Click here for an intro/manifesto on The 1999 Project.
In 1998, the Mets took four out of six games against the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks. But the 1999 Diamondbacks were an altogether different team. They bolstered their rotation with Randy Johnson and Todd Stottlemeyer, and solidified their lineup with Steve Finley and Tony Womack. This was also the year in which Luis Gonzalez was suddenly transformed into an offensive powerhouse (through totally natural means, I’m sure).
By the time the Mets traveled to Arizona, the Diamondbacks were a game over .500 and just getting ready to roll, which they made abundantly clear from the very first inning. In the first game of the series, Orel Hershiser turned in a horrific start, giving up nine runs on nine hits in 4 1/3 innings. About the only good thing that could be said of his performance is that he only spent 79 pitches to allow such damage. So his meltdown was efficient, if nothing else.
The Mets fell behind 5-1 early, then rallied to take a 6-5 lead. That prompted Bobby Valentine to let the ineffective Hershiser bat for himself in the top of the fifth, and to also leave the 40-year-old in after he loaded the bases with one out in the bottom half. Hershiser immediately allowed Travis Lee to unload them with a bases-clearing double.
The Diamondbacks then torched relievers Josias Manzanillo and Allen Watson for five more runs, though they were hardly necessary. The Mets just managed three hits the rest of the way. Armando Benitez celebrated a nigh-meaningless eighth inning strikeout by twirling his finger, which prompted some grumbling from the Arizona bench.
After the game, Hershiser defended blamed himself, not Valentine. “We went over the situation and then he left me to ruin the game. I let him down. He didn’t let me down.”
To add injury to insult, Rickey Henderson went on the DL with a strained right knee. Bobby Bonilla was also dealing with some knee issues, but with Henderson sidelined, the oft-booed outfielder would continue to play through the pain.
Masato Yoshii turned in another encouraging start, throwing six scoreless innings (a cracked fingernail prevented him from going any further). The Mets got homers from Matt Franco and John Olerud and took a seemingly comfortable 4-0 into the ninth. Despite it not being a save situation, Valentine turned the ball over to John Franco, who hadn’t pitched in five days.
Franco proceeded to give up a leadoff single to Womack and a bomb of a home run to Jay Bell. A single by Gonzalez, a potential double play grounder that instead went for a fielder’s choice, and a walk to Finley put the tying runs on first and second with only one out.
Valentine gave Franco the hook and brought in Benitez, with the blown save against the Astros still fresh in his mind. Benitez gave up two very long, loud fly balls, but both were caught to end the game.
Later, Benitez defended his antics of the day before by simply saying, “It comes in the blood.”
Asked for a word on his outing, Reed answered, “I got two. I stunk.”
Rick Reed did Orel Hershiser one better and gave up eight runs in only 1 1/3 innings. He gave up a third-run homer to Gonzalez in the first, and the only out he recorded in the second came on a sac bunt. The final score looked much closer than it should have, after homers by Mike Piazza and Mike Kinkade plated three runs in the top of the ninth, but the Mets were never in this game. The bad pitching performances in this series were particularly galling with Coors Field looming in the next series.
Back in New York, Lisa Olsen of the Daily News mused about Alex Rodriguez’s impending free agency. The title of her article: “A-Rod Would Look Good in New York”. Be careful what you wish for, Lisa.