It would be very easy to use the cliche of Old Guard vs. New Breed for the 1973 World Series. But what the heck, let's use it anyway. Strangely, it was the expansion Mets who were the Old Guard, while the Oakland Athletics, one of the American League's charter franchises (albeit only in its sixth season in Oakland), were the New Breed.
The Mets were owned by Joan Payson, a New York blueblood. She let management run the team and didn't suggest many trades (with the notable exception of the Willie Mays deal). The team wore one home uniform (white with pinstripes) and one road uniform (gray). Neither uniform included the player's name.
In contrast, Oakland was owned by self made millionaire Charlie Finley. His players wore uniform jerseys and pants in green, gold and white. It didn't matter if they were used at home or on the road, and if they wanted to use one color for tops and a different one for pants, so much the better. He paid players bonuses to grow mustaches. He convinced a pitcher named Jim Hunter to use the nickname "Catfish," and tried to get Vida Blue to change his first name to True. He advocated lots of ideas, some of which were mainstreamed (designated hitters and night postseason games) and some which didn't quite cut it (orange baseballs). He ditched the name Athletics in favor of A's, and replaced the White Elephant logo with a slogan "The Swingin' A's." (The team got into enough intramural fracases to make one wonder exactly what this slogan had in mind.) He also had a mean streak when things went bad which predated George Steinbrenner, who had taken over the Yankees that season. (More on that mean streak later.)
His team had another new title: Defending World Champions. They had gone 94-68 to win their third straight AL West title, and they beat the Baltimore Orioles in five games for their second straight pennant. A comparison of the two lineups of rWAR using their most frequently used players at each position gave the A's, like the Cincinnati Reds in the NLCS, the edge at seven out of eight positions. This time, the Mets had the advantage at second base, with Felix Millan over Dick Green. Oakland also had three 20 game winners in Hunter, Blue and Ken Holtzman. That statistic was somewhat misleading, however, as they combined for an rWAR of 6.1 vs. 19.9 for the trio of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack. Oakland would use its bullpen more, however. Darold Knowles became the first pitcher to appear in all seven games; Rollie Fingers was in six. In winning the NLCS, the Mets had three complete games and a fourth game in which the starter went into the ninth.
Game 1 -- Saturday, October 13
The Mets didn't get the scheduling breaks they had received against Cincinnati. The AL champion had home field advantage this year. And because, the NLCS had ended on Wednesday, Seaver would not be available for Game 1. And Rusty Staub, who hurt his shoulder making a catch in the NLCS, wasn't ready to rejoin the lineup until Game 2. (He would be announced as a pinch hitter in the 9th inning, but never came to bat.) This was mitigated by the A's also having to play a five game LCS which actually ended on Thursday. And they were also down an outfielder: center fielder Bill North had sprained his ankle late in the regular season and did not appear in the postseason. This forced Reggie Jackson to move from right to center, an amusing notion to anyone who saw Jackson allegedly play right field as a Yankee. So instead of a matchup of future Hall of Famers Seaver and Hunter, it would be Matlack and Holtzman on the mound.
The game was scoreless until the bottom of the third. Dick Green walked with one out. Holtzman came up in what looked to be a bunting opportunity, but Green was caught stealing instead. With two out, nobody on and the pitcher up, Matlack looked to be out of the inning. But Holtzman, who had not batted all year due to the first year of the DH rule, doubled. (The first World Series using the DH would not happen until 1976.) Bert Campaneris hit a grounder to second that Felix Millan booted, allowing Holtzman to score. Campaneris stole second and scored a second unearned run on Joe Rudi's single. That would be all Oakland would need. The Mets could only get one run back in the fourth on a Cleon Jones double and a John Milner single.
Game 2 -- Sunday, October 14
After a pitcher's duel the day before, this one got a little crazier. The A's jumped on Jerry Koosman for two runs in the first inning. Cleon Jones homered in the second off Vida Blue to make it 2-1, but Oakland got another run in the bottom half. Wayne Garrett's homer made it 3-2 in the third, but when the A's loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the third, Koosman was taken out in favor of Ray Sadecki, who had not pitched at all in the NLCS. Sadecki was able to get out of it without further damage.
