Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lost Classics: July 28, 2001

This was the winner of the Choose The Lost Classic for 2001 Poll.

The 2001 Mets never quite got it going. After their near-miss NL Championship in 2000, the Mets and their fans wanted more. But rather than pull together and charge ahead, the Mets sputtered out of the gates and found themselves buried well under .500, and in the lower half of the NL East. By mid-July, it was apparent that the current mix wasn't working, and trades were made. On July 23rd, popular backup catcher Todd Pratt was dealt to the Phillies for another backup, Gary Bennett. Bennett lasted all of one game with the team. One week later, another deal was made with the Phillies. Mere moments after the Mets had posted a 6-1 victory over the Phillies on Friday night, July 27th, it was announced that Dennis Cook and Turk Wendell had both been sent to Philly, in exchange for talented, but enigmatic lefty Bruce Chen and prospect Adam Walker.

These now-ex Mets merely had to switch clubhouses for the next day's game, a Sun-Soaked, FOX-TV Saturday Afternoon affair between the Mets and the Phillies. I was there, taking in the game simply because I had nothing better to do with myself. I had recently graduated from College and had decided to take the Summer off, before looking for a job. This may or may not have been a good idea, but at the time, I didn't particularly care. I walked up and got myself a seat in UR22, Row H, Seat 2, sat back and got ready for a pitching matchup of Al Leiter and Omar Daal. At the time, it was the Phillies in the thick of things, trailing the Braves by only a game for first place. The Mets were stuck in neutral; their 47-57 record was good enough for 4th place, 11 1/2 games out of first.

Leiter started off strong, allowing only a 1-out single to Rookie Shortstop Jimmy Rollins in the 1st. The Mets, on the other hand, jumped on Daal right away. Joe McEwing, who had taken over the Right Field job after Timo Perez had proven inconsistent and Jay Payton too injury-prone, hit leadoff, and why not? At the time, he was hitting a robust .311. Of course, he struck out. But Todd Zeile followed with a ringing double, and Piazza walked. Edgardo Alfonzo, fighting through nagging injuries, popped out to Travis Lee at first, and it appeared Daal would escape the jam. But Payton and Agbayani hit nearly identical flair singles to Center Field, both of them scoring runs to give the Mets an early 2-0 lead. Ventura, mired in a miserable slump, was buried in the 7th spot in the order, and gave every indication that he deserved so when he struck out and looked bad doing so.

Leiter fought through similar struggles throughout the early part of the game. In the 2nd, he gave up back-to-back singles to Tomas Perez and Todd Pratt (who received a nice ovation in his first appearance at Shea since being dealt), before getting Daal to ground out. In the 3rd, Scott Rolen singled with 2 out. In the 5th, Pratt singled to lead off, was sacrificed to second and moved to 3rd when Doug Glanville singled. But he got no further. Rollins grounded into a fielders choice, Rolen walked, and Leiter zipped a called strike 3 past Bobby Abreu.

Meanwhile, the Mets extended their lead to 3-0 in the 4th, when Agbayani hit a long leadoff HR into the bleachers in left. Things seemed to be running very, very smoothly on this afternoon.

At least, it was until there were 2 outs in the 6th.

Leiter finally ran into real trouble after Tomas Perez, he who had hit 2 HRs all season to that point, got around on a 1-0 pitch and hit it over the left field wall to put the Phillies on the board. Todd Pratt followed with a line drive single up the middle, his 3rd in 3 at bats. Brian Hunter followed with another single, this one a slicing liner that landed fair inside the right field line, moving Pratt over to 3rd. Doug Glanville followed with a shot to left-center that split Payton and Agbayani and went to the wall. Pratt scored, Hunter went to 3rd, and all of a sudden, the lead was slipping away from Leiter. He needed to get that last out. And he did, getting Rollins to wave at a cutter on 1-2. So, it appeared, things were OK.

But the Mets offense had ground to a complete halt. In the last of the 5th, a golden opportunity went by the wayside when McEwing was thrown out at home trying to score from 2nd on an Alfonzo single. Once the Philly bullpen took over, the Mets would muster only one hit between the 6th and the 8th innings. Jose Santiago zipped the Mets in the 6th and 7th, and Turk Wendell came in from the other bullpen, slammed the Rosin bag down, and pitched a 1-2-3 8th inning.

Meanwhile, the Mets tried, and failed, to hold the slim 3-2 lead. Leiter departed after 6 sweaty innings, having thrown 114 pitches. Jerrod Riggan took over and immediately squandered the lead. Abreu doubled with one out, stole 3rd and scored when Pat Burrell scorched one right at McEwing, who got a glove on it, and dropped it. The error was academic, the game was tied, 3-3. But Riggan buckled down and got Travis Lee to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.

John Franco pitched a drama-free 8th, and Armando Benitez more or less did the same in the 9th. Scott Rolen singled with 2 outs, but with Abreu up, he inexplicably attempted to steal 2nd and was promptly thrown out by Piazza.

So, it came down to the bottom of the 9th. Robin Ventura was leading off against his former teammate, Turk Wendell. To this point, Ventura was 0 for 3 with 2 strikeouts.

The game, for me, had been more or less a blur to this point. I didn't recall anything out of the ordinary happening, other than I was out in the sun in Left Field, and, like a ninny, I hadn't bothered to put on any sunblock. I was turning a rather frightening shade of red and knew that my night would probably be spent bathing in Aloe. I had also been keeping score in pen, also a departure for me. Why I did this, I can't recall. All I know was that it wasn't something I'd done very often, and it resulted in me making some mistakes that I had to scribble out, rather than simply erase if I'd been using a pencil like I should have. I looked down to try to notate one such mistake on the Phillies side while Wendell worked to Ventura, when all of a sudden I heard an immediate roar. I looked up to see the ball sailing over the Right-Center Field wall, landing softly in front of the scoreboard, and Ventura slowly circling the bases with a walk-off HR against Wendell.

Ventura's somewhat unlikely blow, his 18th of the season, gave the Mets a rather unremarkable 4-3 victory this afternoon. The next afternoon, Mike Piazza would hit another walk-off HR in the last of the 9th inning. But the Mets couldn't build a consistent hot streak off this pair of heroic victories. By the time they made a frenetic run at the Braves in September, there was simply too much ground to make up, and too little time. They made an admirable run, but ultimately came up short, leaving the memory of 2001 a disappointing reminder of what might have been.

Coming next, Classic Ballclub revisits the 2001 Mets...

1 comment:

jon said...

Read this whole account waiting to see how it ended, since I knew I was at a weekend Met day game, in left field in the sun, against the Phillies, shortly after the Turk-Cook trade, which the Mets won on a walkoff HR. But it was the Piazza game the next day.