Sunday, September 30, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 2001

Part 40 of our 50-year cool customer...
What is it: 2001 Topps #205, Edgardo Alfonzo

What makes it interesting: Topps really went all out for their 50th Anniversary set in 2001. They had a glitzy logo and hideous green borders. After a number of years of running short sets, with 400-500 cards, this is the first year Topps went back to a 792 card set, and this years' Mets team set included a number of lesser known players, including Pat Mahomes, Rick White, and the rookie card of Tsuyoshi Shinjo.

Mention the name Edgardo Alfonzo around any Mets fan, and you're bound to get a big smile in response. One of the best home-grown talents to ever come out of the Mets farm system, Alfonzo arrived in the Major Leagues at the age of 21 in 1995 following several outstanding seasons in the Minors. A reserve player at first, Alfonzo was nonetheless noted for his exceptional intangible skills. Alfonzo may have been a young rookie, but he played with the instincts of a sage veteran, rarely committing a mental mistake and playing with exceptional polish. Following the dispensation of Bobby Bonilla, Alfonzo began to play more regularly. Though he was a Shortstop by trade, Alfonzo was also versatile, playing most of his games at 3rd Base or 2nd Base when needed. Though he only hit .278 for the season, he hit .310 after the All Star Break, with 4 Home Runs and 41 RBI. Alfonzo's second season started out in similar fashion, with Alfonzo playing the role of supreme reserve player. His numbers, .261 average with 4 Home Runs and 40 RBI mirrored his rookie season.

It was in 1997 that Edgardo Alfonzo then took off. Handed the starting 3rd Base job early in the season, Alfonzo took off and ran with it. After a slow start in April, Alfonzo caught fire in early May, and by June 10th, pushed his batting average over .300, where it would remain the rest of the season. Alfonzo began to show more power at the plate, and an uncanny knack for coming up with clutch hits, either to drive in a key run, or to get on base and score a key run. His defense, always solid, was first-rate at 3rd Base. His .315 Average, along with 10 Home Runs and 72 RBI cemented his place as a rising young star, and a fan favorite. He even garnered some MVP attention, finishing 13th in the voting as the Mets unexpectedly won 88 games.

1998 saw a slight regression for Alfonzo at the plate, but only in the sense that he didn't hit for as high an average. Though his average slipped to .278, he still hit a career high 17 Home Runs with 78 RBI. After the season, Alfonzo was asked to switch back to 2nd Base following the signing of Robin Ventura. If he was unhappy by the move, he certainly didn't show it. In fact, Alfonzo responded with two of the finest offensive seasons in Mets History.

1999 saw Alfonzo establish his place as one of the National League's best 2nd Basemen. Though his numbers would be overshadowed somewhat by the bigger names around him, Mets fans know how important he was to the team. Though it had been 2 seasons since he'd played 2nd Base on a regular basis, Alfonzo made 5 errors for the season, serving as a key member of The Best Infield Ever. Between him and his keystone mate Rey Ordonez, the spectacular became routine. Alfonzo's offense also improved to an elite level, as his average jumped back up to .304, and he set career highs with 27 Home Runs, 108 RBI and scored a then-team record 123 Runs as the Mets made a push for the postseason. Among those games was one career night on August 30th in the Astrodome. That night, in a 17-1 Mets victory, Alfonzo had the game of games, going 6 for 6, hitting 3 Home Runs, driving in 5 and totaling 16 bases. On the regular season's final day, Alfonzo had a huge hit in the bottom of the 9th inning, singling Melvin Mora to 3rd base, where he would eventually score on a wild pitch, putting the Mets in a One-Game Playoff for the NL Wildcard in Cincinnati. That night, Alfonzo set the tone, hitting a 2-run Home Run off Steve Parris in the 1st inning to send the Mets on their way to a 5-0 victory. One night later in Arizona, Alfonzo stole the show. His 1st inning Home Run off Randy Johnson gave the Mets an early lead, and he would bookend his night by hitting a Grand Slam off Bobby Chouinard to lead the Mets to an 8-4 victory in Game 1 of the NLDS. Alfonzo would add another Home Run in Game 4 of that series, as the Mets beat the Diamondbacks that day to advance to the NLCS. Alfonzo continued to raise his game with the moment. Although he only hit .222 for the NLCS, he made each of his hits count, aiding rallies in Game 1 and Game 2. But perhaps his most important moment was an at bat where he gave himself up. In the 15th inning of Game 5 of the NLCS, with the Mets down a run and 2 men on base, Alfonzo selflessly laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, setting the stage for the Mets to tie and ultimately win the game. In Game 6, his leadoff double in the 6th inning began the Mets uprising from a 5-run deficit to tie the game. Ultimately, the Mets would fall short. But Alfonzo had clearly placed himself in national consciousness, finishing 8th in NL MVP voting.

