The Mets’ July swoon continued against the Braves, as Hank Aaron and company swept the series at Shea Stadium 4-2 this afternoon. Phil Niekro went the distance for the win, while the loss falls upon the not-so-able shoulders of George Stone. New York has now lost seven of its last eight games and has gone 2-7 to start the month of Julius Caesar.
The visitors wasted little time getting to Stone as Dusty Baker’s solo home run gave the Braves a 1-0 lead in the second inning. A second Atlanta run came in the fourth when Henry Aaron left the yard for the 22nd time this season and 695th time in his career. New York fought back with a run in the fifth when Stone singled in Wayne Garrett, but the run was soon erased as Hammerin’ Hank lived up to his nickname with a second, two-run home run, his 23rd and 696th. With history fast approaching, Aaron sits 18 home runs behind Babe Ruth’s all-time record of 714. The Braves play 74 more games in 1973, and if the 39-year-old hits at his current pace, we could very well see magical number 715 before the year is up. (For curious Met fans, the last time the team faces Atlanta is in a little more than a week, so Hank would have to hammer two home runs a day for the next ten days for New Yorkers to stand direct witness.)
New York got a rally going in the bottom of the seventh as Garrett and Ken Boswell singled. But Ron Hodges grounded into a killer double play that plated Garrett but ended any chance for the Mets to chase Niekro. The hard-nosed knuckler earned his ninth win of the season with a complete-game, eight-hit, four-strikeout performance. Two of those hits came from Willie Mays, who finally got his average up over .200 with a couple singles from the leadoff slot.
The starting lineups from this afternoon’s game looked like this:
New York Mets
|1||Ralph Garr||RF||1||Willie Mays||CF|
|2||Marty Perez||SS||2||Felix Millan||2B|
|3||Darrell Evans||3B||3||John Milner||1B|
|4||Hank Aaron||LF||4||Rusty Staub||RF|
|5||Dusty Baker||CF||5||Cleon Jones||LF|
|6||Davey Johnson||2B||6||Wayne Garrett||SS|
|7||Dick Dietz||1B||7||Ken Boswell||3B|
|8||Johnny Oates||C||8||Ron Hodges||C|
|9||Phil Niekro||P||9||George Stone||P|
With the loss, the less-than-Amazin’ Mets drop to 34-46 on the season, good for last place in the NL East, reaching a new low in what started out as such a promising season. The team is two games in the cellar under the Pittsburgh Pirates, 12.5 games beneath the still-high-flying Chicago Cubs, and seems destined to spend October at home figuring out how it all went wrong and who will still be around to rejoin the team in 1974. At least we’ll probably get rid of Jim Fregosi…think the Angels will give us Nolan Ryan back?
New York looks to get off the schneid tomorrow as they play host to Leo Durocher’s Houston Astros, who are down but surprisingly not out in the NL West (then again, what would you expect from Leo the Lip?). Tom Seaver will look to serve as the stopper against Don Wilson.