Jan 20, 2016

One of the Best Mets Left Handers of All Time: Jon Matlack: Part Two (1974-1977)

In 1974 Jon Matlack began the year with a 9-2 win in Philadelphia, as he allowed just one run, pitching into the 8th inning with seven strike outs. In his next start he struck out ten Phillies at Shea Stadium, but earned no decision.

He was soon 1-1 then won four straight games, which included pitching three complete games, & two shut outs. Both shut outs were four hitters, the first in San Francisco on April 28th beating Tom Bradley. The next was on May 18th at Shea Stadium, against Steve Rogers & the Montreal Expos where he struck out nine. Back on May 4th he set a season high, with 12 strike outs in a home game against the Giants.

He lost his next four decisions due to lack of run support, as he only gave up more than three runs one of those times. On June 29th he pitched a one hitter at Shea Stadium, against the St. Louis Cardinals striking out seven walking just three. The only hit was a single in the third inning coming from the opposing pitcher John Curtis. He then won four of his next five games, which were all complete games victories.

All Star: At the All Star break, Matlack was 9-6 with a 2.55 ERA, and his manager; Yogi Berra (who was also the NL All Star Manager), brought him to Pittsburgh for the first of his three straight All Star appearances. With the game being held in Pittsburgh, the hometown fans were upset at Berra naming his own player; Matlack n the team over their new hometown hero- a young Dave Parker. Matlack would pitch a scoreless sixth inning in the game, allowing a hit & a walk in the 7-2 Mid Summer Classic, NL victory.

After the All Star break he threw three more complete game shutouts, the first came on August 3rd in Montreal, a seven hit performance. On August 13th at Shea Stadium he tossed a four hitter against Al Downing & the Dodgers. To start out September he then tossed another four hitter at Wrigley Field, reaching the ten strike out mark for the fifth time on the season.

On September 22nd he threw a 4-0 three hit shutout at Three Rivers Stadium, in Pittsburgh against the Pirates. Although he pitched brilliant at times he lost seven decisions from August to the end of the season. He had only allowed more than three earned runs in one of those games, and more than two earned three times.

Matlack finished the disappointing Mets 1974 season with one of his best years, leading the league in shutouts (7) & leading the Mets staff with a 2.41 ERA (3rd best in the league). He had 14 complete games (5th in the NL) and 265 innings pitched (7th in the NL). He also struck out 195 batters (4th best in the league) & had five different games where he struck out ten or more batters. His record certainly didn’t reflect how good he was that season. He went 13-15 suffering a lot of hard luck losses, on a team that didn’t score many runs & followed up a pennant year in fifth place.

In 1975 he allowed two runs over seven innings in the second game of the season, but earned no decision as the Mets fell to the Phillies 3-2. After going 2-3 he had a five game win streak from May 12th into the start of June. In that time he only allowed six earned runs over 38 innings. The streak was topped off with a June 2nd, 2-0 our hit shutout victory, over the Houston Astros.

All Star MVP: He went to his second All Star Game that year, with the 1975 Mid Summer Classic being held in Milwaukee's County Stadium. He followed Tom Seaver in the 7th inning, after Seaver served up a three run game tying HR to Carl Yastremski. Matlack held his own, pitching two scoreless innings while striking out four American leaguers (Rod Carew, Bucky Dent, Gene Tenace & Fred Lynn) in the 6-3 National League win.

He ended up sharing the All-Star MVP Award honors with the Chicago Cubs Bill Madlock, who drove in the game winning runs off Rich Gossage in the top of the 9th inning.

At the end of July he went on to a six game win streak, which took him right into September. By that time the Mets were just four games in back of Pittsburgh, involved in a four team race. It seemed he was on his way to his first twenty win season, joining Tom Seaver on the staff, who would win his third Cy Young Award that year. But September would be Matlack's worst month as he went 0-4 with two no decisions as the Mets faded from the race.

That season he finished up 16-12 (7th most wins in the league) with 154 strikeouts (10th in the league), He posted a 3.38 ERA with eight complete games & three shutouts (tenth in the NL) in 33 games.

The bicentennial year began to bring changes to the Mets family, but it still was the last year before the bottom fell out. Matlack probably had his best Mets start to a season. In the second game of the season, he beat Woody Fryman & the Montreal Expos at Shea Stadium pitching a four hit shutout. Two starts later he shutout the Cardinals in St. Louis on a six hitter striking out seven. A modest May had him win two games against one loss, as he improved to 5-1.

In June he threw three straight complete game victories, beating the Dodgers & Giants on the West Coast. He then beat the Dpdgers & Burt Hooton in a 2-1 pitchers classic at Shea Stadium. On June 20th he had a terrible seven run, three inning outing against the Giants at home taking a 9-2 loss. On July 1st he threw a five hit shutout, in a 13-0 Mets blowout against the Cardinals. That brought his record to 10-2 with a 2.65 ERA leading all NL pitchers.

