And there were more than a few episodes in which the fickle randomness of baseball played a role in the Mets' improbable success.
So it was Sept. 15 that year. The Mets were in St. Louis and nine days shy of the day they would clinch the first National League East championship. Their modestly talented, Midas-touched, fortuitously timed right fielder Ron Swoboda had been slumping -- three singles and nine strikeouts in 20 at-bats -- when the Mets arrived in St. Louis. Swoboda sought advice from the ad hoc batting coach Ralph Kiner.
"You couldn't ask Yogi," Swoboda said. "He told you, 'If you can reach it, swing at it.'
"But I said, 'What if it's two strikes?'
"'Then don't swing,' he'd say. That wasn't going to work. My swing was all messed up. So I asked Ralph."
Swoboda and the Mets announcer -- and Hall of Fame slugger -- worked in the batting cage at old Busch Stadium, using an old machine that spit pitches from between two touching tires moving in opposite directions. Kiner detected and corrected a flaw in Swoboda's swing.
That night, Steve Carlton struck out 19 Mets batters. But the Mets won, 4-3, with Swoboda hitting two two-run home runs.
"Ralph was one of us," Swoboda said "Everybody knew him, liked him and respected his knowledge of the game. He helped me lots of times, not just that one night. But think of that night. I wasn't hitting anything. He works with me and look what happened. I said to Ralph once, 'What'd you hit, 369 [homers]? You deserve at least one of the two I hit that night. You've got 370 now.'"
The home runs alone stand as something out of the norm, considering how dominant Carlton was otherwise. Indeed, Swoboda was a strikeout victim in his three other at-bats that night.
But this is what makes the episode so delicious: Swoboda had a double and two singles against Carlton before that night. Then he beats a Hall of Fame pitcher twice in one game and fuels a victory. And when Swoboda retired, he had four other hits in 42 other career at-bats.
Said Swoboda Saturday night: "I had no idea I was that good against him otherwise."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less