The Mets broke through for four runs in the sixth off Blue and Horacio Pina to take a 6-3 lead, and Tug McGraw was coming in the bottom of the sixth to protect the lead. The A's got one in the seventh to cut the margin to 6-4, but were still trailing as McGraw began his fourth inning of relief. Deron Johnson led off with a double. With two out, Sal Bando walked. Jackson and Gene Tenace followed with RBI singles, and the game went into extras.
Bud Harrelson led off the 10th with a single off Rollie Fingers. McGraw bunted him to second. Garrett reached on an error. With runners on first and third, Millan hit a short fly to left. Harrelson tagged up. When Rudi's throw went up the line, Harrelson appeared to score the go ahead run -- to everyone but Augie Donatelli.
McGraw retired the A's in order in the 10th. The Mets left the bases loaded in the 11th, while the A's went down in order again in the 11th. Harrelson led off the 12th with a double. McGraw bunted again but was able to reach first. Garrett struck out and Millan popped out, but Willie Mays, who had replaced Staub in the 9th, singled to score the go ahead run. Jones' single loaded the bases. Milner's grounder to second appeared to end the inning, but it went through the legs of Mike Andrews and made the score 9-6. Jerry Grote decided that hitting the ball to second was the new market inefficiency. Andrews fielded this one cleanly, but his throw to first was wide and it was 10-6.
Reggie Jackson led off the bottom of the 12th against McGraw, who had already pitched six innings in relief. Jackson hit a playable ball to center field. Mays tried to find it but lost it in what was still a high sun and fell down without making a play. The inning started with him still being Willie Mays; now he was just a 42 year old trying to play with guys barely half his age. Jackson was credited with a triple. When Gene Tenace walked, Tug was pulled in favor of George Stone. Jesus Alou greeted Stone with an RBI single, but Oakland would only get the one run. The Mets had survived about as ugly a win as could be, but it was still a win. The game 4:13 to play, setting a record for the longest World Series game in time.
The craziness didn't end with the game. An angry Charlie Finley prepared a fake affidavit claiming that Andrews was hurt and should be replaced on the A's roster. (There is no truth to the rumor that it read, "Please excuse Mike from further costing his team a chance to win. Signed, Mike's Mother.") When manager Dick Williams heard about it he got even angrier than Finley, and decided to quit on the spot, although he did not announce this until after the Series. It didn't matter who was playing, who was managing or who was interfering -- the Series was tied at one game apiece.
Game 3 -- Tuesday, October 16
Tommie Agee. Wayne Garrett. Lenny Dysktra. Each of these Mets homered leading off a World Series Game 3. (The streak ended in 2000. Thanks for nothing, Timo Perez.) Garrett's shot off Catfish Hunter was followed by singles from Millan and Jones and a wild pitch scoring Milan with the second run of the inning. Unfortunately, this would be the entire scoring for the Mets. It was up to Seaver to make the lead stand up. For a while, it looked like two runs would be more than enough, as Seaver struck out nine through the first five innings, including striking out the side in order twice. But Oakland would get one run in the 6th and the tying run in the 8th. A 12 strikeout, one walk performance over eight inning would go for naught. Sadecki and McGraw combined to pitch the ninth, and when the Mets did not score for the eighth consecutive innings, the game would go to extras once again. McGraw kept the game tied through 10. Harry Parker came on in the 11th and gave up an unearned run via a walk, a passed ball and a single. The A's had taken back the series lead.
Game 4 -- Wednesday, October 17
The combination of Rusty Staub and Jon Matlack made this the biggest blowout of the series, and it didn't take too long to get there. Staub hit a three run homer off Ken Holtzman in the first inning, and a two run single off Blue Moon Odom in the fourth. Rusty went 4 for 4 with 5 RBI. Matlack allowed one unearned run over eight innings, keeping his post season ERA at 0.00 over three starts. Ray Sadecki pitched the ninth and got a "save" in the 6-1 win. (The rules of the time allowed any reliever who finished the game without getting the win to be given a save.) The one remaining highlight was Mike Andrews pinch hitting in the eighth in his first appearance since Game Two. Andrews had been restored to the roster on orders from Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. The fans gave Andrews a standing ovation, then watched him ground out to third. It would be Andrews' last appearance in the majors.
