Click here for an intro/manifesto on The 1999 Project.
June 11, 1999: Red Sox 3, Mets 2 (12)
Four wins a row had improved the Mets’ spirits, but controversy hadn’t left them entirely. In his second go-around with the Mets, Bobby Bonilla proved to be just as much of a problem as in his first. The outfielder refused to pinch-hit during the middle game of the series against the Blue Jays, earning him six days’ of riding the pine (even though the team initially said insubordination was not a factor for his absence in the lineup). Steve Phillips told reporters that all options were on the table, including releasing Bonilla outright, but no move was imminent.
This also coincided with Bobby Valentine receiving a two-game suspension and $5,000 fine for his costumed antics during the Toronto series. The manager appealed the ruling, but expressed no remorse: “It was a mistake, but for a moment the emotions of a group of tight people, it was a break, and for me too.”
Amidst this continuing circus, the Mets welcomed the Red Sox to Shea and curiously celebrated Ted Williams Night to mark the 60th anniversary of his rookie season. Not that the Splendid Splinter didn’t deserve a tribute, but it seemed an odd event considering Williams was never associated with the Mets in any way (unless one counts Mike Piazza receiving batting tips from Williams as a teenager, thanks to Piazza Family chum and a friend of Ted’s, Tommy Lasorda).
In the “Shuttle Series” opener, the Mets could do little against starter Brian Rose, lodging only three hits in his seven innings of work. Boston scratched out runs in the second and third against Masato Yoshii, and that looked to be enough as the Mets batted in the ninth down 2-0. But Jon Olerud led off the inning with a single off of Sox closer Tom Gordon, then Piazza belted a homer into the left field bleachers to tie the game.
But the Mets couldn’t complete the comeback. After two good innings of relief from Armando Benitez, things unraveled for John Franco in the twelfth. Pinch hitter Damon Buford led off with a single, then went all the way to third on an attempted steal when Piazza’s throw zipped into the outfield. The Mets got a break when Jose Offerman hit a grounder to shortstop Luis Lopez, and Buford was tagged out in a rundown, but Offerman took second as Buford was chased around the bases.
John Valentin was up next, and Valentine contemplated walking him to bring up the lefty-hitting catcher Brian Daubach. He decided against this move and immediately regretted it, as Valentin laced a single into left field that Benny Agbayani (who pinch hit in the eighth and stayed in the game) overran, thus removing any chance of a play at the plate. The Mets went quietly in the bottom half and Franco took the loss, his tenth in as many decisions.
As a footnote, despite his benching, Bonilla pinch hit in the eighth and was greeted with boos. His solid single briefly silenced the hostile crowd. The Daily News noted that, despite their reported clashes, Valentine and Bonilla high fived when he was removed for a pinch runner.
As he did in his previous start against the Yankees, Al Leiter held the Red Sox to two runs over seven innings. The lefty kept the Sox completely off the board until the seventh, when Boston strung together three two-out hits to plate two runs and cut the lead to one run. But Olerud homered in the eighth to give the Mets some breathing room, and Franco rebounded from the sloppy outing of the night before to earn his fifteenth save of the year.
Almost as important as Leiter’s solid outing was Agbayani’s fruitful return to the starting lineup. His two-run homer in the third put the Mets on the board and gave them a lead they would never relinquish.
With Bonilla’s struggles–on field and otherwise–Agbayani had more than filled the void, belting nine homers in a ridiculously short amount of time. Already, the portly Hawaiian had become something of a fan favorite. “It’s never happened to me in my whole life, the fans being behind methe way they are,” he told the Daily News. “I just hope that when I’m not doing as well they keep cheering me on.”
The Mets’ bullpen had been taxed a bit in recent games, and neither Benitez nor Franco were available after working several games in a row. So it would have helped if Orel Hershiser could pitch deep into this game, something he had been unable to do with any regularity.
Hershiser did his best in this contest, giving up two runs in the first six innings. Bolstered by homers by Agbayani and Brian McRae, he had a 5-2 lead when he came out to start the seventh. But a walk and a single led to a quick exit before he recorded an out.
With few bullpen options and no ability to play lefty-righty matchups, Valentine went with Dennis Cook. The southpaw allowed both inherited runners to score, but no further damage. Greg McMichael worked around a single and an error to throw a scoreless eighth, and Valentine turned to volatile righty Turk Wendell to get the save.
Wendell got into trouble immediately by giving up a double to Nomar Garciaparra. But rather than bunt the tying run into scoring position, Offerman swung away and popped out to Rey Ordonez. After striking out Jason Varitek on three pitches, Wendell gave up a fly ball to Valentin that almost carried over Agbayani’s head in left, but Benny managed to snag it and seal the victory.
A week earlier, the Mets were mired in an eight-game losing streak. Now they’d won six of their last seven. What had changed? According to Valentine, “What I saw during the losing streak was a group that got angry butdidn’t get down. What I see now is a group that’s determined and trying to get even.”