The Cincinnati Reds and the New York Mets arrived at Shea Stadium to play the third game of the 1973 National League Championship Series. The teams had split the games in Cincinnati and a crowd of 53,967 showed up for the first playoff game at Shea Stadium since the Mets championship season of 1969. The crowd in the stands was filled with excitement.1
After Jon Matlack had shut down the Big Red Machine in the second game of the NLCS by hurling a 5-0 shutout, tensions were created between the two teams when Bud Harrelson spoke to the press after that game. Harrelson, a .236 career hitter with no power, said that Matlack “made the Big Red Machine look like me hitting today.”2
During batting practice before the third game, Reds second baseman Joe Morgan confronted Harrelson near the batting cage. Morgan shared his displeasure with Harrelson’s comments and Rusty Staub, who was standing nearby, had to step between the two players and defuse the situation.3 Although Morgan and Harrelson made their peace, not everyone was ready to let bygones be bygones.
Meanwhile, the Mets jumped on the Reds starter, Ross Grimsley. In the first, Staub hit a solo home run and the Mets were up 1-0.
Grimsley fared no better in the second inning. He walked leadoff batter Jerry Grote and gave up a single to Don Hahn. Harrelson lined out to center field, then Koosman hit a single that loaded the bases. Wayne Garrett’s sacrifice fly scored Grote. Felix Millan’s single to right scored Hahn.
Reds manager Sparky Anderson had seen enough. He replaced Grimsley with Tom Hall. The first batter Hall faced was Staub. With runners on first and second, Staub hit his second home run of the game. The Mets now had a 6-0 lead.
The Reds struck back in the top of the third when leadoff batter Denis Menke hit a home run. After an out Koosman gave up consecutive singles to pinch-hitter Larry Stahl, Pete Rose, and Morgan. Stahl scored on Morgan’s hit and the Reds trailed by four runs.
But the Mets were not done scoring. Dave Tomlin was now on the mound for the Reds to start the third inning. After Grote led off with a single, he moved to second when Hahn’s groundball left the shortstop with only the opportunity to get out the batter at first. After Harrelson flied out to center field, Koosman hit a single that scored Grote. The run gave the Mets a 7-2 lead.
The situation did not improve for the Reds in the fourth inning as the Mets added three more runs. Millan walked to lead off. Cleon Jones doubled to right field and Millan scored. Jones advanced on right fielder Andy Kosco’s throwing error to third. A single by John Milner scored Jones. The score was now 9-2 and things looked bleak for the Reds as Anderson replaced Tomlin with Roger Nelson.
The fans at Shea were going wild. The Mets were on the verge of being one game away from playing in World Series. This wasn’t sitting well with the Reds, who were getting very frustrated, especially Rose. When he popped out in his first at-bat, he yelled at Koosman to “throw the ball, you big, dumb donkey” as he walked back to the dugout.4
In the top of the fifth Rose singled off Koosman with one out. Morgan grounded to first baseman John Milner, who threw to Harrelson trying to get a double play. Sliding hard to try to break up the double play, Rose barreled into Harrelson and knocked him down. Harrelson completed the twin killing anyway, and then he and Rose began brawling. Both benches cleared and it took 10 minutes to separate Rose and Harrelson. Despite the fracas there were no ejections.5
Rose had been angered by Harrelson’s comments after the previous game and his anger had been simmering all afternoon. As he slid hard into second base with his elbows high, one of the elbows struck Harrelson. The diminutive shortstop took exception and came up swinging. “He came after me after I threw the ball. I just wanted to tell him, I’m not a punching bag.I didn’t like what he did and he didn’t like what I did,” said Harrelson.6
Rose had a different version. He said he had slid into second the way he always did. “I’m no damn little girl out there,” he said after the game. “I’m supposed to give the fans their money’s worth and try to bust up double plays – and shortstops.”7
One of the strangest parts of the incident came as the teams returned to their dugouts after the brawl. Pedro Borbon had hit Buzz Capra and knocked off his cap. When Borbon started to return to the dugout, he picked up Capra’s Mets cap, thinking that it was his. When he realized his mistake, he pulled it off his head. He was so angry that he began to rip the cap to pieces with his teeth. Capra saw all of this, observing, “He rips it into about three pieces. … He ripped apart two of them with his mouth and threw it down.”8
When Rose took his position in left field in the bottom of the fifth, Mets fans honored him with a shower of food and beer bottles. Rose braved those conditions but he left for the Reds dugout when a whiskey bottle sailed past his head. Anderson now pulled the rest of the Reds players off the field.9
With the possibility of a forfeit looming because of the unruly fans, National League President Chub Feeney conferred with the umpires. They decided that some of the Mets players should go out to outfield and talk to the fans. Berra, Willie Mays, Tom Seaver, Jones, and Staub went out there. Berra told the fans, “Let them beat us. We’re ahead, 9-2.”10 When the crowd understood that the game might be lost because of their actions, they calmed down and the game continued.
As Harrelson entered the batter’s box in the bottom of the seventh, Johnny Bench asked him about what happened. Harrelson told him about the elbows that Rose threw at him. He told Bench that he wanted to forget what happened because he wanted to stay in the lineup for the rest of the series. Rose, however, was not so forgiving. He told reporters in the locker room after the game that he “might even slide harder tomorrow, if it’s possible.”11
Koosman kept the Reds in check for the final four innings, and earned his third postseason win. He allowed two earned runs on eight hits, walked none and struck out nine. The Big Red Machine managed two more hits after the fracas, a single in the seventh inning and a double in the eighth. But they failed to capitalize on either hit.
The win gave the Mets a 2-1 lead in the Championship Series. They were now just one win away from their second trip to the World Series.
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.
Photo credit: MLB.com.
1 “Remembering Mets History: 1973 NLCS: Game #3 – The Bud Harrelson Pete Rose Fight,” Centerfieldmaz.com, October 7, 2016.
2 “The Rose-Bud Incident, October 8, 1973,” YouStinkBaseball.wordpress.com, May 24, 2012.
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 8, 2013.
4 “Remembering Mets History.”
5 Jeff Merron, “Put Up Your Dukes,” ESPN.com, April 23, 2003.
6 “The Rose-Bud Incident.”
7 “It Happened in October: 31 of MLB’s Most Memorable Moments,” ESPN.com, October 8, 2015.
8 Matthew Silverman, Swinging ’73: Baseball’s Wildest Season (Guilford, Connecticut: Lyons Press, 2013), 147-148.
10 “The Rose-Bud Incident.”