Remebering Mets History (1973) Jon Matlack Gets Hit In The Face With Line Drive

Tuesday May 8th
, 1973:
Early on in the Mets 1973 Pennant season, the not yet playing at championship caliber. The Mets had fallen under the .500 mark the previous night, falling two games out of first place.

On this chilly rainy evening at Shea Stadium, Yogi Berra's Mets (13-14) hosted Hall of Fame slugger, Eddie Mathews' Atlanta Braves (10-17) in front of a small crowd of just 6,840.

The Braves were sporting their classic lowercase red "a" on their white & blue caps. 

The Mets young southpaw, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year, Jon Matlack (2-5) took the mound against Atlanta's Ron Reed (1-4).

Jon Matlack held the Braves scoreless over the first three innings. In the home 3rd inning, Ron Reed recorded the first two outs. Next, Teddy Martinez singled, then Felix Millan doubled off his old teammates, scoring Martinez to make it 1-0 Mets.  

In the top of the 4th, the Braves answered with a solo HR from future Met manager; Davey Johnson, it was the first of two HRs Davey would hit on the night.

Trivia: Johnson would hit a career high 43 HRs that season. He was one of three Braves along with Hank Aaron & Darrel Evans, to hit 40 or more HRs that year.

In the home 5th, with one out, Felix Millan & Wayne Garrett both singled. Then cleanup hitter, Rusty Staub singled, bringing in Millan with another run putting the Mets up 2-1.

The game rolled along with Matlack pitching well thru the first six innings, having given up a run & two hits thru six. 

In the 7th inning with one out, Matlack walked the catcher, Dick Dietz. He then gave up base hits to Paul Cassanova & Rod Gilbreath.

Then with two outs, the Braves short stop Marty Perez came to bat. Matlack overthrew a fastball & landed on his heels. Perez line the pitch straight back up the middle. The ball grazed Matlack's glove & his cap drilling him right in the left side of his forehead. 

The ball flew in the air landing near the Mets dugout & the outfield. All three runners rounded the bases & scored as Perez scampered to second base with a double.

More importantly on the mound, Jon Matlack was laying on the ground with his hands covering his face. His teammates quickly rushed to his aide.  

Quotes - Jon Matlack: "They came out and checked me on the mound. I thought I got hit in the mouth because it really hurts. I’m reaching to see if I’ve got any teeth left and (catcher) Jerry Grote grabs my hand and says, ‘Wait for the trainer.’ As I’m looking up, I could see my forehead. That’s when I realized I got hit there, because it’s swollen.”

"So they cover me with a tarp to keep my dry. My wife, who’s in the stands, thinks I’m dead! People had umbrellas up, and she’s trying to peer around the umbrellas. They told me later that she’s only the second woman other than (Mets owner) Joan Payson to get in the clubhouse. I didn’t feel bad at that point, except very, very tired with a headache."

Matlack was carried off the field on a stretcher & taken to Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan. Matlack remembers he had to guide the ambulance driver how to get out of Shea & onto the Grand Central Parkway. An x-ray revealed he had a hairline fracture to his skull.

It was a horrifying scene, similar to an injury that ruined the Cleveland Indians pitcher Herb Score back in 1957. It was feared Matlack's season & even worse, his brilliant young career could be over. 

Amazingly, Matlack would recover well enough to be back on the mound in just eleven days. 

On May 19th, he took the mound at Shea Stadium pitching six scoreless innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He struck out six, walked just one & allowed nine hits taking no decision in the loss.

In the May 8th game, Phil Hennigan took over pitching for the Mets. He intentionally walked Henry Aaron then served up the second HR of the night to Davey Johnson. Dusty Baker then doubled & Darrell Evans singled to make it 8-3 Braves.

The Mets attempted a comeback, getting Roric Harrison for three runs in the home 7th, with doubles by Millan & Ed Kranepool (RBI). 

Jim Gosger's ground out scored a run & Jerry Grote's base hit also brought in a run. In the 9th, Dusty Baker added a two-run triple off Tug McGraw to make it 10-6 Braves, which was the final.

In the 1973 Mets pennant season, Matlack (who was the 1972 Rookie of the Year) went 14-16 with a 3.20 ERA striking out 205 batters (third most in the NL) while walking 99 in 242 innings pitched. He threw 14 complete games (5th most in the NL) & tossed three shut outs (7th in the NL). 

In the post season he pitched a two-hit shutout against the Cincinnati Red in the NLCS Game #2. Matlack pitched three games in the World Series against the Oakland A's, going 1-2 with a 2.16 ERA striking out 11 batters, walking five in 16.2 innings of work.


Unknown said…
I was fourteen years old and at this game. I was literally sitting two rows behind Matlack's wife. I thought she passed out when the ball ricoched off of his head. I remember it was drizzling out so it was good to see the mention of umbrellas in the stands. Something I'll never forget is the sound the ball made hitting his head.

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