1999 Project: Games 35-37

Click here for an intro/manifesto on The 1999 Project.

vetstadiumseat.jpgMay 14, 1999: Mets 7, Phillies 3

The Phillies, losers of 97 games in 1998, got off to a surprisingly competitive start in 1999: 19-14, third place in the NL East, just behind the Mets. This was especially surprising because the team cut payroll before the season ($26 million, down $2 million from the previous year) and were already rumored to be shopping ace starter Curt Schilling and/or young superstar third baseman Scott Rolen.

Yet, amid all this belt-tightening, the team also raised ticket prices by an average of 21 percent, a move that predictably caused many no-shows at the thoroughly unattractive Veteran’s Stadium. This also lead to the Phils’ openly enticing Mets fans to take the trip down the Turnpike and fill some of those empty seats.

With many of their partisans in attendance, the Mets jumped on Phillies starter Chad Ogea for four first inning runs and cruised the rest of the way. Jon Olerud’s two-run shot in that frame was only the 14th ever to reach the right field upper deck at Veteran’s Stadium. Two batters later, following a walk to Mike Piazza, Robin Ventura hit a two-run homer of his own. Edgardo Alfonzo contributed a solo shot in the third.

Roger Cedeno opened some eyes by stealing a career-high four bases. Manager Bobby Valentine seemed to think Cedeno was coming into his own. “He should go every time he gets on,” he told the Daily News. “Roger is in a groove. I don’t think they can throw him out on a pitchout.”

Masato Yoshii gave up three solo homers in his six innings of work, but little else. After coming out of spring training as a prime candidate for demotion or release, Yoshii was rounding out into the team’s most consistent starter.

May 15, 1999: Mets 9, Phillies 7

Their ace had his shortest start as a Met. Their best hitter hit into a triple play. And they begin today within striking distance of first

For once, Al Leiter saved his blow-up for early in the game, ceding four runs in the first inning. The Phils tallied one more in the second and third and put the Mets in a 6-0 hole before they could blink. But Pat Mahomes, just recalled from triple-A Norfolk, pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings, which gave his team just enough daylight to get back into the

The Mets scored five runs in the top of the fourth inning, all of them plated with two outs, then tied the game on a Brian McRae solo homer in the fifth and an Alfonzo RBI single in the sixth. Shortly thereafter, Piazza killed a rally by lining into a triple play, but two more runs in the top of the ninth put the Mets ahead.

John Franco gave up a run in the bottom half but recorded the final out and his eleventh save of the season in as many chances. A Braves loss to the Cubs put the Mets a mere half game behind Atlanta for first place in the NL East.

May 16, 1999: Phillies 5, Mets 2

After being skipped for his last start, Orel Hershiser got an eye exam, hoping that his vision (and not his 40-year-old arm) was responsible for his pitching woes. He got an adjustment on his contact lens prescription, and it seemed to work through the first five innings of his start in Philly.

But the Phillies got to him for four runs in the sixth and held on for a 5-2 win to spoil the Mets’ hope for a sweep. Hershiser could comfort himself with the fact that most of the hits he gave up were of the soft variety, and three of those runs scored as a direct result of a hit that Matt Franco–playing left field for only the third time in his career–misplayed into a triple. Hershiser was also pleased that he pitched six innings for the first time that year. “You look under every rock when you’re slumping,” Hershiser told the Daily News.

The Braves’ victory put the Mets back to 1 1/2 games behind Atlanta. A Yankees win also prevented them from having the best record in the city, for however much that was