He was their number-one selection in the June 1967 draft, the fourth pick overall. The Mets didn’t rush him; he was brought up slowly because the Mets were loaded with good pitching in those days. This certainly helped his development along the way as he posted three straight winning seasons with double figures at the AAA level.
In 1969 as the Amazing Mets were winning the World Series & doing evrything but walk on the moon, Jon Matlack was going 14-7 at AAA Tidewater. He followed up with a 12-11 1970 season striking out 146 batters in 183 innings.
In 1971 Matlack was 11-7, tied for third in wins with Don Rose, behind Jim Bibby (15) & Buzz Capra (13). Thats how talented those Mets minor leagues were in those days. Overall he posted a 3.97 ERA, striking out 145 batters in 152 innings.
He was brought up midway through the 1971 season and debuted on July 11th in Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. He pitched seven innings allowing two runs while earning no decision in the Mets 5-3 loss. went 0-3 as he settled in to the big leagues.
On July 18th he pitched against Al Santorini in St. Louis & took his first loss, allowing five earned runs in 6.2 innings of work. He would lose to the Cardinals at Shea on July 28th & then spent another month down at AAA Tidewater before returning in September. In seven appearances he was 0-3 with a 4.14 ERA & ready for 1972.
In 1972 he started out the year in the bullpen. He relieved Gary Gentry in the second game of the season pitching the final two innings of a 2-0 loss to Pittsburgh. On April 23rd he pitched four innings of relief shut out the Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium & earned his first career win.
He then went right into the Mets starting rotation, from there on, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers on the road with a complete game, six hit, one run performance. He then beat the Giants in San Francisco & the Phillies at Veterans Stadium. On May 15th he earned his first starting win at Shea Stadium, beating the Montreal Expos 5-3 pitching into the 9th inning.
He then went 6-0 through May & earned two no decisions in games where he allowed three runs or less. On May 30th he pitched a three hit shutout against the Philadelphia Phillies at Shea Stadium besting his record to 6-0 with an ERA at 1.95. He had a tough June going 2-4 although he only allowed two earned runs or less three times in seven outings.
In July he pitched a four hit shutout against the San Francisco Giants at Shea Stadium, beating Sudden Sam McDowell, striking out nine batters. He then suffered two tough no decisions, the first was a nine inning performance at Los Angeles where he allowed one run that was unearned.
In the month he went into the 8th inning or beyond five straight times, allowing only three earned runs overall, but earned just two victories. In August he pitched well but not his best as he was 1-3 with three no decisions.
In mid September he pitched a five hit shutout against the Pirates at Shea & followed up with another five hitter, against the Phillies. In that game he allowed three runs but all were unearned.
Trivia: On the last day of the season at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Matlack went into the history books, giving up Roberto Clemente’s 3000th hit. It was also the last hit of Clemente’s career, as he would tragically be killed in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve later that year.
Matlack had met Clemente prior to the 1972 season playing winter ball in San Juan. Clemente invited some of the American Players to his home & Matlack was one of them. In his trophy room, he showed them one of his huge bats, Matlack was in awe.
When Clemente got the hit, Matlack was unaware of the significance of it. Clemente just raised his hat to the 17000 plus fans who actually knew what was happening. The game went on, bot have times changed.
That season Matlack became the first Mets player to win a Rookie of the Year Award. He was also named to the Topps All Star Rookie team & with his addition to a staff that already included Tom Seaver & Jerry Koosman, had a lot of teams taking notice.
Matlack finished the year 15-10 (7th most wins in the NL) with a team leading 2.32 ERA (4th in the league). He also led the talented Mets staff with four shut outs (sixth in the NL), while throwing eight complete games and posting 169 strikeouts (tenth in the NL) in 244 innings walking 71 batters.
In the 1973 Mets pennant season, Matlack like the rest of the team struggled at the start. He pitched in the second game of the season beating the Philadelphia Phillies 3-2 allowing just four hits in nine innings of work. On April 13th he was beat up for six runs in just four innings of work at Philadelphia.
On April 18th he lost a 1-0 heart breaker to the Chicago Cubs as Ray Burris & Jack Akers shut out the Mets. After falling to 1-3 he beat the Braves in Atlanta in a seven inning two run outing on the 28th of April.
Hit In the Head With A Line Drive: On May 8th at Shea Stadium in a game against Atlanta, Braves shortstop Marty Perez lined a shot that hit Matlack in the fore head, fracturing his skull. He was carried off the field in a stretcher and it was feared his season was over, or maybe even worse. His record fell to 2-5 three more losses were to follow into early June.
Incredibly, after suffering the injury, the tough work horse returned to the mound eleven days later, to throw six shutout innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates .
He found himself at 2-8 with a 4.55 ERA at the start of June. Matlack then won two games, as the West Coast teams came to Shea for a Mets homestand. He beat Al Downing of the Dodgers & then Steve Arlin & the Padres with complete game wins.
The Mets were still struggling, mostly due to injuries of their key players. Matlack slowly bettered himself to 7-10 after wins on the road in Chiaco & Montreal.
