Today in Sports History: October 19th

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(George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin. Photo courtesy of Associated Press)

10/19/1987 - Steinbrenner hires Martin for fifth time

George Steinbrenner was a very hands-on owner. When his New York Yankees started to lose, which they did repeatedly throughout the 1980's, he shook up the team by hiring and firing people at an almost comical rate. In 1987, it reached an absurd level as Steinbrenner announced that manager Lou Piniella had been "promoted" to the general manager position, and that taking his place was none other than Billy Martin, who had been hired and fired as the Yankees manager four times already. It was the Yankees' 14th managerial change in 15 years.

If there was any transaction that epitomized the zaniness of George Steinbrenner, it was re-hiring Billy Martin for the fifth time in a dozen years. Three of Martin's previous firings happened because he got in a confrontation with a pitcher, a reporter, and a bar attendant. The first of his firings occurred after he called Steinbrenner "a convicted liar." And yet, there they were, together again.

As you might have suspected, it didn't take long for Martin to find himself on the hot seat. The Yankees got off to a nice start and led the American League East through the first month of the year. But they went on a slide and found themselves only a few games ahead of the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians. Soon reports started surfacing the Martin was on the way out, and when the Yanks finally relinquished their division lead, his dismissal became inevitable.

''If they want to fire me and think it's the best thing, then fire me,'' Martin said. ''If they want me and my pitching coach to go, then we'll go home tomorrow. But I won't ever come back as manager.''

Just a few days later, Martin was fired. Taking his place was one Lou Piniella, who replaced Martin as manager for the second time in three years. The Yankees in the 1980's were so hectic that from the beginning of one year to the end of another, they always had a different manager. Despite his threat, Martin was willing to return for a sixth time and was reportedly prepared to give it another go in 1990. But on Christmas day in 1989, Martin died in a car accident at the age of 61.

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(Endy Chavez's incredible grab. Photo by G. Paul Burnett, New York Times)

10/19/2006 - Heroes abound in Mets-Cards closer

Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, featuring the visiting St. Louis Cardinals and the favored New York Mets, had just about everything a decisive game should: a phenomenal catch, clutch hitting, clutch pitching, and even a game-winning home run.

Mets manager Willie Randolph had a hell of time deciding who to throw out there for Game 7. With ace Pedro Martinez unavailable, Randolph bypassed reliever Darren Oliver and a banged-up Steve Trachsel for Oliver Perez, the victor of Game 4. Perez had by far the worst regular season statistics of any Game 7 starter in history: 3-13 with a 6.55 ERA. Perez backed up his manager's decision in style, pitching six innings and giving up only one earned run on four hits. Jeff Suppan was even better: seven innings, one earned run, two hits.

Perez was in big trouble in the bottom of the sixth. With one out and Jim Edmonds on first, Scott Rolen belted a pitch just over the left field wall. Mets leftfielder Endy Chavez caught up with the baseball, leaped against the eight-foot wall, extended his arm back, and miraculously came down with the ball. He then immediately fired to first and doubled up Edmonds, who had wandered all the way past second base. His sensational catch ended the threat and kept the game tied at one.

In the top of the ninth, the score was still knotted at 1-1. Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina stepped to the plate with one out, a man on first, and Aaron Heilman at the mound. Molina was atrocious in the regular season and batted only .216, but he played fantastic in the NLCS and led the Cardinals with a .358 batting average. In an eery replay of what happened in the sixth inning, Molina continued his hot streak by belting the ball near the edge of the left field wall. Except this time, the ball was just out of the reach of Endy Chavez, and the Cards at last took a 3-1 lead.

In the bottom of the inning, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa brought in Adam Wainwright, who had been promoted to closer less than a month earlier when Jason Isringhausen went down to surgery. New York got off to a fantastic start. John Valentin and Endy Chavez, probably the two weakest batters in the Mets' lineup, began the inning with singles. Cliff Floyd then struck out while lead-off man Jose Reyes lined it straight at Edmonds for out number two. The always-hard-to-strikeout Paul Lo Duca then walked, stetting the stage for Carlos Beltran: bases loaded, two outs, winning run on first, final game.

The Mets' franchise player hardly lived up to his $119 million contract. Beltran never took the bat off his shoulders and watched as three strikes crossed the plate, the last one sending St. Louis to the World Series. The Mets' brass in general didn't step up at all; their 1-6 hitters went 2-21 in the final game. The Cardinals didn't do much better, but had the advantage of having Jeff Suppan. Suppan's two starts were phenomenal -- 15 innings, 5 hits, 1 earned run -- and earned him the NLCS MVP.

The Cards went on to win the World Series in five games, a shocker considering they only won 83 regular season games. They were largely helped by the inability of the Detroit Tigers pitchers to throw the ball to first base. On the flip side, had the Mets managed to win the game, Endy Chavez's grab could've gone down as one the greatest postseason catches in baseball history. Instead it was merely a footnote in New York's lost season.

Further reading:

Catch for the ages can’t save Mets [MSNBC]

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