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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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All’s Wall That Ends Well

Jon Matlack believes we know what we’re talking about. I know that’s what he believes because I asked him and that’s what he told me. And who’s not gonna believe Jon Matlack, essential starting pitcher for the 1973 National League Champion New York Mets?

At the press conference preceding Saturday night’s Mets Hall of Fame ceremonies, which I covered as “media” (and what is a blog if not a medium?), I asked Matlack, along with his HOF classmates Ron Darling and Edgardo Alfonzo, what stood out from all those seasons of performing in front of Mets fans.

“I think they’re fair and knowledgeable,” the silver southpaw said. “I found that as long as they thought you put a good effort forth, you weren’t necessarily in a position where you had to win all the time. As long as you weren’t slighting the job, you were treated fairly, and I respect that tremendously. I do think the knowledgeable fan is here in New York more so than in some other places. There were people telling me statistics I had to look up to remember, and they knew ’em off the top of their head, so it was pretty incredible.”

On behalf of Mets fans, Jon, I say a) thank you; and b) right backatcha, because you, sir, showed some genuine foresight about a game from 2021 as you recalled a game from 1973 in answer to another reporter’s question regarding the immortal You Gotta Believe pennant rush.

“It all started for me,” Matlack recounted, “when we were playing Pittsburgh one night, and the ball got hit to left field that didn’t go out. It hit on the corner of the fence and came back in. We made a play at the plate, threw a guy out, turned that game around, we started playing better — no matter what happened from there on, seemed like somebody was equal to the task, they were gonna do whatever it took to put us in the right spot to win. We weren’t supposed to get past the Reds…”

You don’t have to be a certified Metsologist to know Jon was referring to the signature play of the 1973 stretch drive, wherein, with Richie Zisk on first base in the top of the thirteenth inning of a 3-3 duel, Dave Augustine at bat, and the Pirates nursing a dwindling divisional lead in the penultimate week of the season, Augustine indeed hit a ball that was clearly going over Shea Stadium’s left field wall. Instead, it struck the very top of the fence, bounced directly back to Cleon Jones, and Jones fired it instantly to shortstop Wayne Garrett. Garrett wasted no time in relaying the ball to Ron Hodges, and the rookie catcher indeed made a play at the plate. That 8-6-2 thing of beauty ended one half-inning and set the stage for the next half-inning, when Hodges drove in the run that beat the Pirates and cut the rampaging Mets’ deficit to a half-game.

Jon Matlack, it should be noted, didn’t pitch in that game, but he cherishes it nonetheless. When a team is winning as those Mets were, it doesn’t matter who’s the hero. Everybody’s the hero.

Matlack, Darling, Alfonzo: Mets greats meet the press, get their due.

As for that bit about the Mets not having been supposed to get past the Reds, you know darn well that in 1973 the 82-79 Mets absolutely weren’t favored to overcome the 99-63 Reds in the National League Championship Series, yet they did. In Game Two, a young Met lefty from Pennsylvania gummed up the Big Red Machine so effectively that Cincinnati’s vaunted manufacturing apparatus could spew out only two hits. That part was Matlack’s doing, with some help from some teammates who drove in some runs for him and made some plays behind him, because, again, everybody’s the hero in years like that.

Forty-eight years later, on the night of Matlack’s, Darling’s and Alfonzo’s overdue enshrinement — and the presentation of the franchise’s Hall of Fame Achievement Award to the family of the late Al Jackson — the Mets weren’t supposed to beat the Reds, either. Maybe not going in, but once you got kind of deep into Saturday’s game, it didn’t seem plausible that the Cincinnatians would return to their Manhattan hotel on anything less than a Red hot high.

True, the Mets briefly held a 1-0 lead, but that hard-earned third-inning edge — built on a Brandon Drury double, a Rich Hill sacrifice bunt (welcome back to real baseball, chief) and a Jonathan Villar single — was wiped out by a Eugenio Suarez three-run no-doubter. When the glorious on-field Hall of Fame ceremonies ended, I’d noticed Suarez embracing one of Alfonzo’s special guests, Carlos Baerga. I’d hate to think Baerga, a teammate of Fonzie’s from 1996 to 1998, gave Suarez a tip on how to hit Hill. While Baerga was spending his final year in the majors as a Washington National in 2005, Hill was breaking in as a rookie with the Cubs.

What — did you think Rich Hill was born old?

Kyle Farmer added to the Red advantage in the fifth with a solo homer. A 4-1 lead shouldn’t have seemed insurmountable, but after the two previous games, in which the Mets scored not enough, then hardly at all, it was easy to get the feeling the Mets weren’t supposed to beat the Reds. Or, for that matter, an egg.

