On this day in 1969, the New York Mets found themselves 9 1/2 games out of first place in the NL East (in what was the first year of divisional play). Since closing to within four games of the Chicago Cubs on July 18th, the team's pitching had faltered, giving up 25 HRs in their next twenty-four games (shades of the present day!). As a result, the Mets had gone 10-14 over that stretch, including six losses to the Houston Astros, and had fallen into third place in the NL East for the first time in more than two months.
All that was about to change. From August 16 to October 2, the Mets would win thirty-eight of forty-nine games en route to a post-season laden with improbable destiny. The pitching stats for that stretch of games (almost the last third of the season) are simply remarkable: even giving away the spoiler that the Mets' hurlers allowed only 14 HRs in those last forty-nine games (try doing that now!) can't take away the wondrous nature of this achievement (as shown below):
There certainly must be instances where other pitching duos have matched the performance turned in by Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman as they anchored the Mets' amazing stretch run. Seaver more than earned his Cy Young Award with his 9-0, 1.24 ERA during this time frame; Koosman was not quite that stellar, but his ERA was inflated by one bad outing in Los Angeles (4 runs in a third of an inning). Together, the Mets' gold-dust twins went 17-1 during this time frame.
The depth of the Mets' pitching, and manager Gil Hodges' use of a modified five-man rotation, was the key element in creating an environment where such a performance level could be achieved. That was diametrically opposite to what Leo Durocher did with his pitching staff, and the results down the stretch show what happens when pitchers are overworked:
As middling as the Cubs' starters were (Fergie Jenkins, Ken Holtzman, and ex-Met Dick Selma), the big issue was the failure of their relief ace, Phil Regan. Contrast this with the performance turned in by the Mets' Tug McGraw.
As you can see, the Mets gained 17 1/2 games in the standings on the Cubs over this stretch. While there are certainly instances of greater movement in W-L over a similar stretch of games (49 for the Mets, 44 for the Cubs), it's still an astonishing amount of turnaround.
And it all began on this day in 1969, when the Mets won a doubleheader from the first-year San Diego Padres. The scores: 2-0 and 2-1. From this point until the end of the season, the Mets' record in games where they scored three runs or less was 17-9 (.654 WPCT). By way of comparison, the overall historical record (1901 to the present) shows that when teams score three runs or less in a game, their WPCT is .227.
Only two teams in MLB history have had .500+ records when scoring three runs or less in a game over a full season. Who are they? The 1906 and 1907 Cubs. The 1969 Mets are fourth all-time, at .452 (38-46). Much of that achievement comes from their stretch run.