Saturday, June 16, 2007

Lost Classics: June 16, 1997

Be it known that it was exactly ten years ago tonight that the first ever Regular Season meeting between the Mets and the Yankees took place.

And be it known that on that night, June 16th, 1997, one of the more improbable events in Mets history took place, with the Mets playing in Yankee Stadium.

With the 1997 season about a third of the way done, the Mets have proved themselves to be one of the surprise teams in the National League. Following several years of misery, the Mets have re-emerged, under Manager Bobby Valentine, in his first full season with the club. A slow start gave way to a number of exciting, comeback wins, and a hot streak that put the Mets in the hunt for a Wildcard spot in the NL. Veterans Todd Hundley and Carlos Baerga have played well, and young, emerging players Edgardo Alfonzo and Butch Huskey have been sparkplugs. And John Olerud, acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays for a song in the offseason, has been the galvanizing force of the offense, getting on base and driving in runs with great frequency. The pitching has been steady, if unspectacular. Bobby Jones has been off to a magnificent start, with an 11-3 record on this date. Former replacement player Rick Reed has proven himself a very reliable pitcher, and journeymen Mark Clark and Armando Reynoso have also been effective. And Dave Mlicki rounded out the rotation.

Say, how about Dave Mlicki?

He'd be on the mound, on this night at Yankee Stadium, facing off against the defending World Champions, a team with a mix of Veteran and Emerging stars, and a pitching staff that can beat you on any given night. Little do we know that this team is in the midst of a sickening 5-year run that will bring them 4 World Championships, and earn them almost nationwide hatred everywhere outside New York.

It's Mlicki against the Yankees Andy Pettitte on this night, an oddly placed Monday night game, in the first year of Interleague play, and the first time that these two teams that share the same city would face off in a Regular Season game. I was home, watching the game on TV with my father. My father is incredulous. "You really think the Mets are going to win this game?" He says.

Nobody knows what to expect. The stadium is decidedly tilted in the Yankees favor, but a smattering of Mets fans are in the crowd. But it is a sellout, with 56,188 on hand, battling "LET'S GO YANKEES!" "LET'S GO METS!" chants, as Pettitte delivers the first pitch to Lance Johnson. Johnson is back with the Mets in the leadoff spot after missing a month with shin splints. He grounds out, and he proves to be none the worse for wear; he'll go 0 for 5 on the night. Bernard Gilkey follows, and Gilkey bloops a double, just inside the right field line for the first hit of the game. Olerud, with his sweet swing and his penchant for RBIs, is next, and he works the count before punching one past Tino Martinez down the line for another double, scoring Gilkey and sending the Mets fans into a frenzy. Todd Hundley follows with a walk. Butch Huskey, playing the role of the first DH in Mets History, follows by looping a single over the head of Yankees 2Bman Pat Kelly, scoring Olerud and sending Hundley to 3rd. And with Carl Everett at the plate next, some trickery from these tricky Mets. Huskey breaks for second. Pettitte, known for his pickoff move, throws to first. They have Huskey picked off. But as Huskey gets into a rundown, Hundley takes off from third! Jeter is busy throwing back to Pettitte covering first, and Pettitte spins and fires back to Girardi...but it's too late! Hundley's stolen Home! And Huskey easily steals second! And the Mets fans are beside themselves! 3 runs in the first!

But can Mlicki hold the lead against this lineup?

Mlicki is solid in the first, allowing a leadoff single by Jeter before striking out Paul O'Neill and Cecil Fielder to get out of the inning. In the second, things quiet down. The Mets get a man on, but do not score. Mlicki sets down the Yankees in order. The third is more of the same. Mlicki allows a 2-out double to Girardi that is of no consequence. The fourth, only a Cecil Fielder double. Girardi singles in the 5th. They're getting hits, and they're getting runners on, but Mlicki has mostly baffled the Yankees, with his loopy curveball and hard fastball. But Pettitte has been just as tough after his rough first, and going into the 7th inning, it's still 3-0 Mets, and it's tense. I'm on every pitch. My father lost interest and is wondering when we can go out for dinner.

In the 7th, the Mets will strike again. With 1 out, Matt Franco, playing third with Edgardo Alfonzo out with an injury, singles to right. Luis Lopez follows with a single of his own. Lance Johnson grounds back to Pettitte, a chopper off the plate that allows both runners to advance. Pettitte is beginning to labor, and he walks Gilkey on 4 pitches. And it's Olerud coming through again with the clutch 2-out hit, lining one the other way for a single to left, scoring Franco and Lopez and giving the Mets a 5-0 lead. And now with a large lead, Mlicki cruises. He gives up 2 harmless singles in the 8th. The Mets plate a run in the 9th on a Sacrifice Fly by Gilkey. It's 6-0, and now, the only thing left to question is whether or not Mlicki can finish off the shutout.

I've relented, and gone out to eat with my father. But I've made sure that I am in position to see the restaurant TV, tuned to the game. At the Stadium, the crowd has thinned down. The Yankee fans have left, and it's the Mets fans making all the noise. Charlie Hayes leads off the 9th with a shot down the left field line. But Gilkey fields it cleanly and fires a strike back in to Baerga, nailing Hayes trying for second. And it turns out to be a key play. Mark Whiten follows with another single to left. Chad Curtis bounces one to Franco at third, who throws to second to force out Whiten. Joe Girardi follows with another single, that would have broken up the shutout if not for Gilkey's fine play and throw. And so it's down to Derek Jeter as the last shot for the Yanks. Mlicki has been brilliant. 9 hits, none of consequence. No Runs. 2 walks. And his 119th and final pitch of the 9th is one final curveball that freezes Jeter, who watches it pass for a called third strike; Mlicki's 9th strikeout of the game. Mlicki pumps his fists. He's done it! He's thrown a Complete Game Shutout in Yankee Stadium, and the Mets have come away the victors in this first ever meeting between the Mets and the Yankees.

The Mets are ecstatic after the game. The Yankees are befuddled. Jeter's quote sums it up:
Mlicki—How do you say his name?— He pitched perfect every time we had runners in scoring position.

The victory on this night brings the Mets even with the Yankees with won-lost records of 37-30. The joy of this night will be short-lived for the Mets, who will drop the next two games in the series to the Yankees, but this game will be one of the most memorable moments in a year in which they will begin to return to prominence, remaining in the race for the Wildcard until the final week of the Season, finishing with an 88-74 record. And Mlicki will toil the rest of his career in relative obscurity, but he will forever be remembered for his sterling shutout of the Yankees on this night, 10 years ago.

1 comment:

G-Fafif said...

Classic? Totally. Lost? I don't know about that. But certainly worth revisiting on this or any other occasion. Great job. I love this feature.