Tuesday night, for probably the last time in my life, I was happy to see Andruw Jones hit a home run. It had almost nothing to do with getting the National League on the board in the All-Star Game. It had everything to do with it having been hit off of Kenny Rogers.
I don’t know if the two have faced each other since the night the lights went out in Georgia. Given the vagaries of Interleague, probably. But this was the biggest stage the two of them had shared since October 19-20, 1999. Lord knows I had a different rooting interest then.
I’m probably in the minority of Mets fans when it comes to viewing Kenny Rogers’ disastrous eleventh inning in Atlanta during the sixth and, ultimately, last game of the National League Championship Series, the final time the New York Mets would be at play in the 20th century. Kenny walked Andruw with the bases loaded to force in the winning run and hand the pennant to the Braves. The hated, hated Braves. Technically speaking, Kenny also loaded those very same bases. He gave up the leadoff double to Gerald Williams (!) that started the whole thing rolling downhill. Bret Boone made a productive out, moving Gerald Williams (!) to third, and Bobby Valentine ordered not one but two intentional walks, first to Chipper Jones, then to Brian Jordan.
Nice setup, eh? The moment Rogers let Gerald Williams (!) get on would have been a good time to pull him except the Mets were a little short on pitching at that point considering everybody who could be considered a reliever had been used. All that was left in the cupboard were Octavio Dotel (very young, gave up the thankfully brief go-ahead run in the 15th on Sunday), Masato Yoshii (started Sunday, looked shaky, never saw blue and orange again) and Rick Reed (penciled in to this day as the starter for Game Seven, which he would’ve won, of that I’m certain). For a team that had escaped its destined demise I don’t know how many times during the previous thirty days, it may have been too much to ask anybody to cheat the grim reaper out of his rightful bounty for five minutes longer. Kenny Rogers or not, 1999 couldn’t last forever.
I don’t blame Kenny Rogers for Game Six, not entirely. Surely he was responsible for the walk to Andruw Jones that allowed Gerald Williams (!) to score. But not for the whole thing, a thing we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near without his steady pitching down the stretch. And I don’t blame Bobby Valentine all that much, considering any Met pitching to Chipper Jones or Brian Jordan in those waning breaths of that post-season would have qualified as sheer madness.
• I blame Al Leiter’s inability to retire a single batter in the first inning — 0 IP, 5 ER (I move the Senator yield the floor).
• I blame Turk Wendell for hitting Jordan to lead off the sixth just after the Mets had closed from 5-0 to 5-3.
• I blame Dennis Cook for surrendering two runs with two outs via that human canker sore Jose Hernandez a few batters later.
• I blame John Franco for giving back an 8-7 lead — we were ahead, honest-to-goodness ahead — with the same kind of stuff on which he gave back too many leads for the entire decade that preceded that particular giveback.
• I blame Armando Benitez for giving back a 9-8 lead — we were actually ahead after spotting the Braves five runs in the first and after letting them tie us in Franco’s eighth — and revealing in the harsh light of do-or-die that we could never live with him as our closer.
• I blame John Olerud, Shawon Dunston and Robin Ventura, three genuine heroes of October 1999, for letting an unremarkable righthander named Russ Springer off the hook in the top of the 11th. Once those guys couldn’t or wouldn’t or didn’t touch Springer, I sensed it was only a matter of time.
I blame everybody all at once and, honestly, I blame nobody. How could you get down on the 1999 Mets? All right, maybe Bobby Bo (though he pinch-singled in the fifth of Game Six), but that’s it. I don’t blame Mike for being too sore to make it to the bottom of the ninth, a half-inning he helped ensure with his laser off Smoltz in the seventh. I don’t blame Rickey, who drove in a run in that same seventh, for his legendary card-playing once he was taken out of the game — he was ineligible to come back in, no matter where he decided to sit. I don’t blame Ordoñez for his general offensive ineptitude because he sacrificed successfully in the eighth and threw out more guys in the course of the evening than anybody else.
I can’t stay mad at anybody on that team. That is my favorite Mets season of them all and Game Six was the greatest baseball game I ever saw.
Greatest baseball game I ever saw. And we lost. That’s how good a game it was. It’s never far from my mind. Even when it is, it doesn’t take much to bring it back.
Nearly six years later, there was an All-Star Game in Detroit. Mike was there. Smoltz was there. Melvin Mora was there. He was everywhere for us that October. Now he’s in Baltimore as Mike Bordick whiles away his retirement and Steve Phillips mysteriously collects a paycheck for analyzing the sport from which he was dismissed. Jason Isringhausen, a bit Met in ’99 who didn’t last the season in New York, was a 2005 All-Star as well.
And, yes, there was Andruw Jones, in the midst of his best Braves season ever. And, yes again, there was Kenny Rogers, rewarded for his good first half despite having attacked a cameraman on June 29 for shooting video of him on a baseball field where the both of them work. The cameraman was doing his job. Kenny Rogers attacked him. Those are two facts nobody seems to dispute.
A punishment was announced. And then he got to be an All-Star, the highest in-season honor there is. Then he apologized. He was introduced to the Comerica Park crowd, a congregation that had gathered to celebrate baseball and its best players. Amid a festival of good feeling, those people booed Kenny Rogers.
To the fans who attended the All-Star Game, I offer a Faith and Fear thumbs-up. Whether you were corporate tools or just regular Michiganders, you who booed him deserved your seat at the table Tuesday night. You didn’t fall in line with the odd excuse-making of the Fox and ESPN “expert” crews who praised Kenny for moving on and suggested we all do the same. Move on? He attacked a cameraman who was working on the field where he is entitled to work. He did it June 29 — two weeks ago. Kenny Rogers made Randy Johnson’s truculent bullying act from January look reasonable by comparison. Johnson at least could weakly claim that he wasn’t on a baseball field. Kenny Rogers had no excuse, at least not a good one.
Rogers deserved whatever vocal disapproval he received during the one night of the year when everybody was paying attention. That it came loudly from a goodly portion of 40,000 strangers was fine. That it was Atlanta archvillain Andruw Jones, a very active ghost in our (and one would imagine his) subconscious, who pounded him on the mound was dandy.
I’ve held the 1999 Mets, collectively and individually, sacred from the instant Gerald Williams (!) stepped on home plate to end the greatest baseball game I ever saw. But not Kenny Rogers, not any longer. I don’t blame him for Game Six in ’99 but I do blame him for his own actions in ’05.
To me, Kenny is dead.