The New York Mets started a pair of pitchers who would end up in the Hall of Fame, Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan, in a doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds before 31,062 fans at Crosley Field, but all they got was a split, losing the opener 8-5 as Seaver left early with shoulder pain, but winning the nightcap, 10-1.
The split left the surprsing Mets eight games out of first place behind the Cubs. The Reds fell out of first and fell all the way to third as San Francisco swept a doubleheader in Philadelphia. Atlanta moved up from third to second in the tight NL West where the top five teams were separated by four games. The Braves swept a doubleheader in Montreal.
Seaver, who said after the game that he had been troubled by pain in his right shoulder for about a month was in a stretch where he would lose four out of his five starts, although his ERA would hold fairly steady.
The Reds needed just two batters to take the lead. Right fielder Pete Rose led off with a single and center fielder Bobby Tolan homered to give the Reds a 2-0 lead.
Rose homered in the third to make it 3-0 and Tolan scored another run after singling, stealing second, and coming home on a double by third baseman Tony Perez.
Right fielder Art Shamsky got the Mets close with a 2-run homer in the fourth, but Seaver could not answer the bell in the bottom of the fourth as his shoulder hurt too much and Cal Koonce relieved.
Rose caused more troubles for the Mets in the fifth when he led off with a double. Tolan doubled to score Rose and then came around to score on a single from right fielder Alex Johnson.
In the seventh, Tolan doubled to left and scored on a Perez homer off of Jack DiLauro to make it 8-2 Reds.
The Mets made a rally against Cincinnati starting pitcher Gary Nolan in the eighth. Third baseman Bobby Pfeil doubled and left fielder Cleon Jones drove him home with a single. Shamsky followed with a single and Jones went to third. Reds manager Dave Bristol brought in Clay Carroll. Second baseman Wayne Garrett greeted him with a hit that scored two, but that would be all the scoring in the first game.
In the nightcap, Mets manager Gil Hodges turned to his young fireballer Ryan who was going to be leaving the team soon to serve a two-week stint in the Texas National Guard. Tolan was serving in the National Guard in Pennsylvania, but he was given leave to play fairly frequently. Gerry Arrigo would start Game 2 for the Reds.
The Mets didn't waste much time putting one way. The Mets scored a run in the second when catcher Jerry Grote singled to score first baseman Donn Clendenon. The Mets then scored eight times in the third against Arrigo and reliever Pedro Ramos. Clendenon hit a 3-run homer and right fielder Ron Swoboda, third baseman Ed Charles, and Pfeil (at second base in this game) all had doubles.
An RBI double by Perez in the fourth was Cincinnati's only run. Center fielder Tommie Agee homered for the final run of the game in the fifth.
The Mets rallied to win the NL East by 8 games over the Cubs as the Mets surged and the Cubs swan dived. Seaver's shoulder would stop aching and he won the Cy Young Award with a 25-7 record, 2.21 ERA and 208 strikeouts.
The Reds finished third in the NL West, four games behind the Braves. Each team in the NL West, with the exception of expansion team San Diego, took a turn at the top and the Braves were able to put together a final surge to win the division. The Mets would go on to beat the Braves in three games to win the NLCS and then the Mets would upset the Orioles in five games to win the World Series.
The young Mets, with stars like Seaver, Ryan, and Jerry Koosman, looked they could string together several more titles, but 1969 turned out to be a mirage and the Mets would would manage to make just one more trip to the World Series with most of this team, and that was in 1973 when the Mets won just 82 games.
The Reds, on the other hand, fired Bristol at the end of the year and hired San Diego's third base coach, Sparky Anderson as manager. And under Anderson, Cincinnati turned into the Big Red Machine and would dominate the NL through 1976.
When their careers ended, Ryan and Seaver would have a combined 635 wins and 9354 strikeouts.
Sources: New York Times, Retrosheet, Baseball-reference.com