Thursday, July 3, 2014

1974 MFC '73 NLCS- Game One

1974 MFC '73 NLCS Game One

 The 1973 National League Championship Series was amazin'. It had big hits, great catches, magnificent pitching and what I consider the fight of the century.
The New York Mets would face off against the Cincinnati Reds. The '73 Mets were a rag tag little engine that could kind of team. 

Cincinnati was The Big Red Machine.

Metropolitan fans had faith, but little else. We saw the ball hit that wall. We knew all too well that miracles can happen. But beating the Reds would be a tough assignment.

Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Dave Conception, George Foster...
These three alone were murder.
We knew all these names because they all were all star players that formed one of the best teams that ever played the game. 
Led by skipper Sparky Anderson the Reds made the playoffs in 1970 & 1972 (they would also make it in '75, '76, & '79). 
1971 Topps
1973 Topps
1971 mfc
In 1970 they made it to the dance but Brooks Robinson spiked their punch. In '72 they got to the big show, but the Oakland Athletics were just starting their dynastic period.

The baseball experts said the Reds were due and the Mets weren't even supposed to be there. But baseball is baseball. That's why they play them out. Anything can happen. And with the Mets, one way or the other, for good or for bad, it invariably does.
Games one and two would be in Cincinnati at Riverfront Stadium. Met ace Tom Seaver pitched the first game and he was great. But great was not good enough on this day. 

Tom was up against Jack Billingham, and Jack was just a tad greater. It was a classic pitchers duel.

The Mets threatened in the 1st inning, loading the bases with one out. For Met fans this was the perfect start because our hottest hitter throughout the stretch run was now at the plate, Cleon Jones.

Cleon hit into a double play to end the inning. And that folks, is baseball in a nutshell. You always hope for the best and most of the time, you are disappointed.

New York got what proved to be their only run in the 2nd inning. Bud Harrelson walked and Tom Seaver himself ripped a line double into the gap in left center, sending Buddy scrambling around the bases, scoring all the way from first base.

This was also baseball in a nutshell. Sometimes wonderful things happen.

Now if you told me then that this would be the Mets last hit of the day, I'd have attempted to burn you at the stake for hexing my team. But no one said that. It wasn't even a thought.

I was thinking, jeeze, Tom's driving in runs. There's no way we can lose this game. And Seaver was cruising. He went through the Reds, scattering 4 hits in the first 7 innings. I felt in post season Seaver would go 12 innings for the win if he had to. The Met ace was locked in.

Much to my surprise Red righty Billingham, who's first couple of innings were bumpy, settled down and got locked in himself. After Seavers double in the 2nd he proceeded to no-hit the Mets for the next 6 innings. But Jack Billingham was not Tom Seaver. I was confident that Tom would out -last him.

Unfortunately Seaver weakened in the 8th and one of his fastballs hit the fat part of Pete Rose's bat. Boom. Tied game, 1-1 going into the 9th.
Rose's homer did not take the wind out of my sails. I still believed.

Red reliever Pedro Borbon got the thick part the Mets line-up 1-2-3 in our half of the 9th.

Seaver stayed in for the bottom of the 9th, and I wouldn't have had it any other way. If Tom felt he had enough in the tank he had everyones trust.

He got Tony Perez to ground out. I didn't know that Perez would get in the Hall of Fame, but even then I was pretty sure Johnny Bench would. And he showed Tom, me, & everyone watching why. He pulled a Seaver offering for a NLCS "walk-off", which then was just known as a "game winning home run".

The NLCS was only around for 5 years in 1973 and I suppose Bench's could be the first NLCS walkoff. I'll have to look that up.

Johnny's homer was one of those times I got that sick feeling in my stomach as the ball went off the bat. Every sports fan knows the feeling. When you know you are done but the game isn't quite over yet. The ball had a ways to travel before it was.

 The Mets, with ace Seaver on the mound pitching a great game, had lost the first game of the '73 NLCS! This was one of the best pitching performances in Tom's career. He struck out thirteen Reds! And we lost! On the offensive side the Mets only had three hits.

This was was not good. I now felt like probably every other Met fan out there. We had to win tomorrow and pull a split in Cincinnati.

We had to..
Game one of the 1973 NLCS courtesy of MLB11 youtube


The Adventure of the Playoff Tickets

Tickets for the games in New York for the 1973 NLCS went on sale soon after the clinching in Chicago. I don't recall if it was the next day. That would have taken quite a bit of scrambling by me to find myself parked third in line at the ticket window the same day that I skipped school to see them clinch. But whenever they went on sale, that's where I found myself. I recall it being announced, and how they expected "legions" of fans to sleep over at Shea to assure a good spot in line.

I wanted tickets bad and I was not planning on camping at Shea, but as soon as I heard this I knew I'd be one of those "legions". I arrived at Shea the night before they went on sale. It was not too late, still light out. After 8 but before 9 o'clock dark. There were only two other people on line at the first ticket booth I came across. Other ticket windows had 2 or three more in line. I thought maybe this was a silly thing to be doing. But I stayed. I don't recall being with anyone. I did attend the N.Y. games with my friend Pat so I assume he was there too. And by 10 that night there WAS a legion of fans there. Hundreds had arrived between the time I set up my folding recliner chair and when it became nighttime dark.
A Shea ticket booth. I wish that
guy wasn't blocking the view.

I even saw old friends from the playground in Lefrak, a whole big group of them, and we hung out. At one point one of them whipped out a football and we started to toss it around. Things naturally led to us wanting to play an organized game of touch football. Not out here on the cement though (we did usually play on cement in the playground). 

