In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
The New York Mets stun the Cincinnati Reds in five games to advance to the World Series, winning the finale of the NLCS 7-2 at Shea Stadium. The Mets had spent most of August in last place but finished strong, winning the Eastern Division with a record of 82-79 as an outburst by Tug McGraw during a team meeting led to the team’s rallying, cry “You Gotta Believe”.
In the years following the 1969 Miracle, the Mets had put together winning seasons, but did not again factor in the pennant race as the Pittsburgh Pirates won three straight division titles. The Mets had their ups and downs meanwhile, as Manager Gil Hodges suffered a fatal heart attack before the 1972 season. Hodges would be replaced by Hall of Fame Yogi Berra, who was said to be on the hot seat as the Mets struggled through most of the summer in 1973. Using the rallying cry “You Gotta Believe”, the Mets rose from last place at the end of August to division champions with a record of 19-8 in September, including a 13-4 record over the last 17 games.
The Cincinnati Reds were the class of the National League, seeking their third trip to the World Series under Manager Sparky Anderson after posting a record of 99-63. The Reds had lost the previous Fall Classic to the Oakland Athletics in seven games and were itching to get their revenge.
The Mets had Cy Young winner Tom Seaver on the mound for the opener at Riverfront Stadium, while Cincinnati countered with Jack Billingham. In the second inning, Seaver aided his own cause with a run-scoring double. The Red meanwhile was handcuffed until the eighth inning, when Pete Rose tied the game with a solo home run. The Reds got a strong outing from Billingham and reliever Pedro Borbon and won the game 2-1 as Johnny Bench hit a walk-off home run in the ninth.
Jon Matlack faced Don Gullett in a battle of lefties in Game 2. Once again, the Mets were able to shut down the Big Red Machine, as Rusty Staub gave them a 1-0 lead with a home run in the fourth. In the ninth, the Mets blew the game open with four runs, as they got RBI hits from Cleon Jones, Jerry Grote, and Buddy Harrelson. Matlack meanwhile allowed just two hits, with nine strikeouts to get a 5-0. Harrelson cracked on the Reds offensive struggles that they looked like him hitting, which set a fuse for the events in Game 3.
The series shifted to Shea Stadium for Game 3 as the Mets called upon Jerry Koosman while Ross Grimsley got the start for Cincinnati. The Reds still fuming about Buddy Harrelson’s comments took the field looking to send a message. Instead, it was the Mets looking like a hitting machine, as Rusty Staub gave them a 1-0 lead with a first-inning home run. In the second, the Mets added five more, as they both Wayne Garrett and Felix Millian drove in runs, with Staub going deep again with two men on base to make it 6-0. The Reds got on the board with a pair of runs in the third on a home run by Denis Menke and an RBI single by Joe Morgan. The Mets attack though was relentless as Koosman drove in a run in the bottom of the third, while Cleon Jones and John Milner drove in a pair in the fourth to make it 9-2.
Getting blown out and still angered about the comments made by the Mets shortstop, tempers boiled over for the Reds in the fifth inning. Pete Rose had reached base with a one-out single and was doubled up when Joe Morgan hit into a 3-6-3 twin killing. As the Mets were leaving the field, Rose got his revenge on Buddy Harrelson igniting a bench-clearing brawl. The diminutive Harrelson was no match for Rose who laid a tremendous beating on him under the pile of bodies. When the dust settled, neither Rose nor Harrelson were ejected, though fans at Shea were angry and began throwing beer bottles at the Reds All-Star in left field. This led Sparky Anderson to pull his team off the field, as National League President Chub Feeney threatened to reward the game to Cincinnati on a forfeit. Several Mets, including Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, and Tom Seaver went out to left field to persuade fans to calm down. The game continued without further incident as the Mets won 9-2.
Looking to sew up the pennant the Mets had George Stone on the hill in Game 4, as the Reds countered with Fred Norman. The Mets drew first blood again on an RBI single by Milan in the third, only to have the Reds answered with a home run off the bat of Tony Perez in the seventh. The game remained tied until the 11th inning, when Pete Rose fast becoming a Flushing villain homered off Harry Parker to give the Reds a 2-1 lead, forcing a decisive fifth game.
The finale would see a rematch of Game 1, with Tom Seaver facing Jack Billingham. In the first inning, Ed Kranepool drove in a pair to give the Mets an early lead once again. The Reds got a run back with a third-inning sacrifice fly, scoring Joe Morgan who doubled earlier in the inning. In the fifth, the Reds evened the score as Tony Perez singled home Pete Rose. The Mets though would not be denied as Wayne Garrett started the fifth inning with a double. Two batters later, he came in on a double Cleon Jones to put New York back in front. Don Gullett faced one batter, walking John Milner. The ball was now in the hands of Clay Carroll, who watched the Reds season slip away as the Mets scored three more runs, with an RBI from Willie Mays, Don Hahn, and Buddy Harrelson. Cleon Jones added another run in the sixth to make it 7-2 in the sixth. The Reds were able to load the bases against Seaver in the ninth, leading to Tug McGraw the author of the Mets rallying cry, coming on in relief. McGraw got Morgan to pop up to Harrelson for the second out. Dan Driessen was their last hope bouncing the ball to Milner at first who flipped it to McGraw to end the game, creating pandemonium at Shea as the Mets won 7-2 to advance to the World Series, with fans running onto the field to celebrate their victory. In the series, the Mets held the Big Red Machine to a paltry .186 average.
The Mets would go on to face the A’s in the World Series, and held a 3-2 lead with the final two games in Oakland, despite being the worst team to ever play in the World Series, at 82-79. However, there would be no second miracle as Oakland won their second straight World Series in seven games, as they won their second of what would be three straight World Championships.