Saturday, September 8, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 1994

Part 33 of our 50-year One-Hitter...
What is it: 1994 Topps #539, Bobby Jones

What makes it interesting: Topps' issue for 1994 is another fairly nondescript one. Building on the trends of the Baseball card business, the '94s were the first regular issue Topps set to be on glossy card stock. Design-wise, the oversized home plate is sort of corny and at times the script names are hard to read.

Bobby Jones, "Fresno," or Bobby J. Jones (made necessary when the Mets brought in the slop-throwing left-handed Bobby M. Jones in 2000) arrived on the scene late in the lost 1993 season with a ton of hype. A first round pick in the 1991 draft (which the Mets received as compensation for losing Darryl Strawberry), Bobby Jones shot through the Mets farm system in two seasons. A product of the same High School as Tom Seaver, Bobby Jones was anointed as a savior, sight unseen, after some very good Minor League seasons. A finesse pitcher who relied more on deception than power, Jones was inserted in the Mets rotation immediately upon arrival and remained there more or less for the rest of the 1990s.

Jones' performance in '93 was hot and cold, as could be expected from a rookie, but he did throw 10 shutout innings in a final week game against the Cardinals. In the strike-shortened '94 season, Jones emerged as one of the better pitchers the Mets had, winning 12 games, and finishing in the NL's top 10 with his 3.15 ERA. Steady, though unspectacular performances were the norm for Jones, as his repertoire of mixing an 85-90MPH fastball with a 65-70MPH curve and changeup would confound hitters sometimes, but not all of the time. His numbers in 1995 and 1996 reflected this. '95 would see Jones finish 10-10 with a 4.19 ERA, and in '96, after being tabbed the Mets Opening Day Starter, Jones would finish 12-8 with a 4.42 ERA.

1997 would be Jones' best season, as he made his first and only career All Star Game appearance following a first half that saw him reel off 8 consecutive victories en route to a 11-2 start. In the All Star Game, Jones pitched the 8th inning for the National League, and punctuated his performance with strikeouts of Ken Griffey, Jr, and Mark McGwire. In the 2nd half, Jones regressed to his career norm a bit, but nonetheless finished with a career best 15 wins and a 3.63 ERA for the resurgent Mets.

Jones was given his second Opening Day nod in 1998, and started the year pitching reasonably well. But he would ultimately fizzle out with a number of no-decisions and poor outings, and end up finishing with under 10 victories for the first time in his career, going 9-9 with a 4.05 ERA.

1999 saw Bobby Jones once again start out in the middle of the Mets rotation, and although he got off to a fine start, and even hit his first career Home Run in the Mets home opener, Jones eventually found himself on the DL with rotator cuff soreness. Though he would return for the pennant race in September, Jones did not start a game after May 22nd. The odd-man out of a now-crowded pitching staff, Jones made 3 unimpressive relief appearances that September, and was ultimately not included on the Mets Postseason roster.

2000 saw Jones at a career crossroads. After starting off the season quite poorly, Jones found himself demoted to the Minor Leagues in June. The time in AAA seemed to do him some good. Although he was unable to undo the damage to his stats that his poor early season performances had done, he did manage to go 10-2 after being recalled, and this time, Jones had earned himself a spot in the starting rotation for the Mets in the Postseason. Jones would be given the ball for his first Playoff start in Game 4 of the NLDS, a potential clinching game at Shea Stadium against the San Francisco Giants.

Jones would respond with the game of his life.

Mixing that Fastball and Curve like a man possessed, Jones mowed down the Giants inning after inning. Given an early lead on a Robin Ventura HR,  Jones settled down and retired the first 12 Giants in order. A leadoff double by Jeff Kent in the 5th dispelled the No-Hit drama, and following a couple of walks, Jones found himself in a bases-loaded jam. But Jones would get out of the inning unscathed, and then went on to retire the final 12 Giant hitters in order. By throwing 8 of 9 perfect innings, Jones completed a masterful, albeit completely unexpected, One-Hit Shutout to send the Mets to the NLCS.

Jones' subsequent playoff appearances were not quite as good, and, ultimately, Jones would leave the Mets as a Free Agent following the 2000 season. But if there was ever a game to be remembered for, it would be that One-Hitter against the Giants. To this day, fans remember him for that one game more than anything else. It's easy to forget that Jones left the Mets as their leader in both Wins and Losses for the 1990s, and won over 10 games in 5 separate seasons. He may not have been spectacular, but he was consistent. And when it mattered most, Jones delivered his signature performance in that game against the Giants.

Card back:

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