Long before the first pitch of this second game of a doubleheader in St. Louis, both teams had been eliminated in the National League East. For the visiting New York Mets, that had happened early in September. The Cardinals had managed to hang around until the final 10 days, but the result was the same, they will be watching the playoffs instead of playing in them.
That didn’t mean there wasn’t something to play for, and that was especially true for a young shortstop by the name of Garry Templeton. He came into this game with 209 hits on the season, 111 from the left side of the plate and 98 from the right side. No player in the history of the game had ever collected 100 hits from both sides of the plate.
Why not? Simple mathematics. In a normal year, you face twice as many right handed pitchers as lefties. That doesn’t give a switch hitter enough at-bats against lefties to accumulate 100 hits. Even in Willie McGee’s amazing 1985 season, one of the greatest by a switch hitter, he only managed 73 hits from the right side of the plate.
Garry Templeton was not your normal switch hitter. Most are better from the left side, in large part because they face so many right handed pitchers early in their career. Not so with Templeton. He devoured lefties, to the tune of about a .350 batting average. In late September, he had already reached the 100 hit milestone from the left side. Looking ahead, he did not see enough right handed at bats to get him to that same milestone, so he did something remarkable. For the last week (8 games), Templeton hit exclusively from the right side of the plate. Even against right handed pitchers.
For most hitters, this would have been a nightmare. But not for Templeton. In fact, he hit a lot of balls hard, and if you didn’t know better, you would have guessed he always hit from the right side. In the first game, Templeton collected hit number 98 against Juan Berenger, a righty.
The Mets did Templeton a bit of a favor when they sent former Cardinal, Pete Falcone, to the mound in the second game. Falcone was just what Templeton wanted to see – a left-hander.
John Urrea got the start for the Cardinals. He could be overpowering at times, and he was at the start of this game. The first two men reached on a bunt, and a slow roller to the pitcher. That’s all they could get off Urrea.
The first man that Falcone would face is Garry Templeton. He gets out in front of a Falcone pitch and rips it into the left field corner, for a leadoff double. If you are counting along at home, that’s hit number 99 from the right side. Jim Lentine, a reserve outfielder (think John Morris) singles, allowing Templeton to move to third base. With nobody out, Templeton was wise to hold up at third. He wasn’t there long as Tony Scott lifts a high fly ball to center field, easily scoring Templeton on the play. Roger Freed would follow that with a double, scoring Lentine and giving the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.
A Mike Tyson error in the third inning cut the Cardinals lead to 2-1. That brings us to the bottom of the third inning. And a historic moment.
Once again, Garry Templeton steps up to the plate to face the Mets portsider. He notices Richie Hebner playing a bit deep at third base, so he lays down a perfect bunt. Against a better defender, Templeton might have played this differently, but Hebner was beaten the moment Templeton made contact. That bunt single gives him 211 hits on the season. 111 from the left side, and 100 from the right.
Cardinals manager, Ken Boyer, took Templeton out of the game for a pinch runner. As he walked off the field, he got a huge ovation from the home town crowd when fans learned of his amazing feat.
What about the game ? Oh, that’s right. There was a game going on.
After Templeton left, it went back and forth. Neither starter was around long, and both bullpens struggled, the Mets early and the Cardinals late. The game would be tied going into the ninth. The Mets scored a run in the top of the inning, courtesy of a double steal and pinch hit single off the bat of Doug Flynn. Neil Allen, still with the Mets at this time, gave up the lead in the bottom of the ninth. With Jerry Mumphrey on second base, Dane Iorg hits a little grounder out in front of the plate, and catcher Steve Swisher throws the ball into right field, allowing Mumphrey to score the tying run.
The Mets would eventually win the game in the 11th inning, on a similar play. In this case, pinch hitter Gil Flores rips a double into right field. He tries to stretch it into a triple, but a Keith Hernandez relay throw would sail past third base, and Flores trots home with the go-ahead run.
The outcome of this, and the last two games of the 1979 season really didn’t matter. What did was Garry Templeton’s amazing feat, and what he did to get 100 hits from each side of plate.
In the following year, Willie Wilson of the Kansas City Royals would match Templeton’s feat. At this time, they are the only two players to have done so. Wilson was also the first player ever to record 700 at-bats in a season. Neither of these great players were much for the free pass.