Archive for the '1973 Mets' Category

Can 1973 Happen Again?

I’ve heard comparisons to 1973 regarding the 2017 Mets.  Look, they say, the Mets were terrible all season then stormed back in late August through September and won the National League East, defeated the Big Red Machine in the playoffs before losing the World Series to Oakland in seven games.  Anything is possible they say.  Well yes, anything is possible but that doesn’t mean it’s likely.  Never the less, let’s look back at 1973 and see what was going on after 75 games played by the Mets.

On July 3, 1973, the Mets had played their seventy-fifth game of the season.  They lost to the Montreal Expos by a score of 19-8 at Parc Jarry.  The Amazins found themselves 11 games back in sixth place with a record of 33-42.  By comparison, today’s Mets are 34-41, one game better, in fourth place 10.5 games back.  Why can’t the Mets right their ship and pull another “seventy-three”?

Here are some other interesting similarities. The ‘73 division leading Chicago Cubs had a record of 47-34, very close to Washington’s 45-31 record.  Also the rest of the division in 1973 was kind of like the division today.  Most teams were mediocre to bad.  Only the St. Louis Cardinals had a winning record other than the Cubs at two games over .500. They trailed the Cubs by 5.5 games.  Today, no one except the Nats has a winning record in the NL East.  The Braves are in second, three games under .500, nine games back of Washington.  One thing is clearly obvious, if you did not know the outcome of 44 years ago, looking at the standings today and then would lead you to believe the Mets were having two very bad seasons.  After 75 games, there still is a lot of baseball to play and anything can happen.

While I may have painted somewhat of a rosy picture, here’s something else to consider.  By the end of July ‘73, the once dominating Cubs sunk to just four games over .500 and were out of first place.  The Cardinals took over the division lead and the Mets were still wallowing in the basement of the NL East at 10.5 games behind.  By the end of August the Cubs had wilted to five games under .500 and the Cardinals had fallen to just two games over but still in first.  The Mets now in fifth place and still nine games under .500 had gained five games on the division lead and were only 5.5 games back of St. Louis.  The Mets still had a long way to go but the leaders of the division for most of the summer were fading fast.

On the season’s last day back in ’73, the Mets won the first game of a double header in Chicago and clinched the NL East by one game.  They did it with the worst record ever (up to that time) with just 82 wins.  The Cubs had sunk all the way to fifth place and St. Louis ended at .500. From the end of August to the end of the season, the ’73 Mets went 20-8 while the Cardinals went 13-15. The Mets stormed to an improbable championship and while their success should not be minimized, it’s fair to say it could not have happened without the collapse of the Cardinals and Cubs.

Another similarity the current Mets club has with the ’73 team is pitching.  Led by Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Jon Matlack, the Mets pitching of 1973 was never a question.  Certainly the current staff led by Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Zach Wheeler has the potential to be as formidable.  Therefore a number of things have got to happen for another 1973 to be possible.  Essentially Syndergaard and Wheeler have to get healthy and be the pitchers they can be.  Perhaps Matt Harvey can step in too once he’s healthy.  Plus and completely out of the Mets control is the Nationals.  They are going to have to play poorly down the stretch.  The fact is if the Nats play .500 ball the rest of the season they will end with a record of 88-74.  The Mets would have to go 55-32 to win by one game.  That’s a mighty tall order and one really dependent on Washington falling apart in a season where Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, Steven Strasburg, Matt Scherzer, and Gio Gonzalez are having great seasons.

So while anything is possible, the probable is likely to play out.  The Mets should just focus on winning series and see where the chips fall.  I’m doubtful that when all is said and done, we will be marveling at another miracle in Flushing.

The Baseball Gods and the New York Mets

Maybe it’s just the way it was meant to be, that the Mets will never be a perennial winner. The Mets were supposed to get back to the World Series this season after falling four games to one in last season’s fall classic. Like the Royals, their Series counterpart, the Mets were supposed to get back and win the whole thing this time. Alas the Mets sit in third place a game over .500 with realistically no shot at winning the division and a fading chance at making it as a wild card. But really, what did you expect?

It doesn’t matter the reasons. Sure the Mets have had a ton of injuries and it sure seems like every hard hit ball finds a glove. The pitching that was supposed to be so dominant hasn’t been. The hitting with runners in scoring position is the worst in baseball. But really I think there is far more going on here than meets the eye. Somewhere in the Cosmos the gods of baseball simply have decreed that the Mets will never be that team, that team like the other New York team. That team that wins constantly, that team that provides its fans with gratification year in and year out. Nope, it’s not in the cards for us, we Mets fans.

