They call them, to this day, the Miracle Mets.
And nobody is arguing.
In 1969, just seven years after Major League Baseball expansion put a team in New York, the Mets shocked baseball by winning the National League pennant, sweeping the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series and dominating the Baltimore Orioles, 4-1, in the World Series.
This on the heels of seven terrible seasons in which the Mets lost 100 or more games five times.
Forty-five years later, the Kansas City Royals, for so many years one of the worst teams in baseball, are on an amazing postseason run. The Royals have won seven straight games and could wrap up an ALCS sweep of the Baltimore Orioles today at Kauffman Stadium.
The Mets improved from 73-89 in 1968 to win it all. Kansas City improved only three games from the 2013 regular season, going from 86-76 to 89-73. But the Royals have looked like a 100-win team in the postseason. It’s pretty amazin’, a word used to describe the Mets’ transition – more like a transcendence – in 1969.
Those Mets were led offensively by Cleon Jones and Tommie Agee, but it wasn’t a great offensive team. Agee and Jones led the Mets with 76 and 75 RBIs, respectively, and Agee (26) was the only New York player with more than 14 homers.
It was a young group of pitchers who guided the Mets to 100 wins, led by 24-year-old Tom Seaver, who was 25-7 with a 2.21 ERA. Left-hander Jerry Koosman (17-9, 2.28) and rookie right-hander Gary Gentry (13-12, 3.43) were also outstanding. And then there was 22-year-old rookie Nolan Ryan, who was 6-3 during the regular season but had a profound effect on the postseason.
The Royals used strong starting pitching, a lock-down bullpen and speed to capture an American League wild-card spot this season. Rookie pitchers Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy could be compared to those young Mets pitchers, I suppose. But it’s a stretch.
The Mets’ miracle lasted from opening day through the finishing Game 5 of the World Series. If there’s a Royals miracle, it’s all about the postseason.
Not that what the Mets accomplished in the postseason was void of unbelievability.
How else to explain why journeyman outfielder Art Shamsky, a .253 career hitter, bats .300 with 14 homers and 47 RBIs during the regular season, then tears up the Braves by batting .538 in the NLCS?
How else to explain how Ken Boswell, with three homers in 102 regular-season games, hits two in three games against the Braves?
How else to explain how the Mets, who batted .242 during the regular season, go on an offensive tear in that series with Atlanta, batting .327 with six homers and 24 RBIs in three games?
How else to explain why Seaver and Koosman struggle in their NLCS starts (11.2 innings pitched, 15 hits, 11 runs) only to have the offense pick them up?
How else to explain how Donn Clendenon, Al Weis and Ron Swoboda – a trio that batted .233 during the regular season – are a combined 16 for 40 (.400) against the Orioles in the World Series?
How else to explain how Weis, who hit seven home runs in 1,761 plate appearances during his career, belts one out of Shea Stadium to lead off the seventh inning against Baltimore left-hander Dave McNally to tie Game 5 of the World Series, 3-3?
Miracles do happen and probably more in baseball than anywhere else.
But any miracles that are happening with the Royals in the 2014 postseason are more subtle.
You could say that some of the defensive plays being made by Kansas City are miraculous. You could say it’s a miracle that the Royals pitchers have held stars like Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Adam Jones to six hits in 51 at-bats. You could say it’s a miracle that former first-round draft picks Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, previously most prominent for not living up to expectations, are batting a combined .373 in seven postseason games with six homers and 12 RBIs.
And how else to explain the work Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland do out of the bullpen without slipping in the word “miraculous?”
Is it a stretch to compare the 2014 Kansas City Royals to the 1969 New York Mets? Probably.
But they’re both pretty amazin’.