The Oakland A’s were the defending champions and looking to repeat. The New York Mets had a recent title themselves, from 1969, but had also been in last place as recently as August. These two teams, taking different routes to get here, played an exciting Fall Classic. The A’s ultimately prevailed in seven games.
You can read more about each team’s season-long pursuit of its division title, their key players, and their League Championship Series triumphs, at the links below. This article will focus on the games of the 1973 World Series.
The Series opened in Oakland on a Saturday afternoon. The A’s sent Ken Holtzman to the mound to face the Mets’ Jon Matlack. Both teams had gotten here with pitching and Game 1 put that on display.
With two outs in the bottom of the third, Holtzman was at the plate (the designated hitter, just introduced in the American League this season, was not used in World Series play until 1976). He doubled to left. A subsequent error allowed him to score. Bert Campaneris, the A’s leadoff hitter who was the beneficiary of the error, stole second and scored on a base hit by Joe Rudi. With a pair of unearned runs, Oakland had the lead.
Those two runs are all the A’s would get off Matlack, but they were all they would need. New York got one back in the top of the fourth when Cleon Jones doubled and scored on a single from John Milner. But there were otherwise no serious threats. Holtzman went the first five innings. The great Rollie Fingers came out of the bullpen and went 3 1/3, leaving after a one-out walk in the ninth. Darnold Knowles came on and closed out the 2-1 win.
Sunday afternoon’s Game 2 would have some more offensive spice, and it would end with plenty of drama, both on and off the field. Oakland quickly got after New York starter Jerry Koosman in the bottom of the first.
With one out, Rudi doubled and Sal Bando tripled. Koosman struck out Reggie Jackson and appeared poised to limit the damage. But Jesus Alou doubled to left. Oakland starter Vida Blue had been staked to a 2-zip lead.
Cleon Jones quickly got one of those runs back with a home run to lead off the second. The A’s responded in their own half of the second. Campaneris tripled with one out and scored on another key hit from Rudi. The Mets came right back with the long ball—Wayne Garrett hit a solo blast in the third to cut the lead to 3-2.
The back and forth by the lineups continued in the Oakland third. A walk, single, and error loaded the bases with one out. Koosman was lifted for Ray Sadecki, who benefitted from overly aggressive A’s baserunning. Gene Tenace tried to steal home and was out. Dick Green struck out.
The game stayed 3-2 and settled down a bit until the top of the sixth. Cleon Jones was again the instigator for the Mets, this time with his patience—he drew a one-out walk. That was followed by John Milner’s single, putting runners on the corners. Blue was pulled and Horacio Pena came out the Oakland bullpen.
Pena promptly plunked Jerry Grote to load the bases. Don Hahn legged out an infield hit to tie the game, and Bud Harrelson singled to right to put the Mets up 4-3. The bases were still loaded and Knowles was brought on in relief.
Knowles got Jim Beauchamp to tap one back to the mound. It was tailor-made for at least a force at home, and perhaps an inning-ending double-play. It ended with a Knowles error on the throw home. Two runs scored. It was 6-3, there were runners on second and third and still one out. Knowles came up with a strikeout of Garrett and got Rusty Staub to fly to center. It was a disastrous inning, but it could have been worse. And leaving those runners out there would be significant.
Tug McGraw was on for the Mets in the bottom of the seventh. With one out, he hit Campaneris with a pitch and walked Rudi, setting up the middle of the order. Bando struck out, but Reggie doubled to right to score a run and put runners on second and third. Tenace struck out to end the inning.
The 6-4 score held to the bottom of the ninth, with McGraw still on the hill. Deron Johnson tagged him for a double. McGraw got Campaneris and Rudi and was an out away from putting this one to bed. Bando worked a walk. Reggie delivered another big hit, an RBI single that made it 6-5 and left runners on first and third. Tenace got another big two-out RBI chance and he made the most of this one—a single tied it up 6-6 and forced extra innings.
Rollie was on for Oakland and the Mets threatened in the top of the 10th. Harrelson singled and was bunted up to second. A Tenace error created a first-and-third situation with one out. Milner lifted a flyball to left. Harrelson tried to tag. Rudi threw him out at the plate. The game was still tied 6-6 and stayed that way until the 12th.
Fingers and McGraw were both still pitching. Harrelson went the other way for a double into the right-centerfield gap. McGraw was up and he bunted. He also beat it out. The Mets were in serious business—at least until Rollie struck out Garrett and got Felix Millan to pop out.
