The New York Mets, 1973-1977: From First to Worst by Jacob Kanarek
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Jacob Kanarek, CPA, is the President of Kanarek & Co., a prestigious accounting firm with offices in Lakewood, NJ. Jacob Kanarek is also a born Brooklyn, NY boy and lifelong Mets fan. In his book The New York Mets, 1973-1977: From First to Worst, Jacob brings the legendary 1970s' Mets back to life. With play by plays of their historical games in the '70s, insights and Kanarek's strong humor, this book is a must-read for any Mets' fan that grew up in the 70's. You will relive that so special time of life!
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A BATTLE CRY IS BORN
In a somber Opening Day ceremony, the Mets honored 11 returning prisoners of war, who simultaneously threw out 11 first balls and then once again it was time to play ball as the Mets got set to take on the Philadelphia Phillies. An estimated crowd of 27,000 fans paid their way into a chilly Shea Stadium as two 1972 twenty game winners, Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton got set to hook up in what promised to be a classic pitching duel. For Seaver, who won 21 games last season, it would be his sixth consecutive opening day start. Carlton, who finished last season with a sparkling 27-10 record, four out of his 10 losses were to the Mets.
The game remained scoreless until the last of the fourth inning, when the newest Met Felix Millan led off with a double. The first controversy of the new season developed on the next play when Willie Mays flied out to the center fielder Del Unser. Millan, who got a late jump tagging up, swerved towards left field trying to avoid the tag by the Phillies third baseman Jose Pagan. Artie Williams, a rookie umpire called Millan safe, sending an enraged Phillies manager Danny Ozark scurrying out of the Phillies dugout to argue. “You’re supposed to stay in one path from base to base, no more than three feet from either side, explained Ozark, of his argument after the game.” Millan went pretty far- you can still see his footmarks, and while the rookie umpire is a good one, but that’s a rare play and I’ll bet he’ll call it differently the next time.”1
Regretfully for Ozark, getting it right next time was not soon enough as one batter later Cleon Jones drove Carlton’s first pitch over the 371 foot sign in left field for a two run homer and a 2-0 Mets lead. Cleon Struck again in the last of the seventh inning when he drove another Carlton pitch, this one over the centerfield fence, giving the Mets a 3-0 lead.
In the meantime the Phillies offense was having no success against Tom Seaver as he scattered five hits over the 7 2/3 that he worked. Seaver, who fanned eight, had two scary moments, with the first coming in the top of the sixth inning, when Willie Montanez launched a deep drive to right field that Rusty Staub was able to run down as he crashed into the right field fence. In the eighth inning, with two outs the Phillies threatened putting two runners on base. But Tug McGraw, who relieved Seaver, was able to end the Phillies threat and then easily retired the Phillies in the ninth inning as the Mets picked up their fourth consecutive opening day win.
The Mets won again the next afternoon on a ninth inning two out single by Willie Mays, which snapped a 2-2 tie and lifted Jon Matlack, last season’s Rookie of the Year to his first 1973 win. After rain postponed the finale the Mets headed off to St. Louis for a brief two game series with the Cardinals. Jerry Koosman, coming off two injury plagued seasons and was relegated as the third starter behind Seaver and Matlack, got his first assignment of the young season, facing off against the Cardinals right-hander Reggie Cleveland. Four consecutive hits in the top of the first inning gave the Mets an early 2-0 lead, which was expanded to 3-0, when John Milner, hit his second home run of the season in the top of the third inning. Koosman gave the Mets a solid seven innings allowing two earned runs and left with a 5-3 lead, after turning the ball over to McGraw. Despite McGraw struggling, allowing six of the ten batters he faced to reach, a great play by newly acquired Millan and clutch last out pitching by Phil Hennigan saved the game for Koosman and the Mets. The Mets behind Tom Seaver and Phil Hennigan beat the Cardinals 2-1, marking the first time in the teams history that the Mets won their first four games of the season.
From St. Louis it was back East with a pit stop in Philadelphia for a three game series before returning home. It was in the Philadelphia series that the Mets lost their first game of the season, stopped by a 19 year old rookie in his major league debut; as Larry Christenson of the Phillies put a stop to the season opening four game winning streak as the Phillies beat Matlack and the Mets7-1. After losing the second game of the series as well , the Mets were able to salvage the final game of the series behind a rookie of their own as Harry Parker pitched 7 2/3 of stellar baseball, allowing the Phillies only one run on six hits. The Mets scored two runs in the first inning when John Milner hit his third home run of the season with a runner aboard as the Mets prevailed, 2-1.
It was a struggling Mets offense that returned to Shea Stadium on April 17th, averaging only two runs in their last four games, to take on the Chicago Cubs in a four game series. The home coming was unable to revitalize the Mets bats however as the first two games of the series saw both Tom Seaver and Jon Matlack pitch complete games, allow only one run, yet lose as the Mets offense couldn’t muster a run in either game . A fourth inning home run by Rick Monday off Seaver in the opener was enough to do him in as Ferguson Jenkins held the Mets scoreless on two hits. “You hate to pitch a game like that and lose,” said Seaver. ”Especially when you’re going to go out there and 36 or 37 times a season and not always pitch that well. Those are the games you expect to win.”
Ray Burris, another young pitcher making his major league debut against the Mets, in the second game of the series allowed the Mets twice as many hits as Jenkins did, but it was not enough to put a run across the plate, and once again he Mets went down to defeat, 1-0, as the Cubs scored their lone run on a wild pitch by Jon Matlack in the first inning. “I pitch every day with the idea that one run might beat me,” said Matlack. “I’d feel that way no matter who I was pitching for, except maybe the Cincinnati Reds or the Pittsburgh Pirates.” For the record, 10 games into the season, the Mets collectively were batting .181.
The series concluded with a Thursday afternoon double header that saw Koosman take to the mound, in the first game. With Seaver and Matlack the victim of offensive non-support, in the first two games of the series, despite exceptional pitching. Koosman continued on the mound where his predecessors left off allowing the Cubs to score only one run as well. Yet for the first three innings it appeared that he was doomed to suffer the same fate as his teammates, after the Cubs scored an unearned in the second inning. It took until the bottom of the fourth inning before the Mets finally scored a run in the series. In fact they scored two runs, to take a 2-1 lead. An insurance run was added when John Milner, who continued to supply the Mets with the only power in the early going, hit his fourth home run in the last of the eighth inning. That run appeared to loom large, after the Cubs put the tying runs on base in the top of the ninth inning. Koosman was able to steer out of trouble however, as he picked up his second win of the season. “I haven’t pitched many complete games lately and, when you see them getting guys up in the bullpen from the sixth inning on, you feel you’ve got to prove something,” said Koosman. “This time my fast ball kept getting better, and that hasn’t happened in quite a while.”
The Mets offense, perhaps wiped out from their first game effort, went back to sleep in the second game as the Mets were shutout for the third time in the series. This time it was Burt Hooton with the honors as he spun a three hitter, with the Cubs taking a 7-0 decision.
With the Cubs leaving town, the Montreal Expos were the next visitors into town, for an unusual three game weekend series, where Friday was a scheduled off day, and instead playing a Sunday afternoon double header. Apparently tired of being on the wrong end of shutouts, the Mets, behind Harry Parker shut out the Expos, 5-0, in the Saturday afternoon opener. John Milner supplied the Mets with three of the runs, with a single and a two run homer in the eighth inning, for his fifth home run of the year. While on this day it didn’t reflect on the scoreboard, Cleon Jones, the team’s second leading hitter behind Milner was diagnosed with a strained right wrist, putting an additional strain on an already struggling offensive attack.
The Mets split the Sunday afternoon double header, losing the first game, 2-1, but came back strong in the night cap, as the offense erupted for 13 runs, as the Mets shellacked the Expos 13-3.
In the opener, Tom Seaver was on the verge of becoming a 1-0 loser for the second game in a row, having surrendered a home run to Ron Fairly in the second inning. In the last of the ninth inning the Mets were still trailing by the same 1-0 deficit, when Jim Fregosi drew a walk to start the inning. A wild pitch by Mike Marshall sent Fregosi to second and then moved to third on a sacrifice. Ken Boswell batting for tom Seaver lined a single scoring the tying run. With Seaver now off the hook, Phil Hennigan took over the pitching in the 10th inning. Hennigan however couldn’t get out of the 10th inning before surrendering a run on a single by ex-Met Tim Foli, which gave the Expos their 2-1 victory.
Jim McAndrew, who in his previous start against the Cubs lasted no more then a third of an inning as he was roughed up for five runs, was the beneficiary of a rare offensive outburst as the Mets scored 13 runs as they pounded out 16 hits.
After an off day the Mets took to the road on a trip that would take them to Houston, and then Atlanta, for a weekend series where they would close out the month of April. After Jon Matlack was a 4-2 loser in the opener of the Houston series, the Mets took the next two games. The middle game of the series featured another strong pitching outing by Jerry Koosman, who picked up his third win without a loss. More encouraging then Koosman’s continuous outstanding pitching was the hitting of Rusty Staub, who broke out of his season long slump with two home runs. The news wasn’t all good however, as John Milner, the team’s leading hitter pulled his right hamstring muscle while stretching for a throw from Bud Harrelson, joining Cleon Jones on the sidelines, still suffering from the his injury he incurred in the series against the Cubs. In the finale of the series, a two run sixth inning and two innings of scoreless relief by Tug McGraw carried Jim McAndrew to his second victory of the season.
