October 1st, 1973: The fate of the 1973 New York Mets season, all came down to the last day of the regular season. The Mets had a scheduled double header planned at Wrigley Field to close out the season. If they could win the first game, the second game would not be necessary. The St. Louis Cardinals & Pittsburgh Pirates both lost their final games of the season.
These were the NL East standings, on Monday Morning October 1st, 1973:
New York Mets 81-79 -
St. Louis Cardinals 81-81 (1.0 back)
Pittsburgh Pirates 80-81 (1.5 back)
Montreal Expos 79-83 (3.0 back)
Chicago Cubs 77-83 (4.0 back)
Philadelphia Phillies 71-91 (11.0 back)
Less than 2000 fans came to a cloudy / rainy & soggy, Wrigley Field to see the Cubs try to play spoilers to knock the Mets out of winning the division. The game was to begin at 1100 am, but was delayed twenty minutes due to rain.
The Mets had won eight of their last ten games, nineteen of their last twenty seven in the month of September. They had gone from last place to first place since late August & were 13 games out in July.
The team had suffered injuries all season, & it wasn't until the final month all the regulars were healthy. The pitching had been spectacular as well, the starters & relievers as well.
Today Manager Yogi Berra gave the ball to his ace, the 1973 Cy Young Award winner; Tom Seaver (18-10 / a league leading 2.00 ERA & 248 strike outs) going up against knuckle curve ball pitcher; Burt Hooton (14-16 / 3.55 ERA / 132 Ks).
In the top of the 2nd inning, the hot hitting Cleon Jones hit a HR to put the Mets out in front 1-0.
|Coach Eddie Yost Congradulates Cleon Jones On HR|
In the top of the 4th, the Mets rallied as Rusty Staub singled to right field. Hooton then walked John Milner & Cleon Jones to load the bases. Jerry Grote's RBI Single
In the 5th the hot Mets went to work; Wayne Garrett led off with a double & went to third on a Felix Millan bloop base hit to right field. Cubs manager; Whitey Lockman, the former New York Giants slugger, replaced Hooton with Mike Paul.
The hot Rusty Staub, who had been the Mets most reliable run producer all year, drove a base hit to right field scoring Garrett with the Mets fourth run.
Staub would have a big four hit day, after coming off a three hit, three RBI day yesterday. Staub finished the season with a 15 game hit streak, batting .279 with a .361 on base % & 15 HRs. He would lead the club in doubles (36) walks (74) & RBIs (76).
Next "the Hammer" John Milner hit a sac fly to center which brought home Millan. Milner would lead the '73 Mets in HRs (23) while driving in 72 runs & posting a .329 on base %. The Mets did not score again & left the bases jammed after Jerry Grote walked. It was 5-0 half way through.
Tom Seaver was not with his best stuff today, between the bad weather & a long September, Tom Terrific had only retired the Cubs in order in the 1st inning. In the 5th Ken Rudolph & Rick Monday both hit singles.
|Tom Seaver Delivers|
The Mets threatened in the 6th, as Harrelson doubled & Seaver singled. But Wayne Garrett hit into a fielders choice & Felix Millan hit into an inning ending double play 6-4-3. Seaver retired the Cubs in order in the bottom of the inning.
The Mets attacked again in the 7th, Staub had his third hit of the day with a base hit. After John Milner flied out, Cleon Jones drew a walk. Jerry Grote then grounded out as Staub went to third. He scored when Ron Santo made an error on Don Hahns ground ball, it was now 6-2 Mets.
In the 7th, Dave Rosello singled to right field & then Rick Monday blasted a two run HR, bringing the game to within two runs at 6-4. It was clear Seaver was tired & done for the day. In six innings he gave up four runs on eleven hit, no walks & two strike outs.
|Tug McGraw Raises His Arm In Victory|
The Mets loaded the bases in the top of the 8th but Jack Aker retired Milner & Jones to end that inning. In the home 8th, the Cubs sent in two pinch hitters but McGraw retired the side in order. It all came down to the 9th inning.
Ken Rudolph led off with a base hit, bringing up the tying run at the place. But Tug got Dave Rosello to strike out & then went to a 3-2 count on Glen Beckert. McGraw went to his screw ball & got Beckert to hit a soft line drive to John Milner at first, the Hammer caught it stepped on first & it was all over.
At 82-79 the New York Mets were the NL Eastern Champions, from last place a month ago to clinching a playoff berth on October 1st. The second game of the scheduled twin bill was not necessary. The umpires diplomatically stated the field was too wet to play on.
Yogi Berra came into the clubhouse & yelled "the games off, get the champagne out!" The Mets clubhouse already ecstatic, began to celebrate.
Tug McGraw stood on top of an equipment trunk shouting his famous phrase "You Gotta Believe- You Gotta Believe"!! Yogi Berra told the press from a tiny office : "Its been a long year. I was on 14 teams that won but this has to be a big thrill because we had to jump over five clubs to do it. We were 12 games back & hurt. I told the guys, here Friday I'm proud of you whether you win or lose the next four. Just give me 100%".
All the players felt the same way, it was a team effort with contributions from everyone to get here. 11 of the players were left over from the Miracle Mets of 1969 & understood what winning as a team meant.
Bud Harrelson: "In 1969 it was some sort of Miracle that happened to us. We started out just hoping to do better than we did the year before & weren't expected to win. This year though we were so frustrated, we knew (tapping his heart) knew, that we should win. We had the talent & went everybody got down on us we knew they were wrong. To come back & win once we were able to play, I think of it as a much more mature feeling".
Tom Seaver said "Nothing will ever be like 1969, we were all so young then. Anyhow we've only taken one step of the three. We still have to win a playoff & a World Series to match 1969, but in a way it was more earned."
|Wayne & Donna Garrett|
Wayne Garrett said: "Suddenly you look around during a game & see saw all the faces you were suppose to see on out there playing. Harrelson, Grote, Jones, Staub,- the regulars. It made a tremendous difference. We knew we had a good team if only we could get it out on the field."
Rusty Staub said "I simply come to play, I always do. A couple of months ago we were out of it & then we really put it all together."
|Wille Mays Gets Doused with Champagane|
The Mets received $5000 each player for winning the division. They flew to New York that evening arriving at 1110 PM, greeted by a reported 500 plus fans at La Guardia Airport. It was onto the playoffs with a date with the Cincinnati Reds. What a memorable season it was & what a memorable series was ahead.