We were thinking on the field. On the outfield grass inside Shea. 

This didn't seem too unreasonable a plan to me. It wreaked of adventure. And we weren't drinking or doing drugs at the time. Everyone's plan to get to Shea was thrown together so quick that partying was not on the list of considerations. 

But we were wacky active kids. And all of us were well versed in sneaking in to Shea (this also would not be the first time that I snuck on to the field at Shea when it was closed to the public). We were sneaking in to Shea for years during games, when cops would man the area. Now, late at night with the Mets not having a game and no cop by the standing room only area, the sneaking in part was a piece of cake.

We would climb the chain-link fence behind the Mets bullpen, where Mets would drive in and park their cars. This led to a wall near the ramp that led into the standing room only section out in right field. Get from the fence to the railing, pull up and over and you were in. 
Shea had a back door! The figure marks where the cop was usually hanging out.

I went to alot of games from 1970 to 1972, I mean A-LOT, and I never would have been able to do that if I didn't sneak in half the time (Even though the nosebleed seats were only a buck-fiddy!). 

We got busted a number of times. A cop would run us off and we'd bolt, only to wait for around 15 minutes and try again. We were like the prisoners in The Great Escape. And even though we were trying to break-in, not break-out, we would never give up. 

There was one cop who was very cool. After running us off a few times in one day, the third time he saw us approaching the fence he waved us up. And whenever that officer was there in the future, he would remember us, recognize us, and wave us up. I remember he once said "I'd rather you kids were at a ballgame instead of running around in the streets." 

So, like I said, the getting into Shea part would be easy. I asked the two people ahead of me in line to hold my place (I had gotten to know them a bit) and off I went with my old friends. 

We all got in a line and climbed up and over. I guess there was about 10 to 12 of us in our group. We were up and in and walking through the field level boxes to the field. As we left the standing room only area we could see that other people had seen what we did, and they began climbing up. A line formed down there and one after the other fans were climbing in to old dark Shea. What had we started? We didn't care. We had a game to play. 

We headed to dead center and laid out the ground rules. It was a full moon or close to it, and there was just enough light to be able to just about see. We use jackets and stuff to mark end-zones, chose up sides, and went to town. It was really, really far from acceptable conditions for a game, but we played and we had a freakin' ball. Me and the guys I played football and baseball with in the playground were now playing a game of touch in centerfield at Shea Stadium. In the dark.

There were many people inside Shea at this point. Over a hundred, easy. Roaming around the stands, the infield and dugouts, some sitting watching our game. We were the only ones taking advantage of being on a ball field though. We were well into our game. Dave S. was about to take a snap when SNAP, suddenly there was light. Not the stadium lights. Random floating lights. No...flashlights. And were those spotlights beyond the outfield wall? 

I don't recall how long we were inside Shea before the cops showed up. And not just a few. There were "legions" of them. A megaphoned voice started: " You are in the stadium illegally and are trespassing! Please stay were you are and we will....!" -- 

We would not be hearing anymore after that. They would see how fast we could run. And they did. I don't think one person followed orders and stayed put. Everyone took off in all different directions. Most of my group were experienced Shea crackers. And even though now, for the first time, we were breaking out of Shea, we knew what to do. The police were coming from out of the stands. We took off right for the outfield wall, pulling ourselves up and flipping to the off side. Then we dashed to the 3 section high chain-link fence, and scaled that like monkeys, also flipping off the top to the other side and to the paved sidewalk surrounding the outside of Shea. We were out of that stadium in a flash, sitting at the base of the fence and catching our breath. 

I have a vague recollection of a flatbed truck out there with a bank of spotlights that they were shining into the stadium. There were police all over the area but none were making any move to round anyone up.

We could see that most of the people who were in there were right behind us, scaling the big fence. Maybe the police just wanted to shoo us out. They weren't catching any of us, and didn't look like they were really trying to.

There was a story circulating later  in the night among the legions of Met fans camping out that one person was arrested (or at least taken in). A little fat kid who couldn't climb the outfield fence. I have no idea if that was true or not, but it became part of the story when I tell the tale.  

We all separated and went to our places in line (those guys were at a different booth) and just chilled. Might have slept a little. I don't remember. The ticket window opened at whatever time it was scheduled to and I was thinking I'm 3rd in line- I'm gonna get amazin' seats. I didn't realize then that regular old Joes like you and I were not going to even have a chance for field level box seats in the post season. They were all spoken for already. The best seats they had available were mezzanine box and up. The ticket guy was very patient with me as he explained things and I kept going- "What do ya mean!" I was able to purchase a block of 3 tickets, mezz box, first row right behind the auxiliary scoreboard in left. 
My ticket was a blue one like this. I had never seen a fancy ticket like this before. I can't believe I didn't save the stubs. I saved the stubs of almost every concert I ever went to.

I was disappointed that I could not get field level but I was happy with the seats. When the Mets were out there I could cheer on Cleon Jones. When the Reds were in the field I could jeer at one of my Mets baseball nemesis's of the time, Pete Rose.

This was going to be a great series! 

The picture used in the 2nd NLCS card is actually a composite of two photographs. Then it was colorized.

I didn't expect the 1973 post season cards to require any colorizations. But I can see now some of the photos I want to use need to be colorized. This slows down the project and the frequency of my posts. What I'll do is make a post for each game and try to get up at least one a week. Later I'll gather all the NLCS cards up for one post.

Thank you for viewing.

Colorizations: Seaver double. Rose HR.

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