Forty years ago today, the Mets were hosting St. Louis, sitting in first place, one game ahead of the second-place Pirates in the N.L. East with a record of 78-77…and they were about to post one of the 500 most Amazin’ wins of their first 50 years.
From The Happiest Recap (First Base: 1962-1973)…
Tommie Agee was in the house, but there was nothing ceremonial in his role. Sure he was a Miracle Met, but the franchise he helped make famous wasn’t honoring the 1969 club’s feats this Sunday at Shea.
But they sure seemed to be replicating them.
It may be heresy to suggest what the 1973 Mets were in the midst of attempting to do was tougher, more unlikely and every bit as thrilling as what their Amazin’ predecessors pulled off a quadrennium earlier, but consider that Agee’s Mets, for all their underdog status, had lit their fuse by mid-August and weren’t too bad in the months before that. When the 1969 Mets reached the end of the penultimate week of their schedule, the magic number count was in full effect and a division-clinching was inevitable.
Nothing was inevitable for the 1973 Mets as they prepared to play the second of their two-game set against Agee’s Cardinals. Tommie’s post-Flushing campaign had been anything but miraculous. He didn’t thrive in Houston (where the Mets sent him for instant washout Rich Chiles and minor leaguer Buddy Harris) and he didn’t exactly ignite for St. Louis when the then first-place Redbirds picked him up for the stretch drive in August. But he was still Tommie Agee and this was still Shea Stadium in a pennant race, so it was little wonder that the center fielder who almost single-handedly won a World Series game on this same field in 1969 would come through for his team when they desperately needed a lift. With one out and Ted Sizemore on second in the top of the first, Agee belted a George Stone pitch over the familiar Shea wall to stake starter Mike Thompson to an instant 2-0 lead.
It was a fitting locale for what became the final home run of Tommie Agee’s big league career. The rest of the day, however, would be devoted to a blend of new and old Met heroes coming through for a new Met miracle.
Stone, one of the Mets’ opponents in the 1969 NLCS as a Brave, had provided an unexpected boost to New York fortunes all year long, but the lefty didn’t have it against the Cards. Yet as things continued to click for Yogi Berra’s bunch, a pitcher from whom even less was anticipated in 1973 emerged to dash St. Louis’s hopes. Harry Parker, given up on by the Cardinals a couple of years earlier, became a bullpen stalwart for Berra in his first full season on a major league roster. The righthander took the ball from Yogi in the third and stayed on the mound through the sixth, allowing only two Redbird baserunners.
While Parker pitched, the Mets did a bit of walking at the expense of another former teammate. Rich Folkers, who was part of the eight-player trade that brought Parker to New York, was on for the Cardinals in the third and went wild. He walked Wayne Garrett, Felix Millan and Rusty Staub to start the inning. Folkers wouldn’t be around by its end when a Cleon Jones sacrifice fly cut the Cardinal lead to 2-1. Staub (a .387 batter over the Mets’ final fifteen games) tied the score in the fifth on an RBI single off Folkers’ immediate successor, Orlando Peña.
In the sixth, Mr. September — Garrett — tripled to bring home Bud Harrelson and Ken Boswell, making it Mets 4 Cardinals 2. In the seventh, Jones, having his own magnificent month, homered. Before his finishing kick would be over, Cleon would notch six homers and 14 RBIs in the Mets’ final ten games.
All that was left was for someone to close out the Cardinals in style, and in September 1973, that could only be one person. To the glee of the 51,926 You Gotta Believers on hand, Tug McGraw emerged from of the bullpen buggy to pitch the final three innings.
What happened next?
You’ll find out when you read The Happiest Recap (First Base: 1962-1973).
Print edition available here.
Kindle version available here.
Personally inscribed copy available here.
Pick up The Happiest Recap and get the whole Amazin’ story of the Mets’ most unbelievable stretch drive ever…and everything else.