One Line Summary: A real Subway Series: death on the tracks.
No Mets club had ever reached the postseason two years in a row. General manager Steve Phillips not only wanted to achieve that goal, he wanted to reach the World Series. It wouldn’t be easy. All roads led through Atlanta and there were several other top National League clubs. Never one to sit still, Phillips brought in free agent Todd Zeile to play first base after John Olerud signed with his hometown Mariners. The centerpiece of this “go for it now” mantra came just before Christmas 1999, when Phillips acquired 22-game winner Mike Hampton (plus free spirit Derek Bell) for outfielder Roger Cedeno and hard-throwing rookie Octavio Dotel.
The season began at sunrise New York time, with the first-ever regular season games from Japan. Mike Hampton was wild and took the loss; Benny Agbayani, brought to the Far East only because the Mets didn’t need a full compliment of pitchers for the two-game trip, hit a grand slam against the Cubs in the 11th inning of the second game to salvage Tokyo.
Back in the U.S., the Mets reeled off a nine-game April winning streak. Then they gave most of it back by immediately going 4-10. When Rickey Henderson only reached first on a ball off the wall—he assumed it was a home run—Rickey was released, Joe McEwing was recalled, and the Mets began their mix-and-match outfield parade. For a club with 16 players making at least $2 million per year, the club’s three best outfielders—Melvin Mora, Jay Payton, and Agbayani—made $645,000 all told. Veteran Darryl Hamilton had toe problems and Derek Bell was, well, Derek Bell. He marched to his own drummer (presumably on the stereo system on his plush houseboat) far removed from the “Killer B” role he’d assumed in Houston.
The Mets moved the versatile Mora to shortstop after Rey Ordonez broke his arm in May. Phillips pined for a better glove to fit his championship aspirations. Mora’s error on a would-be, game-ending double play ball cost the Mets a game in Boston. A couple of weeks later the Mets picked up Orioles shortstop Mike Bordick for Mora and three other young players. The verdict? Mora made seven errors in 44 games displaying slightly below average range. Bordick had seven errors in 56 games with slightly below average range, and he was hurt when the Mets most needed him. The same day Bordick was acquired, the Mets sent former first-round picks Paul Wilson and Jason Tyner to Tampa Bay.
The newcomers certainly had good starts. Bordick and Bubba Trammell hit home runs in their first at bats as Mets; Rick White earned a relief win in his debut. Timo Perez got a hit in his first Mets at bat on September 1, and he kept on hitting. The Mets experienced their annual September skid earlier than usual and Timo helped pull them out of it and capture the wild card again. On a team without much speed—they stole 84 fewer bases than in 1999—Timo was an ideal leadoff hitter. When Derek Bell was injured at Pac Bell in the Division Series opening loss, Timo took over. He started a dozen postseason games in a row, batting .294 in the Division Series and .304 in the NLCS, before slowing up—literally—in the World Series.
After All-Star Al Leiter left with a three-run lead in the ninth inning in Game 2 of the Division Series in San Francisco, Armando Benitez surrendered a three-run homer to pinch hitter J.T. Snow. The next inning, however, Payton’s two-out single plated Hamilton with the go-ahead run. John Franco struck out Barry Bonds to save it.
The no-names kept coming up big. Agbayani homered into a gusty wind in the 13th inning to win Game 3. Veteran Bobby Jones, who’d gone down to the minors earlier in the season to work on his curve, clinched the series with a one-hitter at Shea.
The Cardinals handled the chore of sweeping the Braves, but the Mets did them no favors in the Championship Series. Hampton was masterful in his two starts, shutting out the Cardinals over 16 innings and fanning 12 to earn MVP. Todd Zeile’s bases-clearing double literally made Shea Stadium shake in Game 5 and put the Mets on their way to their first pennant since 1986.
The Subway Series—something many New Yorkers had waited their whole lives to see—became a spectacle Mets fans needed to shield their eyes from. Benitez blew Game 1 and the Mets lost in 12. A late comeback fell short the next night, a mere sideshow to the Roger Clemens-Mike Piazza bat hurling theatrics (an encore from Clemens hitting Piazza in the head in July). The Mets managed a win at Shea, half-filled with Yankees fans, on a deciding Agbayani double in Game 3. That ended the Yankees’ 14-game winning streak in the World Series.
The Yankees took the next two games, beating Al Leiter in the game of his life; Luis Sojo hit Leiter’s 142nd pitch up the middle on 142 hops to snap a tie in the top of the ninth. Piazza’s deep liner died in the wind and so did a piece of every Mets fan. A great season was reduced to ashes; a pennant winner became just a loser in its own city. Tough town.
Building on Success Mets Essentials 2
By Matt Silverman