Thursday, March 15, 2007

Lost Classics: June 9, 1999

I was reading about the one-year anniversary of SNY over at Faith and Fear, and the guys over there were talking about the Mets Classics, the old games they have rerun. And rerun. And rerun some more. In fact, just this evening, I was watching yet another replay of Game 7 of the '86 Series. Yes, they warm the heart. But the Mets have a rich tradition of classic games. Interesting games. Games that make you scratch your head, and games that just make you proud to be a Mets fan. But only a handful of Mets Classics are ever seen on SNY. You can rattle them off pretty easily: The Clincher from '86. All the Playoff and World Series wins from '86. The Clincher from '88. Leiter's gem in the '99 Play-In game. Mike Piazza's HR after 9/11. And a smattering of "Instant Classics" from the '06 season.

Yes, new games are on the slate for the upcoming season. Games from '69 and '73.

Many still are simply forgotten. Lost in the annals of time except for people like us who remember them, who were there, or watching on TV. Games indelibly burned into our memories.

Flash back with me, if you will, for one such game.

It is June 9, 1999. A steamy, humid Wednesday night in what will become a magical season for the Mets. Not 5 days earlier, with the team mired in a 7 game losing streak, Manager Bobby Valentine had called for his own head if the team didn't improve over the next 55 games, to the tune of a 40-15 record. Since then, the Mets had not lost, winning the finale over the Yankees in the Bronx, and taking the first two games of a three game series over the Toronto Blue Jays at Shea. This night was the finale. In a season that will see me eventually attend 30 games, I am in attendance on this night, sitting in Mezzanine section 2, row A. Keeping score, as I always do.

A 7:40 curtain at Shea, featuring a pitching matchup of Rick Reed and David Wells.












It is apparent early on that Wells has his best stuff this evening. He strikes out Alfonzo and Olerud in the first. The Blue Jays jump on top on a leadoff HR from Catcher Darrin Fletcher leading off the top of the 2nd. In the 3rd, it's future Met Carlos Delgado doubling home Craig Grebeck with the Jays' second run. Former lazy Met Tony Fernandez will lace a single to right to follow that up. But Roger Cedeno charges the ball, and his throw home to Piazza is true, and well in time to nail Delgado at the plate. Jose Cruz, Jr pops a solo HR with 1 out in the 4th. 3-0 Jays.

Although Reed will continue to weave in and out of trouble for most of his 6 innings of work, he's fortunate to depart after laboring through 6 innings only trailing 3-0. 10 hits and 2 walks, but he's helped out by some stellar defensive efforts. It's not surprising, the infield behind him would do it all season long. In the 4th, Shannon Stewart is robbed on a diving stop up the middle by Alfonzo. In the 6th, he's robbed in the hole by Ordonez.

It is Turk Wendell taking over for the Mets in the 7th and turning in two strong innings. Dennis Cook will follow him in the top of the 9th and retire the Jays in order.

But the Mets haven't been able to touch Wells at all. Through 8 innings, only 4 hits, all singles. Wells has 6 Ks and no walks. And as he gets Henderson to ground to 3rd to start the last of the 9th, much of the sparse crowd of 18,254 begins to depart. Alfonzo singles to center, bringing about a faint murmur. But Olerud follows by hitting a comebacker to Wells, who goes to second to force out Alfonzo. 2 outs. But Piazza singles to right, moving Olerud to 3rd. Still, a faint murmur. It's a lefty/lefty situation with Ventura coming up. Not the best of odds.

But it is a different Robin Ventura this year. Ventura was a solid, if flawed 3Bman over 10 seasons with the Chicago White Sox. But he signed with the Mets before this 1999 season, spurning offers from hometown teams in California. After a slow start, Ventura caught fire, beginning with a doubleheader against the Brewers on May 20th that saw him blast Grand Slams in both games. He is embarking on a career year that will by season's end see him hit .302, with 32 HRs and 120 RBIs. He will win a Gold Glove for his efforts at Third Base. And he will deliver one of the most memorable hits in Mets History in October.

And, on this night, he will battle David Wells. He will work the count. He will foul off 2-strike pitch after 2-strike pitch. Piazza will steal second during the sequence. And then Robin will rip a clean single to center, scoring Olerud and Piazza, and cutting the Jays' lead to 3-2. Wells will depart for the evening. Ventura will as well, as Luis Lopez enters to pinch run. Robin has done his job. Now the need is for speed. And Brian McRae will bat against rookie closer Billy Koch.

And McRae will drill a shot down the left field line, down into the corner.

"SCORE LUIS! SCORE LUIS! SCORE LUIS!" I yell repeatedly as Lopez motors all the way around the bases, scoring without a throw. It's a double for McRae. Game tied.

And the evening was just beginning to get interesting.

Koch would get out of the 9th, sending the game into extra innings. Cook continued for the Mets in the 10th, retiring the Jays in order once again. Against Koch, the Mets will go quietly in their half. John Franco enters for the 11th. He will allow a leadoff single to Fernandez, but Fletcher hits into a nifty 4-6-3 double play. More infield defense.

As the clock ticked later on into the night, and the midweek crowd dwindled, the second subplot of the evening began to take hold.

