Click here for an intro/manifesto on The 1999 Project.
April 16, 1999: Expos 6, Mets 4
Al Leiter entered the day seeking his first win of the year, and he left still seeking it. The lefty allowed only four hits in the first seven frames, but all four hits came in the fourth inning and resulted in four runs. Leiter limited the damage after that until the eighth, when he surrendered two more runs that put the game away for Montreal. Leiter’s counterpart, Dustin Hermanson, also gave up four hits in seven innings but held the Mets to just one run.
The Mets’ ostensible ace was done in by equal parts weather and bad luck. A one-hour-plus rain delay preceded the game; precipitation had figured so heavily in Leiter’s previous starts that John Franco dubbed him The Rain Man. He also had to deal with a weird hop on a ball hit by Michael Barrett that eluded Robin Ventura and prolonged the Expos’ four-run fourth inning.
“I’d be a little more distraught and a little more concerned if I felt I had no clue,” said a mystified Leiter (0-2). ”But my stuff is as good as it’s ever been in my career. I’m just not making that big pitch to get out of an inning. But I feel too good to get depressed about it yet.”
The Mets made a late bid to make things interesting, with one run in the eighth and two in the ninth on a Todd Pratt homer, but Expos closer/machete enthusiast Ugueth Urbina came in to get the last three outs without further incident.
Rickey Henderson hit a pinch-hit single in the eighth, then immediately asked to leave the game with a tight hamstring. After the game, he wouldn’t commit to making a start in left the following day. “I’ve got to wake up in the morning and see how it feels,” he said.
This date marked the 35th anniversary of the first game ever played at Shea. Mets starter Bobby Jones celebrated by going 7 strong innings, showing flashes of former all-star form. Jones was the early candidate for best Mets starter after going 3-0 with a meager 1.29 ERA.
With more than a few starters ailing or getting the day off, backups generated just enough offense for the victory. Matt Franco, starting in place of Ventura at third, tied the game with a two-run double in the third off of starter/future Yankee check collector Carl Pavano. Bobby Bonilla drove in the go-ahead run with an RBI groundout in the fifth (despite some angry boos from the hometown faithful whenever a ball was hit his way). The eighth and ninth innings were closed out with little stress by Armando Benitez and John Franco, respectively.
Queens native Allen Watson made his Shea debut and worked efficiently in the first inning: it only took him eight pitches to give Montreal a 3-0 lead. His first pitch was rapped for a single by Orlando Cabrera. His second pitch was launched 418 feet to straight-away center by Jose Vidro. Six pitches later, Rondell White hit one down the left
field line for a shot of his own.
The lefty settled in after that, but those runs were all the damage the Expos needed. Montreal starter Javier Vazquez entered the day with an ERA of 7.00 but limited the Mets’ offense to two solo homers by John Olerud (who reported seeing his first opera the night before; according to the NY Times, it was Wozzeck). The loss ended a fashion-related streak; coming into this game, the Mets had been 5-0 when wearing their black caps.
The Mets were glad to be done with the Marlins and Expos until July. Both teams were pesky, unlikely nemeses in 1998.
”Yes, I’m glad I’m through with those two teams,” Valentine said, factoring in the eight games the Mets and Expos also played during spring training and the four exhibitions the Mets and Marlins played before the season began. ”I think they were sick of seeing us and we were sick of seeing them.”
The only good news for Mets this day came from the PR department. The team gave ceremonial first pitch honors to Anthony Guandagno, a nine year old rejected by the Bayside Little League for being developmentally disabled.