Click here for an intro/manifesto on The 1999 Project.
The 1999 Mets were eager to leave the previous year’s collapse behind. They signed Mike Piazza to a huge, seven-year deal, and so they’d have a full season of one of the most feared sluggers in baseball. They acquired Rickey Henderson to provide spark at the top of their lineup. They also made a three-way trade to get Roger Cedeno and Armando Benitez, bolstering both their outfield depth and their bullpen.
One of their biggest off-season acquisitions was All Star third baseman Robin Ventura, known for his bat and his glove (so much so that Edgardo Alfonzo moved over to second base to accommodate him). But both failed Ventura in his Mets debut, and contributed to a 6-2 loss.
[Ventura] got a late jump on Luis Castillo’s leadoff Baltimore chop that led to a single and he was unable to glove Derrek Lee’s hard smash to third with one out and runners on first and third, turning a potential inning-ending double play into a run-scoring single and opening the way for the Marlins’ three-run rally.
”If I can get a glove on it, I should get it,” Ventura said. ”I thought I did and then I didn’t.”
Todd Dunwoody [seen to your right, because no, I don’t remember him either] lined a run-scoring single to center, Mike Piazza committed a passed ball to allow the runners to move to second and third. Preston Wilson, who was part of the trade that brought Piazza to New York last May, delivered a sacrifice fly to center.
Just like that, the Mets were down, 3-0.
But there were many contributors in the defeat, if you can call them that. The Mets left 14 men on base in total. They were able to scratch out hits against Alex Fernandez, making his first start in 18 months after rotator cuff surgery, but couldn’t plate any runners other than a weak sac fly and late homer by John Olerud.
Al Leiter’s overall ineffectiveness was no help either: five runs (four earned), nine hits, and 124 pitches in only five innings of work. This was cause for concern, after a sub-par spring training and a bruised right hip he suffered in an exhibition game. Although Leiter himself thought he got unlucky on a few dinky grounders that managed to find holes or bounce off of gloves.
The loss underscored the Mets’ troubles beating bad teams, which cost them dearly the previous year. In 1998, they went 7-5 against the post-fire-sale Marlins, who won an NL-low 54 games. They fared even worse against the 65-win Expos. The New York Times believed that Opening Day was a bad omen for the team:
Unlike the Marlins, the Mets are built to win now. Their starting
lineup averages 31 years of age, their starting rotation 34; their
closer is 38. [GM Steve] Phillips had talked before the game about his only expectation being that his players perform to their average capabilities.
If that happens, the general manager was asked, is this a playoff team? ”It should be,” Phillips said, well aware that the Mets have not qualified for the post-season since 1988. ”It better be.”
But today, the Mets looked a lot more like the team that had trouble beating the Marlins and the Expos last season.