Monday, April 30, 2007

History of the NY Mets pt. VII

1996-2004: Piazza, Bobby V, and the Subway Series
The Mets did not play well in 1996, but the season was highlighted by the play of three young stars. Switch hitting catcher Todd Hundley broke the Major League Baseball single season record for home runs hit by catcher with 41. Center fielder Lance Johnson set single-season franchise records in hits (227), triples (21), at-bats (682), runs scored (117), & total bases (327). And, Left fielder Bernard Gilkey set franchise single-season records in doubles (44), and RBI (117). But things started looking up in 1997, as they missed the playoffs by only four games, and improved by 17 games over 1996. One highlight happened June 16, when the Mets beat the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the first ever regular-season game played between the crosstown rivals. In 1997 Hundley was also having another great season, but he went down with a devastating elbow injury and needed Tommy John surgery midway through the season. For a time, it looked like the Los Angeles Dodgers were going to be shopping their superstar catcher, Mike Piazza, in a trade rather than pay the exorbitant salary that 1997s MVP runner-up was going to demand at the end of the 1998 season. In a puzzling move, on May 14, 1998, the Dodgers sent Piazza to the Florida Marlins, who were purging themselves of high salaries to alleviate their claimed financial problems. The Marlins' move made more sense when, just a week later, they re-traded Piazza to the Mets for Preston Wilson and two prospects. The Dodgers had no free agency problem, the Marlins had young players with small salaries and the Mets had their new lineup-anchoring catcher. When Hundley returned from his injury in the 1998 season the Mets experimented with Hundley in left field. The experiment was short lived however and Hundley was in a Dodgers uniform in the 1999 season. After the 1998 trade, the Mets played well, but missed the 1998 postseason by only one game. With only five games left in the 1998 season, the Mets could not win a single game against both the Montreal Expos at home and the Atlanta Braves on the road, the Mets could have forced a three-way wild card tie by winning their last game. Although it seemed like a terrible ending to a good season, Met fans felt confident that the team was moving in the right direction. After signing Mike Piazza to a seven-year, $91 million contract, the Mets acquired Armando Benítez from the Baltimore Orioles, and signed Robin Ventura, Rickey Henderson, Bobby Bonilla again, and Roger Cedeño to fill out the needs for the start of the 1999 season. John Olerud anchored the heart of the Mets' order. The Mets started the 1999 season well, going 17-9, but after an eight-game losing streak, including the last two to the New York Yankees, on June 6 the Mets fired their entire coaching staff except for manager Bobby Valentine. On that day, the Mets, in front of a national audience on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, beat the New York Yankees 7-2 and they never looked back. Both Mike Piazza and Robin Ventura started to have MVP-type seasons and Benny Agbayani began to have an important role on the team. Also this was the breakout year for Mets second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo, as he had 108 RBI, and Roger Cedeño, who broke the single season steals record for the Mets. After the regular season ended, the Mets played a one game playoff against the Cincinnati Reds to see which team would advance to the playoffs. In that game, Mets ace Al Leiter pitched the best game of his Met career as he hurled a two hit complete game shutout, a 5-0 victory to advance to the playoffs. In the NLDS, the Mets defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks 3 games to 1, their series-clinching victory coming on an unlikely home run hit by backup catcher Todd Pratt, playing due to a thumb injury to Piazza. The Mets would advance to the 1999 National League Championship Series, their first NLCS since 1988, only to lose to their archrivals, the Atlanta Braves, in six exciting games which included the famous grand slam single by Robin Ventura to win game 5 for the Mets. In the offseason, the Mets traded Roger Cedeño and Octavio Dotel to the Houston Astros for Derek Bell and Mike Hampton. Todd Zeile was signed to play first base, replacing departing free agent Olerud. The Mets were heading to the 2000 season as a powerhouse in the National League. 2000 began well for the Mets as Derek Bell became the best hitter on the team for the first month. The Mets enjoyed good play the whole year. The highlight of the season came on June 30, when the Mets beat the rival Atlanta Braves in a memorable game at Shea Stadium on Fireworks Night. With the Mets losing 8-1 to begin the bottom of the eighth, they rallied back with two outs to tie the game, capping the 10-run inning with Mike Piazza's three run home run to put the Mets up 11-8, giving them the lead and eventually the win. The Mets easily made the playoffs winning the National League wild card. In the playoffs, the Mets beat the San Francisco Giants in the first round and the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2000 National League Championship Series to win their fourth NL pennant. Mike Hampton was named the NLCS MVP for his two scoreless starts in the series as the Mets headed to the 2000 World Series to face their crosstown rivals, the New York Yankees. Unfortunately for the Mets, they were defeated in the much-hyped "Subway Series". Even though they lost 4 games to 1, each game was close, as they scored only three fewer total runs than the Yankees. This was the first all-New York World Series since 1956, when the Yankees defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In the seasons following the 2000 World Series, the Mets struggled mightily as the result of several poor player acquisitions, including Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, Roger Cedeño (again) and Jeromy Burnitz. These acquisitions were made by then-general manager Steve Phillips, who was fired during the 2003 season. Phillips was credited with building the 2000 World Series team, but also blamed for the demise of the Mets' farm system and the poor play of the acquired players. The Mets did have a few bright spots in 2002. Al Leiter became the first major leage pitcher to defeat all thirty major league teams across the MLB with a victory over the Diamondbacks. David Weathers had a career year with a 2.91 era coming out of the bullpen, making him one of the better middle relievers of that season in the league. The Mets though posted a 75-86 record, last in the NL East, in 2002. The Mets' record in 2003 (66-95) was the fourth worst in baseball, and Piazza had missed two-thirds of the season with a torn groin muscle. His steady decline around that time mirrored the Mets' fortunes for the first half of the decade. In 2004, the Mets made more player additions that turned out to be poor. They signed Japanese shortstop Kazuo Matsui, who never lived up to his potential in two-and-a-half years with the Mets. General manager Jim Duquette acquired pitcher Kris Benson for third baseman Ty Wigginton at the trade deadline just before sending highly-touted pitching prospect Scott Kazmir to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for the disappointing Victor Zambrano, regarded by most as the worst recent trade by the Mets, possibly their worst ever. However, the Mets brought up two young infielders with bright futures, David Wright and José Reyes, and they have become the best products from the farm system since Strawberry and Gooden. The Mets finished 71-91 in 2004.

Courtesy of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

8 part finale on Wednesday.



Anonymous said...

Do you have to keep reminding us as Queens residents that our team is second in this city? It's hard enough living in the shadow of the Mighty Yankees now we have to have a local blog remind us of our inferior status?

Patrick Henry said...

I think its time to get over that. The Mets look a hell of alot better recently.

Anonymous said...

Hey the Mets always had more character than the Yankees

Anonymous said...

Truth be told the Dodgers will always be New Yorks Team

Anonymous said...

Patrick Henry You are Right again! This is the Metsies year if only Atlanta moves to the American league!