The next stop on the Mets itinerary was Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium. In the stadium known as the ‘Launching Pad’, the Mets starter Tom Seaver was victimized by back to back home runs by Hank Aaron and Darrel Evans off Tom Seaver as the Braves took the opener, 2-0. For Hank Aaron it was his fifth home run of the season and the 678th of his illustrious career. For Tom Seaver, it marked his third consecutive frustrating outing, having not allowed more then two runs in each of the games, but with the Mets scoring only one run during the three games, all Seaver had to show for his efforts were 2 losses as his record dropped to 2 and 2.
The Mets fared better in the Saturday afternoon game scoring three runs in the eighth inning as Jon Matlack picked up his second win of the season, McGraw picking up his fifth save of the year. The Mets took the rubber game of the series, behind Jerry Koosman, who pitched a four hit shutout as the Mets squeezed out a 1-0 decision. While no longer possessing the overpowering fastball of those glorious years, Koosman has become a smarter pitcher as witnessed in the ninth inning. With the Mets carrying a precarious 1-0 lead over the Braves, Hank Aaron stepped to the plate as the final chance for the Braves. Koosman worked the count full to Aaron, before delivering the slowest, most tantalizing change up, which an overanxious Aaron popped up to end the game. “One of my goals in life has been to throw a change-up to Hank Aaron on a 3-2 count, in a 1-0 game with two outs in the ninth.” Equally impressed was Hank Aaron. “His fastball is good enough so that you can’t sit back and wait for the slow stuff”.
Thus concluded the month of April, and yet despite the team’s measly .207 batting average, the Mets still found themselves in first place with a 12-8 record. By far and away the biggest surprise of the early season was in the pitching department where Jerry Koosman, won his first four decisions, while being named Player of the Month of the National league for the month of April, showing that he has completely recovered from the various arm ailments that have plagued him over the past three seasons. “I think I’m back where I was in 1968 and 1969,” said Koosman.
April Showers bring May flowers, but for the Mets the rose that greeted the Mets when they returned to Shea Stadium to face the Reds in a short two game series, was more of a thorn then a flower, as Pete Rose blasted a two run homer in the seventh inning of the opener, pacing the Reds to a 6-1 victory over he Mets. Again the anemic Mets offense provided no support for Seaver, who saw a 1-1 tie snapped in the sixth inning on a home run by Johnny Bench. . Rose’s home run extended the Reds lead to 4-1, while Concepcion’s ninth inning home run put the game out of reach.
With Rusty Staub hitting a grand slam home run in the first inning of the series finale and Jon Matlack on the mound, the chances for the Mets to salvage a split of the series looked very bright indeed. But that was only until the Reds came to bat in the fourth inning. Joe Morgan led off the inning with a single, which was followed by another base hit by Johnny Bench. A double by Tony Perez plated the Reds first run and a single by Bobby Tolan cut the Reds lead in half, 4-2. A hard grounder that Felix Millan was able to turn into a fabulous double play brought home the Reds third run. The third out that Matlack needed to get out of the inning never came as Richie Scheinblum and Dennis Menke followed with base hits ending Matlack’s day. Matlack’s replacement, rookie Hank Webb, was greeted rudely by pinch hitter Larry Stahl, an ex-Met., who hit Webb’s first delivery over the 396 foot marker, to put the Reds out on top 6-4. While the Mets were able to get one run back, they would come no closer, going down to a 6-5 crushing defeat. After the game Berra bemoaned the fact that the Reds had their big inning in the fourth, when it was still too early to go to his closer, Tug McGraw.
The Reds left town, the Astros came in for an early spring weekend series, and for the second game in a row, the Mets blew an early 4-0 lead, and eventually lost in 14 innings. The Mets scored four runs in the last of the second inning when Astros starter Ken Forsch walked the bases loaded, followed by a single off the bat of Jerry Grote, a groundout by the starting pitcher, Jerry Koosman, and a two run double by Teddy Martinez. Koosman, still undefeated and bidding for his fifth win kept the Astros off the scoreboard until the fourth inning when a home run by Cesar Cedeno, a triple and a single cut the Mets lead , 4-2. Yet Koosman took a 5-2 lead into the eighth inning before he began to falter. Tommie Agee, making his first Shea Stadium appearance since being traded by the Mets at the end of the 1972 season led off with a pinch hit single. After Agee was forced out, singles by Jesus Alou and Cesar Cedeno loaded the bases. Exactly the situation that relief aces are hired for, Berra called on McGraw to end the threat. But McGraw had the plate jumping around on him as he walked his first three batters, sending three runs across the plate and tying the game. With McGraw imploding, Berra turned to Hennigan, who was able to get out of the inning with the tie intact. The game remained tied until the top of the 14th inning. With Hennigan still on the mound, Tommie Agee looking to show the Mets gave up on him too quickly, singled for the second time in the game. After two more base hits followed loading the bases, Berra replaced Hennigan with Harry Parker. The long evening was ruined for the 17,000 fans in attendance when Parker walked Bob Watson to force in the go ahead run, and Doug Rader followed with a double, driving home two more runs. The Astros won the next two games in convincing fashion to complete the series sweep, as the Mets lost their fifth consecutive game.
Happy to see the Astros leave town, the Mets welcomed Hank Aaron and the Atlanta Braves into town for a three game series. Tom Seaver, suffering in the early going from a penchant of surrendering the gopher ball and from a lack of run support, appeared destined to suffer the same fate in the opener of the series after a two run homer by Dusty Baker gave the Braves a 2-1 lead as the Mets came to bat in the last of the eighth inning. But uncharacteristically, the Mets offense struck for six runs in the last of the eighth inning, and Seaver ended up on the right side of a 7-2 decision.
On May 8th, in a drizzly and chilly Shea Stadium it was the Mets holding a 3-1lead over the Atlanta Braves as Jon Matlack took to the mound to face the Braves in the top of the seventh inning. With the bases loaded and two outs, Braves second baseman Marty Perez stepped to the plate. Matlack ran the count to 2 and 2, when in a scene eerily reminiscent of a night nearly 19 when a years ago, a drive hit by Gil McDougal of the Yankees off the face of Indians star pitcher Herb Score, ago ruining his career, Perez smoked the next pitch through the middle striking Matlack on his forehead as he crumbled to the ground in a heap. X-rays on Matlack, who had been carried off on a stretcher revealed a hairline skull fracture and would have to remain hospitalized indefinitely. In what else could go wrong category the Mets blew the lead and eventually lost the game 10-8.
The Mets, however were able to win the rubber game of the series and get a measure of revenge the next night, when Jerry Koosman ran his record to 5-0, as the Mets routed the Braves, 8-1.
Following the series with the Braves, the Mets flew to Pittsburgh to open a weekend series with the Pirates. Willie Mays, suffering from two aching knees and a bad shoulder, while struggling along at a .105 clip was kept home as the Mets hierarchy was playing down rumors of Mays’ imminent retirement. “I hope he’ll play again and we think he’ll play again,” said GM Scheffing. “He didn’t tell me that he’d retire,” said Berra. “Aside from Mays the Mets believed they were fortunate from a medical standpoint as Jon Matlack was released from the hospital and would be rejoining the club shortly. Cleon Jones was slated to make his first start in over three weeks while John Milner was expected to return to the line up during the weekend. Little did the Mets realize that their troubles were only beginning. The Mets took a 4-3 decision over the Pirates in the opener of the series. But what a painful victory it was. Pitches hit no less then three Mets, including Cleon Jones, Rusty Staub and Jerry Grote. While Jones suffered no lasting effects from the beaning, Jerry Grote suffered a fractured wrist and had to be placed on the disabled list. Staub, who in 1972 missed 90 games after being struck by a George Stone fastball on his right hand, was now struck on his left hand by a pitch thrown by Pirates reliever Ramon Hernandez. With Staub still struggling offensively, all he needed was to now have to add a painful wrist to his miseries. With Grote disabled, Duffy Dyer became the starting catcher as the Mets called up catcher Joe Nolan to take Grote’s spot on the roster.
There was more bad news to come for Yogi on the injury front the next day as he was celebrating his 48th birthday. While he did get a present in the form of a Tom Seaver shutout, a 6-0 whitewashing of the Pirates, three more Mets joined the cast of walking wounded. Duffy Dyer was struck on the right wrist by a pitch, Felix Millan strained his left ankle and Jim Gosger a utility outfielder, suffered a bruised back as he crashed into the centerfield wall. The next day the Mets completed the sweep of the Pirates but added Willie Mays to the disabled list suffering from an aching shoulder, and two sore knees.
The victorious but bruised Mets limped into Chicago with a four game winning streak, to take on the first place Cubs, who were carrying a six game winning streak of their own. The Mets got a much-needed day off, when the first game of the series was called on account of cold weather. While the Mets were resting their battered bodies, the same couldn’t be said for the general manager Bob Scheffing, who purchased the contract of veteran catcher Jerry May from the Kansas City Royals and sending Joe Nolan back down to the minors. In announcing the deal, Scheffing made a bigger deal about the Mets hiring Dr. Pete Lamotte on a yearly deal. “By the visit it would have killed us”, said Scheffing half in jest. The Cubs extended their winning streak to seven games when they won the first game of the rain shortened series, 4-3, sending Jerry Koosman to his first defeat off the season. The last leg of the road trip saw the Mets head on to Montreal, for a short two game series where rookie Harry Parker picked up his fourth win without a loss in the opener of the series, but inclement weather forced postponement of the series finale.
