Forty years ago today, the Mets were visiting Chicago, sitting in first place, 1½ games ahead of the second-place Cardinals in the N.L. East with a record of 80-78…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)…
For a pennant race that came along all at once, the lunge for the 1973 N.L. East flag sure got stubborn about getting over with. But by the time this unfathomable season was reaching its inevitable conclusion, only recalcitrance threatened to stop the New York Mets.
First, the weather over Chicago, where the Mets were slated to play their final series, wouldn’t budge. After a scheduled off day Thursday, it poured Friday, knocking out one game. It poured Saturday, too, taking out a planned doubleheader. As of Sunday, they hadn’t played since Wednesday, when their seven-game winning streak was snapped by the Expos. The Mets left their last homestand with a record of 80-78 and a lead of a half-game over second-place Pittsburgh. Sitting inactive for three days hadn’t exactly damaged them. They were still 80-78, but their divisional lead had increased to a game-and-a-half, though it was now the Cardinals who were their closest competitor.
That’s indicative of the other element that wouldn’t get a move on in the Mets’ world: the race. Like the rain, it wouldn’t go away. Everybody who was ever a contender in 1973 remained a contender as the final scheduled day of the season commenced. Five teams — five! — were still mathematically alive that Sunday. Taking into account makeup dates that still loomed as playable for Monday, the following scenario was, at the very least, conceivable on September 30:
• The Mets could drop two doubleheaders to the Cubs and fall from 80-78 to 80-82; the Cubs, in turn, would correspondingly rise from 76-82 to 80-82.
• The Cardinals could lose to the Phillies and drop from 80-81 to 80-82.
• The Pirates (79-81) could lose to the Expos — who would complete their schedule at 80-82 — but then beat the Padres in a makeup game and move up to 80-82.
That would create the first five-way tie for first place in the history of baseball, and the Federal Reserve couldn’t authorize enough coins to toss to determine how a quintuple-tiebreaker might work. It wasn’t very likely the National League East would come down to that daffy a conclusion, but the fact that the possibility existed spoke to the unhinged nature of the 1973 stretch drive.
Which, in turn, spoke to how spectacularly the Mets had to play to drive the division into such glorious disarray. It’s fair to say that no 80-78 team has ever sat in first place on the final scheduled day of the season more deservedly.
What happened next?
You’ll find out when you read The Happiest Recap (First Base: 1962-1973).
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