The legendary Willie Mays came to the plate. One of the great players of all-time, Mays was in his final year and a shadow of what he used to be. He still had a moment right here—a two-out RBI single in extra innings of a World Series game. The Mets led 7-6 and there were runners on first and second.
After Cleon Jones singled, came two plays that would overshadow Mays’ clutch delivery. Oakland second baseman Mike Andrews made two consecutive errors. Collectively, they scored three runs and gave New York insurance they would need. The A’s did get a run back in their own half of the 12th, and put two men aboard. But George Stone, normally a starter, came out of the Met bullpen to secure the 10-7 win.
The game had been a thriller, but also something less than a clinic. Oakland owner Charles Finley singled out Andrews. He pressured the infielder to sign a medical statement that he was injured, which would have allowed him to be replaced on the roster. The A’s clubhouse was furious, as was manager Dick Williams. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn was none too happy either, refusing Finley’s scam, and publicly rebuking the owner. It was embarrassing to Andrews, embarrassing to baseball and overshadowed what should have been a special moment in the twilight of Mays’ extraordinary career.
On Tuesday night, the on-field drama resumed at Shea Stadium in Queens. The Game 3 pitching matchup was a showdown of greats, Catfish Hunter for the A’s and Tom Seaver for the Mets.
New York, riding a little momentum, got a leadoff home run from Garrett in the bottom of the first. That was immediately followed by base hits from Millan and Staub. A wild pitch scored another run and put Staub on second. There were still none out. But now was when Catfish got settled in—he struck out Cleon Jones, struck out Grote and got Hahn to line to left, keeping it a 2-0 game.
Catfish then began to dominate. The only other New York threat the rest of the way came in the fourth, when Hahn led off with a double, but didn’t come around. Hunter worked six innings, but the bullpen work of Knowles, Paul Lindblad, and Rollie, kept it up. The challenge for Oakland was doing anything against Seaver.
In the sixth, the A’s finally got on the board, when Bando doubled with one out, and Tenace did the same with two outs. In the eighth, trailing 2-1, Campaneris led off with a single, stole second, and scored the tying run on a single to right by Rudi. Bando successfully bunted Rudi into scoring position. But Seaver got Reggie and Tenace to keep the game tied.
Oakland got a gift to start the ninth when Millan made a leadoff error. Pat Borque then beat out his bunt effort. McGraw again came out of the bullpen. And he again did the job. Another bunt put runners on second and third with one out. But a big strike out of Angel Mangual proved the key to forcing another extra-inning game.
The problem was, the Met bats were doing nothing. In the eleventh inning, a walk and a passed ball gave Campaneris an opportunity with two outs. The clutch shortstop delivered with an RBI single.
New York got a lead off single from Garrett in the bottom of the 11th, and he was bunted up, prompting the entry of Fingers. Rollie got Staub to fly to center and Cleon Jones to ground out to short. Oakland had a 3-2 win in Game 3, and a 2-1 lead for the series.
Matlack and Holtzman rematched in Wednesday night’s Game 4. Matlack reprised his Game 1 excellence. Holtzman wasn’t as sharp. In the bottom of the first, Garrett led off with a single to right. Millan beat out a bunt, and Staub homered. The Mets had a quick 3-0 lead. After a walk and a single, Holtzman was yanked for Blue Moon Odom, who got Hahn to ground into a 5-4-3 double-play.
Odom again got a double-play ball to escape a tight spot in the third. Oakland got a run back in the fourth when a one-out error was followed by a base hit from Reggie and an RBI groundout by Tenace. The possibility that the Mets would look back with regret on their early missed chances was real. Until the bottom of that same inning.
Hahn and Harrelson began the New York fourth with singles, prompting the removal of Odom and the entry of Knoles. Garrett was hit by a pitch. Oakland’s defensive issues at second base continued when Dick Green made an error to score a run and keep the bases loaded. Staub singled to right to plate two more. It was 6-1.
Even though another double-play ball cost the Mets some more runs, this wouldn’t matter. Matlack went eight strong, Sadecki closed it by striking out Campaneris with the bases loaded. The 6-1 score had stood up and the World Series was tied at two games apiece.
Blue and Koosman returned the mound for Thursday night’s Game 5 and both were sharp. Cleon Jones continued his strong World Series by leading off the second with a double and then scoring on a base hit by Milner. Blue pitched around trouble in the fourth when Milner couldn’t get a sac bunt down with two on and none out. In the sixth, the Mets picked up a run when Grote singled with two outs, and then Hahn tripled. Blue was removed, but at 2-0, he had done his job.