We develop certain senses for what’s going to go wrong from having rooted for the Mets for so long. Mind you, I wasn’t outwardly rooting for the Mets on Saturday because of press box decorum — no cheering there — but in my notebook and sotto voce to the spiritual co-conspirator who sat to my right and joined me in donning a mask of indifference, I came up with many reasons why this game was not going to go the Mets’ way. One of them was that Javier Baez was going to have a massively disappointing debut. I based this on expectations being raised by a crowd that couldn’t get enough of his first at-bat until it ended in a routine out. He’s gonna get pumped up by the volume, he’s gonna press, he’s gonna strike out, it’s such a Mets thing to happen — just like Hideo Nomo in 1998, never mind that he was a pitcher. My mind does a lot of this.

All that experience we have garnered from watching the Mets. All that knowledge we Mets fans have accumulated. Meanwhile, Baez, who had been a Met for about five minutes and had presumably never slipped into his school library to check out Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game? knew better. Or knew enough to not know better. Or wasn’t susceptible to incubating hunches that he wasn’t gonna come through because that’s not how a talent of his caliber rolls. What I’m trying to tell you is in the bottom of the sixth, with two out (one of them notched after Villar had been picked off second), Baez absolutely walloped a two-run homer.

So maybe a lack of familiarity with supposed Met ways is the best knowledge a new Met can display. However you explain it, the imported superstar shortstop had just cut the Reds’ lead to 4-3 and responded to his rapturous public with a curtain call. How could we lose now?

The answer, one guessed, was on a Joey Votto home run in the eighth inning. How poetic that would be, right? Votto had homered in seven consecutive games. Eight would tie the major league record. And, lookie there: with Farmer on first and nobody out, Votto lined a ball to very deep right off Seth Lugo. Oh, that baby is going, going…I haven’t been as sure of a ball leaving our park since a Thursday night in September of 1973 when Dave Augustine connected off Ray Sadecki.

Attention literalists: I’m using poetic license here. I’ve been plenty sure of plenty of home runs since September 20, 1973, but so much about Votto is poetic, just allow me my parallel, OK? Better yet, give me the wall this ball couldn’t quite clear. It went to right rather than left, and was hit inside of Citi Field rather than Shea Stadium, and it didn’t so much bounce off the very apex of the fence as hit a couple of inches below it, but it was close enough to going out without going out to make a prophet out of Jon Matlack.

“It hit on the corner of the fence and came back in.”

Sure did then. Sure did again. Votto had himself a long single (played expertly by Drury) and the Reds had him on first and Farmer on third and still nobody out. All the good vibes of Baez’s homer and the Augustinean echo of an enemy fly ball falling short of four bases notwithstanding, the Reds were still poised to extend their lead. The Mets, it should be noted, remained stuck on three runs and the Reds were one hit from having five, one extra-base hit from maybe having six. In a situation of that nature, who’s supposed to win?

Yet a situation like that isn’t fully formed until it fully plays out. Jeremy Hefner paid Lugo a visit, imparted words of wisdom à la Baerga to Suarez (albeit in my imagination) and Seth got back to being Seth. He struck out Tyler Naquin. He struck out the previously powerful Suarez. Then he departed in favor of Aaron Loup, the lefty who wears No. 32 as an obvious tribute to Matlack (albeit also in my imagination).

The pinch-hitter called on by Reds manager David Bell was Tyler Stephenson. What would Stephenson do with runners on first and third and two out versus Loup? Damned if I know. Damned if anybody knows. Votto, you see, was picked off first base, which got Farmer taking off from third base. Farmer, quite obviously, was the priority. Hence, after Loup threw to Pete Alonso, Alonso deduced the potential calamity unfolding across the diamond and threw to Villar at third. Villar threw to James McCann, who tagged out Farmer. Score it 1-3-5-2 (they announce that sort of thing in the press box so I make a point of jotting it down). Somehow, the Reds did not push any more runs across.

It was therefore getting a little 1973 up in here, microcosmically speaking. Just a little, though, because in the bottom of the eighth, three Mets did nothing. But in the top of the ninth, three Reds also did nothing. In the bottom of the ninth, the Mets doing something — anything — was paramount.

Jeff McNeil walked. That was something.

And Luis Guillorme pinch-ran for him. That could be something if something else happened.

A wild pitch happened! Guillorme was on second. He was a tying run just waiting to happen.

