Ex-Padre on wrong side of Tom Seaver history is glad Jacob deGrom fell short

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Al Ferrara, Brooklyn-born-and-raised and a Southern California resident for a long time now, followed Saturday’s Mets-Rockies opener with more of a vested interest than most.

As Jacob deGrom racked up strikeout after strikeout, Ferrara admitted, he rooted for a Colorado hitter to at least hit a weak grounder or something. Anything but another K that would tie or break the major-league record of 10 in a row established by the great Tom Seaver 51 years ago Thursday. When the Rockies’ Josh Fuentes led off the bottom of the fifth inning by making contact to the tune of a grounder to second (which Jeff McNeil threw astray), Ferrara didn’t hide his relief and joy.

“That almost went down the tubes,” the 81-year-old Ferrara said Monday in a telephone interview. “I don’t want that record broken until I’m outta here.”

That record was set on April 22, 1970, 51 years ago Thursday, when Seaver fanned Ferrara to end the game with panache and dominance. Those concluding 10 strikeouts, with Ferrara whiffing to start and end that run, gave Seaver 19 for the day, at that point a big-league record for a pitcher who won the game, as Seaver and the Mets did by the score of 2-1 at Shea Stadium.

The anniversary of this gem marks the first time we celebrate it since Seaver passed away last August at age 75.

“He consistently threw fastballs at the knees and sliders,” said Jerry Koosman, who, as the next game’s starter for the Mets, charted Seaver’s effort. “He had good control and stayed on the corners of the plate.”

Ferrara, who played for Brooklyn’s Lafayette High School (as did Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, Ferrara’s teammate on the 1963, 1965 and 1966 Dodgers, and former Mets owner Fred Wilpon), is remembered for more than just his swings and misses that day. He enjoyed the best swing of anyone on the Padres, at that point in their second year of existence, when he led off the top of the second inning with a homer to left field, tying the game at 1-1.

“I was a dead lowball fastball hitter. He (usually) threw the ball down and it jumped into the zone where I couldn’t handle it,” said Ferrara, who went a lifetime 4-for-28 with 15 strikeouts and just the one round-tripper against Seaver. “I guess this one stayed down, so I hit it out. It felt great, obviously. I had a lot of family and friends in the stands.”

Alas, not much else felt great for the Pads that day, as they managed just one other hit and two walks while the Mets went ahead for good in the third inning when Bud Harrelson tripled home Tommie Agee. As the shadows took over (the game started at 2:05), Seaver became harder and harder to hit. Said Ferrara: “His ball looked like an aspirin tablet that day.”

With two outs in the ninth, with 18 Seaver strikeouts in the books and the modest crowd of 14,197 going nuts, Ferrara said he didn’t know of the history behind his last at-bat: “The people were just roaring. I had a good eye. I could get the count in my favor. But at 1-and-1, Harry Wendelstedt called a strike on a pitch I swore it was a ball.

“I said to myself, ‘If I can barely see the ball, it’s the same for (Mets catcher Jerry) Grote and Wendelstedt. I ain’t gonna make no here out of an umpire. I’m going to go for the pump. I’m swinging. I remember he threw a pitch, it was down, I swung tiring through it. The place went nuts. The sucker got me again.”

And that’s how Ferrara, who played for LIU in Brooklyn before spending eight years in the big leagues, found himself in the history books. “At that time, as a young man, I didn’t like it,” he said. “Now I love it. I have a good time with it. He’s one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball. He pitched clean. He didn’t doctor up the ball.

“I learned a long time ago, playing in the big leagues, a lot of the time you’ve got to tip your cap to the opposing guy when he does something special. I tip my cap to him.”

Mets fans, and those who knew Seaver well, won’t pass on any opportunity to pay their respects to The Franchise. All the more so as we complete this first lap around the calendar without him.

“There’s a period of adjustment,” Koosman said of Seaver’s death. “I always try to look at how lucky I was to be a teammate of his. I enjoyed playing with him for 11 years.”

And he enjoys reliving the many highlights that Tom Terrific provided.

Koosman, by the way, said there is hope that the Mets will officially retire his number 36 before a game in August this season. The team originally announced in 2019 its intentions to honor Koosman in 2020, only for the pandemic to scuffle those plans. 

This week’s Pop Quiz question came from the late Jan Bottone of Wellesley, Mass.: What Major League Baseball team is represented in the 1957 Norman Rockwell painting “The Rookie”?

Collectable is partnering with entertainer (and sports collector) DJ Skee to auction an NFT/physical card combination platter honoring Babe Ruth, New York, and Jay-Z. The auction closes on Sunday at 3:33 p.m. Eastern Time (in honor of The Babe’s number 3, naturally).

Your Pop Quiz answer is the Red Sox.

If you have a tidbit that connects baseball with popular culture, please send it to me at [email protected]

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