On July 6th at Shea Stadium, he pitched shutout ball for 10 innings but lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to J.R. Richard & the Houston Astros. He went to another All Star game in 1976, along with Mets teammates Tom Seaver & Dave Kingman, in the bicentennial year game held in Philadelphia. He had a rough start to the second half, losing four straight games, although he allowed three earned runs or less in all of the games. He rebounded to finish up 7-7 from there through the end of the season.

This year Matlack was overshadowed once again on his own staff, this time by Jerry Koosman who won twenty games for the first time in his fabulous career. Matlack won a career high 17 games (17-10) seventh most wins in the league. He led the league in shutouts for a second time in his career with six. He pitched 16 complete games (Third most in the NL) with 262innings pitched (6th in the NL). Matlack posted a 2.95 ERA (tenth in the NL) with 153 strikeouts (8th in the NL) walking 57 batters.

It all went downhill for the Mets as well as Matlack in 1977, as the team sunk to last place. He started out the year at 0-4 but then threw back to back complete game shut outs on a West Coast road trip in Los Angeles & San Francisco. It was a short lived streak as he lost seven straight decisions including a 1-0 loss to the Phillies Jim Lonborg.

On June 15th the night when Tom Seaver was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, Matlack got the start in Atlanta. He allowed five runs in six innings but earned no decision as the Mets rallied to beat the Braves 6-5. Matlack missed a month of action due to injury from the end of August to September 30th.

When he returned to make one last start on the year, it turned out to be his last as a New York Met. He won that game pitching into the 5th inning at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, beating the Cardinals. On the year he went 7-15 with a 4.21 ERA. He gave up a career high 19 HRs, and allowed 176 hits in 169 innings.

The Mets were cleaning house quickly and were dumping all the players from their glory days. Tom Seaver had been dealt away earlier that year & Matlack was no exception. That December he was traded as well, in a strange four-team deal involving a number of players, Matlack went to Texas along with John Milner (who then went to Pittsburgh) in exchange for Willie Montanez, Ken Henderson and Tom Grieve.

Quotes: Jon Matlack on pitching on the Mets "That was a staff that knew how to compete and was willing to do whatever it took to be successful and put zeros on the board. We all fed off each other and it snowballed into not wanting to be the one who was the weak link.

It’s easy to focus when you have to follow greatness and it became a very professional approach. I would do what ever I had to, to work on an aspect of my delivery or the details of the grip on a specific pitch. No matter how long it took, or how much work I needed to do I was willing to do it and so was the rest of the staff."

In his first year in the Arlington/Dallas area he went 15-13 & was second in the American League with his 2.27 ERA. He threw a8 complete games (4th best in the AL) struck out 157 batters (6th in the AL) pitching in 270 innings (8th in the AL) in 35 starts. Matlack helped the Rangers tie for a second place finish with the California Angles, finishing five games behind the mighty Kansas City Royals of the late seveties.

In 1979 injuries limited him to only 13 games, going 5-4. It was his last year with a winning record as he’d go 10-10 in 1980 with a 3.68 ERA. That year he began the season with a three hit shutout against the AL New York club, in Texas Stadium. In August he broke up George Brett's 30-game hitting streak in August, holding him to an 0-3 night in Arlington.

In 1981 he was limited to just 17 games going 4-7 with a 4.14 ERA. Matlack was the Texas Rangers Opening Day starter for three straight seasons. He was released by the Rangers in October 1983 and retired at age 34.

In a 13-year career, he was 125-126 with 1516 strikeouts (179th all time) with 638 walks, posting a 3.18 ERA, with 97 complete games, & thirty shutouts (110th all time) He pitched in 2363 innings pitched in 361 games. At the plate he hit .129 (57-441) with three doubles & 23 RBIs.

METS ALL TIME LIST: Matlack is still ranks high on many of the Mets All Time pitching records; his 26 shut outs are tied for second most on Mets all time list, with Jerry Koosman behind Tom Seaver. His 3.03 ERA ranks fourth best on the Mets all time list, with pitchers pitching 500 innings or more in a Mets career.

He pitched 65 complete Mets games (fourth best most on Mets all time list) 1448 innings (sixth best most on Mets all time list) 82 wins (seventh most on Mets all time list) 199 starts (seventh most on Mets all time list) 1023 strikeouts (eighth most on Mets all time list) & 81 losses (fourth most on Mets all time list).

Retirement: Matlack resurfaced in the short lived Senior Professional Baseball Association where he had a solid 10-2 record. In 1988 he was a minor league pitching coach for the San Digo Padres & then moved on the Chicago White Sox organization.

In 1996 he was the Detroit Tigers pitching coach. Recently, he became the Organizational Pitching coordinator for the Detroit Tigers, and was instrumental in helping to develop the talented young staff of the 2006 & 2012 A.L. Champions. 

Currently Jon has a "roving" job as a minor league pitching coordinator for the Houston Astros.

He currently lives comfortably, in the Adirondak Mountains of upstate New York.

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