40th anniversary: an ugly World Series game

Forty years ago today, one of the ugliest World Series games of all-time took place. It was an exciting game with lots of drama, but the drama and tension were often caused not by players making great plays, but by guys stumbling and bumbling around the field.

In fact, it was so ugly that there are two different ways it’s remembered. For some, this will forever be known as the game in which Willie Mays looked old. For others, it’s the Mike Andrews Game. For everyone, though, it was an error-laden contest. There were six official fielding errors, plus many other bad-looking plays.

Oct. 14, 1973 was Game Two of the 1973 World Series, pitting the defending champion “Mustache Gang” Oakland A’s against the upstart Mets. The Mets had barely finished over .500 with a 82-79 record, but that was just enough to win the division, and then they’d stunningly won the NLCS.

The A’s entered the night having won the first game, and liked their odds with 20-game winner (and 1971 AL MVP) Vida Blue taking the mound against Mets hurler Jerry Koosman.

Early on, things went well for the A’s. They took an early 3-2 lead, and loaded the bases with just one out in the third, threatening to blow the game open. The Mets yanked Koosman (who had just committed a fielding error, loading the bases), trusting in the bullpen to solve the problem.

The Mets got some unexpected help from some poor base running by Oakland. Lead runner Gene Tenace strayed too far from third, and Mets catcher Jerry Grote whipped the ball to third baseman Wayne Garrett to pick him off.

Tenace couldn’t get back in time, and thus made a desperate and futile effort to steal home, easily getting gunned down. Reliever Ray Sadecki then struck out a batter to end the inning and ruin the A’s threat. As the night went on, the A’s would kick themselves for missing a chance to score there.

The game stayed 3-2 until the sixth, when the game got interesting—and ugly. Blue let two of the first three batters reach on him, so manager Dick Williams pulled him for reliever Horacio Pina. It turned out to be a bad move, as Pina plunked the first batter he faced, loading the bases. The next two batters hit RBI singles, giving the Mets a 4-3 lead, and that was all for Pina.

Time for Pina’s bullpen mate Darold Knowles to have a rough go of it. With the bases still loaded, Knowles coaxed Mets pinch hitter Jim Beauchamp to tab a grounder back to the mound. Knowles had a clean play and threw home to nail the lead runner—but somehow, some way, lost his balance as he threw it. The ball skittered wildly away, and before anyone could corral it, the Mets had two more runs—and a 6-3 lead.

The rest of the inning went without incident, but it was already quite an ugly game—and none of the ugliness people remember it for had happened yet.

The game’s first moment of unwanted fame came in the bottom of the ninth. By now, the Mets led 6-4. They needed just three more outs. Leading off, pinch hitter Deron Johnson lifted a fly to center field. In the outfield, the legendary Willie Mays went out to get it.

Mays had just entered the game. Injured and unable to play late in the season, at 42 Mays had already announced that this was his last season. Still, he was still a savvy and speedy enough ball player for the Mets to insert him as a pinch runner, as they had in the top of the ninth for the much younger Rusty Staub.

Now on defense, Mays was not only one of the most famous players in history, not only one of the greatest defensive outfielders in history. He also had made maybe the most famous defensive play in World Series history when he ran down a Vic Wertz liner in the 1954 Fall Classic and immediately threw it back to the infield for a double play. That was the moment people most associate with the Say Hey Kid.

And now came a moment that made people realize just how long ago 1954 was. The once-stellar Mays looked all his age as he tried to track the fly in the daytime sun. (Yes, they still had World Series games in daytime back then). Try as he could, Mays lost it in the sun and then the impossible happened. The supremely coordinated, ever-graceful Mays tripped and fell down as he ran after the ball. Johnson had a single to lead off the inning.

The Mets retired the next two batters—so the game might’ve been over if Mays had gotten to that fly cleanly—and then (of course) the A’s sparked a rally to tie it. Three straight batters reached, and two scored. It was all tied up, 6-6 and headed into overtime.

And much ugliness still waited.

There was some controversy in the top of the 10th. Mets infielder Bud Harrelson reached on an error (the third A’s error of the game, and counting), and tried to score the go-ahead run on a fly ball to Joe Rudi in left. The throw beat Harrelson, but he appeared to have eluded the tag by catcher Ray Fosse. Umpire Augie Donatelli called him out anyway, ending the inning. A heated exchange ensued, but it was par for the course in this game. Some bad base running, bad fielding – why not some controversial umpiring as well?

The game soldiered into the 12th, where things really fell apart. Against relief ace Rollie Fingers, the Mets rallied for a go-ahead run on a double and three singles (including a bunt single by pitcher Tug McGraw).

The A’s needed just one more out to get out of the frame down by just one, when the ugliest moments of an ugly game happened. Mets batter John Milner rapped a routine grounder to A’s 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 runs scored.

Then, trying to score from second base, Willie Mays looked old again—he tripped and fell while making his way home. It was ultimately unimportant as he managed to score anyway. But it just reinforced the image from the ninth that Mays had hung on too long.

And the inning’s ugliness wasn’t over. Right after Milner’s grounder, teammate Jerry Grote hit another one right at Mike Andrews. This time Andrews picked it up cleanly—only to throw it away. Another run came around to score for a 10-6 lead.

That ended the half-inning, but the stench followed into the bottom of the 12th. Leading off the bottom of the ninth, Reggie Jackson hit one to Mays, who lost another one in the sun, and Jackson ended up on third with what the scorer ruled a triple. Moments later, Jackson came home on a single.

That ended the scoring, as the Mets won 10-7 in 12 weird innings. The game had seen six errors—five by Oakland—a player picked off third (officially, he was out trying to steal home), a controversial call at the plate by the umpire, and three hit batsmen. Oh, and that doesn’t include the three times Willie Mays embarrassed himself on the field.

Eventually, the Mets’ win didn’t mean much. The game would forever by linked with Mays as a cautionary example of an athlete staying around too long.

The game also had a nasty epilogue for Mike Andrews. Team owner Charles Finley was so infuriated with Andrews that he forced him to sign a bogus medical report that forced him off the postseason roster. The whole thing blew up in Finley’s face, though. The media and commissioner found out, Andrews denounced the report, he was put back on the roster, and manager Dick Williams violated a direct order by Finley and used him again in the Series. However, Finley’s reputation as an ogre owner was cemented. In fact, shortly afterward, Williams told the team that regardless of what happened in the Series, he was done with the A’s—he wouldn’t come back next year. He didn’t, even though the A’s wound up winning this World Series in seven games

So it was a mighty ugly game that happened—and it happened 40 years ago today.

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Comments

  1. Rob McMillin said...

    Kinda makes me wish we had highlights available. Will poke around on YouTube and see if I can’t find some.

  2. Andrew said...

    Mays was not only one of the most famous players in history, not only one of the greatest defensive outfielders in history. He also had made maybe the most famous defensive play in World Series history when he ran down a Vic Wertz liner in the 1954 Fall Classic and immediately threw it back to the infield for a double play.

    Actually, Retrosheet confirms that Willie didn’t double up a baserunner with that throw, Herculean as it was.

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