Javier Baez could happen for a second time in his first Met night. We’d seen him happen just a few innings earlier. Though my press box companion and I agreed Javy has the potential to be one of the all-time free swingers in Mets history (eat your heart out, Shawon Dunston), Baez worked the count versus Heath Hembree to three-and-oh. That’s a hitter’s count. Three pitches later, the hitter had struck out. James McCann immediately did the same.

Still waiting on the happening. It was gonna take some kind of divine intervention.

It was gonna take Sean Doolittle. Yes, Sean Doolittle! The same Sean Doolittle who gave up a game-tying three-run homer to Todd Frazier and the game-winning (or –losing, depending on your perspective) single to Michael Conforto almost two years ago at Citi Field, the last time I sat in the press box pretending not to care who won or lost. I try not to assume that because something happened once before that it’s guaranteed to happen again. Except there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth, we were losing by one, and precedent is the last refuge of the desperate fan masquerading as disinterested observer.

Dom Smith, whom Bell brought in Doolittle to face in an attempt at lefty-lefty alchemy, continued to be disinterested in labels. The lefty hit the lefty, singling to center to bring home Guillorme and knot the score at four. We were en route to an extra inning.

Jonathan India was on second base when the tenth started. Don’t ask me how he got there. I don’t even remember him batting. Crazy, huh? However he came to be standing on second, he zipped to third on an Edwin Diaz wild pitch.

Oh, that’s right, Diaz was pitching with a runner on second, nobody out and no save situation in sight. Feeling cocky yet?

Edwin walked Jesse Winker, then received one of those inspiring mound visits from Hefner. What worked on Lugo worked, too, on Diaz. Our closer morphed into Sammy Slam, as in the door. Struck out Farmer. Struck out Votto (sorry, pal, no eighth homer). Got Naquin to line out directly to Kevin Pillar.

Next thing I knew, Pillar was on second base when the tenth continued. Don’t ask me how he got there. I don’t even remember him batting. Still crazy, huh? However he came to be standing on second, however, he didn’t stay long.

Drury the Magnificent was the first batter in the bottom of the tenth. The pitcher was Luis Cessa, best known to us as the “other” pitcher we gave Detroit to obtain Yoenis Cespedes six years ago. We gave the Tigers Michael Fulmer and Cessa, the Tigers gave us the bat we needed to dislodge John Mayberry, Jr., from the middle of our lineup. Fulmer won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2016, which we were OK with because Cespedes won us the National League East in 2015. Cessa was agate type in the retelling.

But who doesn’t love a good, knowledge-driven detail? Thus, on the sixth anniversary of the day of the legendary Yoenis Cespedes deal — a day capped by Wilmer Flores’s even more legendary walkoff home run versus Washington two days after Wilmer Flores shed equally legendary tears — and on the very night that Jon Matlack invoked images of another pennant-winning year (and Javier Baez made like Yo homerwise), Luis Cessa gave up a walkoff single to Brandon Drury, and the everybody’s-the-hero Mets defeated the Reds, 5-4. Mets fans, I can report with accuracy, went nuts with appreciation. It didn’t appear we were “supposed” to win, but what was Brandon Drury supposed to do other than record yet another humongous hit? After all, Drury’s OPS in July was infinity.

I could look up the real number, but I’m a Mets fan. I know pretty incredible statistics off the top of my head.

20 comments to All’s Wall That Ends Well

  • Ken K. in NJ

    I’m confused. Is Al Jackson in the Mets Hall of Fame or isn’t he? I’m watching the ceremony and get a little lost when Howie starts talking about Al Jackson. Wait, this is the “franchise’s Hall of Fame Award”? WTF is that??

    While this is going on, my MLB phone app, where I’m checking the starting lineup, as usual opens to whatever the Mets News of the Day is. There is a picture of Jackson, Matlack, Darling, and Alfonso, with a heading “Mets Hall of Fame Inductees”. Ten minutes later, I open the app again, the same picture appears with the same heading, except that it’s now just Matlack, Darling, and Alfonso.

    I’m wondering if Al Jackson’s Family is feeling a little like Satchel Paige did in 1971…

  • Kevin from Flushing

    What’d I tell ya? 73. LGM YGB

  • Stephanie Pianto

    Ken, if you woke up this morning still befuddled, as I was during the ceremony, I have the answer. Al Jackson received the Mets Hall of Fame achievement award, a separate honor that is given not so much for talent but for contributions made to the team in other aspects. It’s like “honorable mention” I suppose. His family appeared to be delighted nonetheless. Howie Rose, though beloved, was kind of awkward with the way in which he presented the ceremony yesterday, but hey everyone can have an off day. I hope the family of Al Jackson were not put off by the distinctions between the honors. It was great to hear their reflections of his love for baseball.

