Tug McGraw: 1973 N.L. Champion Mets Fireman (Part Two) "You Gotta Believe"
In 1973 Tug started out the season with another Opening Day save after relieving Tom Seaver to finish off the Philadelphia Phillies. In the first month of thee 1973 season he had four saves and was posting a 1.59 ERA, just like the Tug McGraw of old. But in mid May he began to struggle, he only notched one save from that point through mid June and he was getting hit hard.
In an early May game he blew a four run lead against the Houston Astros, giving up a three run HR to Bob Watson. He was charged with seven runs overall on that day. He did get credit for three saves following that game but then allowed two HRs to the Pittsburgh Pirates, blowing a save while taking a loss. His ERA soared to 5.19 & over the next two months. He blew four saves, took two losses dropping to 0-4 on the year & only notched three saves.
On June 28th he came in relief in the 7th inning against the Philadelphia Phillies, Greg Luzinski & Tommy Hutton led the way & lit him up for four runs.
In the second game of a July 1st double header he gave up a walk off HR to the Chicago Cubs Randy Hundley at Wrigley Field. Another terrible outing came two days later in Montreal on July 3rd, when he allowed seven earned runs in relief to the Expos.
That day he said he felt like he had no idea how to throw a baseball. It was as if he had never played baseball in his life. He blew another save against the Atlanta Braves and had an ERA over six when Yogi Berra decided to use him as a starter.
His first start was July 17th in Atlanta but it was also a nightmare. He allowed seven runs on ten hits over six innings pitched but the Mets bailed him out with a seven run 9th inning, led by a pair of two run HRs from Rusty Staub & John Milner. Also pinch hitters Jim Beachamp & Willie Mays drove in runs as well with key hits.
The team also struggled through injuries to some its key players, and in the middle of summer was below .500, in last place eleven games out. By August McGraw’s record had slipped to 0-6, and then one afternoon it all seemed to make sense. He was having lunch with an old friend of Gil Hodges, a man named Joe Badamano who was a motivational speaker.
Badamano told Tug “you got to believe in yourself & think positive”. That’s it Tug said to himself, “You gotta believe”. He kept repeating it to himself, his team mates, & to the fans. Then in a famous closed door team meeting with chairman of the board; M. Donald Grant, a rally cry was born.
"You Gotta Believe": Rumors were swirling in the press about who was to be fired in the Mets organization, The newspapers actually had a poll asking the public who the Mets should let go; the manager Yogi Berra? the General Manager Bob Scheffing? Or the Chairman M. Donald Grant? Since Berra was the most popular guy, he was voted to stay.
Grant gave the team a pep talk, telling them the front office was behind them and still believed in them. Then it happened; McGraw jumped up and shouted, “You gotta believe! You gotta believe!” right in the middle of the Grants speech.
Grant wasn’t sure if he was being mocked or supported. He stormed out of the room with his brass of upper management behind him. Some of his teammates laughed thinking Tug was actually mocking the chairman of the board.
Ed Kranepool went over to Tug telling him he should straighten things out with Grant to cool him off. McGraw went over to talk with Grant, and sure enough he was upset. It took a couple of weeks but things began to turn around for the best as the team got healthy.
On August 22nd McGraw finally earned his first win, after a 9th inning comeback win by the Mets, with key hits from Felix Millan & John Milner. That week Tug earned two saves & another victory at St. Louis against the Cardinals. At the end of August 1973 the Mets were still in last place, ten games under .500 but only six games behind the first place Cardinals.
Whichever way Tug McGraw meant his “You gotta believe” outburst to be, it became legendary. For Mets fans it will never be forgotten & always be associated with the team. It was also to be one of baseball’s greatest battle cries ever. “You Gotta Believe” led the Mets from last place all the way to the World Series.
McGraw turned his season around, he had a spectacular September winning five games (5-0) and earning ten saves. He posted a 0.88 ERA striking out 38 batters in 41 innings, allowing just two earned runs all month long.
On September 7th in Montreal he pitched five innings of relief from the 10th through the 15th inning, and drove in two runs with a base hit to earn the 4-2 victory.
Over an incredible eight day stretch in mid September from the 12th -19th, he saved four games and earned two victories. In that stretch he pitched 11 innings allowing no runs & struck out 13 batters. This lifted the Mets to within 1 ½ games of first place.
During a crucial Series against the first place Pittsburgh Pirates, McGraw earned the win in the final game at Three Rivers Stadium. The next night at Shea Stadium he got the save pitching three innings of shutout relief.
After two more Mets wins, including the famous “ball off the wall night” the Mets were above .500 and in first place passing the Pirates. “You Gotta Believe” was being shouted everywhere all over New York City!
