Forty years ago tonight, the National League champion Mets hosted Oakland, trailing the American League champion A’s two games to one 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)…
It was the first time the Mets trailed a postseason series after three games, putting them in unfamiliar must-win territory for Wednesday’s Game Four. It was still cold, but Mets fever was about to rise.
The evening belonged in particular to three men, only two of whom wore Met uniforms.
First and foremost, there was Rusty Staub, shrugging off his shoulder woes and stepping into the October spotlight he’d been waiting to enter since making it to the majors as a 19-year-old in 1963. In bare arms and black batting gloves — which is how Daniel Joseph Staub hit no matter the prevailing winds or fashion — Rusty came to the plate with Wayne Garrett and Felix Millan already on base ahead of him in the bottom of the first. Swinging and connecting, Staub ascended from the agony of the shoulder to the ecstasy of belting a three-run World Series homer that gave his team an immediate 3-0 lead.
His night would only get better in the fourth when he delivered a two-run single after Millan had driven in one. The Mets led, 6-1, having chased starter Ken Holtzman and reliever Blue Moon Odom from the mound and making Dick Williams dig deep into his heavily burdened bullpen (lefty Darold Knowles alone had seen action in each game thus far). Williams would use five pitchers before the night was over, and Rusty succeeded against every one of them, banging out four hits and taking one walk as he recorded five RBIs.
Jon Matlack, meanwhile, cruised across eight innings, scattering three hits and giving up only one error-provoked run in the fourth, a harmless echo of the fate that befell him in Game One. As in his first World Series start, Matlack surrendered no earned runs in Game Four. This time around, though, he had Rusty grilling Oakland pitching on his behalf, leading to a 6-1 victory that tied the Series at two games apiece.
Yet despite the brilliance of the two Met standouts, the Arctic night belonged at least in part to an Oakland A who, by merely walking to the plate, warmed the hearts of the 54,817 Shea denizens.
Mike Andrews experienced an awful Game Two on Sunday, with his extra-inning errors opening the floodgates for Oakland’s eventual loss. That was all Charlie Finley had to see to attempt to rig a roster transaction, coercing and dumping the veteran Andrews and replacing him with rookie Manny Trillo. In short, Andrews was railroaded and everybody — including his teammates, who taped his uniform number, 17, to their own jerseys in solidarity before Game Three — knew it. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn put an end to Finley’s farce and ordered Andrews reinstated.
Thus, when Williams chose Andrews to pinch-hit for Horacio Pina to start the visitors’ eighth, Mets fans temporarily put aside their natural allegiances and rose to give the embattled infielder a monstrous standing ovation. Even if it was an indirect way of thumbing their nose at Finley and all those establishment figures who routinely abused the public’s trust by piling deception upon prevarication (the nation was three nights from learning of President Nixon’s scheme to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox in what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre — kind of a Mike Andrews affair writ large), the applause directed toward an “enemy” batter during a World Series quite possibly represented Shea’s classiest moment ever. Mets fans would routinely and respectfully clap for the likes of Koufax, Clemente, Aaron and pre-Met Mays in admiration of their acumen, but this was something bigger than just sports.
It was sportsmanship.
Andrews’s at-bat went the way Mets fans hoped: he grounded out to third. Happy their team was five runs ahead and that Finley’s victim had performed heroically just by persevering to wear his own No. 17, the crowd stood again and clapped again as Mike returned to the Oakland dugout.
Later, the reserve infielder admitted to a different brand of “chills” than everybody else in the bundled-up crowd was feeling that icy night in Queens. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a standing ovation in my life,” Andrews said. “To me, that meant everything.”
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).
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.