Alfonzo was just as good in 2000, as he started off hot and stayed hot pretty much the entire season. Alfonzo was in the thick of just about everything the Mets did all season long, and finally got the recognition he richly deserved when he made his first, and only, All Star team. Alfonzo's regular season was so consistently great that there isn't one single moment that stood out, because he stood out all season long. His career high average of .324 was supplemented by 25 Home Runs, 94 RBI, 95 Walks and 109 Runs Scored. Come the Postseason, Alfonzo simply continued on as he had all season, coming up with big hits at big moments. In Game 2 of the NLDS against the Giants, Alfonzo hit a 2 run Home Run in the 9th inning, giving the Mets a 4-1 lead. His hit would prove massively important when J.T. Snow's Home Run tied the game. But the Mets would get up off the mat and win the game in 10 innings. Back at Shea Stadium in Game 3, Alfonzo was once again up in a big spot, with the Mets trailing 2-1 in the 8th, with the tying run on 2nd and Giants closer Robb Nen on the mound. No biggie. Alfonzo drilled a huge RBI double into the Left Field corner to tie the game and hand Nen his first blown save since July, as the Mets would go on to win in 13 innings. The next day, with the Mets one win away from knocking out the Giants, Alfonzo nailed a 2-run double in the 5th inning that put the game out of reach as the Mets won 4-0 to clinch the series. In the NLCS vs. the Cardinals, all Alfonzo did was hit .444 with 4 RBIs as the Mets wiped out St. Louis in 5 games. Alfonzo also set a Mets record by hitting in 13 consecutive postseason games, starting with Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS and ending with Game 2 of the 2000 World Series.

Unfortunately, the 2000 season would be Alfonzo's peak, as a nagging back injury limited him to 124 games, and knocked his average down to a miserable .243 with 17 HR and only 49 RBI. Not totally recovered, Alfonzo nonetheless hit .308 in 2002. Though it still appeared that Alfonzo was still a useful player, and he was always loved by the fans, the Mets decided not to offer him a contract following the 2002 season, and Alfonzo's tenure with the Mets was over. After he signed with the San Francisco Giants, Alfonzo, in a move that displayed the classy, genuine person he was, purchased a full page ad in the New York Times thanking the Mets fans for their support during his time here. The feeling was mutual. Though Alfonzo ultimately found himself on the downside of his career after departing the Mets, he did have one more great run with the Giants, hitting ..529 in the 2003 NLDS as the Giants lost to Florida.

Alfonzo, to this day, continues to receive the warmest of welcomes whenever he comes around Citi Field. The ovation he received during the Shea Stadium closing ceremonies was among the loudest for anyone not named Seaver, Piazza, Strawberry or Gooden. His numbers with the Mets, a .292 average with 120 Home Runs, 538 RBI, 614 runs scored, 212 doubles and 1,136 hits, all of which rank among the best in Mets history. And for those two seasons, he was not only the best all around player the Mets had, he may well have been the best all around player in New York.

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