The Mets returned home on May 18th to take on the Pittsburgh Pirates for a weekend series and then play the Cardinals for three games before heading out to the West Coast. With all the injuries it was a makeshift lineup that Tom Seaver had playing behind him in the opener of the series. A lineup that saw Teddy Martinez in centerfield, the ‘Stork’, George Theodore in left field, Duffy Dyer behind the plate and Wayne Garrett at second base. It was the second baseman Wayne Garrett that supplied the firepower, driving home three of the Mets four runs, with a home run and a single as the Mets and Seaver prevailed, 4-3. For Seaver, it was his fifth win of the year.
Remarkably, less then two weeks after being struck on the head by a line drive, Jon Matlack returned to the starting rotation, for the second game of the series against the Pirates. Matlack, wearing a rubber foam protector, showed no ill effects from his injury as he kept the Pirates off the scoreboard, scattering nine hits while fanning six in the six innings that he worked. With Matlack staked to a 1-0 lead, courtesy of a Rusty Staub home run in the sixth inning he made way for Tug McGraw. McGraw however couldn’t save the game for Matlack, surrendering a game tying home run to Bob Robertson in the ninth and a game winning three run home run to Willie Stargell in the tenth.
With the season advancing into late May, the Mets made their first of two annual trips to the West Coast to take on the California teams. Hampered by injuries and exhausted from a cross-country trip, the one thing the Mets did not need was a 19 innings, 5 hour and 42 minute affair, but that’s exactly what they got, in the opener of the road trip, in a game against the Dodgers. After the Dodgers jumped out to a 3-1 lead against Tom Seaver, the Mets managed to tie the game with single runs in the seventh and eighth innings. It then took 11 innings for a team to push through a run when the Mets scored four runs, the first coming on a Cleon Jones single and a Rusty Staub double. For Staub it was his fifth hit of the game. Two more runs crossed the plate on an Ed Kranepool double. Some of the highlights of the long evening included the Mets banging out 22 hits with the Dodgers accumulating 18 base hits. Both teams combined to hit into nine double plays. The Dodgers Willie Davis, with six hits in nine at bats raised his batting average by 22 points, while Manny Mota who went 0 for 9, saw his average dip by 32 points. Tug McGraw, pitched five innings of hair raising relief, allowing 11 runners to reach, but none scored as the Dodgers hit into 3 double plays, two coming via home plate while Willie Davis, was forced at the plate twice. “I can’t ever remember that much trouble in a game I pitched,” said McGraw after the game. The best quote from the game came from Ken Boswell, who said,” I finally found out what time I hit best. “One thirty in the morning.”
After their exciting if not exhausting win, the Mets failed to win again until Seaver took the mound five games later against the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park. In the throes of a four game losing streak, Seaver put on a one man show as he fanned 16 batters, while hitting his sixth career home run in the sixth inning. Despite Seaver’s heroics, the Mets came to bat in the top of the ninth inning, trailing 2-1, courtesy of Willie McCovey’s 10th home run of the year. With the Mets in danger of falling for the fifth straight game and more importantly falling even further in the standings, pinch hitter Ken Boswell led off with a walk off Giants reliever Randy Moffitt. Bud Harrelson and Tom Seaver followed with singles with Seaver’s hit being an attempted sacrifice bunt, which an indecisive Moffitt held on to, as he couldn’t decide which base to go to. With the bases now loaded, Wayne Garrett followed with a walk forcing home the tying run. A single by Millan drove home two more runs and a sacrifice fly by George Theodore capped the scoring as the Mets held on for a 5-2 victory. The good news however was tinged with more bad news on the injury front as it was learned that Cleon Jones will miss at least a month of action due to his wrist injury that has been hampering him ever since he injured it diving for a ball on April 19th.
The Mets concluded the California portion of the road trip, winning only the three games started by Tom Seaver, including the finale in San Diego, in which the Mets lost another two players to injury. This time it was George Theodore, who was hit on his left eye by a pitch thrown by Gary Ross. Theodore, who wears glasses suffered facial cuts and was removed on a stretcher. Additionally, Jerry May, who was acquired to back up Duffy Dyer after Grote went down, himself, became a casualty when he strained a leg muscle running the bases in the fourth inning. Theodore was expected to miss a week with a swollen left eye; while the word on May was that he would be out for at least two weeks.
The calendar had already turned from May to June, when the Mets left San Diego and headed off to Cincinnati, the last leg of an already disastrous road trip. An already disastrous road trip became even more disastrous after the Mets were blanked in the first game of the series, 5-0, while losing their shortstop Bud Harrelson for at least a month, having broken some bones along his knuckles, after being upended by the Reds’ Bill Plummer, as he successfully broke up a double play. But perhaps nothing prepared the Mets for the events of the next game in Cincinnati, where the starters Jerry Koosman and Ross Grimsley dueled, to a 2-2 tie, with Koosman giving the Mets a solid eight innings, before turning the game over to the bullpen. The Mets appeared to have won the game however, when they scored three runs in the top of the tenth inning, on a bases loaded triple by Duffy Dyer, off Don Gullett and the Reds now having to face Tug McGraw. But as Yogi was wont to say, “If you don’t have a bullpen, you don’t have nothing,” on this they the Mets got nothing, as McGraw walked the leadoff batter Richie Scheinblum. A single to Pete Rose and a wild pitch brought the Reds to within two runs. A walk to Joe Morgan put runners on first and second and brought Berra out to the mound, replacing McGraw with Hennigan to face the right-handed hitting Johnny Bench. Two pitches later the game was over, when Bench drove a Hennigan meatball over the left field fence.
Thus ended a calamitous road trip with the Mets winning only three of twelve games, a clear claim on fifth place and four newly injured players.
The Mets returned home on June 8th, beaten and bruised, to start a home stand against the California teams. Willie Mays, taking Harrelson’s spot on the roster was reactivated, despite still suffering from pain in his shoulder, and was unable to start in the opener of the series, a game the Mets and Tom Seaver lost to the Dodgers. Mays felt well enough to start the second game of the series and looked like the Mays of old, and not the old Mays, as he made a tumbling circus catch in the third inning, with the game tied, 2-2 and then homered in the bottom of the inning, giving the Mets a lead they would never relinquish. Jon Matlack, who, coming into the game having lost five in a row, and has not won since taking a line drive to his head picked up his third win of the year. After the game the Mets continued their roster shuffling as they placed Jerry May on the disabled list while they recalled center fielder Don Hahn, who was acquired in the deal that sent Ron Swoboda to Montreal. The Mets also optioned relief pitcher Tommie Moore to the minors and recalled Buzz Capra.
While Jon Matlack broke his 5 game losing streak the day before, Jerry Koosman, after winning his first five decisions, saw his personal losing streak extend to five games, though through no fault of his own in the rubber game of the series as he allowed only two runs in his eight innings of work. The Mets beleaguered offense could offer him no offensive support, as Claude Osteen held the New Yorkers to only three hits.
Next into town came the Giants who took the opener of the series, 2-1, helped in large part by a spectacular catch by Gary Matthews, off a ball hit by Felix Millan that saved two runs. With the Mets offense in dire straights, and the league trading deadline just days away, Yogi Berra spoke to the press after the game regarding the Mets need to bolster their offense. “We’re hurting for a hitter. I wouldn’t care if he batted right-handed or left-handed as long as he could hit a long ball.”
The Mets failed to come up with the bat that they so desperately needed as the trading deadline came and went, but the Mets were able to put together a five game winning streak as they took the remaining games with the Giants and then swept the Padres in a three game series. The first of the wins came on the strength of an Ed Kranepool home run off Giants star Juan Marichal, making a winner out of rookie Harry Parker, a pleasant surprise, who improved his record to 5-0. Tom Seaver, aided by home runs from Felix Millan and rookie catcher Ron Hodges, called up after Jerry May joined the overcrowded disabled list, was the winner as the Mets took two out of three from the Giants. While Ron Hodges admitted to being nervous in his first major league start, Seaver for his part was very complimentary towards the rookie catcher. “He was very composed back there. I shook him off maybe 25% of the time.
In the opener of the series against the Padres, the Mets used a three run homer off the bat of Wayne Garrett in the last of the eighth inning to carry them to a 5-2 victory. Garrett’s blast made a winner out of Jon Matlack who saw his record improve to 4-8.
Jerry Koosman snapped his personal five game losing streak as the Mets trounced the Padres 10-2 in the middle game of the series. Willie Mays, who started his seventh consecutive game, blasted his 656th, home run leading off the sixth inning. John Milner added his eighth of the season. The Mets completed the sweep the next afternoon, 3-1, as they touched up Padres’ pitching for 13 hits and making a winner out of George Stone.
With a successful home stand behind them, the Mets hit the road once again, with their first stop being Philadelphia, where the five game winning streak came to an abrupt halt as the Phillies smacked around Mets starter Jim McAndrew, who took the start in place of Seaver. Seaver had to be scratched after complaining of a back strain, an injury not thought to be serious enough for Seaver to miss more then one start. The Mets lost the remaining two games with the Phillies before heading off to Three River Stadium to take on the Pirates for a big four game weekend series.
