But in the bottom of the 10th inning, Carter hit a home run that won the game and drew a standing ovation plus chants of "Gary! Gary! Gary!"
"What a way to start," Carter said with a grin afterward. "Hit by a pitch, strike out looking, a stolen base, a passed ball and then the home run."
"There's not enough words to describe what it feels like," he said. "I'll certainly remember this the rest of my life."
It wasn't the only time he bounced back from a rugged start. Slumping badly in the 1986 NL championship series, Carter hit a winning single in the bottom of the 12th to beat Houston in Game 5, putting the Mets within one win of the World Series.
"Nobody loved life in a bigger way than Gary," said former Mets manager Davey Johnson, now in the same job with the Washington Nationals. "Gary's brave battle has ended, but his from-the-gut laughter will be heard and his vitality and spirit will be felt forever. I loved him very much, and I know he is finally at peace."
A two-sport athlete as a boy, Carter won the 7-year-old national division of the NFL's first Punt, Pass & Kick skills competition in 1961. He was a pitcher and shortstop in Little League and switched to catching in high school after a scout suggested it was the fastest path to the big leagues, turning down a chance to play football at UCLA.
Carter stayed in baseball after his playing days ended. He became a broadcaster for the Florida Marlins, coached and managed for the Mets in the minors, managed two independent minor league teams and coached in college.
Carter made it to opening day for Palm Beach Atlantic University on Feb. 2, shaking hands with each player on the team. He watched about three innings and received a standing ovation from the crowd. The Mets had invited him to spring training, which opens Wednesday.
The only hint of negative publicity Carter drew came a few years ago when he appeared to be campaigning for the Mets' managing job though it was already filled.
Carter, however, always had a winning touch. At the ballpark or away, he greeted fans with a hearty handshake — many marveling at how his big right hand had swallowed up theirs.
At the Hall ceremonies in July, new inductee Bert Blyleven mentioned Carter. "Gary, keep battling the way that you always have," he said to the crowd.
Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt said Carter continued to inspire him in later years. In a 2006 column for The Associated Press, the former Phillies star recalled the pure elation that enveloped Carter when he was voted into Cooperstown.
"No player ever appreciated that call to the extent he did. The joy it brought him, his family, and friends, especially me, was so real and pleasantly genuine, I ate it up and still do," Schmidt wrote.
"He does not take it for granted. He will wear his emotion, from this election, on his sleeve the rest of his life," he wrote.
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