The New York Mets and Cincinnati Reds faced off in Game Two of the best-of-five National League Championship Series on October 7, 1973, at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. The first game had been a heartbreaker for the Mets. Tom Seaver went the distance but lost when Johnny Bench hit a game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The Mets were not ready to throw in the towel. They had an outstanding pitching staff and were ready to rely on those pitchers. Jon Matlack started for New York in the second game. The left-hander had finished the regular season with a 14-16 record, but he was 5-1 over the final six weeks.
The Reds sent Don Gullett, also a lefty, to the mound. Gullett had an 18-8 season record with 153 strikeouts. Like Matlack, he finished the season strong, winning nine straight games down the stretch.
Both pitchers were strong in the early going. Gullett got the Mets out in order through the first three innings. Wayne Garrett struck out to lead off the game; the next five batters hit easy fly balls. The Mets finally got a runner on base when Gullett walked Matlack with two outs in the third inning. The pitcher was stranded on first when Garrett fouled out.
Matlack was equally dominant. After getting the Reds out in order in the first inning, he gave up a one-out single to Andy Kosco in the second. The next batter, Dan Driessen, hit a groundball to first. John Milner threw to Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson, and Kosco was out at second. Driessen was caught off first base by Matlack several pitches later and tagged out in a rundown between first and second for the third out.
In the third inning, the Reds got another runner on base when Matlack walked Darrel Chaney. Although Chaney made it to second base on Gullett’s sacrifice, he was stranded there when Pete Rose hit a groundball to shortstop to end the inning.
In the top of the fourth inning, Rusty Staub launched a one-out solo home run, the first of three home runs he would hit in the Championship Series. The Mets were up 1-0. Gullett walked the next batter, Cleon Jones, but Milner grounded into a double play to end the threat.
Matlack got Cincinnati in order in the fourth. When the Reds came to bat in the bottom of the fifth, Matlack walked Kosco. Matlack struck out Driessen and Cesar Geronimo, but walked Chaney. For just the second time in the game, the Reds had a runner in scoring position. Manager Sparky Anderson decided to take advantage of the situation and sent Phil Gagliano to the plate to pinch-hit for Gullett. Matlack struck out Gagliano, and the Reds’ hopes of scoring were thwarted.
Anderson called on Clay Carroll, one of the Reds’ best relievers, to relieve Gullett. Carroll had finished the season with 14 saves and a 3.69 ERA. He shut down the Mets over the next three innings.
After getting the Mets out in order in the sixth and seventh innings, Carroll walked Don Hahn in the top of the eighth. Matlack bunted Hahn to second. But when Hahn tried to steal third, Bench threw him out on a bullet throw to Driessen.
Matlack gave up his second hit of the game in the seventh, again to Kosco. But Kosco did not advance as Matlack got Driessen to fly out to center field and struck out Geronimo, the pitcher’s sixth strikeout of the game.
Anderson lifted Chaney and Carroll for pinch-hitters in the bottom of the eighth. Both pinch-hitters, Ed Armbrister and Denis Menke, struck out. Rose hit a groundball out to shortstop. The Mets were just three outs away from winning the game.
The Mets blew open the game in the top of the ninth. Anderson sent in Tom Hall to pitch with the hopes of keeping the game close. After getting Garrett on a grounder, he gave up a single to Felix Millan and walked Staub. Jones followed with a single to center field. Cesar Geronimo tried to get Millan at home, but Millan beat the throw. Staub reached third and Jones went to second.
Anderson, who had a reputation for wasting no time in pulling his pitchers, called in Pedro Borbon, who had a solid year with an 11-4 record, 14 saves, and a 2.16 ERA. Milner was intentionally walked to load the bases. Jerry Grote foiled the strategy, hitting a single to center field. Staub and Jones scored, and the Mets were up 4-0. Hahn hit the fourth Mets single of the inning, and bases were loaded again. Harrelson now stepped to the plate and hit yet another single. The Mets led 5-0. With the damage done, Borbon struck out Matlack and got Garrett to ground out for the second time in the inning.
Matlack went out in the ninth looking for a complete-game win. He got Joe Morgan and Tony Perez to fly out before striking out Bench. It was Matlack’s ninth strikeout of the game; he had given up only two hits.
As the Mets celebrated the win, which tied the series at one game apiece, Matlack’s wife joined him on the field.1 It was a fitting end to a spectacular pitching performance. The victory was the first of three brilliant starts by Matlack during the 1973 postseason. He would allow three unearned runs in 23 innings. Bench, commenting after the game on Matlack’s performance, said, “He’s learned to pitch. That fastball lasts for just so long. You’ve got to have other stuff.”2
In the Mets locker room, light-hitting Harrelson joked that the Reds “looked like me at the plate.”3 Harrelson batted .258 that year and would hit just .167 in the NLCS. (He found out later in the series just how much some of the Reds took umbrage at his comments.)
While Matlack’s performance stopped the Big Red Machine, Cincy was still feeling confident about returning to the World Series. Rose said after the game, “The series is 1‐1 now and this is good for baseball. Let’s go to New York and play two out of three now. We’ve got the advantage now because we bat first. Matlack had a great day, but that was today. Tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow starts all even again.”4
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also used the Baseball-Reference.com, Baseball-Almanac.com, and Retrosheet.org websites for box-score, player, team, and season pages, pitching and batting game logs, and other pertinent material.
1 “Remembering Mets History: 1973 NLCS Game #2- Jon Matlack Tosses Two Hit Shut Out Against Big Red Machine,” CenterfieldMaz.com, January 18, 2017.
2 “Reds Think of Changes in Line‐Up,” New York Times, October 8, 1973.
3 Michael Lecolant, “Amazin’ Look Back: October 8, 1973; NLCS Game 3 – Mets Fight Way To 9-2 Victory; Harrelson And Rose at Center of 5th Inning Brawl,” RisingApple.com, October 18, 2103.
4 “Reds Think of Changes in Line‐Up.”