In addition to the dearth of injuries that plagued the ball club, and no offense, the Mets found that all of a sudden they had another reason to be concerned, the implosion of the bullpen; resulting in numerous heart breaking defeats. The first of the heartbreak losses occurred in the opener of the series against the Pirates. After a brilliant pitching duel between Jerry Koosman and Luke Walker brought the game to the ninth tied at 1-1, the Pirates came to bat in the last of the ninth inning against rookie right-hander Buzz Capra. Capra got into immediate trouble loading the bases with nobody out. Rube Walker, managing for Berra, who was ejected earlier, called on McGraw to bail out the Mets of a near impossible jam. McGraw, however almost accomplished the impossible, as the Mets almost pulled off a miraculous triple play. His first batter, Bob Robertson, hit the ball on the ground to Millan at second. Millan went home for the easy force on Gene Clines, the lead runner. Duffy Dyer, in attempt to go for the 4-2-3 double play, threw the ball into right field, but right into the glove of Rusty Staub. Staub noticing that Al Oliver had rounded second fired a strike to Jim Fregosi, who tagged out Oliver. In the interim, Dave Cash who had started the play at second base broke for the plate. Fregosi, then fired to the plate in an attempt to nail Cash, and complete the triple play, but Cash beat the throw and instead the Mets suffered their fourth consecutive loss. “It was just one of those things,” said Staub. ”When I called to Fregosi, Cash hadn’t even reached third and I thought he had time to make the putout.”
Berra had been tossed in the seventh inning on the play that had given the Pirates a 1-0 lead. With Al Oliver on first and two Pirates set aside, Manny Sanguillen drilled a sinking liner to center. Willie Mays attempted a shoe string catch, but the ball broke off the tip off his glove and rolled back towards the infield, where Jim Fregosi recovered the ball and fired a strike to catcher Duffy Dyer, well ahead of Oliver, who was attempting to score. Dyer applied what he thought was a tag, but the home plate umpire Tom Gorman called him safe. With Dyer convinced that Oliver never touched the plate, Dyer applied the tag again, to no avail, prompting Berra to charge out of the dugout to argue. With Berra kicking dirt in front of Gorman, Berra was given the good old heave-ho, his first banishment since taking over as manager of the Mets. After snapping their 4 game losing streak, with a 5-4 win over the Pirates, behind the pitching of George Stone and John Milner’s ninth home run of the year, the Mets lost another heart breaker with the Pirates when Manny Sanguillen singled with the bases loaded in the 10th inning, off Phil Hennigan. Hennigan, the designated successor to Danny Frisella suffered his fourth loss of the year without a win. The Mets were able to salvage a split of the series with the Pirates as Seaver picked up his ninth win of the year.
The Mets returned to Shea on June 25th, losers of five out of seven on their trip through Pennsylvania to take on the division leading Chicago Cubs in a short two game series. Having won five consecutive games at home before the disastrous trip to Pennsylvania, the Mets were hoping to be reinvigorated by some home cooking and some positive medical news from the team physician Dr. Peter Lamotte.
• X-rays of Jerry Grote’s fractured wrist shows good progress and should be able to begin batting practice shortly.
• Jerry May’s wrist is improved and could work out
• Cleon Jones had his cast removed but there’s no timetable for his return
• Bud Harrelson will have his cast removed tomorrow
• Tom Seaver’s back is fine and will take his regular return in the rotation
And in fact it appeared, that was exactly what the doctor ordered as the Mets behind Jon Matlack took a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning of the opener. Matlack got himself into immediate trouble however when he walked the leadoff batter Glen Beckert. Billy Williams followed with an infield hit and after Jim Hickman walked to load the bases, Tug McGraw once again found himself with the unenviable task of getting out of a no-outs bases loaded jam and once again he was unsuccessful. While in Pittsburgh McGraw nearly escaped damage with an almost triple play, tonight his first batter Ron Santo greeted him instantly with a smash down the right field line for a two run game tying double. Two batters later Don Kessinger singled home the tie breaking run, sending the Mets to another one run loss. With the loss the Mets tumbled into the cellar, marking the first time since September of 1968 that the Mets found themselves at the bottom of the National League. The Cubs won the finale handily as well as Koosman suffered his sixth loss of the season.
After completing the home stand by losing two out of three to the Phillies the Mets ended the month of June in Chicago taking on the Cubs. The opener of the series featured a magnificent pitchers duel between Jon Matlack and Burt Hooton. Once again Matlack found himself holding onto a precarious lead as the Cubs came to bat in the last of the ninth inning trailing 2-1. This time Matlack was able to bear down though, as the Mets held on to win. “I scared him,” said a struggling McGraw. “When he saw me start warming up, he bore down and got them out.” There might have been a bit of truth in that statement. The next afternoon featured a double header at Wrigley Field of which the Mets took the first game behind Jerry Koosman and Tug McGraw, 6-5. Yet this was another affair, which saw Mets fans with their hearts in the mouth, as the Cubs came to bat in the last of the ninth inning trailing 6-4. McGraw was on the mound to start the ninth inning, and walked his first batter Carmen Fanzone. Don Kessinger followed with a single and Randy Hundley sacrificed the runners to second and third. Jim Hickman came within an eyelash of winning the game for the Cubs, as he hit a drive that George Theodore reeled in with his back against the wall. Having already taken the opener of the doubleheader the Mets were on the verge of a sweep as they took a 5-3 lead into the last of the ninth inning. Phil Hennigan was on the mound as the Cubs came to bat in the last of the ninth inning. Hennigan got himself into immediate trouble when both Jose Cardenal and Ron Santo singled to start the ninth. Again Berra turned to McGraw to put out the fire. McGraw retired his first two batters but Randy Hundley, who had entered the game only two innings before, blasted McGraw’s fourth pitch over the wall for the game winning home run. The loss marked the fourth game in a ten-day stretch where the Mets lost a game in the opposition’s final time at bat.
The Mets venue changed but not their luck as they headed to Montreal. For the second straight game the Mets lost on a walk off home run. This day belonged to Boots Day, who took Buzz Capra deep in the last of the 10th to give the Expos a 2-1 win.
Jim McAndrew took to the mound for the Mets the next night against the Expos and was staked to a 5-3 lead after 4 ˝ innings. However McAndrew could retire only one batter in the fifth as the Expos put together a three run inning to take a 6-5 lead. With McGraw now on the mound the Expos lit up the left-hander pummeling him for seven runs, with the big blow a grand slam off the bat of Bob Bailey. The Expos continued the punishment of Mets pitching when Phil Hennigan took to the mound in the seventh inning. A three run blast by Ex-Met Singleton, another blast by Bailey and the Expos added five more runs to their already expansive 13-5 lead. By the time the game was over, the Expos pushed across 19 runs, the most runs in a single ever allowed by Mets pitching. The two largest culprits, McGraw the closer and Hennigan, the set-up man carried balloon size ERA’s of 6.07 and 5.88 by the time the game was over. It was clear after the game that McGraw was suffering from a loss of confidence. “I didn’t have the feel for the baseball at all. I didn’t have any idea how to throw the baseball. It was as if I’d never played before in my entire life. I just felt like dropping to my knees and saying; I don’t know what to do. I just can’t hack it any more.”
If any Mets fan at this juncture believed that things couldn’t get any worse they were wrong. The pattern of heart breaking gut wrenching losses continued and if any thing were more profound. In the third game of the series and with no less a pitcher on the mound then Tom Seaver the Mets took a 5-0 lead into the last of the eighth inning Seaver walked the leadoff batter Ron Hunt and then surrendered a single to Mike Jorgensen. Ron Fairly then flied out and Seaver should’ve been back in the dugout, after Ken Singleton grounded into what should’ve been an inning ending double play. But the shortstop Teddy Martinez bobbled the ball, allowing Hunt to score the Expos’ first run of the game. With one out and two runners aboard, Boots Day doubled home Jorgensen, reducing the Mets lead to 5-2. Bob Bailey drove in two more runs and what started as a 5-0 lead, was now 5-4. At that point Berra went to the bullpen to call on two night’s ago culprit Buzz Capra, who surrendered a single to his first batter Tim Foli. . After Capra got the second out of the inning, Gene Mauch, the Expos manager then turned to Ron Woods to come off the bench as a pinch hitter. Woods lumber turned out to be deadly as he blasted Capra’s third pitch into the left-center field seats, giving the Expos a stunning 7-5 lead which Mike Marshall, the Expos closer made stand.
Despite salvaging the final game of the series with the Expos, it was a dejected and demoralized Mets team that returned home to start a home stand against the non-California Western Division teams starting with the Braves.
The opener of the series featured a good old-fashioned pitching duel between Jerry Koosman and Ron Schueler. While Koosman allowed the Braves just four hits, one of them was a two run homer off the bat of Dick Dietz. Schueler was even better as he carried a 2-0 lead and a no hitter into the ninth inning. Ron Hodges, leading off the ninth, singled ending Schueler’s bid, and while two outs later Millan added another single, Schueler was able to retire Boswell on a fly out keeping the shutout intact, resulting in another undeserved lose for Koosman.