On July 10th in front of just under twenty thousand at Shea, he pitched a spectacular one hit, 1-0 shutout against Jerry Ruess & the Houston Astros. The only hit was a sixth inning double from short stop Tommy Helms. But the rest of his month went 0-4 although he allowed two runs or less in two of those losses.
Then From August until the end of the year he was brilliant, going 7-2, pitching five complete games, with three shut outs. He struck out nine batters or more in six of twelve games.
On August 8th he struck out nine Dodgers & pitched a two hit shutout at Dodger Stadium. It was another 1-0 squeaker, as Andy Messersmith also held the Mets in check. The only two Dodger hits came from Willie Davis & Manny Mota. Mota's hit came in the fourth inning, as Matlack retired the last 18 batters.
He won two more games in August with the help of the Mets finally giving him some run support. He also had two games where he struck out ten or more batters, including an 11 strike out season high against the Cardinals at Shea on August 3rd.
In the final month the whole Mets team came together at once, Matlack joined in, going 3-1 down the stretch. On September 7th he won yet another 1-0 game, beating former Met prospect Steve Renko in Montreal. Tug McGraw helped out with the save. Five days later on September 12th, he etched out a 3-2 win beating Wayne Twitchell in Philadelphia striking out nine Phillies.
On September 18th the Mets rallied for five runs in the top of the 9th inning, helping him from taking a loss against the first place Pirates. The win brought the Mets to 2.5 games of Pittsburgh, but there were also the Expos & Cardinals ahead of them.
On September 22nd, he did all but eliminate the Cardinals when he pitched a 2-0 shout against them at Shea Stadium. This night the Mets sat up in first place in the NL East & would hold the lead until clinching the NL Eastern Division on the last day of the season.
On September 30th, Matlack lost a 1-0 heart breaker game at Wrigley Field, delaying the Mets clinching by another day. He finished the year at 14-16, second on the staff (tied with Jerry Koosman) behind Tom Seaver in wins. He struck out 205 batters (3rd in the league), and his strikeout per nine inning ratio (7.6) was also third best in the N.L.
Matlack made 34 starts, pitched 242 innings, with 14 complete games (4th in the league) and three shutouts. He posted a 3.20 ERA and walked just 76 batters. He was a favorite of his manager Yogi Berra, who said he would never trade Matlack away, “what a career he has ahead of him" Berra told NBC's Tony Kubek, during a pre game World Series interview.
1973 Post Season- NLCS: In Game #2 of the 1973 NLCS, Matlack pitched one of the best Mets post season games ever. He threw a two-hit shutout against “the Big Red Machine” of Cincinnati. He struck out nine Reds & walked three in Riverfront Stadium. The win evened the Series to a game apiece. The Reds veteran, Andy Kosco, got both Reds hits & drew a walk.
Darrel Chaney also reached twice, drawing two walks Kosco & Chaney were the only Reds to reach base that day.
Outfielder Cesar Geronimo struck out three times against Matlack. It was after this pitching performance that Bud Harrelson remarked the Reds “looked like me hitting out there” in that game. Those words angering the Reds and led to the Harrelson/ Rose bench clearing brawl in Game three.
Matlack would get three starts in the 1973 World Series, and pitch well in all of them except the last start. He was the starting pitcher in the opener at Oakland against the A's Ken Holtzman.
Matlack was superb going six innings, allowing two unearned runs, on just three hits against the mighty Oakland line up. He struck out three and walked only two along the way.
In the third inning, Oakland's Bert Campaneris reached base on a ground ball that went through the usually sure handed Mets second baseman Felix Millan's legs.
With Campy aboard (the American League's best base stealer), Matlack botched a pickoff attempt allowing Campy to move up to second base. He then scored what would be the winning run on Joe Rudi’s base hit, as the Mets lost the game 2-1.
Jon came back to pitch Game #4 at Shea Stadium and would get plenty of run support this time, thanks to Rusty Staub’s big five RBI night in the Mets 6-1 win. Matlack was fantastic again, allowing only one run, on three hits, while striking out five Oakland A’s, walking only two.
Reggie Jackson, Gene Tenace & pinch hitter Deron Johnson were the only A's to gather hits that night. Matlack also hit Bert Campaneris with two pitches, late in the game without any incidens taking place. It turned out to be the only World Series win in Matlack's career.
A tired Matlack was called upon to pitch Game #7 on three day’s rest, over a well rested George Stone. That year Stone was 12-3 with a 2.80 ERA & had only made a relief appearance in Game #2.
To this day it is one of Met fans biggest questions: Why didn't Yogi Berra start Stone in Game #6 & have a rested Matlack as well as Tom Seaver ready to go in Game #7?
It turned out to be Matlack's worst post season outing, allowing four runs on four hits in 2 2/3 innings pitched. He gave up the big blows, HRs to Reggie Jackson & Bert Campaneris as he took the 5-2 loss.
Overall Matlack went 2-2 in the post season, allowing only four earned runs in 25 innings pitched for a fantastic 1.40 ERA. He struck out 20, & walked eight batters in his only postseason appearance.
Trivia: Jon Matlack & Ron Darling are the only two Mets to start three World Series games in a single World Series. They both got the starts in games one, four and seven.