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Revisiting the Mets’ 1973 NLCS victory over the Reds

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The series went a full five games, but the Mets won their second pennant.

Yogi Berra with Star Pitchers

Unlike their first time in the NLCS, which saw them sweep the Braves, the Mets’ second appearance in the series went a full five games. At just 82-79, the Mets won the National League East. The Reds—in the heart of their Big Red Machine years with a lineup that included Pete Rose and future Hall-of-Famers Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, and Johnny Bench—won the National League West with a 99-63 record, fending off the 95-66 Dodgers to win that division and earn a spot in the NLCS.

Game 1

The first game of the series came in at a crisp two hours on the dot, as Tom Seaver started for the Mets in Cincinnati opposite the Reds’ Jack Billingham. The Mets got on the board with a run in the second inning when Seaver himself doubled in Bud Harrelson, but that was the only run the Mets scored in the game. Billingham went eight innings without allowing another run, and a pair of Reds relievers—Tom Hall and Pedro Borbon—pitched in the ninth without allowing a run, either.

Seaver kept the Reds scoreless through seven innings, but Pete Rose hit a game-tying solo home run off of him in the bottom of the eighth. And in the bottom of the ninth, with the game still tied and one out, Seaver gave up a walk-off home run to Johnny Bench. In total, Seaver had one hell of a start in this game, with thirteen strikeouts, no walks, and just six hits allowed. But it wasn’t enough, especially since the lineup was mostly silent.

Game 2

As has been the case in Game 1, there was very little scoring early in Game 2. Rusty Staub hit a solo shot in the top of the fourth, and it was the only run either team scored through the first eight innings. Mets starter Jon Matlack was brilliant, pitching a shutout with nine strikeouts and three walks, and he didn’t have much breathing room until the ninth.

In the top of that inning, the Mets’ offense finally broke through, facing Hall and Borbon again. Cleon Jones singled in one run, Jerry Grote singled in two more, and Bud Harrelson singled in the Mets’ fourth and final run of the inning to put the Mets up 5-0. That was more than enough insurance for Matlack, who retired the Reds in order in the bottom of the inning to even the series at one game apiece.

Game 3

With the series having shifted to Shea Stadium, the Mets’ bats scored early and often in Game 3. Rusty Staub opened the scoring with a solo home run in the bottom of the first, and the Mets chased Reds starter Ross Grimsley in the bottom of the second. Wayne Garrett plated a run with a one-out sacrifice fly, and Felix Milan singled in another, ending Grimsley’s start. The Reds summoned Hall out of the bullpen for the third straight game, and he was greeted with a three-run home run off the bat of Staub that gave the Mets a 6-0 lead.

Jerry Koosman threw a complete game for the Mets, and the only two runs he allowed came in the top of the third, with Denis Menke hitting a leadoff home run in the inning and the late Joe Morgan hitting an RBI single later in the inning. But Koosman was just fine after that inning, striking out nine and not walking anyone while giving up a total of eight hits and going the distance.

Koosman helped his own cause with an RBI single in the bottom of the third, and Cleon Jones and John Milner drove in a run each in the fourth. That gave the Mets a 9-2 lead, which was plenty. It was also an excuse for Pete Rose to play the role of tough guy, attempting to take out Harrelson as he successfully turned a double play—all because Harrelson had made a comment about Matlack’s performance after Game 2. That resulted in a bench-clearing brawl as Harrelson and Rose went at it.

Pete Rose and Bub Harrelson Starting a Fight

Game 4

The fourth game of the 1973 NLCS was a low-scoring, twelve-inning affair. Felix Milan plated the Mets’ first and only run of the game with a single in the bottom of the third. Mets starter George Stone held the Reds scoreless through six-and-one-third innings, but Tony Perez got him for a solo home run with one out in the seventh to tie the game. Stone got one more out before giving way to Tug McGraw, who threw four-and-one-third scoreless innings of his own as the game went into extra innings.

Reds v Mets Photo by Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Mets manager Yogi Berra called upon Harry Parker to pitch the twelfth inning. But after retiring Ken Griffey to start the inning, Parker surrendered a solo home run to Rose. He retired Morgan and Perez after that, but that lone run was all the Reds needed. Borbon came in for the Reds and retired the Mets in order to notch the save and even the series at two.

Game 5

With a trip to the World Series on the line, both teams had their Game 1 starter for the final game of the series. The Mets scored first, with Ed Kranepool getting to Jack Billingham with a two-run single in the first. But the Reds got a run off of Tom Seaver in the top of the third and another in the top of the fifth to tie the game at two.

But the Mets answered quickly. Cleon Jones doubled in a go-ahead run with one out in the bottom of the fifth. That ended Billingham’s start, and Reds reliever Don Gullett walked the only batter he faced. The Reds brought in Clay Carroll out of the bullpen, which prompted Berra to call upon Willie Mays, who was in his second season with the Mets and final season of his legendary career, to pinch hit for Kranepool. And Mays singled in a run to give the Mets a 4-2 lead. The Mets got two more runs in the inning, one on a Don Hahn ground out and the second on a single by Harrelson that scored Mays.

Seaver allowed just one baserunner—a single by Rose in the top of the seventh—over the course of the next three innings. But he did get into a bit of a jam in the ninth, allowing a one-out single before issuing back-to-back walks to load the bases. Berra brought in McGraw, who got Joe Morgan to pop up to shortstop and Dan Driessen to ground out to first base.

Tug McGraw and Ed Kranepool Celebrate

The Mets had won their second National League pennant, taking down a powerhouse Reds team in the process, and were headed to the World Series.