Mets History: Tug McGraw’s ninth inning legacy in New York and in baseball

Tug McGraw earned his place not only in New York Mets history but also in baseball lore with some memorable moments on the mound.

Like most relief pitchers of the past, Tug McGraw didn’t plan to come out of the bullpen. He began his career with the New York Mets the way many pitchers did in the 1960s: pitching as a starter and a reliever when needed.

Unfortunately for McGraw, after some fine numbers in 1965, he declined in 1966 and looked even worse in 1967. Was this the end of his trajectory toward professional sports stardom?

After spending all of 1968 in Triple-A, McGraw returned to the Mets in 1969 in a different kind of role. In an era before closers were “a thing,” McGraw helped define the importance of relief pitching.

Just as many good moments in Mets history, it began in 1969. McGraw made only four starts for the team this season but came out of the bullpen 38 times. He mustered up 12 saves while pitching to a 2.24 ERA.

Was it a blip on the radar or a sign of things to come? The season was so impressive, the Mets decided to go forward with McGraw pitching in this same role.

The 1970 season was another fine one for McGraw. He saved another 10 games and finished the year with a 3.28 ERA.

It’s in 1971 when things got really spectacular for McGraw. Across 111 innings, the famed Mets reliever went 11-4 with a 1.70 ERA. He didn’t get many saves—finishing the year with just eight—but did something more important. McGraw finished 34 games for the team which at the time was more important than the save.

Hoping to equal his 1971 performance, McGraw came back in 1972 and posted another 1.70 ERA season. This time, he finished 47 games for the club and earned the save in 27 of them. McGraw was even awarded his first All-Star appearance.

His last two years in Flushing weren’t so remarkable in the regular season. However, McGraw had some shining moments in the 1973 postseason. Notably, he pitched five shutout innings against the Cincinnati Reds in the NLCS.

In the deciding Game 5 of the series, McGraw came into the game to help Tom Seaver out of a jam. The bases were loaded with Reds and there was just one out. At the plate, future Hall of Famer Joe Morgan.

McGraw got Morgan to pop out to shortstop. This brought Dan Driessen to the plate with everything on the line. One wild pitch. One meatball down the plate. One mistake. It could all be over for the Miracle Mets of 1973.

McGraw wasn’t about to have any of that. A groundball to first base which McGraw then caught for the putout at first base ended the series. It put the Mets in the World Series for the second time in team history.

Eventually, McGraw found his way to the Philadelphia Phillies where he marked his territory in their franchise as well. He was famously on the mound for the last out of the 1980 World Series.

Next: Greatest rookie seasons in Mets history

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Long before it was routine for teams to carry one individual to pitch three outs in the ninth inning, there were gritty men like McGraw doing whatever they could to help their team secure those victories. His place in Mets and Major League Baseball history is an important one that paved the way for others.

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