Koosman was doing his job even better. Not until the fourth, when Bando singled, did Oakland get a hit. Not until the seventh did the A’s mount a serious threat. Tenace led off with a walk and Fosse doubled, to put runners on second and third with one out. McGraw came out of the bullpen.
After Deron Johnson walked to load the bases, McGraw got Mangual to pop out, then struck out Campaneris. The 2-0 lead was preserved, McGraw closed the game without further incident, and the Mets’ improbable run that had started in late August was now one win from a World Series title.
The planes flew back west and Saturday afternoon’s Game 6 would feature Seaver and Catfish. Both teams threatened right away in the first inning. New York put two aboard with one out, but Catfish got Cleon Jones and Milner to fly out. Seaver wasn’t quite as fortunate. With two outs and a man aboard, Reggie Jackson doubled to left center and the A’s had the game’s first run.
Reggie came through again in the bottom of the third. Bando had gotten aboard with a single, and with two outs, Jackson went to right-center with this double and gave Oakland a 2-0 lead.
Seaver and Catfish both took over, and no one threatened again until the top of the eighth. With one out, the Mets got a base hit from Ken Boswell, which prompted the entry of Knowles from the A’s bullpen. But Garrett and Millan singled in succession. The lead was down to 2-1, there were runners on first and third, there was still just one out and the meat of the order was up.
With Oakland’s hopes for a repeat title hanging in the balance, Knowles struck out Staub. Then he got Cleon Jones to fly out. The lead was preserved. Reggie led the way to get an important insurance run in the bottom of the inning—he singled, and went all the way to third on an outfield error, enabling him to score on a sac fly. Rollie pitched the ninth, it ended 3-1 and for the third straight year, the World Series would see a Game 7.
The sports fans of both cities had no conflict of interest on Sunday afternoon—John Madden’s contending Raider football team was conveniently scheduled for Monday Night Football this week. Neither New York team, the Jets or Giants, was contending in 1973. So the World Series was the only game in town.
For the third time in the series, it would be Holtzman and Matlack. Each had a win. In their Game 4 matchup, it was Holtzman who had early problems. This time, Matlack, got roughed up early on.
Holtzman did damage with his bat by doubling to left with one out in the bottom of the third. Campaneris homered. Rudi singled. Reggie homered. Oakland had a commanding 4-0 lead.
In the fifth, Campaneris singled, moved up to second on an outfield error and then scored on an RBI base hit from Rudi. The A’s led 5-0 and had just twelve outs left to get.
The Mets didn’t make any kind of move offensively until the top of the sixth, when Millan and Staub each doubled with one out to make it 5-1. Fingers immediately came out of the A’s bullpen to get Cleon Jones and Milner and keep the Oakland lead comfortable.
Rollie kept on dealing until the ninth, when Milner worked a one-out walk and Hahn singled to right. Harrelson tried to beat out a bunt but was thrown out. The A’s were on the brink. Ed Kranepool hit a groundball to first. This should have been it, but an error by Tenace scored a run and brought the tying run to the plate in the person of Garrett.
Oakland manager Dick Williams decided to go with Knowles to get the last out. Garrett popped up to Campaneris. The 5-2 final—and the 1973 World Series—were in the books.
Reggie was voted World Series MVP. He had gone 9-for-29, drove in six runs, and made his biggest impact early in the must-win Game 6. He was the correct choice. Honorable mention can go to Rudi, who collected nine hits. Oakland also won both Catfish-Seaver showdowns, with Hunter getting the win in Game 6.
It’s easy to see why Dick Williams had no hesitation about going to his bullpen with what was, by the standards of the era, great frequency. Fingers appeared in six games, worked over 13 innings and finished with an 0.66 ERA. Knowles pitched in all seven games and didn’t allow an earned run in his 6 1/3 innings of work.
On the Met side, Cleon Joes went 8-for-28, while Staub went 11-for-26 with six ribbies. McGraw did good work out of the bullpen. His 2.63 ERA, while good, isn’t dazzling for a short series. But he pitched in five games, and his work in a critical Game 2 was exceptional.
New York would take a step back from the spotlight after this season. Not until 1984, with the arrival of Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, and Davey Johnson, did the Mets seriously contend again.
Oakland would go through offseason changes—Williams, frustrated by ownership, resigned. It was the first crack in a great dynasty, but the consequences would not be seen immediately. The A’s came back to win a third straight World Series title in 1974 and returned to the postseason in 1975.