A double-header against the Cincinnati Reds on their home turf gave the New York Mets a reason to call up Jon Matlack to make his first big league start. The year was 1971 and the Mets were hoping to overcome the World Series hangover from the season befdoubleheaderore.
It was July 11, 1971, the last game before the 1971 All-Star Game. This is important because it ended up factoring into the decisions Gil Hodges would make with the bullpen later on.
This Day in Mets History: Jon Matlack’s MLB debut ends in an unexpected way
The first hitter Matlack faced was Pete Rose. The all-time hit king would ground out to start the game with Matlack’s Mets up 1-0 thanks to a first inning double by Dave Marshall. Rose would double in his second at-bat, but ended up stranded at second base.
Matlack’s first outing in the big leagues was hardly dominant. A strikeout against Lee May in the bottom of the sixth was the only strike three call he’d receive all day. Unfortunately, after striking out May for the second out of the inning, Tony Perez singled in the go-ahead run. Matlack would last 7 innings and leave with his team down 2-1.
The top of the 8th began with Ed Kranepool pinch-hitting for the pitcher. The Mets whipped out small ball in this inning. Kranepool walked and Don Hahn came in to pinch run. Bud Harrelson sacrificed him over to second base with a bunt. After a Ted Martinez strikeout, Tommie Agee tied the game with a single. Donn Clendenon then came to the plate and doubled in Agee with two outs. Matlack wasn’t going to take the loss in his debut. He’d get a no-decision.
Tug McGraw was summoned from the bullpen to start the 8th with the Mets up 3-2. A fly out and a hit by pitch was enough to make a pitching change. Who came in after? It was Tom Seaver. Because it was the last game before the All-Star Break, the Mets could afford to let him close this one out. Seaver immediately gave up a single to May and Perez, the guy who had knocked in every run for the Reds on this day, was about to add more. A three-run bomb off of Seaver pushed Cincinnati ahead for good. His second homer of the day delivered an unexpectedly poor ending.
Matlack would make several more starts in 1971 with mixed results. He never did pick up a win, going 0-3.
Because he reached only 37 innings, Matlack remained a candidate for the 1972 Rookie of the Year. It’s an honor he’d go on to win with a 15-10 record and 2.32 ERA.