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Mike Schmidt Takes Center Stage
Mike Schmidt was 25 years old and ready to rock when the 1974 season opened on Saturday, April 6. The Vet was rocking with anticipation as 40, 222 fans settled in to watch two of the best pitchers in baseball duke it out. The 1973 NL World’s Series representative New York Mets’, Tom “Tom Terrific” Seaver, against the Phillies’ number one gun, Steve “Lefty” Carlton, both 29 years old, and primed for show.
But first, there was that streaker. A guy ripped off his clothes, jumped over the low railing down the rightfield line, and made a stark naked beeline for second base. Phillies fans were quick to claim it must have been one of the way too many Mets’ fans who took the Amtrak from New York’s Penn Station to the hayseed town of Philadelphia to see the Amazing Mets show those perrenial also-rans what a Major League ball club is all about.
In the ninth inning, with the Phillies trailing 4-3, tying run at second with one out, and the Mets’ screwball lefthander, and all-star reliever, Tug McGraw on the mound trying for a two-inning save, Schmidt, batting eighth in the lineup following a sub .200 1973 season, unleashed a powerful right handed swing that sent the ball on a sizzling line drive over the left field fence in an eye blink, and a 5-4 Phillies win. It was home run number 20 in Schmidt’s storied career that over the next 15 years would reach 548, and bring unfamiliar glory and respectability to Philadelphia’s Phillies.
Still missing some pieces, the 1974 Phillies moved up to third with an 80-82 record,
eight games behind the winning Pittsburgh Pirates. The team was sparked by Schmidt’s emergence, and by second baseman Dave Cash, obtained in an off-season trade for Ken Brett. Cash, a so-so middle infielder for the Pirates, stormed into Philadelphia with his mantra, “Yes, we can!,” hit .300 with 206 hits, and made his first All-Star team.
Once again, the Phillies lacked what it took to mount a late season surge; they were 53-50 at the end of July, 25-32 in August and September, 2-0 in October.By max blue