The Oakland Athletics, 94-68 on the year, came into the 1973 World Series having just defeated the AL East Champion Baltimore Orioles three games to two in a series that saw the victorious Oakland team with only a dreary .200 batting average against the Orioles. The NL Champion New York Mets finished just over .500, at 82-79, and then they’d strikingly won the NLCS over the Reds.
The World Series against the Mets would not be without controversy that saw A’s owner Charles Finley not only irritating MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn a few times, but his own manager, Dick Williams, who would go on to announce that he was quitting at the end of the season. There was also a near boycott of the series by the A’s team right before Game 3. This series also saw: a healthy Reggie Jackson, who had to sit out the 1972 series with an injury, go on to earn his nickname of “Mr. October”; a pitcher appear in all seven games for the first time ever; and a Bay Area legend play his last big league game.
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In Game 1 (the first World Series Game I saw when I was 14), the A’s started a 21-13 Ken Holtzman against John Matlock, who actually had a losing record of 14-16. Fans also saw a 42-year-old Willie Mays batting third, playing center field, in what turned out to be his last major league start.
Controversy first started in the game when Finley had a second-inning announcement made that the Athletics’ backup second baseman, Manny Trillo, was not being allowed to play by the Mets. The A’s had acquired Trillo after the Aug. 31 roster cutoff date, but due to an injury to Billy North, the Orioles allowed him to be on the roster. Mets manager Yogi Berra refuted the A’s request to have him on the World Series roster, and Finley showed his displeasure by an announcement made to the hometown crowd – a move that infuriated Kuhn. Later that game, Kuhn was also displeased that Finley had the stadium lights turned on in the bottom of the seventh inning even though they weren’t on for the top of the inning.
In the game, Holtzman contributed to his own victory when he doubled in the third inning and scored on a Bert Campaneris single. Campy later scored that inning, after he stole second base and Joe Rudi singled to right, sending Campy home with the second run of the inning. The Mets got a run in the top of the following inning, but neither team could mount another threat, and reliever Darold Knowles finished the game for a 2-1 A’s victory.
What Game 2 lacked in excitement was made up for not by great plays, but by the players making errors – as well as bad fielding, poor baserunning, and questionable umpiring. Things were going good for the A’s, who took an early 3-2 lead and, with the bases juiced and only one out in the third courtesy of a Jerry Koosman error, the Mets got some help from Gene Tenace – who strayed off third base and could not get back in time when catcher Jerry Grote threw behind him. Tenace raced home and was easily thrown out. Dick Green followed by striking out, but the A’s couldn’t take advantage of the gift – something that would bite them later.
The Mets later took a 6-3 lead in the sixth courtesy of two RBI singles and a Knowles error in a throw to home, leading to the scoring fury. By the ninth the Mets led 6-4 but followed with some errors of their own when Mays lost a ball in the sun and the next three straight batters reached base, with two scoring. It was all tied up at 6-6, heading into extra innings – with even more controversy to come.
In the top of the tenth inning, Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson reached on the A’s third error of the game, and tried to score the go-ahead run on a fly ball to Rudi in left field. The throw appeared to beat Harrelson, but he seemed to have avoided the tag by catcher Ray Fosse. Umpire Augie Donatelli called Harrelson out, leading to an on-deck Mays pleading with Donatelli and an ensuing heated argument by Berra. To this day Fosse claims he made the tag, though replays may show a different story.
In the twelfth, Rollie Fingers gave up a double and three singles leading to a one-run Mets lead. With two outs, John Milner hit a routine ground ball to second baseman Mike Andrews. It looked like an easy out to end the inning, but the ball went through Andrews’ legs for an error and two more Mets runs, making it 9-6. The next batter, Grote, bounced another grounder to Andrews who picked it up cleanly only to throw it away, pulling first baseman Tenace off first. Another run came around to score for a 10-6 Mets lead.
Leading off the bottom of the inning, Reggie Jackson hit a high fly to Mays, who lost another one in the sun, and Jackson ended up on third with what the scorer ruled a triple. Jackson came home on a single but that was all the A’s could muster in a game that saw six errors.
After the game, Finley was so infuriated with Andrews that he forced him to sign a bogus medical report of an injured shoulder that placed him on the disabled list. The media later reported the roster move as a sham, further infuriating Kuhn, and A’s players threatened to boycott the series after they found out Andrews had not made the trip to New York. Kuhn ordered Finley to reinstate Andrews – much to the delight of his teammates.
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Game 3 saw an outstanding Tom Seaver performance where he struck out 12 A’s batters in eight innings. The game was tied 2-2 until the eleventh when Campaneris drove in a go-ahead RBI with a single to score Ted Kubiak . Rollie Fingers got the save with three quick outs and the A’s regained the series lead. Also in Game 3, Mays made his final big league appearance in the tenth inning as a pinch hitter – grounding into a fielder’s choice.
Mets right fielder Rusty Staub was the highlight of Game 4, going four-for-four with a first inning 3-run homer off Holtzman and, in the fourth inning, a 2-RBI single off John Odom – giving Staub five total RBIs. Matlack only gave up three hits in eight innings this time, which resulted in a 6-1 Mets win and left the Series tied. The game also saw the return of the ousted Andrews. Williams, who was under orders from Finley not to use Andrews, had him pinch hit in the eighth inning to the applause of Mets fans. The subsequent ground out would be Andrews’ last Major League at-bat.
Game 5 was won again by the Mets in a 2-0 shutout tossed by Jerry Koosman, who only gave up three A’s hits. The A’s were one game from elimination, but were headed back to Oakland.
Game 6 was a classic matchup between team aces Jim ‘Catfish’ Hunter and the Mets’ Tom Seaver (and I was there again). Reggie Jackson, who was 5-for-21 in the series at that point, with his only extra base hit a Game 2 2-RBI double, came out swinging and doubled in Rudi for a 1-0 A’s lead in the first inning. In the third, Jackson again doubled, driving home Sal Bando to make it 2-0. In the eighth, Jackson added an insurance run when he singled, advanced to third on an error, and scored on Jesus Alou‘s sacrifice fly to make it a 3-1 A’s win with Rollie Fingers getting the save.
In the deciding Game 7, it was all A’s. The defending champs came out swinging, with both Campeneris and Jackson delivering 2-run HRs each in the third inning. A Rudi RBI single in the fifth made it 5-0. With the A’s leading 5-2 in the ninth, Rollie Fingers got the first two outs of the inning, and a ground ball to first base appeared to be the clincher. Instead, Tenace booted the ball and Darold Knowles was sent in for his seventh appearance, setting a World Series record for pitchers. Campy snagged a Wayne Garrett pop fly to end the game and the A’s won their second championship and were celebrating on the field.
After the game, Williams shared privately with the A’s players that he was leaving the team, frustrated with his dealings with Finley. Reggie was named Series MVP and would be honored later in the year with the 1973 MVP award.