Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cram All You Want, You'll Still Lose With The Mets

Every once in a while, I'll find a statistic or story about a Mets player that's so far out there, I have to share it.  Similarly, on occasion I'll think of a title for a blog post that will go over everyone's head until they actually read the piece.  And sometimes those two worlds collide.  Today is one of those days.

About a month and a half ago, I wrote a piece on Anthony Young, the Mets pitcher who set a major league record by losing 27 consecutive decisions.  However, the Mets didn't lose every game he appeared in during his losing streak.  From the time his skein began on May 6, 1992 until he recorded his 27th straight loss on July 24, 1993, Young appeared in 77 games, making 17 starts and appearing in relief 60 times.  The Mets actually won 25 of those 77 games, but Young did not receive credit for a victory in any of those contests.

This morning, I woke up with Young on my mind and decided to do some research on which Mets player appeared in the most games without ever celebrating a victory after any of those affairs.  Well, thanks to the good folks who run the Baseball Musings Day-By-Day Database, I have my answer.  Now excuse me while I "cram" this information into your brain.

The name is Cram.  Jerry Cram.

Entering the 2015 season, a total of 62 players have appeared in at least one game for the Mets without ever going out for a winning hot dog and soda afterwards.  Of those 62 players, more than half of them (37) appeared in no more than three games for the team - all losses, of course.  But only four of those 62 players found their way into a game's boxscore at least 11 times.  And of those four, the Met who appeared in the most losses without ever seeing a win did so 14 times.  The unfortunate player's name was Jerry Cram.

Jerry Cram made his major league debut for the expansion Kansas City Royals in 1969, appearing in five games.  The Royals actually won two of those games, probably spoiling Cram for life.  He didn't appear in another major league game until 1974, a year after he had been traded to the Mets.

Cram pitched beautifully for the Mets in two seasons with the team, posting a 2.30 ERA in 14 relief appearances, tossing 27⅓ innings in those outings.  His greatest effort came on September 11, 1974, when he pitched eight shutout innings against the St. Louis Cardinals.  Cram entered the game in the 17th inning and pitched through the 24th frame, scattering seven hits and two walks.  He also went 1-for-3 at the plate, collecting the only hit of his career in the 18th inning.

Once Cram was taken out of the game for pinch-hitter Rusty Staub in the bottom of the 24th, the Cardinals took advantage, as speedy center fielder Bake McBride led off the top of the 25th inning with a single, then came all the way around to score on an errant pickoff throw by reliever Hank Webb, who was making his first appearance of the season for the Mets.  Webb's battery mate, Ron Hodges, was charged with the team's second error on the play, as he was unable to hold on to the throw by first baseman John Milner, allowing McBride to score the go-ahead run.

The Mets lost the game in 25 innings, which to this day remains the longest game in National League history that did not end in a tie.  (Brooklyn and Boston played a 26-inning affair in 1920 that ended in a 1-1 tie.)  The game was also Cram's fifth appearance for the Mets in 1974, with all of them ending in losses.  Cram appeared in five more games that month following his eight-inning relief effort and never celebrated a victory with his teammates.  The Mets went 0-10 in Cram's ten appearances in 1974.

Cram didn't appear in as many games during his second season with the Mets in 1975, making just four relief appearances for the team in April and May.  Once again, the Mets failed to win any of those games.  In fact, in all 14 of his games during his two-year tour of duty in Flushing, Cram never pitched with the lead.  Three times he entered a game with the score tied - the Mets eventually lost each game - and 11 times he came into a game with the Mets trailing.  They were trailing at the end of those games as well.

Three pitchers in Mets history appeared in exactly 11 games with nary a happy recap to show for it.  Jerry Hinsley made two starts and seven relief appearances for the Mets in 1964, then came out of the bullpen twice in 1967.  The only constant in Hinsley's career was that he only pitched in games the Mets lost.  Hinsley was a teammate of Joe Grzenda in 1967.  Like Hinsley, Grzenda was also used exclusively in relief during the 1967 campaign, making 11 appearances.  Each of those contests ended with the other team shaking hands after the game.  Finally, we have Collin McHugh, who made five starts and appeared in relief six times for the Mets between 2012 and 2013.

Collin McHugh fell short of Cram's mark.
McHugh pitched seven shutout innings in his major league debut, becoming the second Met to strike out as many as nine batters in his first big league start (Matt Harvey set the record with 11 strikeouts a month before McHugh.)  But unlike Harvey's effort in his debut, McHugh didn't earn a win in his, as no Mets hitter was able to cross the plate while McHugh - or any other Mets pitcher - was in the game.  That was as close as McHugh came to appearing in a Mets victory, as his next ten appearances in a Mets uniform resulted in ten losses for the team.  Now pitching for the Houston Astros, McHugh has left the losing behind, as he won 11 games in 2014 and posted a stellar 2.73 ERA in 25 starts.  Although the Astros finished 22 games under .500 in 2014, they posted a winning record (13-12) in McHugh's starts.

Hinsley, Grzenda and McHugh never appeared in a game won by the Mets, but at least they weren't as unlucky as Jerry Cram.  He and his teammates all experienced the agony of defeat in each of Cram's 14 appearances in a Mets uniform.  And for those of you curious about what happened to Cram after he pitched his final game for the Mets in 1975, well, he went back to Kansas City to pitch for a much-improved Royals team in 1976.  Kansas City won its division in 1976, finishing the year with a 90-72 record.  Cram appeared in four games for the A.L. West champions.  What happened in those games?  The Royals lost them all, meaning Cram never got to experience a victory in a game he pitched after the 1969 season.

Anthony Young lost 27 straight decisions, but at least his teams won 25 times when he took the mound during his 14-month streak of individual futility.  Jerry Cram probably wished he could have had Young's good fortune as a Met.

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