Sunday, April 22, 2007

Lost Classics: April 5, 1993

It has been some time since we did a Lost Classic here, and with the Colorado Rockies coming to town this week, with their long and storied history of great classic matchups with the Mets, we take a look back at an era of Mets history that really should never be looked back upon. It should be erased, swept under the rug and forgotten completely.

That year would be 1993.

In a year that will see the Mets thoroughly embarrass themselves repeatedly, and become a national laughingstock, it will be on this day that one of the season's few highlights will take place.

The high point of this Mets season will come on Opening Day, at the expense of one of the league's two new expansion teams, the Colorado Rockies. Ironically, the Mets will eventually see themselves finish with a record that is even worse than these expansion Rockies, as well as the league's other expansion team, the Florida Marlins.

Today, however, is a different story. History is in the air on this Monday afternoon, as the Rockies are set to play their first game ever. I skipped school for the occasion, and voyaged to the Stadium. I am there early, picking up two programs. One to score, as I always do, and one for posterity's sake.

Little do I know that many others have done the same. Programs would be hoarded on this day, and the supply would run out well before the game had even begun. But that didn't much matter to me. The game is set to begin, with the Mets in their new uniforms, ready to reverse the misery that plagued the team during a miserable 1992 season. Dwight Gooden is on the mound, and Eric Young steps in, ready to begin the season, and the franchise of the Colorado Rockies. Gooden's first pitch is, naturally, a fastball strike. He'll get Young to bunt out, before retiring the following hitters in order.

Gooden is trying to rebound from a couple of off seasons. Still merely 28, Gooden is recovering from rotator cuff surgery late in the 1991 season, and an off year in 1992. But while Gooden will have his moments, the year will again be a struggle for him. No longer the dominant force he was in the late 80s, Gooden will finish 12-15. The following season, he will be off to a miserable start before a positive drug test will result in a 60 day suspension. A subsequent positive drug test will earn Doc a year-long suspension, through the 1995 season, and effectively end his Mets career. No Mets pitcher will write a more disappointing history than Gooden.

Gooden's mound opponent, and down in history as the first starting pitcher in Rockies History is David Nied. Nied was picked from the Atlanta Braves in the expansion draft. A hard throwing righty, Nied will do little to distinguish himself in the Majors, his lone claim to fame being that he started this game on this day.

But Nied and Gooden will settle in to a neat pitchers duel. The Mets will threaten a bit in the last of the first. Following a Vince Coleman strikeout, Tony Fernandez, the Mets big offseason acquisition (who will muddle disinterested through the season) will work a walk and be singled to third by Eddie Murray. But Bonilla will pop out and HoJo will strike out to end the inning.

In the top of the second inning, it will be Andres Galarraga, the magnificent Big Cat himself, lining a single up the middle for the first hit in Rockies history. The following hitters will go down quietly. Again, in the second, the Mets threaten against Nied. Joe Orsulak and Jeff Kent will single, before Hundley flies out, Gooden grounds into a fielders choice, and Coleman pops out to end the inning. Again, the Mets fail to get a key hit with men in scoring position. This will be a common theme throughout the season.

Both teams load the bases in the 3rd, mainly due to wildness from both Gooden and Nied. Gooden will issue a walk and a hit batsman, before striking out Galarraga to end the inning. Nied walks the bases loaded with 2 outs before getting a ground out from Kent.

Finally, in the 4th, it's the Mets breaking through. With 1 out, it's Gooden, always focused on his hitting, singling through the hole to right. Coleman will follow with a single of his own, moving Doc to third. Tony Fernandez will chop a groundout to second, scoring Gooden with the game's first run.

Meanwhile, Gooden has settled into a nice groove. He's not striking out many hitters, but he's getting the Rockie bats to miss, usually resulting in weak flies and popups. After his struggles in the 2nd and 3rd, Gooden will retire 17 Rockies in a row, not allowing another hit until the 9th.

In the Mets 5th, Bobby Bonilla leads off. Still with the richest contract in Mets History, Bobby Bo is counted on to be the anchor of the Mets offense. He suffered through a season in '92 that mirrored the rest of the team: Flat out miserable. He struggled, pouted and was booed. But on this day, cheers, as Bonilla hits a long Home Run out into the Mets bullpen in right, for a 2-0 lead.

But the cheers will be short-lived. Bonilla will again struggle in the field and at the plate, and his attitude off the field is often less than desirable. Following one particular loss, he will have a run-in with newspaper columnist Bob Klapisch, who at the time had authored a book (seen above) railing against the Mets and the poor manner in which they had been run. With the Mets floundering in last place, and Bonilla in none too good a mood, he offers Klapisch a ride home from Shea.

"I will show you The Bronx," is the phrase forever noted in Met infamy.

Despite it all, Bonilla will have his most successful season with the Mets, hitting 34 Home Runs and driving in 87 before a shoulder injury in September ended his season. Bonilla will do little to endear himself to the fans following the season.

In the 6th, the Mets plate another run, as Eddie Murray, another surly character mixed into this melange of misfits masquerading as the 1993 Mets would single home the head troublemaker, Coleman. 3-0 Mets.

With the lead, and Gooden cruising, there is little the Rockies can do this afternoon. Galarraga and Bichette single in the 9th, but when Gooden gets Jerald Clark to fly out weakly to right, he has put the finishing touches on a sterling 4-hit shutout on Opening Day. The crowd is optimistic and ecstatic. Little do they know what the rest of the season will hold...

Once again, the high priced talent will either be injured or underperform. Coleman will get hurt again, as will Bret Saberhagen. Bonilla will mope. Murray will be surly. Jeff Torborg will be fired in May, with the team 13-25, spiraling hopelessly out of control. Dallas Green would be hired to replace Torborg, but he will fare no better. Saberhagen will spray bleach on newspaper reporters. Coleman will toss lit firecrackers around parking lots on road trips. Anthony Young will become the symbol of the Mets futility, running a losing streak that will eventually reach 27 consecutive games. They will be ignominiously no-hit by Houston's Darryl Kile on September 8th in the Astrodome. Mercifully, many of the useless older players like Fernandez and Frank Tanana will be shipped away by season's end, allowing younger, more useful players like Kent, Jeromy Burnitz, Butch Huskey, Tim Bogar and Bobby Jones to earn time in the Majors. And at the end of the season, the Mets will finish with a humiliating record of 59-103, and they will have to win their last 6 games in order to finish that poorly, winning their last game in Florida on a mucky afternoon that was so meaningless that they never actually bothered to finish the game.

The Rockies will fare about as well as you could expect from an expansion team. Led by Bichette and Galarraga, and playing in mis-shapen Mile High Stadium (330 feet down the LF line, 375 to RF), will finish 67-95. But they will persevere, and pull off a miraculous turnaround, led by some spotty pitching (due mainly to the rarefied air in Denver) but thunderous hitting, and they will become, at that time, the fastest team to make the Postseason when they became the first Wildcard team in National League History in 1995.

They haven't made the playoffs since. But they play in a much nicer ballpark now.

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