NL East Clinching Series: The Mets lost their final home game of the season & went to a four game Series at Wrigley Field in Chicago, to try to clinch the NL Eastern title.
After three days of rain, they lost a 1-0 heartbreaker in the first game of a double header giving the Cardinals & Prates one final chance to catch them.
But Jerry Koosman won the nightcap & clinched at least a tie of the Eastern Division.
In the last game of the season McGraw came in to relieve a tired Tom Seaver in the 7th inning with the Mets ahead 6-4. He pitched three shutout innings, striking out four Cubs to earn the save and clinch the Eastern Divisional title.
He finished the 1973 Mets Pennant year at 5-6 with 25 saves in 60 appearances, striking out 81 batters in 118 innings posting a 3.87 ERA.
By now he had developed his trademark of slapping his glove on his thigh as he stormed off the mound. It was a signal of affection to his wife watching at home which really took off after the birth of their second son that month.
1973 Post Season- NLCS: In the post season McGraw continued his spectacular pitching. In the NLCS against the Cincinnati Big Red Machine, he did not appear until Game #4 since Tom Seaver, Jon Matlack & Jerry Koosman all had thrown complete games.
Tug struggled a bit but did not allow any runs. He got out of jams pitching four innings, walking three and giving up three hits.
In the final Game #5 clincher at Shea Stadium, he came in the 9th inning to relieve Tom Seaver who was beginning to tire.
Tug walked into a bit of a jam, although the Mets had a five run lead, the bases were loaded with just one out. He got Joe Morgan to pop up & Dan Driessan to ground out to John Milner at first base.
McGraw covered first base as John Milner flipped the ball to him. Tug grabbed his hat and ran for his life as the Mets fans swarmed the field, tearing up anything they could.
The incredible season comeback had the Mets advanced to the World Series for the second time in four years.
In the clubhouse celebration Tug McGraw sprayed champagne shouting “You Gotta Believe, You Gotta Believe”!!
In his book “Screwball” Tug said the Mets felt punchy as they arrived in the San Francisco Bay area for the World Series. “We had been denounced, damned, cheered, mobbed, written up, screwed up & bombed out of our minds”.
1973 Post Season- World Series: In the 1973 World Series Tug was again Yogi Berra’s go to guy in the bullpen. He became a national star on television for the whole country to watch.
McGraw appeared in five of the seven games, earning a win, a save, posting a 2.63 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 13 innings pitched. He pitched a scoreless inning and a half in the Series Opener at Oakland’s Alameda Coliseum, but the Mets lost 2-1.
In the Game #2 ten-inning marathon in Oakland he pitched an incredible six innings of relief. He did allow four runs on five hits but also struck out eight Oakland batters.
He earned the win as the Mets scored four runs off Rollie Fingers in the top of the 12th inning on RBI hits by Willie Mays, John Milner & Jerry Grote.
McGraw even got a bunt base hit in the top of the 12 inning, and came around to score on one of Oakland infielder Mike Andrews two straight errors. The win evened the Series at one game each heading back to New York.
He appeared in relief of Tom Seaver in the 9th inning of Game #3 at Shea Stadium. This game was a classic 2-2 pitching duel at that point with Seaver facing off against Catfish Hunter.
Tug pitched two scoreless innings earning no decision. Oakland won it in the 11th inning when a passed ball got by Jerry Grote on a third strike & Ted Kubiak reached second base. He scored on a Campaneis single off Harry Parker.
In Game #5 back at Shea Stadium, McGraw relieved Jerry Koosman in the 7th inning with runners on second & third base.
There was one out with the Mets leading 2-0. McGraw walked Deron Johnson to load the bases, but then got Angel Mangual to pop up & Bert Campaneris (who was killing the Mets in the series) to strikeout looking on a nasty screwball.
McGraw pumped his glove on his thigh, shouting as he walked off the field to a wild Shea standing ovation.
Even New York Mayor John Lindsay was shouting “You Gotta Believe” as Tug walked off the field. Koosman told McGraw about it as he reached the bench & Tug peeked out of the dugout to acknowledge the Mayor.
Tug and Jerry Koosman combined on a three hit shutout against the mighty A’s lineup. Cleon Jones’ RBI double in the second inning and Don Hahn's triple scored the only runs, putting the Mets ahead three games to two, as the Series shifted back to Oakland.
McGraw made one more appearance in Game #6 pitching the 8th inning with Oakland ahead 2-1. He allowed a single to Reggie Jackson but an error allowed Jackson to go third base. He scored on a Jesus Alou sac fly.
In the inning he got a strike out & double play to end things. The Mets lost a heart breaking Series in Game Seven.
Quotes: “Ten million years from now, when the sun burns out and the earth is a frozen ice ball, no one will care if I got this guy out or not” -Tug McGraw