The Mets got off to a 4-0 start to the season, and were still at first place by April 29 with a 12-8 record. But then, injuries to their key players caused turmoil. By July 26, the Mets were in last place, yet still only 71⁄2 games behind. On August 16, they were 12 games below .500, with 44 games to play.
At the end of August, the Mets were in fifth place, nine games under .500, but, in the balanced mediocrity of that year's Eastern Division, just 51⁄2 games out of first. The mathematical inequities of divisional play were beginning to show up. On September 11, the Mets were in fourth place, five games under .500, but just three games out. Ahead of them were the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Montreal Expos.
With Tug McGraw urging his teammates on and celebrating victories with what soon became the catch phrase of 1973, "You Gotta Believe!!!" the Mets kept zigging and zagging away from would-be tacklers, and taking an occasional side-swipe, headed for this most unlikely of pennants. Down the stretch, Yogi Berra, veteran of many a pennant race, ran four starters at the league: Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack, and George Stone, with the suddenly unhittable McGraw coming out of the pen with boisterous-and justified-confidence. (For his last 19 games, the screwball-throwing lefty showed 12 saves, 5 wins, and an ERA of 0.88).
After sweeping a three-game series from the Pirates at Shea on September 21, the Mets' record stood at an even 77-77, but that .500 record was good enough for first place and a half-game lead. Illustrating just how dense the crowd was at the top, fifth-place Chicago was just 21⁄2 out. The Mets won five of their last seven to finish as National League East Division Champions. The Cardinals finished second, 11⁄2 games behind, Pittsburgh next at 21⁄2, Montreal third at 31⁄2, and Chicago fifth, 5 games out.