In 1976, Jon Matlack made his season debut against the Montreal Expos at Shea Stadium, throwing a complete game, four-hit shutout in a 1-0 win. Matlack never allowed a runner past second base the entire game.
The 1-0 win was a harbinger of what would be a long, frustrating season for Matlack and the Mets. “I always felt like I was doing it by the skin of my teeth,” said Matlack during a recent phone interview. “It wasn’t like walking out there and sailing through. I had to work for it, every pitch, every out, all the way down the line.”
The “skin of his teeth” may be generous. Matlack – along with starters Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Mickey Lolich and Craig Swan — pitched their collective hearts out in 1976. On paper, no major league team was better. The Mets team ERA was the lowest in baseball (2.94).
Matlack’s dominating first start of 1976, combined with the Mets lack of offense, set the tone for a long and frustrating season.
How many pitchers today throw a complete game in April? Matlack threw three complete games in April and 9 2/3 innings on May 5, three of his starts were shutouts. But the best was yet to come for the 1972 Rookie of the Year and two-time All-Star.
On May 31, Matlack threw a complete game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first game of a doubleheader at Shea Stadium. The win improved his record to 5-1 and began a two-month tear that no other Mets starter has ever matched.
Over eight starts from May 31-July 6, Matlack pitched six complete games, posting an ERA of 1.91. The stretch secured Matlack a roster spot on the National League All-Star team.
Matlack finished the 1976 season 17-10/2.42 ERA/16 CG/6 shutouts in 262 innings pitched in 35 starts.
By comparison, the entire 2021 New York Mets pitching staff recorded two complete games last season (Jacob deGrom and Tylor Megill). The Philadelphia Phillies led all National League teams with five complete games.
Despite finishing 10 games over .500 in 1976, the Mets finished the season 15 games behind in third place in the National League Eastern Division behind the Philadelphia Phillies.
Matlack confessed he was “fed up” with the “people not trying hard enough to win” and asked the team to trade him.
“I thought we had a great pitching staff and could have a good club …,” he said. “When I came to the major leagues, we had the nucleus of a dynasty, with our pitching and defense, we went from the best baseball city in the country to an absolute joke.”
The Mets granted Matlack’s wish after the 1977 season, dealing him to the Texas Rangers.