Was it Your Birthday, Also, Eric Bruntlett?

by Thomas Keenan

Birthday CakeEver since my first birthday after I became a Mets fan in 1986, it seemed that they tended to lose most August 23rds. So, on Saturday night, I began to research it to see if this was actually the case or just a typical case of being a Mets fan (only true Mets fans know what this means). What I found was a little bit shocking, but before I began writing about it, I wanted to wait until I had the full story and see what would happen on Sunday. I also didn’t really have a lead to start my story, since nothing really interesting ever happened for the Mets on August 23rd.

Thank you Eric Bruntlett…Was it your birthday, also? It sure seemed that way.

By now, everyone knows what happened to the Mets on Sunday. With the tying run on first, no outs and the hot hitting Jeff Francoeur at the plate, a hit and run was called. With the runners going, Phillies second baseman Bruntlett came in to cover second base, just as Francoeur lined the ball up the middle…right to Mr. Bruntlett. The luckiest man of the day simply caught the ball, and stepped on second in one motion to double off the runner, and then simply tagged the second runner coming from first. Game over. The line drive to Bruntlett was a gift, all that was missing was the wrapping paper and a bow.

An unassisted triple play is the rarest individual feat in baseball, probably because it is also the luckiest. It’s more about being in the right place at the right time than skill. If I was out there instead of Eric Bruntlett, I would have turned it (and, by the way, the way Bruntlett “fielded” the two previous balls hit to him that inning, you would have thought that I was out there). Seriously, you are already headed in that direction and the ball comes right to you. You would have to jump to avoid stepping on the bag for the second out and the runner coming from first is, well, running at you from first. It’s an easy three. It’s luck. At least a perfect game takes a ton of skill with a healthy dose of luck. An unassisted triple play is pure luck. And, it is everything the Phillies have been the last couple of years and everything the Mets aren’t.

The really sad thing about it was that it wasn’t the most painful loss of the season for the Mets. For some teams, that might be the weirdest game in a couple of seasons, but for the Mets, it might not be in the top three in 2009. However, I think it may have been the weirdest thing that has ever happened to the Mets on my birthday.

So, now, lets get back to that. Okay, since I became a fan of the Mets (October 1986), on August 23rd the Mets are 8-14. Thats a winning percentage of .364. “Ouch,” I thought when I first saw that. So, I dug a little more to try to determine if they may have done better in the years since I was born. Nope. 12-23 since 1973 on August 23rd. Now, I do have a public relations background, and I can spin that…”Before I became a Mets fan, they had won only four times on my birthday and have won eight times since”. Pretty good, huh? Anyway, they have been outscored 156-130 on August 23rd since 1973. The have been the victim of a double header sweep twice (1974 against the Braves and 1985 against the Padres – something strangely poetic about this for me). They only have a winning record against one team, the Cardinals, who they beat the only time they played on August 23rd. They are winless against the Braves (0-2) and now the Phillies (0-1). They have actually played the Padres nine times, going 4-5. They are 1-4 against the Giants.

Now the seventies and early eighties have seen some bad Mets teams, and I thought for sure the Mets worst record on August 23rd would have to come int that time frame. I was wrong. After play on August 23, 1993, they were 42-82, 35.5 games out. It was their fourth straight loss and their 11th in 14 games. Dwight Gooden was the losing pitcher. Their best record was, of course, in 1986 when they were 82-41 with a 20 game lead. 2006 is next when they were 77-48 with a 13.5 game lead. Two of the top five were years that I was working for the Mets (1999 and 2000).

Some other notes about the Mets and August 23rd…In 2002, the Mets would lose their 12th straight game, their sixth longest losing streak in history, and the longest in 22 years. It would also be that horrific month that they would not win a single game at home, going 0-13 at Shea. Their longest winning streak for the day was three, from 1986-1988 (any surprise there?). The promptly followed that with seven straight losses on my birthday, from 1989 through 1996. The strike in 1994 probably kept them from losing eight straight. Currently, they have lost three straight.

On the actual day I was born, the Mets lost to the Dodgers (seems appropriate that they were playing the Dodgers since my dad was a big Brooklyn fan) by a score of 5-4. They were in 6th place, 6.5 games out. They would stay right there in the standings for the first week of my life, then move into fifth, 5.5 games out before falling back to sixth, 6.5 games for another day. Then, Tug McGraw would win on the last day of August to get them out of sixth for good. They would go on to win the division, upset the Reds in the NLCS and fall to Oakland in seven games in the World Series.

I find the strangely appropriate for my life as a Mets fan.

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