Jon Matlack’s impact on the 1973 New York Mets cannot be overstated. Throughout the grinding 6-month campaign, when they needed a big win, he would come through, especially in their penning-winning stretch drive. Following his Rookie of the Year season of 1972, 1973 saw his ERA “balloon” from 2.32 to 3.20, with a 14-16 record in 242 innings pitched. Jon struck out 205 batters and threw 14 complete games, 3 of which were shutouts.
Born on January 19, 1950, in West Chester, PA, the Mets drafted Jonathan Trumpbour Matlack as the 4th pick in the 1967 amateur draft. He made his Major League Debut at age 21 on July 11, 1971. Matlack went 7 innings against the Reds, giving up 2 runs on 6 hits and no walks, recording only his 1st strikeout and none thereafter, as well as the 1st Big League home run he ever gave up (after the Mets scored 2 in the top of the 8th to take a 3-2 lead, Tug McGraw got a 1/3 of an inning Hold, before Tom Seaver ironically blew the game and took the loss in 2/3 of an 8th inning pitched in the 5-3 loss.) Jon got his 1st Major League win in the 1st game of a doubleheader on April 23, 1972. Matlack pitched the last 4 innings, relieving Gary Gentry before the Mets pulled away for the 8-2 win.
Jon’s award-winning rookie year must have been a welcome ray of light in wake of Gil Hodge’s sudden death in the spring of ’72. Though they struggled to get above 3rd all year, Jon Matlack went 15-10 with a 2.32 ERA, 169 strikeouts in 244 innings pitched. He threw 8 complete games, 4 of which were shutouts. Matlack completely dominated, leading the voters to award him 19 1st-place votes (Mets outifelder John Milner received 1 for a 3rd place Rookie of the Year finish.)
Though Jon clearly took many hard-luck losses with 16 to his 1973 name, in a race as tight as the NL East was in 1973, those 14 wins counted big-time. Even in April, Jon pitched the Mets to a 4-2 win over the Braves, sending them into an early-season tie for 1st place. When the Mets were starting to slide at 8.5 games behind on June 9th, there was Matlack for another 4-2 victory, this time over the Dodgers. On a 4-game losing streak to start July? Matlack’s got you for a 7-3 victory over Montreal.
Then there’s the 1-0 win over the Dodgers on August 8, the 12-1 win over Cincy on August 18, the 8-6 win over SD on August 28, the 1-0 win over Montreal on September 7, the 3-2 win over Philly September 12, and the 2-0 win over STL to go up by 1 on September 22.
Yeah, Matlack certainly did his part to get the Mets into October.
And there, he won the 2nd game of the NLCS 5-0 over Cincy, shutting them down over 9 innings pitched. He took the hard-luck loss 2-1 in game 2 of the World Series, but got the win in a series-tying game 4. And of course, Matlack took the loss in the deciding game 7, a start that has always been mired in Monday Morning Quarterbacking, with Yogi Berra starting Tom Seaver in game 6 over a well-rested George Stone.
Jon’s production quality in his remaining Met years went from outstanding to consistent and everything inbetween. He unfortunately was a victim of the wagon steeply falling off the cliff, being traded to the Texas Rangers on December 8, 1977. He had a relatively productive career down there, recording a 3.41 ERA in 158 games pitched with a 43-45 record. Injuries unfortunately got the best of Matlack and he retired in 1983 at only 33 years of age.
Ask anybody who was around when the 1973 New York Mets did their thing, and Jon Matlack still brings huge smiles to their faces. Thank you, Jon Matlack, for you New York Mets legacy.
Let’s. Go. Mets.
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