It was a portent of things to come. Near the end of spring training, Jerry Koosman, who figured to be one of the New York Mets’ starters in 1968, pitched six shut out innings against the San Francisco Giants at their Phoenix training facility.
The 23-year-old rookie from Minnesota faced only 20 batters, allowed a pair of harmless singles, struck out out three Giants, and allowed no walks.
Mets On the West Coast
The Mets began the 1968 season in San Francisco a week later. The original opening game had been postponed in deference to the funeral of the great Martin Luther King, which meant the Mets and Giants would play only one game.
Juan Marichal faced Tom Seaver. Neither was around at the end, as the Giants won the game in the ninth inning by knocking Seaver out of the box and scoring three runs to overcome a 4-2 deficit.
The Mets were in Los Angeles the next day. Jerry Koosman pitched a magnificent four-hit shut out to win his first major league game. It was an outstanding performance that was the beginning of a 19-win season for Jerry.
Jerry Koosman’s Logic
The muscular Koosman was raised on a 100-acre farm in Minnesota. He had studied electrical engineering at the University of before turning to baseball as a profession.
Jerry’s intellect and ability to perceive things others might not see helped him greatly when he was on the mound. It also helped in “real” life.
When the Mets offered Koosman $9,000 for the 1967 season, he pointed out that the minimum salary of $7,000 was being raised to $10,000. Since the Mets were offering $2,000 above the minimum, Kooz pointed out that he should be paid $12,000.
The Mets agreed that his logic was as sharp as his curve ball. Jerry got the money.
Koosman had been recommended to the Mets while he was helping his country.
Jerry was in the army at Ft. Bliss when the son of a former usher at the Polo Grounds told his father about a friend who was on his army team. The father told the Mets about Koosman, and the Mets signed the southpaw.
Never Give In
The Mets home opener, on a sunny, breezy Flushing afternoon at Shea Stadium, was against the Giants. Jerry Koosman made his second start of the season, and became the first Mets’ pitcher to hurl consecutive shutouts.
The Giants loaded the bases in the first inning as 52,049 fans anticipated the worst. They hadn’t anticipated the courage or skills of the gritty, gutty left hander who would never give in.
Former Met Ron Hunt singled to center. Jim Davenport, one of the underrated great defensive third basemen to ever play the game, reached on an Al Weis error. Willie McCovey walked to load the bases, bringing up the great Willie Mays.
Koosman wasn’t intimidated. He could never be intimidated.
“I was thinking that Mays was a tough hitter. I wasn’t scared though.”
Nothing ever scared Jerry Koosman, not even Willie Mays.
Koosman mixed up his pitches well, and finally got Willie looking at a called third strike. The dangerous Jim Ray Hart popped out to catcher Jerry Grote in foul territory, and Jack Hiatt struck out.
The Mets’ fans, who were not used to winning teams since the Dodgers were stolen from Brooklyn anticipated that they were going to see something special.
When Cleon Jones hit a home run in the second inning, they could sense that the game was over. Yes, in the second inning.
Finally, a Run
The Houston Astros finally scored a run off Koosman in his third start.
Denis Menke singled to right field, and Bob Aspromonte doubled him home. That was all Houston would get, as Koosman struck out 11 in route to his third consecutive complete game win.
In his first three starts, Koosman pitched 27 innings, gave up one run, allowed 15 hits, and struck out 24 hitters.
It was the start of a remarkable career by a remarkable, courageous American.
By JOSEPH DURSOSpecial to The New York Times. (1968, April 5). Mets Send Giants to First Shutout, 6-0; :BOSWELL CLOUTS HOMER OFF PERRY Giant Hurler Yields 5 Runs — Mets’ Koosman Allows Two Hits in Six Innings. New York Times (1923-Current file),60. Retrieved March 20, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2006). (Document ID: 90666544).
By JOSEPH DURSOSpecial to The New York Times. (1968, April 13). HODGES REMINDED OF BROOKLYN DAYS :Rookie’s 4-Hitter, Memento Lift His Managerial Spirit. New York Times (1923-Current file),34. Retrieved March 20, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2006). (Document ID: 77083704).
By JOSEPH DURSO. (1968, April 18). Mets Beat Giants, 3-0, as Koosman Hurls Second Shutout :52,079 FANS SEE OPENER AT SHEA Koosman Allows 7 Singles, Escapes Bases-Loaded, No-Out Jam in First. New York Times (1923-Current file),59. Retrieved March 20, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2006). (Document ID: 79937990).
By JOSEPH DURSO. (1968, April 24). Mets Subdue Astros, 3-1, for Koosman’s 3d Straight; :PITCHER FANS 11, GIVES FOUR HITS Run Is the First Scored Off Rookie — Four Errors by Houston Aid New York. New York Times (1923-Current file),34. Retrieved March 20, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2006). (Document ID: 77085682).