Click here for an intro/manifesto on The 1999 Project.
Ever since the month of October began, the Mets had been on a roll, sustained by luck, determination, and at times pure adrenaline. Such a run had to end some time, and that time came in game two of the NLDS. The breaks that had been going their way suddenly did not for one night.
Coincidentally or not, this reversal of fortune happened with Kenny Rogers on the mound. The lefty was all but run out of New York for his postseason struggles with the Yankees, which is why so many people were surprised the Mets traded for him in the first place. Some of Rogers’ starts with the Mets following the trade dispelled the notion that he couldn’t win in a big spot. This one did not.
His opponent was another one of Arizona’s hired guns, Todd Stottlemyre, one-time phenom and son of ex-Mets pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre. Todd won two World Series rings with Toronto (where he was a teammate of Al Leiter), and pitched well in a losing cause for the Rangers against the Yankees in the 1998 ALDS.
It was amazing that Stottlemyre was pitching at all, because he suffered a 70 percent rotator cuff tear mid-summer. Knowing surgery would knock him out for the season (and longer, in all likelihood), he opted to rehab and build up upper body strength to compensate for shoulder weakness. No pitcher with such a severe injury had tried to come back without surgery, so it was a risky move. But at 34, so was surgery. The results had mixed since his return, but catcher Kelly Stinnett insisted, “He’s got better stuff now than he did before he got hurt.”
Recalling their offensive impotence in September, the Mets threatened a number of times against him, but only broke through once. In the top of the second, they got something going with a one-out walk to Darryl Hamilton and an infield single by Roger Cedeno, but Rey Ordonez and Rogers struck out in succession to end the inning.
In the top of the third, Rickey Henderson led off with a single, stole second, moved to third on an Edgardo Alfonzo flyout, and scored on a John Olerud groundout. That gave the Mets a 1-0 lead, but it wouldn’t last long.
Rogers pitched the first two innings without incident, and looked like he might do the same in the third. But after retiring the first two batters, he gave up a single to Jay Bell, hit Luis Gonzalez, and let up another single to Matt Williams to load the bases. He followed with a walk to Greg Colbrunn to force in a run (unfortunately, not the last time he would do that in the playoffs), then gave up a two-run single to Steve Finley. Replays showed Williams, representing the second run, might have been tagged out by Piazza before he touched the plate, but the call did not go the Mets’ way, and the Diamondbacks were up 3-1.
The Mets tried to get some runs back in the top of the fourth, when Robin Ventura led off with a four-pitch walk and Hamilton reached on an error by Bell to put two runners on with nobody out. Cedeno tried to move both runners over, but he missed on a bunt attempt as Ventura strayed too far off of second. Stinnett threw back to Womack at short, and though his throw beat Ventura to the bag, replays indicated Womack might not have tagged him before he touched the base. Regardless, he was called out, putting a severe crimp in the Mets’ plans to score. Cedeno then bounced into an odd double play, when Hamilton was called out for going out of the baseline to avoid a tag, and the threat was extinguished altogether.
Two close plays had gone against the Mets, and might have been the difference in this game. But after getting the benefit of a few similar calls in the Pirates series, they were not in a position to complain when fortune turned against them.
After a quiet bottom of the fourth inning, Rogers began the fifth by giving up a single to Bell. He struck out Gonzalez, then left the game in favor of Pat Mahomes, who could not keep Arizona off the board. Mahomes gave up a single to Williams and, following a strikeout of Colbrunn, allowed Finley’s second two-RBI hit of the day to put stretch the Diamondbacks’ lead to 5-1.
In the top of the seventh, Stottlemyre gave up one-out double to Ordonez and a two out walk to Henderson to put two men on and bring up the hero of game one, Alfonzo. With 120 pitches under his belt, the most he’d thrown since his injury, Stottlemyre gave way to reliever Greg Olsen.
Ordonez and Henderson completed a double steal to put two men in scoring position, but Alfonzo couldn’t come through this time. Olsen induced a grounder to end the Mets’ last scoring chance.
The Diamondbacks tacked on in the bottom of the seventh, due to the wildness of Octavio Dotel in his first postseason appearance. Dotel loaded the bases on a walk, a double, and a hit batter, then forced in a run with the second bases-loaded walk of the game (issued to Finley, giving him his fifth RBI of the game). John Franco (also making his first postseason appearance) took over and allowed an inherited runner to score on a groundout, pushing Arizona’s lead to 7-1.
The Mets went quietly the rest of the way, and the Diamondbacks evened up the series at one game apiece. After this minor setback, the Mets would travel back to New York for the first playoff game at Shea since the 1988 NLCS. And almost as importantly, enjoy their first day off since September 27, a desperately needed break after a grueling, emotionally draining stretch of must-win games.
“We’re beyond tired,” Piazza admitted. “We’re physically tired. We’re not thinking, we’re just playing baseball. That was our attitude in the Pittsburgh series became of the fact that we were left for dead.”
”We’ve got a day off tomorrow, and we’ll take it,” Bobby Valentine said. “Our guys can use it.”
Elsewhere in the playoffs, the Braves evened up their series with Astros, thanks to a complete game one-hitter from Kevin Millwood. The lone hit he allowed was a Ken Caminiti solo shot. Brian Jordan, reinserted into the cleanup spot despite battling wrist injuries, drove in two runs. In game one of the ALDS between Boston and Cleveland, Pedro Martinez–who had an historically great regular season–had to leave the game after the fourth inning with a back injury. Taking advantage, the Indians tied the game at two in the bottom of the sixth, then earned a walkoff win on a Travis Fryman single in the bottom of the ninth.