“This” Date in Mets History, “Belated” Edition: 09/30/1972 – Clemente Notches 3,000th Hit as Matlack and Mets lose to Bucs, 0-5, at Three Rivers


The 1972 New York Mets start off strong after they are shaken by the death of their leader, Gil Hodges, who passes suddenly of a heart attack at the tail-end of spring training. With Yogi Berra at the helm, they are in 1st by 5 games as far into the season as June 3rd. Unfortunately, the 1st half consistency goes by the wayside and they are 15 games behind the Pirates by the end of September, though still with a winning record. They are 78-71 going into the game 2 match-up in the Steel City.

All eyes in this series are on Roberto Clemente, who stood at 2,999 hits going into the 1st game of the series. Yesterday, Clemente and 24,193 loving patrons thought they had the 3,000th on a comebacker that avoided Tom Seaver‘s glove but was bobbled by 2nd baseman Ken Boswell. He threw to 1st baseman Ed Kranepool late, and with the official scorer taking his time sharing his decision with the crowd, Kranepool handed the ball to Clemente as the stands cheered. “E-4” flashed across the scoreboard, though, and Three Rivers booed loudly. That was the closest he would come as Seaver kept the Pirates at bay. The Mets scored 1 in the 9th as The Franchise gained his 20th win of the season with a 1-0 complete game 2-hitter.

On the mound for the Pirates today is Dock Ellis, the 27-year-old, 6’3″ right-hander from Gardena, CA, who pitched a no-no two years ago against the Padres. He will face 3rd baseman Wayne Garrett, 2nd baseman Boswell and left fielder John Milner to start the game. While he walks Milner after getting both Garrett and Boswell to ground out, right fielder Rusty Staub grounds to 1st, though, to end the inning.

On the hill for the Metsies is Jon Matlack, the 22-year-old, 6’3″ rookie southpaw from West Chester, PA. He is having a fantastic first year, going into the game with a 14-9 record and a 2.31 ERA. The 1st batter he faces, 2nd baseman Chuck Goggin, singles to right field. He is immediately erased, however, when center fielder Rennie Stennett grounds into a 4-6-3 double play. That brings up the man of the hour, right fielder Roberto Clemente, to a thunderous standing ovation from the 13,117 fans. Matlack gets ahead of him, though, and strikes the Future Hall of Famer out on his famed curveball.

Things stay quiet for both teams until the bottom of the 4th, when Clemente leads off to yet another thunderous applause. He takes a strike from the Mets’ southpaw, then gets the same curveball that sang his doom in the 1st inning. This time, however, Roberto adjusts and smacks the baseball, using a heavier bat picked out by his teammate, 1st baseman Willie Stargell, to the left-center field gap. The crowd goes crazy as it rolls all the way to the wall. Clemente slides into 2nd and the ball is brought back into the infield.

” ‘I’d rather have it this way,’ Clemente said afterward, somewhat repentant for his outburst of the previous night…There was no doubt about the hit that put the great Puerto Rican star in a class with people such as Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Tris Speaker, Honus Wagner, Henry Aaron, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Willie Mays, Paul Waner and Cap Anson…the Pirates star stood on second base and raised his cap in a gesture of appreciation.”

–October 1, 1972, New York Times

In the middle of the 5th, Willie Mays, who was traded to New York earlier in the year, heads over to the Pirates’ dugout to congratulate his fellow 3,000-hit member (Mays and Aaron are the only other players with over 3,000 hits still playing.) TV cameras and photographers take full advantage of the opportunity.

Unfortunately, though, for Matlack and the Mets in the 4th, the milestone hit opens the scoring up for the Pirates. Clemente heads over to 3rd on a passed ball by catcher Duffy Dyer with Pops at the plate. Though Stargell flies out too shallow in center for Roberto to score, left fielder Richie Zisk walks. Catcher Manny Sanguillen then singles, scoring Clemente for the 1st run of the game. 3rd baseman Jose Pagan strikes out, but shortstop Jackie Hernandez triples, scoring both runners to make the Mets deficit 0-3. Dock Ellis grounds out, but the damage has been done.

Though the Pirates score 2 unearned runs in the bottom of the 6th to cap the scoring at 5, the first 3 is all they would have needed as the Mets’ offense is shut down the whole way. “No-no” Dock doesn’t give up a hit till the top of the 6th and the Bucs only give up 2 hits the entire game, beating the Mets, 5-0.

“Immediately after meeting with Mays, Clemente left the game. He told reporters he would not play in the Pirates’ final three games, but instead would rest all week to be ready for the playoffs with Cincinnati starting here next Saturday.

‘I play better when I am rested,’ he said.”


Unfortunately, for the baseball world and all of humanity, that playoff series, which the Pirates would lose in 5 games, is the last time the Earth experiences Roberto Clemente play Major League Baseball. On New Years’ Eve, on his way to deliver aid to Nicaragua after they suffer a massive earthquake, Number 21’s plane crashes into the Atlantic Ocean, killing the 38-year-old humanitarian. Baseball and the Hall of Fame waive the 5-year waiting period and immediately induct him in the summer of ’73.

As for the Mets, they finish strong, winning 5 of their last 6 for a 3rd straight 83-73 record. John Matlack finishes the year with a 15-10 record and a 2.32 ERA, winning the National League’s Rookie of the Year award.

Overall, though, the Metropolitans will look for more consistency throughout 1973…

The 1972 New york Mets.

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