Saturday July 7, on a hot and muggy New York summer afternoon and nearly two months to the day that Jon Matlack was carried off the field on a stretcher in a game against the Braves, tragedy struck again. With the Braves leading 4-3 in the top of the seventh inning, and a runner aboard, Ralph Garr the Braves right fielder lifted a fly ball to left centerfield field. Both Don Hahn and George Theodore converged on the ball, and in the process collided into each other. While both players lay sprawled on the warning track Garr circled the bases for an inside the park homerun. . With play stopped both players were removed on stretchers. Theodore suffered the more severe of the injuries, dislocating his hip and would be lost for the remainder of the season. Hahn on the other suffered just minor bruises and was categorized as day to day. Eerily enough, two weeks previous, Theodore had a dream that he was being removed from the field on a stretcher with McGraw and Koosman holding either end. With the rookie outfielders having been removed from the game, Berra went to the opposite extreme calling on the 42 year old Mays to take the place of Hahn. Cleon Jones, on his first day back from the DL, took over for Theodore in left. The disastrous play cost the Mets two runs, so the Braves carried a 6-3 lead as the Mets came to bat in the last of the eighth inning. Braves’ pitching walked the bases loaded and Willie Mays, in his first at bat of the game doubled home two runs, while Wayne Garrett followed with a two run double of his own, giving the Mets an 8-7 lead, as they the took the field for the ninth inning. Tug McGraw, who by now was quite obvious that he lost his confidence in his role as closer, allowed back-to-back singles to his first three batters. A walk followed allowing the tying run to score. McGraw himself was then told by Berra to take a walk and Harry Parker was called on to halt the uprising. However the go ahead scored on a groundout and two walks later forced home the third run of the inning giving the Braves a 9-7 lead. The Mets were able to get one run back in the ninth as they fell again in another one run decision.
Hank Aaron’s 695th and 696th home run of his career doomed the Mets in the finale of the series as the Braves took the broom to the Mets. With the loss the Mets found them firmly entrenched in the basement of the National League East, a 34-46 record and a whopping twelve games out of first place.
Rumors of Berra’s imminent demise were dispelled by Donald Grant, who insisted that Berra’s job was safe unless public opinion demands it. With Grant basing decisions on public opinion, the New York Post decided to run a poll as to who was responsible for the Mets ignoble play. The list included the manager, Yogi Berra, the general manager Bob Scheffing, and Donald Grant. When the results were in, Bob Scheffing was the landslide scapegoat, being blamed for poor trades, such as the one that sent Nolan Ryan to the Angels for Jim Fregosi. Donald Grant came in second, while Yogi Berra came out looking the best of the three.
Despite all that has transpired over the course of the season, Mets management did not loss faith in the ball club. And it was to that end that on July 9th, before the Mets were to take on the Astros, Board Chairman M. Donald Grant called a club meeting with the general manager Bob Scheffing on hand to exude that message of belief. After a short but inspiring speech Grant left the clubhouse. Coincidently, with McGraw suffering from a complete lack of confidence, he turned to some of his friends for personal advice and it was suggested that all he had to was to believe in himself. With now hearing the same exact words from Mr. Grant, McGraw could hardly control himself. Just barely after Mr. Grant exited the clubhouse door, Tug McGraw, in a moment of inspiration yelled out at the top of his lungs, “You Gotta Believe”, echoing the message he had been receiving from his personal friends. While many of his teammates believed that McGraw was barely mocking Grant, his incessant chanting of ‘You Gotta Believe’ convinced players that McGraw was actually quite serious, and thus exuded a new sense of confidence on the part of the players.
And while it would take awhile before it would reflect in the standings the Mets responded. With their newly found faith the Mets went out to take on the Houston Astros in a game in which the Mets sent their ace, Tom Seaver, to the mound, to take on Don Wilson and the Houston Astros. While Seaver, in his seven innings of work allowed only a solo home run by Lee May, Don Wilson was even better as he held the Mets scoreless for the first eight innings. As a result the Mets came to the plate in the last of the ninth inning trailing 1-0. Rusty Staub led off the Mets ninth with a base hit, but was forced at second on an attempted sacrifice bunt by Ed Kranepool. Kranepool then left the game in favor of a pinch runner Teddy Martinez. John Milner then struck out and the Mets were suddenly down to their last out. But Ron Hodges gave the Mets life, when he singled to center and sending Martinez to third. Hodges was then lifted for another pinch runner, as Don Hahn came onto the field to run for him. After some maneuvering by the Astros, in which the Astros replaced centerfielder Cesar Cedeno with Bob Gallagher, Berra then sent Jim Beauchamp to bat for Harrelson. Beauchamp came through with his 10th hit of the season and the Mets had the game tied. After Willie Mays walked pinch-hitting for reliever Buzz Capra, Wayne Garrett struck out, sending the game into extra innings.
Harry Parker kept the Astros off the board for the 10th, 11th and 12th innings, and the Mets came to bat in the last of the 12th inning, facing Astros reliever Jim York. Willie Mays, singled with one out. As a result of a run and hit play, the grounder hit by Garrett couldn’t have been converted into a double play, and thus allowed Mays to score with the winning run when Felix Millan followed with a single. The Mets inspired play continued the next night when Jon Matlack took to the mound against the Astros. If there was any doubt about Jon Matlack making a full recovery from the line drive that he took off his forehead on May 8th, they were conclusively put to rest after he stopped the Astros on one hit in a Mets 1-0 win. . Bud Harrelson, just back from the disabled list, threw out six base runners in the first five innings, and making a spectacular play in the last of the fifth inning, when he moved in to grab a high bouncer off the bat of Bob Watson and threw him out on the run. In the same inning Rusty Staub leaped high against the wall to rob Lee May.
Matlack took the mound in the sixth inning, with his perfect game still intact. But Tommy Helms, leading off drilled the ball past a diving Wayne Garrett for a two base hit, and breaking up Matlack’s bid. Helms remained on second base after the catcher Skip Jutze grounded out to short and Matlack struck out the Astros starter Jerry Reuss and former Met Tommie Agee.
Matlack had little trouble the rest of the way, as he allowed the Astros only two more walks, with one coming in the seventh and one in the eighth inning. Both runners were immediately erased on double plays.
With the one-hitter it marked the 10th time that Met pitchers threw a one hitter, though it was only the second one hitter thrown by a left hander, with Al Jackson having thrown one in the Mets inaugural season of 1962.
The next day came an admission from the Mets brass that the fans knew all along. The deal that brought Fregosi to the Mets in exchange for Nolan Ryan was a colossal failure as they dealt Fregosi to the Texas Rangers for the proverbial player to be named later. As glad as the fans were to see Fregosi go, it appeared that Fregosi was just as thrilled. “Oh, I’m happy. It didn’t look like I’d play here any more.” With the open roster space the Mets reactivated Jerry Grote, who missed two months after being hit with a pitch on his wrist, fracturing it. After the deal was announced, the Mets went out and played lackluster ball as they were pounded by the Astros, 7-1, salvaging the final game of the series. Jerry Koosman, the Mets starter was roughed up for six runs in five innings of work.
The Mets took to the road for a trip that would carry them to the All-Star break visiting Cincinnati for a four game series, including a Friday twilight double header, three games in Atlanta and a three game weekend series in Houston.
After splitting the four games in Cincinnati, it was onto Atlanta where some wild baseball took place. Jerry Koosman hooked up against Phil Niekro in the opener of the series. With the Braves leading 1-0, in the third inning, Marty Perez, the same Marty Perez that broke the skull of Jon Matlack, with his line drive up the middle, lifted a long drive to deep centerfield. Willie Mays tracked the ball to the short centerfield fence, where the ball and Mays reached the fence simultaneously. Mays reached for the ball, gloved it momentarily, then popped out of his glove as he slammed into the fence and fell to the ground as Perez rounded the bases for an inside the park home run.
Despite being concern for Mays, he showed no ill effects from his rendezvous with the fence when he led off the fourth inning with a double and scoring on a base hit by Cleon Jones. The Mets added another run in the inning and two more in both the fifth and sixth innings, giving Koosman a 6-3 lead heading into the last of the seventh inning. But Koosman began to wilt in the Georgian heat, as he surrendered back to back singles and a walk before Berra replaced the left hander with a struggling Buzz Capra. Capra had no better success and by the time the dust had cleared, the Braves had put five runs across the plate as they took the opener, 8-6.Jerry Koosman, the losing pitcher saw his record drop to 7-9.
With Tug McGraw continuing to struggle, Yogi Berra in trying to reinstall some confidence in his beleaguered reliever, moved McGraw into the starting rotation for the second game of the series. Unfortunately, McGraw fared no better in his role as a starter, as he surrendered seven runs in the six innings that he worked including home runs to Marty Perez, Ralph Garr and Hank Aaron’s 698th.
Conversely, the Braves starter Carl Morton, who induced Mets batters to bounce into five double plays, stifled the Mets offense. As a result the Mets came to bat in the top of the ninth inning trailing the Braves 7-1, just three outs away from adding another game into the loss column. But suddenly the Mets bats rose from the dead, as Garrett singled and crossed the plate when Staub cracked his 8th home run of the year. Another two run homer, this one off the bat of John Milner and cutting the Braves lead to 7-5 followed a single by Cleon Jones. Braves manager Eddie Matthews, replaced Morton with Adrian Devine, who fared no better.
By the time Eddie Matthews came to fetch Devine, the Braves leads was down to a single run, with the tying and go ahead runs on base. Matthews called for his left-hander Tom House to face Wayne Garrett, who was to bat for the second time in the inning. Garrett, however not got the opportunity as Berra called on Willie Mays to bat for him. Mays obliged by drilling a long single to right center, scoring both base runners and giving the Mets the lead for the first time all day. With Garrett having been lifted from the game, and Jim Fregosi having been dealt to the Texas Rangers, Yogi Berra elected to play Jerry Grote, just recently recalled from the disabled list to play third for the ninth inning. Grote had no opportunity to be tested however, as Harry Parker turned an overpowering ninth inning, saving the game for Buzz Capra.
