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On This Date in Sports October 21, 1973: The Near Miracle

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The New York Mets quest for a second miracle falls just short as they are beaten by the Oakland Athletics in Game 7 of the World Series 5-2. The Mets who were in last place at the end of August, using Tug McGraw’s battle cry “You Gotta Believe,” won just 82 games but beat the Cincinnati Reds in the NLCS. For the A’s, it is the second of what would be three straight championships.

After four decades of struggles, the Oakland Athletics rose to become a powerhouse in the American League, reminiscent of the teams managed by Connie Mack in Philadelphia. Since those days, the A’s went into a long period of losing as they moved to Kansas City in 1955 than on to Oakland in 1968. The man behind the Athletics rise was colorful owner Charles O. Finley who decked his team out in vivid kelly green and yellow uniforms. A few years earlier, Finley said he would pay the team bonuses to grow mustaches, this gave the Athletics a unique look, as Rollie Fingers led the way with an old-fashioned handlebar mustache. After losing in the ALCS to the Baltimore Orioles in 1971, the A’s would not be denied in 1972, beating the Reds in a seven-game World Series classic. Looking to repeat the Athletics managed by Dick Williams posted a record of 94-68 to win the West for the third year in a row. The A’s would reach the World Series by beating the Orioles in five games.

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The New York Mets were a surprise team in the World Series, as the Reds were heavily favored to return for the rematch. Managed by Yogi Berra, the Mets had spent a large part of the summer in last place. Fortunately, the National League East struggled top to bottom that season, and the Mets still had a shot to make a run despite being in last place on August 30th. During a team meeting, Mets reliever Tug McGraw interrupted chairmen M. Donald Grant’s speech with a rousing “You Gotta Believe” the story got out and the quote became the team’s catchphrase. The Mets posted a 19-8 record in September and won the Eastern Division with a record of 82-79. The Mets would go on to shock the Big Red Machine in five games to advance to the World Series.

In Game 1 at the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum, the Mets sent Jon Matlack to the mound while Ken Holtzman started for the A’s. Oakland took advantage of sloppy defense by the Mets to score two unearned runs in the third as a Felix Millian error at second base put the Athletics on the board first. John Milner had an RBI single in the fourth as Oakland took the opener 2-1.

Jerry Koosman opposed Vida Blue in Game 2 a game that would become one of the weirdest games in the history of the Fall Classic. Once again, Oakland scored first, with two runs in the first inning thanks to a triple by Sal Bando and a double by Jesus Alou. Cleon Jones homered for the Mets in the second, but the Athletics answered with an RBI single by Joe Rudi. The Mets would get a home run by Wayne Garrett in the third inning to make the score 3-2 showing that the bats would be the story. In the sixth inning, the Mets rallied to take a 6-3 lead with Don Hahn and Bud Harrelson providing the critical hits. Tug McGraw came on to close the game in the seventh and gave up an RBI double to Reggie Jackson in the seventh. McGraw looked to have recovered after shutting down Oakland in the eighth. However, in the ninth inning disaster struck as a fly ball to center field was lost in the sun by Willie Mays. Two decades earlier, Mays made the greatest catch in World Series history. Now he was falling down in centerfield, as father time clearly caught up with the “Say Hey Kid.” The ball was struck by Derron Johnson, a pinch hitter for pitcher Blue Moon Odom. The A’s would go on to get RBI singles by Sal Bando and Reggie Jackson to tie the game 6-6.

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The Mets had a chance to regain the lead in the tenth inning, but on a controversial play, Bud Harrelson was thrown out trying to score on a fly ball by Felix Millan, despite the pleads of Willie Mays who passionately argued with the home plate umpire. McGraw kept the Mets in the game by pitching five innings in relief. In the 12th, the Mets regained the lead, scoring four runs off Rollie Fingers. Willie Mays recorded his final major league hit, giving the Mets the lead. He later would come into score his final run as the Mets were helped by a pair of errors by Oakland second baseman Mike Andrews. In the bottom of the 12th Mays lost another ball in the sun, leading to a Reggie Jackson triple. Jackson would score as George Stone came in and recorded the final outs for a save a 10-7 win for the Mets.

Between games, Owner Charlie O. Finley stepped in a demanded Andrews be placed on the disabled list for his two errors. He even had Andrews claim he had a fake injury. This raised the ire or Manager Dick Williams and the rest of the A’s. Eventually, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn stepped in, and Andrew was kept on the active roster as Finley was reprimanded.

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Game 3 at Shea Stadium had Tom Seaver on the mound for the Mets against Catfish Hunter in a showdown of aces. Wayne Garrett led off with a home run, as the Mets scored two runs in the first inning. Hunter settled down and did not allow another run, as the A’s battled back to tie the game with runs in the sixth and the eighth. The game would go to extra innings as Willie Mays made his final appearance grounding out to short to end the tenth as a pinch hitter. In the 11th, Oakland took the lead on a single by Bert Campaneris off Harry Parker. It would prove to be the game-winner as Paul Lindblad got the win for the A’s.

In Game 4, Matlack and Holtzman returned to the mound in a rematch of the opener. This time the Mets got the win, as Rusty Staub provided an early blow with a three-run shot in the first. It would be the Rusty Staub show, as Le Grande Orange went four-for-four with five RBI as the Mets evened the series with a 6-1 win. In Game 4, Mets fans gave a standing ovation for Mike Andrews as he came up as a pinch hitter in what would be his final appearance in the majors. In Game 5 Jerry Koosman and Tug McGraw combined to three-hit the A’s as the Mets won the game 3-2, with John Milner and Don Hahn getting RBI hits.

Up 3-2 in the series, the Mets turned to Tom Seaver to win the World Series in Oakland as Catfish Hunter looked to force a seventh game. Seaver was not at his best that day as he gave up a pair of RBI doubles to Reggie Jackson. This was when the Mr. October legend began for Reggie Jackson as he missed the 1972 series with an injury and won the MVP in 1973. The Mets had a chance to get Reggie Jackson in the 1966 MLB Draft but chose Steve Chilcott, who never reached the majors instead with the first pick as Jackson went second to the Athletics. Felix Millian got an RBI single in the eighth inning, but Alou drove in Jackson with a sac-fly in the bottom of the inning as the A’s won the game 3-1.

In Game 7, Ken Holtzman and Jon Matlack were matched up for the third time in the series. Oakland took control of the game with four runs in the fourth as Bert Campaneris, and Reggie Jackson both had two-run shots. Joe Rudi had a double in the fifth to make it 5-0, while Rusty Staub singled in the sixth to put the Mets on the board. The Mets would get a second run in the ninth, but Wayne Garrett popped up to Campaneris at short to end the series. Of note, Darold Knowles of the Athletics became the first pitch to appear in all seven games of a World Series.

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Following the World Series, Dick Williams would resign as manager of the Oakland Athletics, as the lingering anger over the Mike Andrews situation and the lack of a new contract created a riff with Owner Charlies O. Finley. Williams attempted to sign with the New York Yankees but was blocked by Finley and later ended up managing the California Angels in 1974. The Athletics would win a third straight World Series with Alvin Dark leading the way.