1999 Project: Games 48-53 (A Homestand from Hell)

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

May 28, 1999: Diamondbacks 2, Mets 1

The Mets began a six-game homestand with the news that both Jason Isringhausen and Bobby Jones were ailing. Things didn’t improve much at game time. Rick Reed pitched well in his 7 innings of work, but gave up two runs in the second on a walk, a single, and triple. That seemed to be all the offense would Arizona would need, as Omar Daal shut the door on the Mets.

A homer by Benny Agbayani in the seventh (his fifth on only 43 at bats) cut the deficit in half, and the Mets threatened in the bottom of the ninth, loading the bases on two singles and a walk. But Luis Lopez struck out looking, thanks in part to a strike zone the Mets thought had suddenly shifted.

To add another layer of weirdness to the proceedings, Turk Wendell was forced to leave the field in the eighth inning because, as Diamondbacks manager Buck Showalter pointed out, he was using a two-colored glove, which was apparently illegal. Wendell swapped the glove and returned to the mound to pitch a scoreless frame. “It’s Showalter’s little antics,” Wendell told reporters. “He’s a stickler aboutlittle things like that. Power to him. It didn’t work. I’m sure Bobby Vdoes the same thing.”

May 29, 1999: Diamondbacks 8, Mets 7

This game saw yet another Mets pitcher go down. Allen Watson, starting in place of the injured Isringhausen, tried to kick-stop a line drive with his foot. This unwise move resulted in Watson limping off the field, and the Mets’ usually reliable bullpen did not hold up.

Every reliever but Armando Benitez made an appearance, but to no avail. Pat Mahomes and Rigo Beltran had both been stingy in their recent appearances, but they gave up three runs apiece this day, and the offense could not bail them out. Armando Reynoso, who’d been with the Mets the previous two seasons, gave up five runs in his five innings of work, but that was sufficient to earn a victory. In his first major league appearance, Byung-Hyun Kim pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the save.

The team’s frustration was clearly mounting. Brian McRae was tossed in the first inning for arguing balls and strikes. Rickey Henderson was picked off of second, which could have cost the Mets a precious run. And Rey Ordonez suddenly needed two days’ rest for a knee injury that came as a total surprise to manager Bobby Valentine.

May 30, 1999: Diamondbacks 10, Mets 1

On Beanie Baby Day, Arizona completed their sweep with a 10-1 drubbing. No Mets starter had any record of success against Randy Johnson, and that continued in this game. The giant lefty pitched eight dominant innings, striking out ten. His only blemish was a solo homer by Roger Cedeno in the fourth, but the game was already out of reach by that

Masato Yoshii, who’d been the team’s best starter for a long stretch, looked forward to facing Johnson in the batter’s box. But he was torched for seven runs in only 2 2/3 innings of work and didn’t last long enough to earn a turn at bat. Johnson (a .114 lifetime hitter at the time) touched him for two hits, including an RBI single.

The Mets also found out that Bobby Jones would miss at least two weeks with a strained rotator cuff. Ordonez’s knee inury was not deemed serious enough to warrant a trip to the DL, but it was unclear when he would return. And Rickey Henderson grumbled about a lack of playing time in the Mets’ crowded outfield. He had sat in four of the previous seven
games, and feared he might not reach 500 plate appearances on the year
(and not get the automatic $2 million option for the following season
tied to that benchmark).

99_badhomestand.pngMay 31, 1999: Reds 5, Mets 3

Al Leiter made his first start in seven days, and Bobby Valentine pronounced that the lefty was “four or five pitches away from a complete game shutout”.
I assume those four or five pitches included the home runs he gave up to Pokey Reese and Greg Vaughn. The first shot was a two-run homer that
tied the game in the third. The second was a 423-foot bomb in the fifth that put the Reds ahead to stay. After the game, Leiter told reporters, “I feel good, I feel strong and I feel like I know what the hell I’m doing out there,” but he had little to show for it.

The Mets hit three homers of their own, but all came with no one on base–Edgardo Alfonzo in the first, and back-to-back homers by Brian McRae and Bobby Bonilla, fresh off the DL. After starter Brett Tomko left the game, reliever Ron Villone pitched four scoreless innings, and closer Scott Williamson kept the Mets quiet the rest of the way.

June 1, 1999: Reds 4, Mets 0

Bobby Valentine played both Henderson and Bonilla for the second straight game, despite Roger Cedeno and Benny Agbayani’s hot bats. Presumably, this decision had something to do with the ginormous contracts owed to the two vets, and Henderson’s grumbling earlier in the week. With the reinsertion of Rey Ordonez, this game featured the Mets’ projected
opening day lineup for the first time in two months.

It also featured a shut out by ex-Met Pete Harnisch. Bonilla’s punchless offense and shoddy defense–two hits whizzed past him, both resulting in triples–spawned chants of “Bobby sucks” from the right field stands, and cheers when he was removed in a double
switch in favor of Cedeno. Orel Hershiser turned in another poor outing, ceding four runs in five innings.

Mike Piazza confessed he was trying to “put the ball over the scoreboard” during his at bats, and the frazzled team held a players-only meeting following the loss.

June 2, 1999: Reds 8, Mets 7

Benny Agbayani won the outfield lottery for the series finale, despite Roger Cedeno’s hot bat and league-leading steals total. Agbayani didn’t contribute much to the proceedings, but other substitutes did.

The Reds went ahead 4-3 when Dennis Cook hit a batter with the bases loaded in the sixth,
then stretched their lead further on a 2-run homer by Greg Vaughn in the top of the seventh. But the Mets bounced back with four runs in the bottom half, helped largely by pinch hits from Brian McRae and Matt Franco. Pinch runner Melvin Mora scored the go-ahead run on a grounder by Bonilla, eluding a tag from Ed Taubensee.

But just when it looked like the Mets might end their longest losing streak of the year,
John Franco picked a bad time for his first blown save. After getting two quick outs, Franco loaded the bases on a walk, a single, and a walk, then gave up the tying and go-ahead runs on a single to Mike Cameron.

Save for a walk to Rickey Henderson, the completely drained Mets went quietly in the bottom of the ninth for their sixth straight loss. It marked their worst homestand since 1979, and their first back-to-back three game sweeps at home since their dreadful inaugural year of 1962.

“I’m really lost for words right now,” Mike Piazza told reporters. “I’m just drained. The whole week has been tough for everybody.” Things wouldn’t get any easier any time soon, with the first leg of the Subway Series in the Bronx coming up.