  • Will in Central NJ

    Everybody’s the hero and everybody’s happy for the result of this needed victory. It beautiful night for honoring our past and glimpsing toward what will be a glorious future this autumn.

  • The Mets have given the HOF Achievement Award previously to significant non-playing figures, meaning Jackson was honored in the same vein as Bob Mandt, Pete Flynn and Harry Minor. It came off as a bit…strange because his Mets playing career is significant unto itself.

  • Michael in CT

    Maybe Diaz was buoyed last night by the presence of his fellow countryman Baez, the way he was by fellow countryman Lindor. Which suggests that when Lindor and Baez are both playing, Diaz should be invincible. LGM!

  • chuck

    I still remember Matlack saying his arm was tight in game 7 of the 1973 WS, and was frustrated about having to start on three days rest for a second time. Even then, I wondered why George Stone didn’t start the sixth to save Seaver for the seventh.

    Does anyone have any enlightenment on this?

  • mikeL

    wow greg, quite the amazing mining for meaning and confluence.
    and perhaps the best laying out of just *how achinlgly badly* the mets front office failed in scheduling the shea send-off for *after* the game.
    single events have history-altering import for a franchise. the yankees summon their ghosts. on that day the mets had their living proof of baseball magic and squandered it. the mets could have undone the hurt of 2007 on that one day.

  • Eric

    Somehow still a 4 game lead, now down to 59 games to hold onto it. The August schedule is going to be a hard month to do that.

    Votto’s off the wall single looked like a sure home run off the bat. Angels in the outfield.

    4 runs over 5 innings is in the expected range for Hill, though on the worse end of it. He pitches to contact and if he misses, his stuff gets hit hard. Kudos to the bullpen, starting with Yennsy Diaz, for holding a good offense right there for 5 innings, even if Lugo and Edwin Diaz barely kept it. Kudos to Rojas for managing the bullpen to win the game while behind.

    Drury with last night’s dose of Bench Mob magic, stepping up with Nimmo hurt again and Conforto running out of time and leeway to hit a hot streak to salvage his season. I wonder how much Bench Mob magic is left, but it’s carried the Mets this far.

    Jokes about Baez being a 2 true outcome player aren’t exaggerating by much. Upper cut hacks and little or no interest in taking a walk. Baez looks like he’ll swing at an obvious ball 3-0 because he wants to swing 3-1. And he’ll do the same on 3-1 because he wants to swing 3-2. And no change of approach on 3-2 either. Given the Mets’ RISP LOB problem, not the worst thing to add Baez’s all-or-nothing attitude to force action. I just hopes it works more often than not.

    Villar sure gets picked off a lot. That flaw in his game was highlighted when he cheated Baez from tying the game because Baez is known as an exceptional base runner.

    • Eric

      Add: I’ve been assuming the 2nd wild card is out of reach, but the Padres have only a 3 game lead, 1 up in the loss column, on the Mets. And the Padres are doing some muddling of their own. The likelier and of course preferred way into the playoffs is still the division championship, but the 2nd wild card isn’t out of the question.

  • eric1973

    I got Jon Matlack’s autograph in 1996.

    He was the Pitching Coach for Detroit, and the visiting teams stayed in the Grand Hyatt. I worked near there, and would always sit in the lobby during lunch, and watch the players and coaches come and go during lunch. It was GREAT fun. No security guards back then.

    I didn’t want to bother anyone inside the hotel with autographs, but this was one I had to have. And there he was, coming out of the elevator!

    I said, “Hi, Mr. Matlack, you guys were great in 1973.”
    And he said, “We sure did have a lot of fun then.”
    And then he signed my pad.

    And that was it, one of my most prized autographs from one of my favorite Mets of all time.

  • Seth

    Separate note about 1973 — it’s interesting that several of the complete 1969 World Series games exist on tape and are shown on the “Classic MLB” series occasionally. But I have never seen any game from the 1973 postseason preserved on video. I always assumed they never saved them (videotape was expensive in those days), but it sure would be interesting if they had. And now back to 2021…

  • eric1973

    Greg, when Matlack answered your question, it appeared he was simply answering from memory. I bet he doesn’t know it’s called “The Ball off the Wall” play, or that me and all of us have seen it hundreds (of thousands) of times. I still get chills when the ump calls him out, with play-by-play from Bob Murphy.

