entered the game in the second inning. The Mets finally got a run off the Cubs reliever in the seventh as Cleon Jones homered to make it 4-0. However, all eyes were on Tom Terrific, as the Mets franchise pitcher had not allowed a baserunner through the first eight innings, with 11 strikeouts. Tom Seaver started the ninth, by retiring Randy Hundley with a grounder back to the pitcher. Up next was centerfielder Jimmy Quals, who flew out in the third and grounded to first in the sixth. This time Quals would make solid contact and singled to center to end the perfect game as well as a no-hit bid.

Tom Seaver was visually disappointed as the crowd gave him a long standing ovation. Pinch hitter Willie Smith popped up to Clendenon at first while Don Kessinger flew to Cleon Jones in left to end the game as the Mets won 4-0 and improved to 47-34 on the season. The Cubs would win the series finale but the Mets now four and a half out of first had served notice.