Click here for an intro/manifesto on The 1999 Project.
Despite the early date, this series against the Giants was seen as important, as San Francisco was deemed a potential wild-card rival. The year before, the Giants had done the virtual opposite of what the Mets did: win four of their last five and force a wild card playoff game with the Cubs (which they lost).
For such grit and determination, Giants skipper Dusty Baker was lauded as a “players’ manager” by Mike Piazza, and someone who will “find a way to get [his players] to overachieve” by an Arizona assistant GM. “Similar comments are not heard about Bobby Valentine”, the Times noted tartly, while also insisting, “it’s important, for their confidence at least, for the Mets to make a strong showing against the Giants this weekend.”
In the first game, they didn’t make a strong showing so much as stand around while the Giants made a very weak one. New York capitalized on a disastrous first inning by future Met/Clemens scapegoat Shawn Estes, who ceded four runs in the frame–two of them scoring on a balk and a wild pitch. Both Baker and the always even tempered Jeff Kent screamed encouraging words at Estes during his rough inning, to no effect.
Allen Watson–recent inductee into Christ the King High School’s Sports Hall of Fame–pitched five solid innings, and the bullpen held the healthy lead it was given. Robin Ventura finished a triple short of the cycle.
Orel Hershiser played with danger throughout the game. He loaded the bases twice in six innings, walked four, hit a batter, and allowed a runner to advance on an errant pickoff move. But the offense came to his defense, particularly a grand slam by Brian McRae in the bottom of the sixth that put the game away for the Mets.
It took some craft for Hershiser to come away with a win. He loaded the bases in the bottom of the fourth by walking the opposing pitcher, but struck out Marvin Benard and got a groundout from Armando Rios to escape by the skin of his teeth. In the top of the sixth, he decided to pitch from the stretch with no one on base, and recorded his only 1-2-3 inning of the night.
Hershiser believed his W was as much a product of luck as guile. “I could easily be giving losing interviews, telling you why I was so bad,” he told the Daily News.
Masato Yoshii and Kirk Reuter matched up in an unlikely pitchers’ duel. Yoshii pitched six scoreless innings, and Reuter countered with seven of his own. There were only two extra base hits all game–both for the Giants, both stranded.
Yoshii was in desperate need of a solid start. Or a decent start. Or just a not-completely-horrible start. But with a move back to his original pitching motion, he regained his control and his confidence. The performance quieted (at least for one day) the calls for him to be replaced in the rotation by Allen Watson, or Octavio Dotel, or Jason Isringhausen, or an as-yet-acquired pitcher, or Anybody But Yoshii.
Yoshii delivered, but would not get a decision. The W went to Dennis Cook, who turned in two scoreless innings and earned his fifth relief win of the young season. Although the win probably should have been awarded to the winds that swirled around Shea.
Giants reliever John Johnstone easily retired the first two batters he faced in the bottom of the eighth. Then, Matt Franco knocked a pinch-hit single to bring Rickey Henderson to the plate. Henderson had a rough game, hitting into two double plays and committing an error that turned a single into a double.
But the baseball fates reversed themselves when Henderson hit a high fly ball that was jostled by the winds above the no-man’s land between the shortstop and the centerfielder (“When the ball gets above the stadium, it doesn’t end up where it started off”, Franco noted). Despite playing in a notoriously windy stadium of their own, the Giants seemed unprepared for this. The ball clanked off of shortstop Ramon Martinez’s glove, and the hustling Franco scored all the way from first. After a walk to Edgardo Alfonzo, John Olerud singled Henderson home to put the Mets up by two.
John Franco came on to save the game and put on a typical heart-stopping Franco-esque performance. He loaded the bases with one out on two singles and a walk, but induced a double play from Charlie Hayes to end the game and complete the sweep.