Forty years ago today, the National League champion Mets were visiting Oakland, trailing the American League champion A’s one game to none in the 1973 World Series…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)…
The most encouraging sign for Yogi Berra was his ability to write STAUB onto his lineup card once again. He wasn’t completely healed by any means, but one shoulder of Rusty Staub, the manager decided, was better than any of his other options. Besides, this was the World Series. Rusty had been excelling in near obscurity as a Colt .45, an Astro and an Expo before coming to the Mets in 1972. He had never been anywhere near a Fall Classic before. Who knew if he’d ever have the opportunity again?
It was also comforting for Yogi to finish off his lineup with KOOSMAN, who gave him such a fine effort in Game Three of the NLCS and was the pitcher who turned around the Mets’ last World Series in its second game. Tom Seaver might have been an even more comforting presence, but because of the five-game LCS that ended Wednesday, Yogi’s ace (like Dick Williams’s main man Catfish Hunter, who’d also had to pitch a do-or-die clincher) wasn’t yet ready to go. Jerry Koosman was no last-ditch alternative, though. He’d made four postseason starts for the Mets in his career, and the Mets won every one of them.
Between Staub and Koosman, you might say the sun was going to shine on the Mets in Game Two. Or you could just look up at the unyielding Oakland sky and reach that conclusion for yourself. Before the day was out, the sun would be impossible to ignore.
Cleon Jones was the afternoon’s first atmospheric victim, in the bottom of the first when he lost Joe Rudi’s deep fly ball in nature’s light and it fell in for a double. “It was the worst, the absolute worst” Cleon attested of the view from left field. “I’ve never played in a major league ballpark where the sun was that bad.” Sol was a real SOB and Sal — Bando — was no nicer to Koosman than the sun had been to Cleon. He tripled home Rudi and scored three batters later on Jesus Alou’s double. Jones made amends with a leadoff home run in the second off Vida Blue, but though it was 2-1, this was going to be no facsimile to the 2-1 game of the day before.
Kooz had more trouble in the third: another triple (Bert Campaneris’s) led to another RBI (Rudi’s). Down 3-1, the Mets’ attack was reignited by Wayne Garrett’s solo blast in the third, making it 3-2. But Jerry couldn’t handle a little prosperity. With one out in the home third, he walked Gene Tenace, gave up a single to Alou and made a bad throw to first that let Ray Fosse reach. Now the bases were loaded, so now Berra acted. He removed Koosman and brought in Ray Sadecki. The veteran swingman caught a break when Williams put on the squeeze, but Green couldn’t deliver, making Tenace dead meat at the plate. Dick Green then struck out to keep the A’s off the board.
Blue’s grip on the Mets loosened in the top of the sixth when he walked Jones, who sped to third on Milner’s single. Vida’s day ended in favor of Horacio Pina, but it wasn’t Horacio’s day, either. After hitting Jerry Grote to load the bases, Don Hahn and Bud Harrelson delivered run-scoring singles to give the Mets the lead. Williams replaced Pina with Darold Knowles, who thought he had a force at home when Jim Beauchamp pinch-hit a grounder back to the mound. A bad throw let Grote and Hahn score, and the Mets had a 6-3 cushion to offer Tug McGraw when he came in to pitch the sixth.
Tug pitched the sixth without incident. He pitched the seventh, surrendering an RBI double to Reggie Jackson, which shoulder-strapped Staub could barely fling toward the infield. He pitched the eighth, and took care of the A’s in order. After the Mets threatened in the top of the ninth — Staub singled and Yogi pinch-ran Willie Mays — but didn’t score, Berra left Tug in to pitch the ninth as well.
Was it an inning too far for the fireman for whom the manager had been pulling alarms regularly for weeks on end? It didn’t appear to be, as McGraw coaxed a fly ball to center field from pinch-hitter Deron Johnson, and Tug had the benefit of possibly the greatest center fielder of all time standing out there. Mays stayed in the game after pinch-running, and in his prime, he was a sure thing to catch a ball like Johnson’s. Except Willie wasn’t in his prime — Sol was. The sun did the A’s dirty work again, blinding Willie, who admitted, “I didn’t see Johnson’s ball…I’m not alibiing. I just didn’t see it.”
