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Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday …Tug McGraw

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In light of the Mets clinching the National League East Division with a unlikely run Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday spotlights members of the 1973 New York Mets team that made a unlikely run all the way to the world series.  We start with the man that made Mets fans  believe …Tug McGraw

He is  best remembered for coining the phrase, “Ya Gotta Believe” which became a popular rallying cry for the New York Mets, and for recording the final out, via a strikeout of the Kansas City RoyalsWillie Wilson, in the 1980 World Series, bringing the Philadelphia Phillies their first world championship. He was the last active major league player to have played under manager Casey Stengel.

McGraw emerged as one of the top closers in the National League in the early 1970s, enjoying a career year in 1972. He was 3–3 with a 2.01 ERA and fifteen saves at the All-Star break to earn his first All-Star selection. McGraw pitched two innings, striking out four and giving up only one hit to earn the win in the NL’s 4–3 come from behind victory.For the season, McGraw went 8–6 with a 1.70 ERA, giving up just 71 hits in 106 innings pitched, and setting a Mets record with 27 saves that lasted until 1984.

Whereas 1973 wasn’t as good a year statistically for McGraw, he may have been the most valuable player on the team for the leadership role he assumed for the league champions. The Mets had fallen into last place in the NL East, and had remained there through August 30. McGraw was the winning pitcher for the Mets on August 31 when the Mets emerged from last place with an extra innings victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. The win improved McGraw’s record to 2–6 with a 5.05 ERA.

For the remainder of the season, McGraw went 3–0 with a 0.57 ERA and ten saves. The Mets, meanwhile, went 20–8 from that point forward to pull off the stunning division title. At a July 9 team meeting where Mets Board Chairman M. Donald Grant was trying to encourage the team, McGraw shouted the words, “Ya Gotta Believe” which became a popular rallying cry for the Mets. He said the famous phrase when maybe only he believed the Mets could actually get to the World Series. But soon enough, hearing McGraw say it again and again, seeing him do his magic in the ninth, the Mets themselves came to believe. They pulled into first place on September 21 with a 10–2 victory over thePittsburgh Pirates, and clinched the division crown on the final day of the season. This marked the only time between 1970 and 1980 that the National League East wasn’t won by either the Philadelphia Phillies or the Pirates.

McGraw continued his dominant pitching into the post-season when he pitched five innings over two games in the 1973 National League Championship Series against theCincinnati Reds without giving up a run, and appeared in five of the seven games of the 1973 World Series against the Oakland Athletics. Though he blew the save in game two of the World Series, he pitched three shutout innings in extra innings to earn the win.

On December 3, 1974, the Mets traded McGraw and outfielders Don Hahn and Dave Schneck to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Mac Scarce, outfielder Del Unser and catcherJohn Stearns, whom the Phillies had drafted #2 overall in the 1973 Major League Baseball Draft. McGraw had developed shoulder trouble during the 1974 season, and at the time of the trade, it appeared as if the Mets may have been unloading damaged goods. After the trade, he was diagnosed with a simple cyst and after successful surgery to remove it, recovered completely. McGraw left the Mets as the all-time leader in saves, games pitched, and games finished.

With the Phillies, he continued his role as a reliable relief pitcher, earning his second career All-Star nod in his first season in Philadelphia, though he did not appear in the game. After finishing second to the Pirates in 1975, McGraw’s Phillies won their division crown the next three seasons. They were, however, unable to reach the World Series as they were swept by Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” in the 1976 National League Championship Series, and fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers the following two seasons.

The Phillies were battling back-and-forth for first place with the Montreal Expos in 1980 when the Expos came to Veterans Stadium for a crucial three game set on September 25. The Phillies won two of the three, with McGraw winning the second game, to pull a half game up on Montreal. By the time the Phillies went to Montreal for the final series of the season, the two teams were tied for first place.

The Phillies won the opener, 2–1. McGraw earned the save by striking out five of the six batters he faced. The following day, McGraw entered the game in the ninth inning, with the score tied at four. McGraw pitched three innings, striking out three and only giving up one hit (a tenth inning lead-off single by Jerry White. It was also one of just two balls to leave the infield once McGraw entered the game). After Mike Schmidt‘s eleventh-inning home run put the Phillies up 6–4, McGraw pitched a 1–2–3 eleventh inning, striking outLarry Parrish to end the game, and clinch the National League East for the Phillies for the fourth time since joining the club.

For the season, McGraw went 5–4 with a 1.46 ERA, 75 strikeouts and twenty saves. Phillies starter Steve Carlton won the National League Cy Young Award, and slugging third baseman Mike Schmidt was the unanimous NL MVP. McGraw received consideration in balloting for both awards as well, finishing fifth in Cy Young balloting, and sixteenth for league MVP.

McGraw pitched in all five games of the 1980 National League Championship Series against the Houston Astros. The Phillies won the first game 3–1, with McGraw earning the save.The Astros, however, came back in game two with an extra innings victory to send the series to Houston tied at a game apiece.

McGraw entered game three in the eighth inning with a runner on second, and one out. He managed to get out of the inning, and keep the Astros scoreless until the eleventh inning, when Joe Morgan led the inning off with a triple. Rafael Landestoy entered the game as apinch runner for Morgan, and McGraw intentionally walked the next two batters to create a force at any base. The strategy didn’t work, as the following batter, Denny Walling, hit a sacrifice fly to Greg Luzinski in left field scoring Landestoy.

The final two games of the series also went into extra innings. He earned a save in game four to even the series, however, blew the save in the fifth and deciding game, allowing it to go into extra innings. Dick Ruthven entered the game in the ninth and pitched two perfect innings. Meanwhile, the Phillies came back with a run in the tenth to proceed to the 1980 World Series against the Kansas City Royals.

McGraw appeared in four of the six games of the 1980 World Series, striking out ten batters in 7.2 innings. The Phillies swept the first two games in Philadelphia, with McGraw earning the save in game one. The Royals, however, came back to even the series after two games in Kansas City, with McGraw picking up the loss in game three.

McGraw entered game five in the seventh inning with the Phillies behind 3–2. He pitched three scoreless innings, while his team scored two ninth inning runs off Royals closer Dan Quisenberry to head back to Philadelphia with a 3–2 series lead. McGraw entered game six of the World Series in the eighth inning with no outs, and runners on first and second, and the Phillies up, 4–0. He allowed one inherited base runner to score, but managed to get through the inning relatively unscathed. After giving up a walk and two singles to load the bases in the ninth inning, he struck out Willie Wilson, clinching the Phillies’ first World Series championship.

The next day, at a victory rally at John F. Kennedy Stadium, McGraw summed it all up for the fans after 97 years of futility for the Phillies franchise:

All through baseball history, Philadelphia has had to take a back seat to New York City. Well, New York City can take this world championship and stick it! ‘CAUSE WE’RE NUMBER ONE!

In later years, McGraw expressed remorse toward his comments toward New York. He returned to Shea Stadium on numerous occasions following his retirement, citing his love for the Mets fans.

Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday …spotlights …Tug McGraw

MLB debut
April 18, 1965 for the New York Mets
Last MLB appearance
September 25, 1984 for the Philadelphia Phillies
MLB statistics
Games pitched 824
Win–loss record 96–92
Earned run average 3.14
Strikeouts 1,109
Saves 180
Teams
Career highlights and awards
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