Just look at our history. From the beginning in 1962 we were loveable losers until the magical season of 1969, who could forget it unless you weren’t born yet. With a pitching staff of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, and Nolan Ryan, how could that team not win the next two to three World Series that followed? Well they didn’t. After winning 100 games in ’69, the Mets immediately fell to mediocrity finishing in third place with an 83-79 record in 1970. The identical record followed in 1971 before the Mets got off to a fantastic start in 1972. But devastating injuries curtailed Mets hopes as they finished in third place yet again.

Then the Mets got somewhat lucky in that the entire eastern division floundered in 1973. It gave the Mets the opportunity to win an improbable division title on the last day of the season followed by an even more improbable win in the NLCS over the Big Red Machine of Cincinnati.  They fell a game short in the World Series but there were high hopes for the future. After all, the Mets still had a pitching staff featuring Seaver, Koosman, and Jon Matlack. How could there not be winning seasons to follow.

But of course there wasn’t as the Mets slid into their worst period in history. Mets management failed to embrace free agency, traded Tom Seaver, and neglected the fan base as attendance reached an all-time low. Shea Stadium became dilapidated and was known as Grant’s Tomb in honor of the nefarious M. Donald Grant, cheapskate chairman of the board. Meanwhile the Yankees stole New York’s baseball hearts by signing top free agents and winning two worlds series and participating in four over the next several years.

Under new management, the Mets rebounded in the 80s with seven consecutive contending seasons. But even with those powerhouse clubs, the Mets were still unable to reach the playoffs in back to back seasons. The critics agreed the roster the Mets fielded at that time should have won three World Series. Yet they won just one that required a miracle finish in game six. In fact the team of that era only made the post season one other time but failed to get out of the NLCS. However, the mid to late 1980s remain the Mets most successful period in Mets’ history.

After another draught, finally manager Bobby Valentine with the help of Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza got the Mets to the post season in back to back seasons as the wild card. That happened in 1999 and 2000, the latter culminating in a World Series loss to the mighty Yankees, still the kings of New York. What followed the success of ’00 was of course another several years of sub .500 play.

Under new general manager Omar Minaya, the Mets made another quick assent to the division title in 2006 but lost a heart breaking game seven in the NLCS to the Cardinals. Poised to repeat division titles in back to back seasons for the first time in 2007, the Mets suffer the worst collapse in baseball history with a seven game lead and just seventeen games to play. It took until last season to get back to the post season.

I have been patient with the regime of Sandy Alderson. I knew he was rebuilding the farm, stockpiling great pitching. That includes the pitchers here now as well as ones traded to get the offensive help the Mets so desperately needed to make their run. So after the Mets came so close to a world championship last season, with all that is in their history, how can we really be surprised that it looks like the team is headed into mediocrity yet once again?

Sure, there are lots of reasons as I indicated but never the less, here we are. While the Mets were supposed to have all the great prospects, it’s the Yankees who look more ready to contend with their call ups of Gary Sanchez, Tyler Austin, and Aaron Judge. Plus they will get Greg Byrd back next season. The Mets offensive prospects remain suspects. Is Michael Conforto the player he was last season during the playoff run or is he another broken promise based on his performance this season?  Brandon Nimmo was Sandy’s first round pick back in 2012. He looks to be a nice player but not like Judge looks to be for the Yanks. Travis d’Arnaud was supposed to be the Mets answer behind the plate for years to come. It appears that opportunity looks more and more tarnished. And front office favorite Keven Plawecki (“he can flat out hit”) remains an enigma at Las Vegas. We heard that Dilson Herrera was a star in the making at second base. Well if that’s true he will be staring in Cincinnati now that he was traded for Jay Bruce who has been very disappointing so far.

For whatever the reasons are, bad decisions, bad luck, or simply the galactic plan of the baseball gods, the Mets franchise simply has not been able to sustain success. If history is a guide then we know that the Mets are going to be in the post season roughly once a decade. If that’s true then we received our most recent allotment of post season play last year. Boy I can’t wait for the 2020s.

 

Something In Common With the ’73 Mets

In 1973, the Mets made the post season on the final day of the season. Technically it was the day after the final day of the season. Because of bad weather, games on Friday and Saturday of the final weekend series at Wrigley Field were postponed. On Sunday, September 30, the Mets lost to the Cubs by a score of 1-0. Their record was 81-79, enough for a one game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals who won their final game of the season against Pittsburgh. St. Louis ended with an 81-81 record with the Pirates at 80-81 after the game. So the Mets as well as the Pirates needed to make up rained out games in order to determine if a play-in game would be necessary or if the Mets could win the division out right.

