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Queens Chronicle

Our hometown heroes for 50 years — Part IV: 1970-1973

A New York Mets anniversary specia

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Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2012 11:00 am | Updated: 1:26 pm, Thu Jul 19, 2012.

After the miracle of 1969, the Mets stayed strong but were knocked out of playoff contention by untimely slumps in 1970 and ’71, and injuries in 1972. The next year they roared back into the World Series, but lost in seven games to the Oakland A’s.

1970

Record: 83-79, third in National League East.

After battling Pittsburgh and Chicago all year for first place, the Mets lose six of seven to the Pirates in September to finish six games back.

Despite a late-season slump, Tom Seaver goes 18-12 and leads the NL with a 2.81 ERA and 283 strikeouts. On April 22, he fans 19 San Diego Padres, including the last 10 in a row, the latter a major league record that still stands.

Donn Clendenon sets a club record with 97 RBIs in just 396 at bats; Cleon Jones overcomes a slow start to enjoy a 23-game hitting streak; and Tommie Agee is the first Met to win a Gold Glove, while scoring a club record 107 runs and stealing 31 bases. Attendance climbs to 2,697,479.

1971

Record: 83-79, third in National League East.

The Mets once again finish third — with the same record as in the prior season. On June 30, they are 45-36 and just two games back of Pittsburgh in the divisional race, but a skid of 11 losses in 12 games to start July knocks them out of contention.

Seaver is 20-10 and has his best ERA ever, 1.76, and his highest strikeout total ever, 289. Tug McGraw (11-4, eight saves, 1.70 ERA) and Danny Frisella (8-5, 12 saves, 1.98 ERA) give the Mets a formidable bullpen duo.

Bud Harrelson wins the Gold Glove; Cleon Jones finishes strongly, batting .319 while leading the club with 69 RBI’S; Jones, Agee and Ed Kranepool all hit 14 home runs to tie for the club lead.

1972

Record: 83-73, third in National League East.

Before the season begins, the club is touched by the tragic death of Gil Hodges from a heart attack; Yogi Berra takes over as manager. Under Berra, the Mets get off to their best start ever, 25-7, before a rash of injuries strikes. Rusty Staub, acquired from Montreal, misses more than half the season with a broken hand, and is joined on the disabled list by several other players.

Willie Mays is acquired from San Francisco, and he homers against his former team in his first Mets game to give club a 5-4 win. Rookie John Milner leads the club with 17 homers; Jones leads in RBIs with just 52.

Seaver is once again a big winner (21-12, 249 strikeouts, 2.92 ERA) while Jon Matlack (15-10, 2.32 ERA, 4 shutouts) wins Rookie of the Year. McGraw enjoys his finest season, saving 27 games with a 1.70 ERA.

1973: Ya Gotta Believe

Record: 82-79, National League Champions.

After languishing in last place for almost the entire summer, the Mets — inspired by Tug McGraw’s famous rallying cry, “Ya gotta believe!” — win 23 of their last 32 games to take their second divisional title.

Milner leads in homers with 23 while driving in 72 runs, and Staub leads in RBIs with 76. Felix Millan, acquired from Atlanta, bangs out 185 hits while steadying the defense as well.

Seaver (19-10, 2.08 ERA, 251 strikeouts) wins his second Cy Young Award; Koosman (14-15, 2.84 ERA) returns to his 1969 form, while Matlack overcomes a slow start to finish 14-16 with a 3.20 ERA, and is the first Met lefty to strike out 200 batters, fanning 205. George Stone, acquired from Atlanta as part of the Millan deal, goes 12-3 with a 2.80 ERA. After a horrendous start, McGraw finishes strong to save 25 games.

One of the worst moments of the season comes on July 7, 1973, when leftfielder George “the Stork” Theodore crashes into centerfielder Don Hahn, breaking Theodore’s hip and allowing an inside-the-park home run for the Braves’ Ralph Garr. Atlanta wins the game 9-8.

The most memorable game of the year comes on Sept. 20, when the Mets defeat Pittsburgh 4-3 in 13 innings. It’s the game famous for the “ball off the wall play,” in which a ball that appeared to be a home run bounced back into Jones’ glove, who then threw out the Pittsburgh runner at the plate.

In the LCS, the Mets upset the heavily favored Cincinnati Reds 3-2, in a series largely remembered for the fight between Pete Rose and Harrelson. In the World Series, the Mets lose two of the first three games, but then take a 3-2 lead over the heavily favored Oakland Athletics before the A’s, led by Reggie Jackson, rally to win the final two games, spoiling the Mets dream of another world championship. Rusty Staub bats .423 in the series, including a 4-4, 5 RBI performance in Game 4.   

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