Click here for an intro/manifesto on The 1999 Project.
Robin Ventura shined in the opener of a four-game series in Miami, clubbing two homers, driving in six runs, and leading the Mets to a rout over the Marlins. The third baseman was praised by the Daily News for removing himself late in the game so Matt Franco could get an at-bat against Braden Looper, a reliever he’d likely face in a much closer game somewhere down the road. It was a good rebound after the series in Atlanta, when Ventura struck out an astounding seven times in only 12 at-bats.
Al Leiter struggled a bit in the third inning, giving up two runs, each scoring on two-out RBI singles. But he rebounded to pitch into the seventh inning and reap the benefits of another offensive outburst.
Back in New York, Mets owner Fred Wilpon said he was “hopeful” the team could secure city permission and financing to begin construction on a new ballpark. The desired opening date: 2003. Wilpon’s vision was for “a 45,000-seat, Ebbets Field replica with a retractable roof that would allow the facility to be used ‘365 days a year,’ except for football. He still is committed to the current site at Shea.”
The same article cites the Mets’ desire to trade for a “front-line starter”. The Angels’ Chuck Finley was discussed, but the Marlins’ Livan Hernandez seemed a long shot, since, according to the article, “the Mets don’t consider Hernandez a front-line starter”.
Orel Hershiser left the mound to a standing ovation, a reaction he attributed to large numbers of “the 40-and-over crowd” in Florida.
It was not a very big standing ovation–the paid attendance, only a little over 11,000, was the third lowest in Marlins’ history to date. Regardless of size, it was a tribute to Hershiser’s finest outing as a Met, where he went 8 1/3 innings, giving up just five hits and one run. He kept the ball on the ground, which led to an astounding 11 assists for shortstop Rey Ordonez (only three shy of the all-time single-game record).
Ventura continued his hot hitting. His two-run single in the third inning gave the Mets the lead to stay. Edgardo Alfonzo padded that lead with a two-run homer in the seventh.
On the negative side, Bobby Jones experienced discomfort in his balky right shoulder and was scratched for a scheduled BP session. The news furthered GM Steve Phillips’ search for another starter; he was rumored to be pursuing Toronto’s David Wells, though the length and size of his contract was a stumbling block (not to mention the size of Wells himself).
Kevin Millar did all the damage against starter Rick Reed. His two-run homer in the second put the Marlins on top, and after the Mets rallied to tie in top of the sixth, Millar’s RBI single in the bottom half put the Marlins back in front and chased Reed from the game.
The Mets tied it up again in the seventh, thanks to Rickey Henderson behaving in typical Rickey-esque fashion: he worked a two-out walk, stole second, and scored on an Alfonzo single.
They had an opportunity to go ahead in the ninth, when Roger Cedeno walked. Closer Matt Mantei tried to pick Cedeno off second, but threw the ball away. That allowed Cedeno to easily move to second–so easily, in fact, that third base coach Cookie Rojas gave him the green light to advance to third. Luis Castillo fired the ball to Mike Lowell, who tagged out Cedeno and ended the threat.
“When the play developed, there were very few people that thought he wouldn’t be safe at third,” Bobby Valentine told reporters after the game. “I think we were a little more surprised than disappointed.”
Mike Piazza made a bid in the top of the tenth, giving a ride to a fastball from Antonio Alfonseca. But in cavernous Pro Player Stadium (as it was then called), it died before the warning track and settled in Mark Kotsay’s glove for a flyout.
Armando Benitez set down the Marlins in order in the ninth, and came out for the tenth as well. He retired the first two batters with ease, but fell behind Kotsay 3-1 before delivering a fastball that Kotsay deposited into the right field stands for a walk-off home run. It was the first hit any Marlin had gotten off of Benitez all year. The loss prevented the Mets from gaining ground on the Braves, whose bullpen had a late-inning meltdown of its own.
Benitez declared himself unshaken after the game, in words that sound bitterly ironic with the remove of time: “It’s nothing. It’s one game. We have a chance to win tomorrow. We have a chance to win against Atlanta. We’re going to win [against] Atlanta no matter what. You give me the ball, I’ll do the best I can. I won’t surrender. I like competition.” The reliever, who already had the rep of being moody and immature, was amazingly praised in some circles for his willingness to put the incident behind him.
The Mets exploded for six runs off of Marlins starter Ryan Dempster in the third inning, with all of the offense coming with two outs. Octavio Dotel made his second big league start, and he chipped in with an RBI of his own when he worked a bases loaded walk that scored the fourth run of the inning and chased Dempster from the game.
They didn’t stop there, scoring two runs in the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings as well. With Piazza resting, Todd Pratt was given a start and knocked in three runs. Henderson and Ordonez each had two RBIs.
Dotel did much better than in his previous start, at least for the first three innings. (Perhaps because the paid attendance was the third-lowest in team history, supplanting the record set just two days previous.) But he gave up two runs in the fourth inning and three more in the fifth. Some of his sudden ineffectiveness was chalked up to the threat of rain; Dotel later said he might have rushed his pitches because he didn’t want weather to wash out his chance for his first big league win before the fifth inning was complete.
Or it might have been the fact that Marlins pitcher Brian Edmonson hurled a pitch near his head in the top of the fifth, after the game had gotten away from the Marlins. Dotel told reporters he never saw the pitch, but was lucky enough to spin out of the way and have it only graze the back of his batting helmet. “It’s hard to say it didn’t affect him,” Bobby Valentine said later.
Whatever the cause, Valentine swapped Dotel for long man Pat Mahomes in the sixth, who held the fort for three innings. Greg McMichael pitched the ninth and allowed three runs to score, but they were of little consequence.
Next up: The Braves again, this time at Shea. The Mets remained a mere three games back, with the chance to make up some ground.