The next night, the Mets offense continued where they left off in the ninth inning as they pummeled the Braves 12-2, with Staub belting two home runs and Milner one, while adding two singles, as Seaver picked up his 10th win of the year.
After losing the opener in Houston, excellent pitching performances by Koosman and Seaver paced the Mets to victories in the final two games of the first half of the season.
Despite the Mets heading into the All-Star break in the cellar of the National East; it was not a team in despair, having won 6 out of their last 9. The clubhouse, which resembled more of a hospital ward during the first half of the season, was now returning to normalcy as the team was now relatively healthy. But the best news of all was the hitting that was so inconspicuously missing in action for the bulk of the first half was now coming around. “I just hope they don’t forget what they’re doing right,” said a relieved Berra. “Just when they’re starting to get in the right groove, we’ve got three days off. Oh well, maybe the rest will do some good too. It’s still not too late. In this division anything can happen. The big thing now is for us to get back to .500. Then maybe we can make a move.”
THE DOG DAYS OF AUGUST
The second half of the season saw the Mets in St. Louis on the last leg of a road trip that began in Cincinnati and continued on through Atlanta and Houston before the mid season break.
Yogi Berra’s concern about the three day break putting a damper into the Mets recent fine play appeared justified as the Mets were swept in a double header on the first day of the second half. The Cardinals pounded Jon Matlack in the first game of the double header, scoring five runs in the second inning on their way to a 13- 1 rout of the New Yorkers. Jerry Koosman, lost a heart breaker in the second game, victimized by his teammates running game. . Kooz whose fastball was of the 1969 variety, allowed the Cardinals three hits and one run in the second inning but nothing else, was on the wrong end of a 2-1 decision .
The first of the base running miscues occurred with Cleon Jones on first base, leading off the second inning with a base hit. Jones then took off for second on a hit and run play. The batter John Milner executed perfectly with a clean single, but Jones failed to touch second base and had to turn back to touch second where he was forced to remain. The next batter Ed Kranepool flied to deep right, which allowed Jones to tag up and take third, but would’ve scored if not for his indiscretion. On the same play John Milner, committed the second base running mistake when he was thrown out as he tried to move up to second base.
In the fourth inning Jones ran the Mets out of another inning, as after he walked to lead off, he tried to go to third base on a base hit by Ed Kranepool but was gunned down by Bernie Carbo.
With the double loss the Mets started the second half of the season falling to 9 ˝ games behind the league leading Cardinals and further firmly entrenching themselves in the cellar of the National League East.
Tom Seaver salvaged the finale of the series and the road trip for the Mets with a 2-1 decision over Rick Wise and the Cardinals. With the Mets trailing 1-0 on a first inning run manufactured by Lou Brock, John Milner tied the game with his 15th home run of the season in the fifth inning. The Mets went ahead to stay in the sixth inning on a base hit by Felix Millan and a double by Rusty Staub.
The Mets finally returned home on Saturday July 28th, starting a series with the Expos. George Stone started the opener, pitching a complete game as the Mets clobbered the Expos 11-3. Again the big blow offensively was struck by John Milner, who blasted a grand slam home run in the last of the first inning putting the game out of reach.
The final two games of the series were in the form of a double header, which for the second time in four days the Mets lost. Jon Matlack, coming off a horrific performance in his last start was masterful in the first game of the double header, holding the Expos to only one run. Unfortunately, his mound opponent, rookie Steve Rogers was even better, keeping the Mets completely off the scoreboard, as the Expos beat the Mets 1-0. The Mets lost the nightcap 5-2 in 10 innings, but in this game as well, there was encouraging news as Tug McGraw, given another start in an attempt to get him straightened out, pitched 5 2/3 innings and allowed only one run and four hits, earning him a return his role as closing.
The Pittsburgh Pirates followed the Expos into Shea Stadium and once again Jerry Koosman, suffering from a lack of run support walked off with another hard luck loss as his record dropped to 8-11. Koosman allowed the Pirates only two earned runs over eight innings, but the Mets were able to score only run off Dock Ellis and Ramon Hernandez as the Mets lost, 4-1.
August 1st, the date that traditionally marks the beginning of the dog days of the baseball season, saw the Mets take on the Pirates in yet another double header. After losing two double headers in less then a week, the Mets finally won a double header. Tom Seaver won the opener 3-0, in a dominating performance in which he allowed the opposition only four hits while fanning 11 and not walking a single batter. Seaver improved his record to 13-5 with the win.
George Stone continued to exceed all expectations picking up his seventh win in the nightcap as the Mets beat the Pirates 5-2. Remarkably, the Mets came within one out of a double header shutout, before the Pirates scored two runs with two outs in the ninth. Had the Mets accomplished the feat of a double header shutout sweep it would’ve marked the first time since Jerry Koosman and Don Cardwell turned the trick during their remarkable season of 1969 that Mets pitchers threw shutouts in both ends of a double header. Ironically enough the opposition on that date was these same Pittsburgh Pirates.
In the ninth and the Mets leading 5-0, in large part due to two more homeruns hit by John Milner, Richie Zisk led off with a base hit. Two outs later Rennie Stennett doubled, putting runners on second and third. A single by Dal Maxvill scored both runners and chased Stone. Harry Parker relieved Stone, and after allowing a base hit to Willie Stargell, induced Dave Cash to fly out ending the game. For Parker, it marked his fourth save of the year.
In a season thus far filled mostly with gloom and doom, the pitching of Stone and Parker was one of the few bright spots. Together, the two combined for 13 of the Mets wins, despite having no specific role when the season began. In fact Harry Parker, acquired as part of the deal that sent Art Shamsky to the St. Louis Cardinals in October of 1971, was not even expected to make the team when spring training began. George Stone acquired as an afterthought in the deal that brought Felix Millan to the Mets in exchange for Gary Gentry and Danny Frisella started the season in the bullpen, and didn’t get his first start until the season was two months old. “I guess I was on the low end of the totem pole when the season began,” said Stone. “But I made up my mind not to get discouraged. I just did my running and whatever they told me to do. I even experimented changing my grip on the ball while I worked in the bullpen. I wanted to be ready when they did need me.” Yogi however insisted that Stone was no throw-in. “We knew he could start and relieve,” said Berra. “When we made the deal and gave them Gentry and Frisella, they wanted to give us someone else. We insisted on Stone.”
The Mets continued its mastery over the Pirates winning the finale of the four game series as well behind Ray Sadecki and Tug McGraw. More satisfying then the win itself was the return of McGraw to the role of closer, where he saved his first game in over two months. The next rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals arrived into Shea for a big weekend series, including a Sunday double header. The Mets took the opener 7-3, with Willie Mays striking the key blow, a three run homer in the last of the seventh inning, which put the game out of reach. Yet once again, the Mets were in the news on the injury front, when it was revealed that Bud Harrelson would be out of action for a couple of weeks with a fractured sternum. Yet the Mets had to consider them fortunate, because the news could’ve been a lot worse. In the last of the first inning, with Mets on and two outs, John Milner drilled a ball high against the right field wall, missing a home run by inches. Milner, heading full tilt to third base took a relay throw from Ted Sizemore plush on his right ear as he started his slide into third. While Milner had to leave the game, he suffered only a bruise and was not anticipated to miss any time.
The Cardinals took the second game of the series after scoring two runs off Jerry Koosman in the 8th inning snapping a 2-2 and then held off a Mets ninth inning rally, as they prevailed, 4-3. The Cardinals however lost the services of their ace right hander Bob Gibson, when his knee buckled as he threw a pitch in the third inning.
Just over 40,000 fans attended the Sunday afternoon Banner Day double header, but went home disappointed after the Mets lost yet another double header. Two runs off Tom Seaver in the seventh inning of the opener did the Mets in, 3-2. In the nightcap the Cardinals pounded out 12 hits off Jim McAndrew over five innings as once again the Mets lost, 4-1. Yogi Berra, was greeted with boos, when he came to the mound to pull McAndrew in the sixth inning, the first time Berra was the recipient of such a negative reaction, despite all that has transpired over the course of the season.
McGraw showed he was back for real, when he saved a game for Buzz Capra in a 6-5 Mets win over the Cardinals in the series finale.
On August 8th, the Mets headed out to the West Coast for an eight game road trip that would take them to Los Angeles for 2 games and to San Francisco and San Diego for three games apiece. In Los Angeles the two teams combined to score two runs in the two games as the Mets and Dodgers split 1-0 decisions. The opener saw Jon Matlack out pitch Andy Messersmith with the only run scoring in the second inning when Messersmith walked Milner; wild pitched him to second, where he scored on a base hit by Jerry Grote.
The Mets lost an opportunity to climb out of the cellar when Jerry Koosman lost his 4th consecutive well pitched game, surrendering an eighth inning run as the Dodgers avenged their 1-0 loss the previous day. With the game scoreless, the Dodgers came to bat in the last of the eighth inning. Dodger’s starter, Claude Osteen, a longtime Mets nemesis, led the inning off with a single, but was quickly erased when Koosman picked him off. Davey Lopes followed with a looping drive to center field, which Don Hahn after initially hesitating, attempted to make a diving catch on. When the ball got by Hahn Lopes was able to easily make it to third, where he scored on a base hit by Manny Mota.
After the short series with the Dodgers, the Mets moved on to Candlestick Park where Tom Seaver continued his dominating pitching, in the opener as the Mets handily beat the Giants 7-1.