The Say Hey Kid fell down in centerfield as the ball fell in front of him. In an instant, his stumble became the default example for generations of lazy writers and broadcasters who were eager to usher great athletes out of their sport once they “hung on too long”. After all, they tut-tutted, they shouldn’t want to wind up like Willie Mays.
In the there and then, Mays’s misadventure was less cautionary tale than a genuine trigger for Met crisis. The standard fly ball turned into a sun-splashed double, setting up an inning that crested with RBI singles from Jackson and Tenace. The A’s had tied the Mets at six.
The A’s tried to give the game right back to the Mets in the tenth. An error — Oakland’s third of the day — let the Mets push the go-ahead run to third with one out. From there, Harrelson sprinted ninety feet when Millan flied to Rudi in left. He evaded the tag of Ray Fosse by running to the catcher’s right. He crossed the plate with the run to make it Mets 7 A’s 6.
But Augie Donatelli didn’t see it that way. Donatelli, in one of the worst blunders made by a home plate umpire in World Series history, decided Fosse tagged Buddy. The replays showed otherwise. On-deck hitter Mays pleaded otherwise. Berra argued otherwise. Harrelson absolutely insisted otherwise: “I felt I was safe and I didn’t know I had been called out until I got near our dugout.”
Donatelli was unmoved. The Mets were done in the tenth. The game stayed tied, 6-6. McGraw stayed in to pitch the bottom of the inning, his fifth, which he did flawlessly, and the eleventh, too (after the Mets left two on). Tug had now gone six in relief and the game’s score remained stalemated.
It had already been a pretty darn intriguing affair, but it’s fair to say the twelfth inning is where things got really interesting. There was Buddy, doubling to start things off promisingly. There was Tug — still — left into bunt. He moved Harrelson to third and got on himself when his bunt blooped over the head of the charging Bando. With two outs, up stepped the old man who’d looked so overmatched by the elements in the field. Yes, Willie Mays was batting against Fingers, still dealing with the sun, albeit from a different angle.
But he dealt with it fine, bounding a one-hopper up the middle to score Harrelson. With the very last hit of his Hall of Fame career, Mays put his team up, 7-6, in the twelfth inning of a World Series game.
Willie and Tug each eventually scored when the A’s defense continued its daylong deterioration. The culprit in the eleventh, on two consecutive plays, was Mike Andrews, a bit player who committed a pair of errors (one on a grounder, one on a throw) that resulted in three Met runs. It also made him a target for Finley’s ire. The owner tried to disown the backup second baseman immediately, attempting to stash him on the DL despite his being perfectly healthy. In the coming days, in a nation where cynicism had ramped up in the wake of Watergate, Finley’s ploy would be seen through and Andrews wouldn’t be disappeared so easily. But at the moment, the only truth that counted was Mets 10 A’s 6, heading to the twelfth.
Tug McGraw continued to pitch. Perhaps Berra forgot he had at least a couple of other options. To begin his seventh inning of work, the southpaw got Jackson to hit a deep fly ball to center field. Willie ran to the wall to track it down. He didn’t. Jackson landed on third with a triple. After walking Tenace, Tug was done. George Stone got the call, which appeared a wrong number. Alou tagged him for a single to cut the Mets’ lead to three runs. After a forceout and a walk, the bottom line was the bases were loaded, McGraw was finished and Stone had to end a contest headed toward establishing a new record for longest — and nuttiest — World Series game.
Stone turned rock solid, popping up pinch-hitter Vic Davalillo and grounding out Campaneris. The game that wouldn’t end was over after four hours and thirteen minutes, and it belonged to the Mets, 10-7. The process was as exhausting as the result was exhilarating. It left the World Series tied at one before it could be packed up and flown to New York.
And the rest of the story? How it began? Where it went from here?
You’ll find out when you read The Happiest Recap (First Base: 1962-1973).
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