1999 Project: Games 70-72

Click here for an intro/manifesto on The 1999 Project.June 22, 1999: Mets 8, Marlins 2

Masato Yoshii pitched well in this outing, the first in a brief three-game homestand, giving up just two runs in 6 2/3 innings, but the Mets were baffled by the knuckleball of Florida starter Dennis Springer. Robin Ventura hit a solo shot off of him in the second, but Kevin Orie hit a two-run bomb of his own in the third, and the Mets entered the seventh inning trailing 2-1.

Yoshii got into some trouble in the top of the seventh, when he allowed a one-out double and a walk. Bobby Valentine called on reliever Greg McMichael, who retired the next two batters to keep the deficit at one run.

In the bottom half, the Mets finally got to Springer. Ventura led off the inning with a double. After a Brian McRae pop out, Roger Cedeno hit a ball that center fielder Preston Wilson (one of the chips sent to Florida the previous season in the Mike Piazza trade) tried to field on one hop. But the ball skipped past him, allowing Ventura to score and Cedeno to speed to third with a triple. Antonio Alfonseca came on to relieve Springer, but he promptly gave up RBI singles to Rey Ordonez and Edgardo Alfonzo.

After Armando Benitez pitched a 1-2-3 top of the eighth, the Mets piled on in their half. Piazza led off with a solo shot, and a double by Ventura and a single by McRae put runners on second and third with nobody out. Cedeno was walked intentionally to bring up the much less threatening Ordonez, but he delivered a two-run single. Even Benitez pitched in; in a rare at-bat for the set-up man, he drove in a run with a groundout. No worse for wear, the big righty set the Marlins down in order in the ninth to preserve the victory.

In other team news, the Mets decided to send Jason Isringhausen down to Norfolk again, with an eye toward making him a reliever. It was a move that would provide dividends–most of them for Oakland.

June 23, 1999: Mets 6, Marlins 3

Al Leiter continued his resurgence, throwing seven sharp innings, striking out seven, and giving up three runs. Since his breakthrough performance at Yankee Stadium, the lefty had an ERA of 2.25. Leiter seemed to falter a bit in the top of the seventh, when he gave up a single and a walk to the first two batters, prompting an unwelcome visit to the mound from Bobby Valentine (conferences and pitching changes were usually handled by pitching coach Dave Wallace). He induced a double play from future Met Luis Castillo, and though he allowed a run-scoring single from Alex Gonzalez, he struck out the last batter he faced to escape further damage.

Alfonzo paced the offense, hitting a solo shot and knocking in three runs. Cedeno swiped two more bases, bringing his total on the season to a league-leading 41. The bullpen made sure Leiter’s effort stuck. Despite appearing in his third game in four days, Benitez pitched a 1-2-3 eighth with two strikeouts, and John Franco set down all three batters he faced for his nineteenth save of the year.

On the negative side, Piazza suffered a mild concussion when he was hit by a Bruce Aven backswing in the top of the seventh. The catcher stayed in the game to try and extend his franchise record 24-game hitting streak, but grounded out in the bottom of the eighth and came out of the game. Afterward, his last at-bat was little more than a blur. “I think I swung at one of the balls I saw,” he told the Daily News.

June 24, 1999: Mets 3, Marlins 2

The Mets completed a three-game sweep of the Marlins, thanks to some late inning heroics. Orel Hershiser pitched six solid innings, giving up just one run. Future Met Livan Hernandez gave up two runs in the bottom of the sixth, but helped tie the score when he doubled to lead off the top of the seventh and came around to score on a sac fly.

With the score knotted at 2 in the bottom of the eighth, John Olerud hit a one-out double. Then Ventura blooped a single over the first baseman’s head to score pinch runner Luis Lopez and give the Mets the lead. Franco set down the Marlins in order in the top of the ninth to seal the victory.

Next up: The first-place Braves. The Mets had won 14 of their last 17 games and trailed Atlanta by only three games. But this would be the biggest test they faced thus far.

Somewhat prophetically, Valentine told the Daily News:

The bigness of it is that we haven’t seen them up close all season. They’re always there. They’ll always be there. They are the team we’ve been chasing since I’ve been here…I guess longer than that. So it’ll be good to see them on the field. We know they’re going to be around and what we want to do is let them know that we’re going to be around. Because the season ends playing them six
times in the last [12] games.