Jerry Grote’s eighth-inning squeeze bunt gave the still-believing Mets a 4-3 series-clinching win over the floundering Cubs. Tug McGraw was on the winning side for New York, while Burt Hooten took the loss for Chicago.
The starting matchup between Hooten and the Mets’ Jerry Koosman threatened to descend into a free-for-all early: RBIs by John Milner and Cleon Jones gave New York a 2-0 lead after the first inning, but Ron Santo’s two-run homer tied it in the top of the second, and Wayne Garrett’s run-scoring double put the Mets right back up in the bottom of the frame. The starters got control soon after, although the Cubs tied it again in the fourth on a Don Kessinger single.
Koosman would last just one more inning, turning the ball over to Harry Parker for the sixth. Parker pitched masterfully in his two and two-thirds inning of relief before turning the ball over to the red-hot Tug McGraw for the last out of the eighth. A walk of Randy Hundley threatened to break the draw, but Chicago manager Whitey Lockman elected not to pinch-hit for his starter Hooton, who McGraw was able to retire with ease on a ground out to second.
Milner drew a leadoff walk to start the bottom of the eighth, chasing Hooton and bringing in Bob Locker from the bullpen. After Jones struck out, Don Hahn hit a single to send Milner to third. That brought up iron-legged Jerry Grote, who against all odds dropped the perfect squeeze bunt for an RBI single, scoring Milner and putting the Mets on top. The single run was more than enough for McGraw, who has an ERA of 1.01 since August 22. He sat the Cubs down 1-2-3 in the ninth, striking out Billy Williams to send the 25,681 Sunday afternoon Shea Stadium goers home happy. It was the Mets’ 11th straight win, and 12th of 13, in games McGraw has pitched. Tug has picked up the W or the save in every one of those wins.
The starting lineups for today’s game looked like this:
New York Mets
|1||Don Kessinger||SS||1||Wayne Garrett||3B|
|2||Rick Monday||CF||2||Felix Millan||2B|
|3||Billy Williams||LF||3||Rusty Staub||RF|
|4||Jose Cardenal||RF||4||John Milner||1B|
|5||Ron Santo||3B||5||Cleon Jones||LF|
|6||Carmen Fanzone||1B||6||Dave Schneck||CF|
|7||Paul Popovich||2B||7||Jerry Grote||C|
|8||Randy Hundley||C||8||Bud Harrelson||SS|
|9||Burt Hooton||P||9||Jerry Koosman||P|
Tug McGraw is far from the only Met proclaiming, “Ya gotta believe!” The team may be 73-76 but is firmly in contention, just two and a half games behind the Pirates for supremacy in the NL East. But with two weeks to go before the end of the season, every game has become do-or-die, and tomorrow the Mets begin an absolutely crucial five-game home-and-home with those same Pittsburgh Pirates. Monday’s and Tuesday’s games will be played in Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium, while Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday the venue will be Shea Stadium. Brace yourselves, folks: the season may well be decided next week.