New York's most beloved team, the gritty, gutsy New York Mets found themselves in last place on Aug. 30, 1973. With about one month left to play, right-thinking fans weren't paying much attention to them, which was a gargantuan mistake.
The Mets have earned a reputation of often doing the opposite of what the "experts" predict (which gives the 2011 edition more hope than most believe they deserve). No person in their right mind thought the 1969 Mets, who had finished ninth in a 10 team league the year before, would win the World Series. They did.
Near the end of August during that fateful 1973 season, the Mets caught fire. They won 24 of 35 games and when they beat the defending National League Eastern Division champion Pittsburgh Pirates on Sept. 21, New York's most beloved team took over first place.
They had gained 12 games in the standings in 10 weeks.
Before a crowd of 51,381 screaming fans, the Mets destroyed Steve Blass and the Pirates 10-2, behind the greatest pitcher to ever pitch in New York, Tom Seaver (Sandy Koufax didn't become the greatest pitcher of all time until he became a Los Angeles Dodger).
The Mets, usually an offensively challenged team, rocked six Bucco hurlers for 13 hits to go along with their 10 runs. Seaver was never challenged as he allowed only five hits while striking out eight.
When the Mets scored their final three runs in the eighth inning, two of them on a Rusty Staub home run, the fans at Shea Stadium went crazy. Some left their seats, jammed the aisles and started to dance. Others jumped onto the roof of the dugout and shouted for all the world to know, "We're number one."
No team in the division was able to take charge. After the Mets pivotal win, only two-and-one-half games separated the Mets from the fifth place Chicago Cubs. The Mets had only eight games remaining.
Jerry Koosman, who was instrumental in bringing New York the World Championship in 1969, had seen it before.
"But it's as though this is the first time all over again. The New York fans are hungry and they get your adrenaline flowing."
Manager Yogi Berra, who New York's other team had summarily dismissed in 1964 and whose days with the Mets were believed to numbered when the injury-decimated team was losing, never lost his perspective.
"Even Chicago is only two-and-one-half games out. We've been hot since the 17th of August, but I have to say it's still wide open."
The Mets went on to sweep a two game series from the St. Louis Cardinals and then split two games with the Montreal Expos before going to finish the season in Chicago.
The Mets led the Pirates by one-half game, which was in the win column.
The Pirates could do no worse than tie for the division title if they won their last five games. Of course, they didn't.
On Thursday, Sept. 27, the Philadelphia Phillies edged the Pirates 3-2 to give the idle Mets a full game lead. That was almost all the Mets needed.
On Friday, the Expos beat the Pirates while the Mets and Cubs were rained out. The Expos beat the Pirates again on Saturday and the Mets-Cubs were again rained out.
At the end of play of Saturday, the Mets led the Cardinals, who were now in second place, by one-and-one-half games.
The Mets and Cubs played a doubleheader on Sunday, which was the last day of the season. The first game defines the Mets franchise.
Left-hander Jon Matlack, who once wondered why fans would prefer to watch him pitch in the summer instead of going to the beach, went the distance, allowing but one run. The Mets never scored.
Jerry Koosman started the must-win second game, and he won.
The Mets bats woke up as they scored three in the first and pounded Ferguson Jenkins for six runs in six and one-third innings on the way to an easy 9-2 win. Koosman went the distance.
The second place Cardinals finished at 81-81. The Mets were 81-79. If the Mets lost their final two games, they would be tied with the Cardinals.
The Mets and Cubs would play a doubleheader on the Monday after the season ended. If the Mets won the first game, the second game wouldn't have to be played.
Tom Seaver started the first game against Burt Hooton. The Mets scored five runs off Hooton, who worked only four innings, and won 6-4.
From the Miracle Mets of 1969 to the gutsy Mets of 1973 to the 1999 wild card Mets who almost beat the Atlanta Braves in the second round of the playoffs after trailing in games, three to none, the Mets have been an unpredictable, peculiar franchise.
They are surprising the "experts" so far in 2011. The way the National League is balanced (read that weak, but not as weak as the American League), nothing the Mets do could be a surprise.
By, J. D. (1973, Sep. 22). Mets attain .500 mark and first place in east as Seaver defeats pirates, 10-2, before 51,381: Dancing on the dugout Mets take first place by toppling Pirates, 10-2. New York Times (1923-Current File), pp. 21-21. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/119720655?accountid=46260