The middle game of the series saw the Mets lose a heartbreaker. George Stone, the Mets starter, had an uncharacteristic poor performance, lasting just a third of an inning, surrendering six runs, four of them earned, with three of them coming on a three run home run by Bobby Bonds as the Giants jumped out to a 6-1 lead. But the Mets, refusing to sit down and quit, finally were able to tie the game in the fifth inning with John Milner’s 20th home run, a three run job being the big blow. The Giants went out ahead again scoring a run in the last of the seventh inning so the Mets came to bat in the ninth inning trailing 7-6. Willie Mays, in a pinch-hitting role led off the ninth with a double and two outs later scored on a throwing error by Chris Speier.
Tug McGraw, once again pitching like an ace was called on to take over the pitching in the ninth inning. McGraw pitched a solid four innings of relief, keeping the Giants off the board through the twelfth inning including escaping a bases loaded no out jam. The trouble began in the last of the twelfth inning, when McGraw walked Willie McCovey to start the twelfth. Bobby Bonds followed with a check swing grounder to third, where an inexperienced Jerry Grote was playing. Grote allowed the ball to get by him for a two base error putting runners at second and third with nobody out. Gary Matthews was walked intentionally to load the bases. McGraw fanned Chris Speier for the first out and then induced Chris Arnold to pop the ball into short right field but not deep enough to allow McCovey to tag up. Dave Rader then fouled out to the catcher Duffy Dyer to end the threat. McGraw wasn’t able to duplicate his magic when he came out for the thirteenth inning With one out McGraw, hit Gary Maadox with a pitch, and then Wayne Garrett, now playing shortstop, allowed a double play grounder to get by him, putting runners on second and third. The next batter was Bruce Miller, a rookie, whom Yogi Berra elected to walk intentionally and pitch to the always-dangerous Bobby Bonds. The strategy backfired when Bonds singled to left field ending the game. For the Giants it marked their tenth extra inning victory of the year without a defeat.
After the game, Berra explained his decision to walk Miller and pitch to Bonds. “You hate to have to walk a guy in that situation but you gotta. With first base open, they can try a squeeze play, with the bases full they won’t and more importantly you don’t have to have a tag play at the plate.”
One mistake pitch by Ray Sadecki was the difference in the Mets 4-1 loss to the Giants in the rubber game of the series. Sadecki was cruising along with a 1-0 lead and retired the first two Giants in the last of the fifth inning, before walking the Giants pitcher Ron Bryant. Despite committing the cardinal sin of walking the opposing pitcher, Sadecki should’ve been back in the dugout after the next batter Gary Maddox lifted a fly ball to left field. The inning was extended however after Milner misplayed the ball into a double. With runners now on second and third, Sadecki worked the count to 3 and 1 to Tito Fuentes, before grooving a pitch that was rerouted over the left field fence.
“It was a mistake, my mistake and that’s what so frustrating,” said Sadecki afterwards. “”I was trying to throw the ball in the dirt, exactly the kind of pitch I struck him out with the last time out.
The final leg of the road trip saw the Mets pull into San Diego, where only 2,440 fans showed up to watch the last place Mets take on the last place Padres. The miniscule crowd was rewarded with a thrilling 3-2 home team victory, as the Padres pulled the game by scoring 2 runs in the last of the ninth inning off Mets starter Jon Matlack, who was pitching a masterpiece of a game. With the Mets taking a 2-1 lead into the ninth inning, catcher Fred Kendall led off the inning with a base hit and was then removed for a pinch runner, Wayne Anderson. Dave Winfield followed with a clean single to left field. The ball was hit hard enough to hold Anderson at second base, but Cleon Jones didn’t field the ball cleanly, which allowed Anderson to take third. The next batter, Rich Morales, hit a fly ball to short left field, which had Anderson tagging up on. A good throw may have nailed Anderson, but Jones’ throw was way off line and the Padres had the tying run score. Matlack then struck out the next batter Ivan Murrell, and walked Jerry Morales intentionally putting runners at first and second with two outs. A base hit by Derrell Thomas followed scoring Winfield and sending Matlack to his much undeserved 15th loss of the season.
Jerry Koosman, who undeservedly lost his previous four outings due to a lack of run support, lost a game he finally deserved to lose, as the Padres touched him up for six runs in four innings, as the Padres blasted the Mets 9-0 in the middle game of the series. But the Mets were able to salvage the finale as they avenged the drubbing of the previous day, by blasting the Padres 7-0, as Tom Seaver fired a two hitter, enroute to his 15th win. . Wayne Garrett led off the game with a home run, while Jerry Grote followed with a grand slam in the fourth inning. Cleon Jones fifth inning solo homer was icing on the cake.
While the Mets returned home on August 17th only 7 ˝ games out of there first, they were still holding up the rest of the division, comfortably settled in the basement. First up, were the always-tough National League Champion Cincinnati Reds, in for a four game weekend series. In a match up of left-handers, the surprising George Stone went up against the ace of the Reds staff Don Gullett. Thanks to Willie Mays’ 660th home run of his amazing career Stone took a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning. Stone retired the first two batters in the ninth inning but then surrendered consecutive singles to Dan Driessen, Tony Perez and Johnny Bench and suddenly the Reds had the game tied. Harry Parker, who in the recent past had been so successful in relief, saw his spate of good outings come to a halt, when he surrendered a leadoff 10th inning to a rookie pinch hitter, Hal King. After the game Berra had to defend his decision to leave Stone in the game to face Johnny Bench, after surrendering two hits in the ninth inning. “He felt great. If he’d said he was tired, I would’ve taken him out.”
The Mets didn’t let the disappointing loss get to them as they dispatched Reds starter Fred Norman in the third inning of the Saturday afternoon game scoring four runs, three of them coming on Don Hahn’s second home run of the year. Norman’s successor, Roger Mason didn’t fare any better, as at first the Mets played little ball, loading the bases on a base hit and two bunt hits. A hit batsman and a walk brought home two more runs before Sparky Anderson called on Dave Tomlin to face John Milner with the bases loaded. Milner proceeded to unload the bases but not in the manner envisioned by Anderson, unloading a 370 foot drive into the Mets bullpen, his second grand slam of the season and his 21st overall. After the game, Milner commented on his blast. “It was 3 and 2 and I knew he didn’t want to walk me. So I guessed that he’d throw me a fastball inside, and there it was.”
It was the last place Mets, who ended up winning the third game of the series against a Reds ball club that was playing at a .750 clip over the last two months and hadn’t lost two games in a row since early July. The game took the form of an enthralling pitching duel between two veteran lefthanders, Jerry Koosman for the Mets and Ross Grimsley for the Reds. The Mets struck first, when in the last of the first inning, Bud Harrelson, just off the disabled list for the second time of the season, led off with a double, moved to third on an infield out and scored on a sacrifice fly by Willie Mays. It was not until the top of the fifth inning that the Reds recouped that run. In the last of the eighth inning, Don Hahn led off with a base hit and stayed there as Teddy Martinez flied out. But Koosman sacrificed Hahn to second, and then Harrelson with already a double to his credit popped the ball to what base of the bullpen fence good for a double and the go ahead run. “I couldn’t believe it, said Rose. “It must have been his all-time distance shot.”
Koosman retired the Reds in the ninth inning with little difficulty, finally get credit for a long overdue win. Koosman had lost his last five decisions despite pitching well enough to win in four of his last five outings.
It took 16 innings for the Mets to lose their magic in the finale of the series. After Seaver surrendered solo home runs in the second and third innings Seaver held the powerful Reds offense scoreless through the 12th inning. The Mets scored two runs in the last of the sixth inning tying the game 2-2. The game remained tied at two until the Reds scored a run off McGraw in the 13th inning. However the Mets refused to quit as they scored a run of their own sending the game onto the 14th inning.
By the 16th inning however there was nothing left in the Mets bag of tricks as the Reds pummeled McGraw and Parker for five runs on their way to an 8-3 win.
The Mets had no time to rest on their laurels after their grueling series with the Reds, as the first place Los Angeles Dodgers came marching into Shea Stadium. In an apparent mismatch the Mets sent their fifth starter Ray Sadecki against the ace of the Dodger staff Don Sutton. However by the time the Mets came to bat in the last of the eighth inning the only difference was a Bill Russell solo home run in the fifth inning giving the Dodgers a 1-0 lead. The Mets tied the game in the last of the eighth inning when they manufactured a run off Don Sutton via a walk, a bunt by Kranepool that incredibly went for a base hit, a sacrifice and a sacrifice fly. After Sadecki easily disposed of the Dodgers in the ninth, the Mets got to work in the bottom of the ninth. After the first out was recorded Wayne Garrett reached first on a walk. Suddenly Yogi, pulling all the right strings, called for a run and hit play, with Felix Millan at bat, resulting in the Mets avoiding a double play. Staub was then walked intentionally bringing Milner, the team’s most prolific hitter, to the plate. Milner, clutch all season, came through again, as he singled home the winning run.