  • eric1973

    Seth, around 30 years ago, ESPN CLASSIC showed some of those games on videotape, and they were thrilling. Some of the endings they did not have, and they had to resort to the film, including the extra inning game in Oakland, as well as the final few innings of Game 7.

    And I never really see too much videotape from the 1969 playoffs against Atlanta. I am always surprised that Felix Millan and George Stone were on that Atlanta team.

  • open the gates

    One thing about a year with so many Mets coming and going. When some of the transients (particularly the young transients) show some unexpected sparkle, hold on to them. I don’t know how much was expected of Brandon Drury, but don’t assume that this offensive explosion is necessarily a blip. Same with Tylor Megill on the pitching side. We don’t want to see either starring in the All Star Game (or worse, the World Series) for some other team and say, “Hey, we used to have that guy.” (Yes, it could be a blip, but give them a chance to continue proving themselves.)

  • Eric

    Drury is one of the only Mets who seem comfortable hitting a curveball.

    Also, I forgot to say earlier, kudos to Smith for the diving, stabbing, no look catch on Miley’s tailing sinking liner off Hill that would have scored 2.

    Interesting that after the Pirates beat the Mets, they’re now beating the Phillies. Every bit helps.

    Guillorme now on IL with hamstring strain. What the heck.

  • mikeL


    and what’s with stro’s smiley postgame presser? is he channelling gl@v1n3?
    (as if the mirrored shades routine wasn’t enough)

    and yes OTG: drury and megill must be given a large sample-size chance to prove they don’t suck. (megill has already proven himself already in my opinion)

    …so many of the team’s estabished personnel have already proven they do.

    also a new MLB memo is forthcoming: “all baserunning will be station to station except on balls hit out of play.
    the drumbeat of hamstring injuries is bad for the sport’s speed-of-game driven outreach to the young. the kids out there will think this is a game targeted for achey older dudes watching from the couch”

  • Cleon Jones

    Question- when was the last time this season when our Mets won 3 in a row?

  • Dave

    Hey chuck, the decision to start Seaver in the sixth instead of george stone in 1973 was Yogi’s. And a big mistake it was. Stone was great that year and Seaver on full rest in the seventh would have given the Mets their best chance. Alas not done. Great to see Matlack. Dave

  • Paul

    In Bill Madden’s superb book, “Tom Seaver, A Terrific Life,” the controversial Tom Seaver start in game 6 of the 1973 World Series is addressed. Both Cleon Jones and Ed Kranepool went to Yogi Berra to urge him to start George Stone in the sixth game of the WS. Jones and Kranepool pointed out that the Oakland A’s were primarily a fastball hitting team; they felt that George Stone, as a pitcher who changed speeds and was a “location” guy, could keep the Oakland hitters off balance.

    Still, Yogi Berra would not reconsider his decision and went with Tom Seaver on three days rest. George Stone thought Tom Seaver wanted to start game 6 and finish the 1973 WS because Seaver had not been able to close out the 1969 WS for the Mets.

    Ed Kranepool disagreed with George Stone’s idea, saying that it was strictly Yogi Berra’s decision to start Seaver in the sixth game.

    Oakland manager Dick Williams, in his autobiography, “No More Mr. Nice Guy: A Life of Hardball,” said that the A’s had their backs against the wall after game 5. Yogi Berra could afford to blow off that game and give Tom Seaver the extra day off and be fully rested for game 7, with Jon Matlack in reserve. “Yogi Berra played right into our hands,” asserted Dick Williams.

    Oh yeah, in the book, Bill Madden writes that when Tom Seaver first walked into Citi Field for the inaugural game on April 18, 2009, Seaver was “flabbergasted” that Met team owner Fred Wilpon had “turned his new ballpark in Queens into a shrine to long-demolished Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. Tom walked into the Citi Field rotunda and the first thing he saw was this huge ‘42’ commemoration of Jackie Robinson, one of Seaver’s closest friends related to me (Madden) in 2020. He was furious. He said to me, ‘With all due respect to Jackie Robinson, he was one of the great players and trailblazers, but I don’t remember him playing for the Mets.’”

    Bill Madden also writes about the Wilpons’ failure to erect and dedicate a statue for Tom Seaver outside of Citi Field as other MLB teams had done for Al Kaline, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Roberto Clemente at their stadiums.
    It got so bad, that Nancy Seaver publicly criticized the Wilpons’ disregard in a June, 2016 interview in the “New York Daily News.”

    At least, new Mets owner Steve Cohen has promised that a Tom Seaver statue will be dedicated outside of Citi Field this year. I wonder if Fred and Jeff will have the nerve to show up for that upcoming and, no doubt, very moving ceremony?