The New York Knicks, led by Allan Houston and Larry Johnson, were in the midst of a miraculous run to the NBA Finals. This night, they are in Indiana, playing the hated Pacers in game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The series, tied 2-2, had to that point been a tense, taut battle, highlighted by a miraculous 4-point play scored by Larry Johnson in Game 3. It has been a back-and-forth battle most of the evening, with the Knicks hanging on to a slim lead in the 4th quarter. This as the Mets and Jays are headed to the 12th inning. Many fans have the game on radios, and the scoreboard has been giving updates throughout the evening.

It is the 12th inning when the game takes its oddest turn.

Pat Mahomes has taken over for the Mets. He allows a 1-out single to Shannon Stewart. With Grebeck batting, Stewart takes off for second. Grebeck swings through the pitch, but Piazza throws Stewart out at second.

Or so we think.

Home plate umpire Randy Marsh awards Grebeck first base. Seems he hit Piazza's glove with his swing. Catcher's interference is the call. Error on Piazza.

Cue Bobby Valentine.

Valentine will storm out of the dugout and blow his stack at Marsh. Marsh will get in Bobby's face. Bobby is ejected. And then he really lets Marsh have it. He starts flailing his arms, bobbing his head and screaming so loudly he can be heard in the Mezzanine. The crowd loves it. "BOBBY! BOBBY! BOBBY!" is the chant. Finally, Valentine screams his peace, and retreats to the clubhouse.

Mahomes will get Jacob Brumfield to pop out, and strike out Delgado to get out of the jam.

In the top of the 13th, it's Olerud coming up with a stellar diving stop on a smash by Fletcher, turning a 3-6-3 double play to end another Jays threat.

In the last of the 13th, against future Met Graeme Lloyd, the Mets will get Henderson on to lead off, but strand him. The crowd is jovial as Piazza bats with 2 outs. "M-I-K-E, MIKE! MIKE! MIKE!" is the chant, mocking the J-E-T-S chant. Mike strikes out.

But cheers erupt from the crowd. As the fans with the radios already know, and the scoreboard is about to tell us, the Knicks have emerged victorious, a 101-94 win on the road to tilt the series in their favor. They will win Game 6 that Friday night as well, to beat the Pacers and move on to the Finals.

It is around this point, that the most infamous moment of the game occurs. Though it is lost to those in the stands, who cannot see into the Mets dugout, there is, caught by the cameras, a gentleman with an odd pair of glasses and a fake moustache in a Mets T-shirt who has appeared in the dugout. It's Bobby. Donning the Groucho Marx disguise, he has snuck back into the dugout following his ejection to see the end of the game. The Moustache will become legendary in Mets, and Bobby V's lore.

By the 14th, I'm exhausted. It is not uncommon, as games such as this carry on past midnight, for me to begin to root for anyone to score, out of delirium. The Jays do not score in their half of the 14th. Tom Davey begins the bottom of the 14th for the Jays. He walks Lopez. He walks McRae. Davey is pulled for ageless lefty Dan Plesac. Cedeno lays down the sacrifice, moving Lopez to 3rd. The Jays pull the infield and outfield in as Ordonez steps to the plate.

I'm screaming for a fly ball. Something to get that run home.

"YES!!!" I scream as Ordonez delivers. A long fly ball to left, over Brumfield, landing softly in left field, as Lopez trots home with the winning run. A most gratifying winning run, capping off a memorable comeback victory for the Mets. And not a moment too soon, at 12:16AM, capping off 4 hours and 33 minutes of baseball. Thrilling, well-played baseball. The kind that the Mets will play all summer long, as they fulfill their Manager's promise and embark on the 40-15 stretch that will eventually land them in the Playoffs for the first time in 11 seasons.

A blip in the larger picture, but a game that is well worthy of a Mets Classic.

4 comments:

Krup said...

piazza stole second?!?!?!?

Mets2Moon said...

I did a double-take for that too. But there it was, on my scorecard, that he stole second in the 9th. I thought I might have mis-scored a defensive indifference, but Retrosheet has Piazza logging his 2nd SB of the season.

Krup said...

2 SBs? That's probably more than he threw out...

G-Fafif said...

This game is like a cult favorite, one of those games you'll be able to mention in 20 years to prove just how serious a Mets fan somebody was at the time. One of our readers, who like me was there that night, and I whiled away two days trading reminiscences of June 9, 1999 a few months ago. He shared with me a nugget I'd completely forgotten about if I ever knew it at all: the first pitch that night was thrown out by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. The same Hugo Chavez who would go on to become this hemisphere's foremost America baiter. That night? He was in town trying to scare up (so to speak) investors for his country and he took in a ballgame featuring one of the greatest Venezuelan second basemen ever for the home team.

I'm pretty sure we all stood for the Venezuelan national anthem out of respect for the visitor. And the Canadian national anthem. And ours. A lot of standing. A lot of sitting, too.

Retrosheet's tiny Achilles heel to date is its failure (hard to use that word for them) to add PBP to its 1999 box scores. But, ah-ha!, Baseball-Reference has:

Here's to June 9, 1999, the latest I ever sat inside Shea. Or was it the earliest?