The incredible New York Mets, baseball’s ragtag clowns for seven long years, made it all the way to the top by winning the National League pennant with a third straight playoff victory 5-4 over the stunned Atlanta Braves. Cleon Jones, who spent the later part of this season in the dog house of manager Gil Hodges, delivered the winning blow with a single that found the hole between third and short to score Rod Gaspar from third base. As Gaspar touched home, the players rushed off the field to avoid the throng of fans who stormed Shea Stadium in celebration.
The Mets took the lead in the second inning when Jerry Grote cued a two-run triple down the first base line. Bud Harrelson followed with a single up the middle to score Grote for a 3-0 lead. But with their backs to the wall, the Braves did not back down. In the fifth with runners at second and third, Felix Millan singled to right scoring Clete Boyer from third, and when Jerry Grote dropped the throw home, Bob Didier scored the second Atlanta run. Atlanta tied the score at 3-3 when Hank Aaron scored from third base beating out Ed Charles’ throw home on a grounder by Boyer. In the eighth, the Braves took their first lead of the series on Bob Aspromonte pinch-hit infield single with the bases loaded. Rico Carty score the go-ahead run, but the Mets had a quick response.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Mets tied the score at 4-4 with a little help from the visitors. Braves rookie reliever Larry Maxie hit Jones to lead of the frame. After Maxie retired the next two batters, the gift baserunner did not appear to be an issue. Donn Clendenon was sent to pinch hit for Ed Kranepool, and Braves’ manager Luman Harris countered with righty Jim Britton. Clendenon singled to right advancing Jones to third. Then disaster struck for the visitors. Britton’s 2-2 fastball skipped off the mitt of catcher Bob Didier, and Jones tied the score on the passed ball. Harrelson grounded out to end in the inning and set the stage for Jones’ dramatics in the next frame.
Pinch-hitter J.C. Martin drew a walk from Britton to open the Mets’ ninth. Gaspar was called in to run for the catcher. Tommie Agee attempted a sacrifice, but beat out the throw from Britton at first base. Charles bounced into a 6-4-3 double play, and Atlanta appeared to be out of the fire. But then Jones found the hole between third and short to send the Mets to a miraculous trip to the World Series and Shea Stadium to a scene of pure bedlam.
The Mets – too young to worry – were a cocky bunch before, but now there’s no living with them. “We’re the greatest team in the world right now,” gushed Jones after the game. “Nobody can stop us…Atlanta, Baltimore, nobody. We’re gonna win it all.” As the Mets celebrated in their clubhouse, the scene on the field at Shea Stadium was pure bedlam. Even after they stole home plate, the fans wouldn’t go home. The long-suffering and still somewhat incredulous fans meandered up and down the turf of Shea Stadium for an hour after the game. Big chunks of the infield and outfield were stripped down to bare earth. “I still don’t believe it,” one fans said. “Who cares about the World Series?,” asked another. “This is the greatest day in the history of the world.”