Game 5 --Thursday, October 18
Cleon Jones doubled in the second inning against Vida Blue and would score on John Milner's single. The game remained 1-0 until the sixth, when Jerry Grote singled and Don Hahn tripled to make it 2-0. The rest of the story was written by Jerry Koosman and Tug McGraw, who combined for a four hit shutout and a 3-2 series lead.
Game 6 -- Saturday, October 20
Forty years later, the debate rages on. With a 3-2 lead in the Series, Yogi Berra chose to have Tom Seaver pitch on three days rest rather than use George Stone and save Seaver for a possible Game Seven. Gary Cohen, of course, will bemoan the decision several time each season. Cohen had an ally in Dick Williams. In his autobiography No More Mr. Nice Guy, Williams wrote that in his mind, the A's had already won the Series because of this. The flip side was that Seaver on three days rest was still better than Stone on full rest, and Matlack, who was scheduled for Game Seven, had not allowed an earned run in the post season. (it's worth noting that thirty years later, Jack McKeon was in the exact same situation as Yogi. McKeon also let his ace, Josh Beckett, pitch on short rest. Beckett shut out the Yankees.) Reggie Jackson had RBI doubles in the first and third innings, while the Mets could do nothing against Hunter for seven innings. In the eighth, Ken Boswell singled hitting for Seaver with one out. Garrett and Millan followed with singles off Darold Knowles to score a run, but Staub and Jones left the tying run on third. In the bottom half, Jackson singled off McGraw and advanced to third on Hahn's error. Jackson would score on Jesus Alou's sacrifice for a 3-1 final.
Game 7 -- Sunday, October 21
This one was over early. As he did in Game One, Ken Holtzman hit a double in the third off Matlack. Bert Campaneris followed with a home run -- the first by the A's all series as well as the first earned runs off Matlack the entire postseason. Joe Rudi singled and Jackson hit another homer to chase Matlack and give the A's a 4-0 lead. They would score again off Sadecki in the 5th. The Mets rallied with a run in the sixth but entered the ninth still trailing 5-1. John Milner led off with a walk against Rollie Fingers. Grote flied out, but Hahn singled to put runners on first and second. Harrelson's grounder advanced the runners, but at the cost of the making the second out. With the pitcher's spot up, Ed Kranepool came in to pinch hit. (Ironically, George Stone turned out to be the Mets' last pitcher in the series.) Gene Tenace couldn't handle Kranepool's grounder. It was now 5-2 with runners on first and third. Knowles came in with the tying runs on base and got Garrett to pop up to shortstop and end the series.
The A's came back in 1974 without Dick Williams and won a third straight title -- the only team not named the New York Yankees to do so. Three years later, having traded or lost its top players to free agency, they would be last or next to last for four consecutive seasons. The Mets didn't do any better. They followed their pennant season with a 71-91 mark in 1974 -- their worst year since 1967. They rebounded by going 82-80 in 1975 and 86-76 (at the time, their second highest win total) in 1976. But, like Oakland, they also began a long stretch in the basement in 1977. The players from the 1973 team gradually left. Two rookies from the team stayed on. Ron Hodges, called up as an emergency catcher, managed to stay 12 seasons, almost exclusively as a backup to Jerry Grote and John Stearns. Craig Swan pitched in three games in 1973, one year after being drafted in the third round. Swan made the starting rotation by 1976 and would have consecutive seasons of 5.4 and 4.4 rWAR. Hodges and Swan lasted as Mets through the lean years all the way to 1984. By that time, their teammates had different names. Names like Gooden and Strawberry, Darling and Hernandez. Of course, that's an entirely different story.