1999 Project: Games 83-86

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

Thumbnail image for youppi.jpgJuly 5, 1999: Mets 2, Expos 1

After a grueling, frustrating, and occasionally humiliating series against the Braves, the Mets were pleased to welcome the Expos to Shea for a four-game series. Granted, Montreal had given them fits the year before, and the Mets had only gone 4-3 against them thus far. Still, the Expos were–to put it charitably–not quite as talented as Atlanta.

Although the Mets must have thought they were facing the Braves yet again in game one. They managed eight hits against Montreal starter Dustin Hermanson, but could only score one unearned run, thanks to an error by Orlando Cabrera. Rick Reed pitched seven great innings of his own, allowing just one run, but could not get a win thanks to his teammates anemic offense (perhaps due in part to temperatures that peaked at 101 degrees).

Turk Wendell got into some trouble in the top of the eighth, when a single, an error, and a balk put runners on second and third and brought up Vladimir Guerrero in a prime RBI spot. But Wendell induced a pop up from Vlad to end the inning. He also got in trouble with the umpires for having too much resin on his fielding arm (perhaps a byproduct of his volatile mound rituals). It was not the first time that season he’d been asked to make a sartorial switch mid-appearance.

That allowed the Mets a chance to plate the go-ahead run in the bottom half. John Olerud led off with a single against future Met Guillermo Mota, then Mike Piazza doubled to move him to third. Robin Ventura was walked intentionally to load the bases to bring up Brian McRae. He hit into a 4-6-3 double play, but that allowed Olerud to score.

That’s what passed for a rally in this game, but it was enough. Armando Benitez worked around a lead-off walk to preserve the victory. 

July 6, 1999: Mets 10, Expos 0

Masato Yoshii was nursing a bruised thigh, so Bobby Valentine asked the 40-year-old Orel Hershiser to pitch on one day’s rest. That would allow him to push up Yoshii’s next start and pitch Al Leiter against the Yankees in the upcoming Shea portion of the Subway Series. It would also prevent rookie Octavio Dotel from having to pitch against the Yanks (though the Mets insisted that was not a factor).

No Mets hurler had pitched on such short rest since 1982, and Hershiser had never done it in his career (though he’d memorably pitched on even shorter rest, closing out the Dodgers’ series-changing Game 4 victory against the Mets in the 1988 NLCS after starting the day before). Not to mention to the weather conditions–temperatures reached triple digits yet again.

Regardless, Hershiser accepted the challenge and shut down the Expos for five innings, limiting them to three hits. His moxie inspired cheers of “1, 2, 3, Bulldog!” from spectators behind home plate. (“Try to do it when I’m not trying to concentrate, please,” Hershiser sarcastically advised the fans after the game.)

Hershiser felt he could have gone another inning, but the risk didn’t seem worth it. By that point, the Mets had already touched up Expos starter Carl Pavano for five runs, including a two-run homer from Brian McRae and two RBIs from Edgardo Alfonzo. They’d chase Pavano from the game with two more runs in the sixth inning and score three more off of the Montreal bullpen.

Fresh from his second tour in Norfolk, Jason Isringhausen pitched the last three innings, allowing only three hits. Despite the lopsided score, it counted for his first major league save.

This was also the day of All Star Game selections, and Mike Piazza was the only Met chosen by fan balloting. Rey Ordonez–having another fine year with the glove and a surprisingly productive year with the bat–was just edged out by the Reds’ Barry Larkin for the shortstop position.

July 7, 1999: Expos 3, Mets 1

The third game looked like a repeat of the first, but unfortunately for the Mets, it did not result in a similar outcome. They stranded ten men on base and could only manage one run against Expos starter Dan Smith and the Montreal bullpen. In his best outing yet, Octavio Dotel limited the opposition to one run in seven innings. But Bobby Valentine batted for him in the bottom of the seventh in a vain attempt to spark a rally and was forced to turn to the bullpen.

Robin Ventura was hit by a pitch in his left foot in the bottom of the third and had to leave the game, so Luis Lopez was manning third base in the top of the eighth. Terry Jones singled to lead off the inning. After a sac bunt moved Jones up, Lopez fielded a grounder, but his throw whizzed past John Olerud, allowing Jones to score all the way from second.

The Mets threatened in their half. After singles by Roger Cedeno and McRae, Valentine pinch hit for Todd Pratt with Mike Piazza (who’d been given the day off). The Expos brought in their closer, Ugueth Urbina, and he promptly struck out Piazza on three pitches. Ordonez followed with a fly out to end the threat.

Montreal plated another run in the top of the ninth, and the Mets went quietly in their half. Despite wasted scoring opportunities, Lopez took all the blame after the game, with the use of some Rickey Henderson-esque grammar. “Everyone played their asses off,” he said. “Dotel pitched great. This time, Luis Lopez failed.”

July 8, 1999: Expos 4, Mets 3

Masato Yoshii seemed to benefit from the extra rest afforded him by Orel Hershiser’s spot start. After a slightly shaky, one-run first inning, he settled in, retiring 13 straight Expos at one point. The mets scored two runs in the first, then another on a Piazza solo shot in the fifth to take a 3-1 lead.

Montreal chipped at their lead thanks to a Vladimir Guerrero home run, the kind only he could hit (according to the Daily News, it came on “an eye-high fastball”). They tied it on another solo homer in the seventh, this one from Orlando Cabrera off of Turk Wendell. Dennis Cook come on in the eighth inning and gave up a one-out triple to Wilton Guerrero (Vlad’s brother). The next batter, Shane Andrews, hit a fly to McRae in center field (“little more than a popup”, in the Daily News‘ estimation) that allowed Guerrero to tag up and score.

The Mets had slight chances in their last two innings. Matt Franco hit a one-out single in the eighth, but was erased when Benny Agbayani hit into a double play. In the ninth, Rickey Henderson worked a walk against Urbina but was caught trying to stea
l second.

“We [the bullpen] are human,” Cook said later. “We’re going to throw a bad
streak in there. It’s one of those things. I’m not going to go home and
slit my wrists.”

Still, it was not the best way to lead into the Subway Series. Somewhat prophetically, the News opined:

The Mets are still the No. 2 team in this town, and it would be nice to
make a statement against the vaunted Bronx Bombers. Win three, even
two, against the Yankees and these Expos debacles surely will be
forgiven and forgotten.