May 7, 2021

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

Tuesday May 8th 1973: It was a chilly rainy evening at Shea Stadium, as Yogi Berra's Mets (13-14) hosted Eddie Mathews' Atlanta Braves (10-17) in front of a small crowd of 6,840.

The Mets had fallen just under the .500 mark the night before, two games out of first place.

The Mets southpaw, Jon Matlack (2-5) took the mound against Atlanta's Ron Reed (1-4).

Starting Lineups

In the home 3rd inning, the Mets Teddy Martines singled & scored on Felix Millan's double.  The Braves answered with a solo HR from future Met manager; Davey Johnson, it was the first of two HRs he'd hit on the night.

In the Mets 5th, Felix Millan & Wayne Garrett both singled. Then clean up hitter, Rusty Staub singled home another run putting the Mets up 2-1.

The game rolled along with Matlack pitching well into the 7th inning. With one out he walked catcher Dick Dietz, the gave up base hits to Paul Cassanova & Rod Gilbreath.

Then with two outs, Matlack overthrew a fastball & landed on his heel. Braves short stop Mary Perez drilled the pitch straight up the middle. The ball grazed Matlack's glove & his cap but drilled him right in the left side of his forehead. The ball flew in the air landing near the Mets dugout & the outfield. All three runs scored as Perez scampered to second base with a double.

But more importantly on the mound, Jon Matlack was laying on the ground with his hands covering his face. His team mates 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.

It was a horrifying scene, similar to an injury that ruined the Cleveland Indians pitcher Herb Score back in 1957. It was feared his season & possibly his brilliant young career was over. Matlack was taken to nearby Roosevelt Hospital where an x-ray revealed a hairline fracture to his skull.

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 1973 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). 

Trivia: As for the rest of that May 7th 1973 game, Phil Hennigan came in to relieve Matlack. He intentionally walked Hank Aaron then served up a grand slam to non other than Davey Johnson. The Braves went on to a 10-6 win.

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