The middle game of the series featured more of the same flair and dramatics as its predecessor. The Dodgers scored a run in the top of the first inning, and even though the Mets loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth inning it appeared the game would continue with the Dodgers clinging to a 1-0 lead after Teddy Martinez lifted a high pop to the mound. In a scene that could only resemble a sand lot game, Andy Messersmith the Dodgers pitcher called for it as all five infielders converged towards the mound. Messersmith had the fortune or misfortune, depending on who you were rooting for, however to trip on the pitching slab when he took a step backwards allowing the ball to fall as two runs scored giving the Mets a 2-1 lead. The Dodgers were able to peck away at Mets starter George Stone scoring single runs in the sixth and seventh innings giving the Dodgers a 3-2 lead as the Mets came to bat in the last of the ninth trailing 3-2. But again the ‘You Gotta Believe Kids’ got to work. Cleon Jones in a pinch hitting role led off with a base hit off Dodgers relief ace Jim Brewer. McGraw sacrificed him to second, and moved to third base on a sacrifice fly by Wayne Garrett. So the Mets had the tying run 90 feet away but were also down to their last out. Millan came through with a base hit however scoring Jones and tying the game. Rusty Staub followed with another hit bringing whom else, but John Milner to the plate. Milner needed to see only one pitch, which he smoked into centerfield scoring Millan and giving the Mets another win an incredible fashion. The win brought the Mets to within six games of the Division leading Cardinals, but even more significant was Tug McGraw picking up his first win of a long and arduous season for the left-hander.
Claude Osteen brought the Mets back down to earth in the finale of the series, as the Dodgers were able to hold off the pesky New Yorkers in another one run tightly fought contest.
The always tough Giants followed the Dodgers into Shea for a weekend series. The 35,361 fans that paid their way into Shea Stadium for the opener got their money worth as Jerry Koosman, and Juan Marichal, two classy veterans locked horns in a good old-fashioned pitchers duel. In addition to both pitchers being on top of their game, both pitchers were assisted by solid defense behind them.
In the top of the second inning Willie McCovey led off by drilling a Koosman pitch off the wall on a line, only to be thrown out by Rusty Staub as he headed into second base. In the last of the third inning, Jerry Grote led off with a single and Teddy Martinez followed by scorching a hard line drive, which was picked off by the third baseman Mike Phillips, denying Martinez. Koosman then attempting to sacrifice Grote to second base, bunted the ball back to the mound where Marichal threw low to second base, and Grote was ruled safe. But Marichal escaped unscathed by striking out Willie Mays and popping Millan up. The Giants threatened again in the fourth inning as Bobby Bonds led off with an infield hit. Koosman picked Bonds off first, but walked Willie McCovey. McCovey moved to third when Gary Maddox doubled. Koosman then walked Speier intentionally and got Mike Phillips to pop up. With two outs and the bases still loaded, Cleon Jones turned in the play of the game when Dave Rader hit a sinking liner towards left field which Jones was able to catch as he made a spectacular tumbling catch. Jones saved Koosman again in the fifth inning, when with Marichal on second base, Jones robbed Bobby Bonds with a similar catch.
The Mets didn’t threaten again until the last of the eighth inning, when Millan singled and Staub sacrificed him to second. Moments later, the Giants paid Cleon Jones back for his thievery, when he drilled a ball towards right field that was spared by the second baseman Tito Fuentes on the fly and then doubled Millan off second base.
. The Giants threatened again in the top of the ninth inning when McCovey led off with another base hit off Koosman. But Teddy Martinez then robbed Gary Maadox of a sure base hit and turned it into a force play. With the speedy Maadox replacing the slow-footed McCovey as the base runner, Maadox immediately took off an attempt to steal second base but was cut down by Grote’s rifle arm. The game headed into extra innings, with both starting pitchers, Koosman and Marichal still on the mound. Koosman retired the Giants in the tenth inning and the Mets went to work against Marichal in the last of the 10th inning. Ken Boswell, batting for Koosman, singled to start the bottom of the tenth. Willie Mays, 660 home runs and all, then sacrificed Boswell to second. Moments later, Boswell came lumbering home with the only run of the game after Millan lined a single into the right centerfield alley.
An exuberant Berra spoke about the team’s chances despite still being mired in the cellar of the National League East.” We’ve got the whole month of September left, with all our games in the East.. The best thing about our club now is the way the guys back after a tough defeat, the way they did tonight.”
The Giants turned the tables on the Mets the next afternoon, with a little assistance from a 15 year old fan as they downed the Mets 1-0, behind the four hit pitching of Tom Bradley. With two outs in the top of first inning, Gary Maddox hit a foul pop that Grote was settling under, when a fan reached over in his own attempt to come home with a souvenir. Neither was able to come up with the ball, thus giving Maddox new life, which he quickly took advantage of, as he singled home the game’s lone run.
Tom Seaver, the unfortunate victim, was charged with his seventh loss of the season, despite another outstanding pitching performance.
The Mets lost the finale of the series as well, 5-4, as Ron Bryant picked up his 20th win of the year. While Bryant was staked to a 5-0 lead, he had to hold on for dear life as the Mets scored two runs in the last of the sixth inning, two in the last of the ninth inning and the tying run on base, when reliever Elias Sosa struck Willie Mays to end the game.
Into New York came the San Diego Padres, and on home runs by Fred Kendall and Clarence Gaston, off starter George Stone, took an early 2-0 lead. The Mets struck back with one run in the last of the fourth inning and thus came to bat in the last of the fifth inning trailing 2-1. George Stone, the leadoff batter, became the first Met in franchise history to be awarded first base on catcher’s interference. A walk to Wayne Garrett and a sacrifice bunt, which Millan was able to beat out, loaded the bases and brought Staub to the plate. Staub put the Mets out in front, when he hit the ball out of the park for a grand slam home run. For the Staub it was his first home run in five weeks, and his first Shea Stadium home run since mid- May. With the Mets carrying a 6-3 lead into the eighth inning, George Stone’s personal relief pitcher Harry Parker took over the pitching. Parker got himself into immediate trouble when he sandwiched an out between a walk to the leadoff batter Jerry Morales, and a base hit by Dave Roberts. A two run double by Nate Colbert, who ended up on third base after the relay throw home, and all of a sudden the Mets lead was down to one, and the tying run only ninety feet away. But McGraw, regained confidence and all, pitching as the ace of old, was called upon to extricate the Mets out of the jam, and responded in splendid fashion as he struck out Gaston and induced Fred Kendall to ground out. In the ninth, McGraw struck out the side picking up his 14th save of the year.
The second game of the series was no less pulsating, as Jon Matlack hooked up against Clay Kirby. With the game tied 2-2, in the sixth inning, the Padres loaded the bases against Matlack with Clay Kirby coming to the plate. Kirby laid down a suicide squeeze bunt, as Clarence Gaston broke for the plate. Wayne Garrett charged the ball, barehanded the ball, and fired a strike to the plate, nailing Gaston. With two outs and the bases still loaded, Jerry Morales smacked a hard grounder to which Garrett reacted to perfectly and stepped on third base to end the threat and keep the tie intact. Garrett continued his one man show when he led off the bottom half of the inning with his 10th home run of the year. The Mets continued to pour it on as they scored four more runs in the inning to take a 7-2 lead. The Mets carried that lead into the eighth inning, but Matlack began to falter as he surrendered a single and a walk Again Berra called on Harry Parker and again he failed, yielding a pinch hit triple to Johnny Grubb, who scored on a groundout by Leron Lee. The Mets added an all-important insurance run in the last of the eighth inning and then called on McGraw to put it in the books. While McGraw surrendered a leadoff home run to Nate Colbert, he quickly recovered to retire the side as he picked up his 15th save of the year.
“He lost-who knows? - his concentration, his timing for awhile,” said Joe Pignatano, the bullpen coach regarding the rejuvenation of McGraw. “But now McGraw is the relief pitcher in baseball, no question about it.”
After spending the long hot New York summer cooling them-selves in the cellar of the National League East, the Mets finally emerged from the basement and climbed into fifth place after completing a three game sweep of the San Diego Padres.
Jerry Koosman, just off his brilliant 10-inning shutout against the Giants, was again in spectacular form as he held the Padres scoreless for 6 and 2/3 innings, before being lifted in favor of Buzz Capra. The game, which began as a pitching duel between the crafty veteran Koosman and the Padres rookie left-hander Rich Troedson, remained scoreless until the Mets came to bat in the last of the fifth inning. Don Hahn led off the inning with a walk, and went to second on a base hit by Bud Harrelson. Koosman then beat out an attempted sacrifice bunt, when nobody covered first and suddenly the Mets had the bases loaded with nobody out. After Wayne Garrett struck out, Felix Millan flied out to left field scoring Hahn. A base hit by Mays brought home Harrelson and Koosman scored when Cleon Jones doubled to left, giving the Mets a 3-0 lead.
Koosman for his part scattered five hits over the first six innings, and retired the first two batters in the seventh inning before he began to tire. Jerry Morales s lined a two out single bringing pitching coach Rube Walker out to the mound. When Darrell Thomas followed with a base hit off Koosman’s shin, it was curtains for the left-hander. Capra induced Dave Roberts to fly out and the Mets were never headed.
The Mets trip out of the cellar was short lived as they moved on to St. Louis to take on the first place Cardinals, for a four game series, and wasted a magnificent pitching performance by Tom Seaver, who held the Cardinals scoreless thru the first nine innings, but for the second start came away with a 1-0 defeat as the Cardinals pushed across a run in the last of the 10th inning.
The Mets however were able to even the series the next day, and once again climb out of the cellar, in another 10 inning affair, when the Mets scored three runs in the top of the 10th inning, after two were out, to snap a 3-3 tie. With the conclusion of the game, the month of August concluded as well, and while the Mets found themselves in fifth place, they also found themselves only 5 ˝ games behind the league leading Cardinals as baseball entered the stretch drive.