It’s the afternoon of September 20, 1973, and Willie Mays officially announces his retirement at a press conference held at Shea Stadium. He promises to help the Mets if they make it to the World Series. Events later in the day will overshadow the Mays announcement. Because today the “Ball on the Wall” play happens.
The Mets are a game and a half behind the first-place Pirates when the teams play that Thursday night at Shea Stadium. The Mets’ Jerry Koosman and Pittsburgh’s Jim Rooker start the game. After nine innings the teams are tied 3-3. The game is headed to extra innings.
Ray Sadecki starts the tenth inning for the Mets. He pitches well through the twelfth inning. Nine Pirates come up and nine Pirates go down, five on strikeouts. Meanwhile, Bucs relievers Jim McKee and Luke Walker keep the Mets scoreless too.
In the top of the thirteenth, Sadecki allows a single to Richie Zisk with one out. Manny Sanguillen makes the second out of the inning when he flies out to right field. Then the “Ball on the Wall” miracle occurs.
Pirates rookie Dave Augustine hits a fly ball to deep left that bounces off the plank at the very top of the eight-foot outfield wall. The ball bounces straight up into the air, seems to hang there, and then falls right into Cleon Jones’ glove.
Jones wheels and throws to the cut-off man Wayne Garrett. Normally Garrett is at third base, but he had moved to shortstop in the late innings as a replacement for Bud Harrelson. Meanwhile, the go-ahead run is rounding third base and heading home. Garrett turns and relays the ball to catcher Ron Hodges, crouched at the plate, who catches it cleanly and tags a sliding Zisk to end the inning. It becomes forever known as the “Ball on the Wall” play.
”Believe it or not, I had it in line all along, I thought it would hit the wall. Luckily, Garrett was at short. If Harrelson had been there, he would have taken the relay much further in the outfield and we would never have gotten Zisk.”Cleon Jones
In the bottom of the thirteenth John Milner and Ken Boswell, both walk to start the inning. Don Hahn is up next and pops out on a bunt attempt. But then Hodges singles to left, scoring Milner with the winning run! The Mets win the game 4-3 and are only a half-game from first place.