Wednesday, July 16, 2014

1974 MFC '73 NLCS- Game Two

1973 NLCS- METS vs REDS-Game 2
Additional  information concerning this game required an update to the text section.
Updated 7/18/14
Mets lefty hurler Jon Matlack would start game two of the NLCS in Cincinnati.  And he would pitch the best game in his MLB career. One of the best games in Metropolitan history.

At a time when we needed a split, needed a win big time so as not to get bowled over by The Big Red Machine, Matlack came through. Matlack's performance would elicit a comment from Bud Harrelson that Pete Rose & the Reds found objectionable, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

 It was Sunday, October 7th. New York had lost game one of the NLCS. Tom Seaver had a great outing but it wasn't enough. Jon Matlack must have felt he needed to be perfect to hold the Reds down. And he almost was.

Matlack had won 14 games and lost 16 during the season, but Mets fans knew that his record did not reflect his abilities. He sported a 3.20 ERA and struck out 205 in 242 innings, good for third in the National League behind teammate Tom Terrific and Steve Carlton. Jon suffered from a thing that was very frustrating, yet familiar to Metropolitan fans. The offense was not supporting him in the runs department.

 Matlack was, like Jerry Koosman, an ace in a rotation that already had an ace in Tom Seaver. And like Jerry, he was a lefty who could bring it.

A few months earlier Matlack was the architect of the 10th one hitter in Mets history. He shut down the Houston Astros, pitching a perfecto until the 6th inning when he gave up a double to start the frame. He ended up with a 1 hit shutout.

With Matlack, Koosman, and Seaver in their prime I expected that the Mets would finally get a no-hitter, something that up to this point in Mets history (and as you know, for years and years after this) was an elusive achievement. It wasn't that much of an issue then. Mets fans felt they would get the no-no in due time with these three pitchers on the staff through the 1970's.

Don Gullett was going for the Reds. He won 18 games in '73 (he lost 8), a career best. At the games start it looked as if he, like Jack Billingham with Tom Seaver, would get the better of our starter. Don's first three innings were as smooth as silk, a walk in the 3rd to Matlack himself was the only Met to reach base.

Matlack's start was a bit bumpy before he settled down. He gave up a hit to Andy Kosco in the second (Kosco would also single in the 7th inning for the Reds only other hit) that was erased by a double play. A walk and a sacrifice put a Red in scoring position with two out in the 3rd, which was stranded there as Pete Rose grounded out to Bud Harrelson at short.

In the fourth inning the Mets got Matlack something that were in short supply in his games during the '73 season . A run.

With one out Rusty Staub launched a Don Gullet pitch out of the park and New York had a 1-0 lead. It would be all they needed.

Matlack would cruise, getting stronger and honing his command. He surrendered 2 base on balls (one to Kosco) in the 5th, the additional Kosco single, and that was it. Incidentally before Kosco drew the walk he hit a long drive down the left field line that missed being a game tying home run by mere inches. Fortunately none of the other Reds could touch Matlack.

The two walks in the bottom half of the 5th put another Red in scoring position with two out. Cincinnati manager Sparky Anderson desperately pulled his starter for a pinch hitter. Don Gullett had held the Mets to only two hits. The way Matlack was pitching Sparky felt he had to go for it. The move would backfire. Matlack would strike out the pinch hitter Phil Gagliano and the Reds bullpen, usually excellent, could not keep the Mets in check. Clay Carroll pitched 3 shutout innings but Tom Hall and Pedro Borbon were not effective.

New York broke it open in the top of the 9th with 4 runs on 5 hits off the two relievers. Huge RBI singles by Cleon Jones, Jerry Grote and Bud Harrelson gave Matlack the insurance runs that, he may not have needed, but us Mets fans were relieved he had.

One of the runs was not without controversy as Felix Millan came around to score on Cleon Jones single. Millan collided with Johnny Bench at the plate on a close play in which he was ruled safe by plate ump Ed Vargo.

Millan flipped over Bench trying to get to the dish and Bench argued that Felix could not have touched home because the catcher had fallen on the plate when he was knocked down. Replays showed that Bench was correct, and Millan had never touched the plate.

Matlack pitched the 9th and got The Big Red Machine 1-2-3, striking out the great Johnny Bench to end the game.

New York had won the second game of the '73 NLCS in fine fashion, pulling the much needed split. At games end Buddy Harrelson made a comment in a post-game interview that was really just some self depreciating humor. Regarding Matlacks superb performance, Bud said, "He made the Big Red Machine look like me hitting today." I thought it was funny. The Reds didn't.

The series would now shift to Shea Stadium in New York for three games. This was the old  5 game series playoff format that required 3 wins to advance. I was excited and paramount in my mind was the far flung thought that the Mets could win 2 at Shea and capture the N.L. pennant. And if they did, I would be there and be part of the celebration. Unfortunately there were many, many Mets fans out there just like me, who hoped and prayed to be part of the scene should this happen.
And we'll get into that during games 3, 4 & 5.
Additional  information concerning this game required an update to the text section.
Updated 7/18/14

I had a very hard time finding pictures from game 2 of the 1973 NLCS. 
 The Millain/Bench photo on the first game 2 card was colorized for use here.
The Rusty Staub home run and Matlack pitching cards were created from a number of source photos which were combined and used here. Those pictures do not actually exist.
The game 2 card with Johnny Bench was created using a drawing I did of Bench in 1978. It has been colorized (with effects added to the backround) for use here.

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