Mets retire Willie Mays’ No. 24 as Old-Timers’ Day returns

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

NEW YORK – Willie Mays spent only two seasons with the New York Mets. His legacy will last forever.

In a surprise salute at Citi Field, the Mets retired Mays’ jersey Saturday as part of festivities during the organization’s first Old-Timers’ Day since 1994.

“From this day forward, no Met will ever wear Willie Mays’ iconic No. 24,” emcee Howie Rose read to a near-standing ovation from the crowd.

One of baseball’s greatest players, the Hall of Fame center fielder starred for the Giants in New York from 1951-57 and then in San Francisco from 1958-72 after the club moved to the West Coast. He returned to the Big Apple in a May 1972 trade and spent his final two seasons with the Mets, helping them reach the 1973 World Series.

Mets charter owner Joan Whitney Payson told Mays he would be the last player in franchise history to wear No. 24. But Payson died not long after Mays’ retirement in 1973, and the Mets finally made good on her promise nearly 50 years later under current owner Steve Cohen and his wife, Alex.

“I want to thank Steve and Alex Cohen for making this day possible and embracing Mets history,” Mays said in a statement read aloud during the ceremony. “I can never forget the way it felt to return to New York to play for all the loyal Mets fans. I’m tremendously proud I ended my career in Queens with the Mets during the ’73 World Series. It’s an honor to have my number retired in my two favorite cities – New York and San Francisco. New York was a magical place to play baseball.”

The 91-year-old Mays was unable to attend the festivities after having hip replacement surgery, but was represented by his son, Michael.

“We’re thrilled,” Michael said. “Long time coming, for sure.”

The unexpected announcement followed a video tribute to Mays after Old-Timers’ Day introductions. Behind the pitcher’s mound, a blue No. 24 with orange trim was unveiled as former teammate Cleon Jones and other ex-Mets applauded. The placard will be placed alongside the team’s other retired numbers on the Citi Field roof in the left-field corner.

The honor for Mays capped a 40-minute ceremony that tied together players from throughout the Mets’ 60-year history. A playful exhibition game followed that lasted 2 1/2 innings.

Mays became the fifth Mets player to have his number retired and the second this season. Keith Hernandez had his No. 17 jersey retired on July 9. They joined Jerry Koosman (36) and Hall of Famers Tom Seaver (41) and Mike Piazza (31). Former managers Casey Stengel (37) and Gil Hodges (14) were also so honored, and Jackie Robinson had his No. 42 jersey retired by all 30 major league teams.

Mays is the 15th person in big league history to have his number retired by multiple teams. He was feted by the San Francisco Giants on May 12, 1972.

A 24-time All-Star, Mays was a two-time NL MVP and won 12 Gold Gloves. When he retired, he ranked third in homers (660), runs (2,062) and total bases (6,080), seventh in hits (3,293) and RBIs (1,909), and first in putouts by an outfielder (7,112). He was the first player in major league history with 300 or more homers and 300 or more stolen bases.

Mays played 135 games with the Mets and hit his final 14 home runs for the team.

Mets fan favorites Bartolo Colon and Endy Chavez received the loudest cheers among the 63 player introductions. The crowd chuckled loudly when former manager Bobby Valentine donned a fake mustache for his introduction. He famously returned to the dugout with a disguise after getting ejected from a game in 1999.

Former ace Dwight Gooden, who was in his final season with the Mets the last time Old-Timers’ Day was held in Queens at Shea Stadium, also was on hand. He hopes the event is here to stay.

“You get to be a kid again,” Gooden said. “I’m living the father life now, which is cool, too. But now I get to be a kid, even if it’s just for today.”

Also in attendance was Frank Thomas, an original Met from 1962 – along with four of his teammates.

“This is my last fling for baseball,” the 93-year-old Thomas said.

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

atlanta braves
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images
7 Comments

ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.