So on Monday, October 1, 1973, a day after the regular season ended, Ernie Banks got his wish as the Mets and Cubbies were scheduled to play two. The Pirates also had to play a makeup against the Padres at Three Rivers Stadium. The possibility existed that three teams, the Mets, Cardinals, and Pirates could all finish at .500 requiring a three way play-in. For that to happen, the Mets would have to lose the doubleheader against Chicago and Pittsburgh would need to win their game against San Diego.

The Mets won the first game of the doubleheader 6-4 behind Tom Seaver, clinching the National League East. The weather in Chicago was so damp and cold that day, once the Mets clinched in game one the umpires canceled the second game of the twin bill. Sorry Ernie. For what it’s worth, the Pirates lost their game to San Diego but once the Mets clinched with a win, it didn’t matter anyway.

With the worst record to win a division up to that time (82-79), the Mets were the heavy underdog against the mighty the Cincinnati Reds.

The Reds had Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, Dan Driessen, Ken Griffey, a veritable powerhouse. With a record of 99-63, the Reds were a heavy favorite to win the National League pennant over the New York Mets. Back then there was no wild card, no interleague play, just two divisions with both winners going to a best of five league championship series. Many felt the Mets had no business being on the same field with the Reds.

But the Mets had pitching, loads of pitching. Their starting four were Tom Seaver (19-10), Jerry Koosman (14-15), Jon Matlack (14-16), and George Stone (12-3).  The Mets had a tremendous run the last two months of the season. On July 31, the Mets were 44-57, in last place (6th) 10.5 games behind the Cubs. They went 38-22 down the stretch. That combined with mediocre play from the rest of the division allowed the Mets to jump over every team winning an improbable championship.

On August 1st, Seaver shut out the Pirates on 4 hits. The Mets won close game after close game. Matlack threw a 2 hit shutout against the Dodgers in LA on August 8, winning 1-0. The next night the Dodgers beat the Mets 1-0 as Koosman went the distance. Even with the loss, the Mets pitchers were dealing.  Seaver pitches another complete game giving up just one run against the Giants a couple nights later then another complete game two hit shutout against San Diego down Interstate 5 on August 15. Get the pattern? Mostly each night, win or lose Mets pitchers were extremely stingy.   But even with the improved play in August including two more 1-0 shutouts thrown by Seaver and Koosman, the Mets were still at the bottom of the pack at the end of the month. Trailing by the division leading Cardinals the Mets had their work cut out for themselves.

The Mets would go 21-8 to close out the season. Mets pitchers threw five more shutouts in September including a stretch where they won 11 out of 13 games. The Mets overcame many injuries the first half of the season and righted the ship at the right time. If there was ever a Jekyll and Hyde season for the Mets, 1973 was it.

So what happened in the playoffs against the mighty Reds? Why the Mets won of course, with superior pitching and clutch hitting. They lost game one by a score of 2-1. Seaver took the loss at Riverfront Stadium. In game two, Matlack pitched a masterpiece, shutting out the Reds on 2 hits. Mets tied the short series wining 5-0, crossing the plate four times in the top of the ninth.

The series moved to Shea Stadium for games three through five. Koosman pitched game 3 and went the distance as the Mets trounced the Reds 9-2. This game was most remembered for the Bud Harrelson-Pete Rose brawl that took place in the third inning. Rose slid hard into second as Harrelson threw the ball to complete a double play. Rose came up and knocked down Buddy then all hell broke loose. Mets players had to calm down the crowd in the left field stands who were throwing stuff on the field.

The Mets led the series two games to one. Three consecutive games, playoff games no less, pitched by three pitchers-all complete games. Not one reliever was brought to the mound by Mets manager, the late great Yogi Berra. But after six and two thirds innings in game four, Yogi brought in Tug “You gotta believe” McGraw to relieve George Stone. The Mets lost game four by a score of 2-1. The Reds used four pitchers to shut down the Mets suddenly surging offense.  But the Mets came back in Game 5 as Tom Seaver shut down the Reds pitching eight and a third innings. McGraw got the final two outs and the Mets with a 7-2 win won the NL pennant and headed to their second World Series in four years.

I guess I think back on this LCS because the Mets were such underdogs in that series. Many think the same about the 2015 Mets, whose regular season was somewhat reminiscent of the ’73 team. Both clubs struggled with injuries most of the season but surged at the end. I don’t think the current Mets are nearly the underdog that those ’73 Mets were but with Kershaw and Greinke, many feel it will be an uphill battle for New York. The one good thing is, the Mets players don’t feel that way. That’s because like the ’73 Mets, the 2015 Mets’ strength is pitching. The Dodgers have the big two but the Mets have three, maybe four elite pitchers. It won’t be easy but no one thought a team with 82 wins could beat The Big Red Machine either.