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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

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Ten to Remember, Eight to Go

What a difference a couple of days makes: Mike Piazza packed his bags for Denver and Houston with 390 home runs to his name, having passed some guy named Bench and drawing within sight of #400 — making his onrushing twilight cruise around the Shea harbor look like it might be one to remember very fondly. And now, hey, he was going to two of the National League's more-ludicrous parks: arena-baseball home Coors Field and Minute Maid Park with its short porch in left field. Mike could return with 393 or 394 dingers. We could return six or seven games over .500. October? Why, we can't make plans, honey. We'll still be whooping it up about #400 for Mike and watching the division series.

Of course, Mike returned home with 390 home runs. (And we went 2-5).

Maybe he just needed the challenge: #391 was one of those Piazza classics, a high, arcing moon shot that probably came down with ice crystals on it. #392 wasn't as beautiful, but it was still a line drive over the center-field fence at Shea — and one that tied up the rubber match of our series with the Brewers. (A game we'd lose, but welcome to the 2005 Mets.)

I've accepted that this team most likely has too many holes and works in progress to make October plans. OK, so be it. What I want out of this heartening, frustrating, topsy-turvy year is to see #400 sail over the wall at Shea and cheer for Michael Joseph Piazza as he puts his head down and stomps around the bases.

For psyche-up purposes, here's a list of 10 Memorable Piazza Blasts, in reverse I-got-something-in-my-eye order:

10. July 14, 2005: We may stink, but Mike — as today's game demonstrated — is not going gentle into that good night. Maybe it's that trip down to the No. 6 hole, or the days off Willie has given him. (Which have got to be good for Ramon Castro too.) Or maybe it began with this game, with someone named Blaine Boyer coming into a tie game in the 8th and throwing an 0-1 meatball to Piazza. Which a few years ago would have brought to mind the old line about the throwing of lamp chops past wolves, except age has shaved a few precious slivers of a second off Mike's reaction time, and he misses it. So — and this is the part where a sly grin creeps onto the storyteller's face — Boyer tries it again.

9. June 9, 2000: In the twisted annals of the Antichrist, this home run is a symbol, the equivalent of the railroad car in which seething Germans signed the Armistice Treaty. First game of the 2000 regular-season Subway Series at Yankee Stadium, and at this point Roger Clemens was already a psycho headhunter, but not one we had any huge personal aminus against, beyond his spray-painting his initials in Shea in October '86 (how'd that turn out, Rocket?) and the general affront to humanity that he represented. In the third inning of an 0-0 game, Jason Tyner (remember him?) reached on a Posada error and Clemens walked Bell and Alfonzo. BOOM! and it's a grand slam over the center-field fence, into that annoying stretch of Yankee Stadium batter's-eye bleachers. 4-0 Mets, and it got even better after that, until Torre finally came to get the Antichrist in the sixth with the good guys up 9-2. Whereupon reptilian urges to murder started to crawl through the slightly swelled nodule of spinal cord huddled somewhere inside Roger Clemens' skull. We know the rest, from the beaning in the Worst Doubleheader Ever to Todd Pratt looking crazed as Hampton avenged Big Mike to the splintered bat to Shawn Estes winning the war (aided by another Piazza home run) but losing the battle to last year's All-Star Game. But it all started here. Oh, and fuck Roger Clemens.

8. May 16, 2004: Revenge is a dish best force-fed at scalding temperatures while your enemy screams and begs, but failing that, the important thing is he winds up eating it. When Clemens unretired to play for Houston, the whole beaning/bat/Estes brouhaha got revived and moved to the NL. Clemens had won his first seven starts of the year and looked ready to win #8, striking out 10 in seven scoreless innings and even collecting an RBI single. (Just to annoy us, it scored Jeff Kent.) Mike, meanwhile, went 0 for 2 with a walk against the Rocket. Two outs on the ninth, down 2-0, Valent on second, Piazza as the tying run against old friend Octavio Dotel. 1-2 count — but wait! There it goes! We've got a brand-new shiny one! Which turned into one of those rusty grinding one until finally Jason Phillips won it in the 13th, making for a not-perfect but still quite satisfying day. (Strange how this is a somewhat shrunken copy of another Mets-Astros game to be discussed in a moment.)

7. April 28, 1999: I was at this game with two friends — Danielle, a Met fan through and through, and Tim, a neutral along for the ride who happened to be a former college-baseball player. I remember that it was cold, though that might be the memory of Armando blowing a 2-1 lead in the 8th. In came Trevor Hoffman, and the kind of muttering associated with seeing the hanging judge march into his courtroom in a particularly foul mood. Two out, one on, Piazza at the plate. CRACK! and Tim is up and out of his seat before the ball even clears the second baseman's head. “That's gone!” he yells as the rest of us in the mezzanine are just starting to get our bearings. And so it is. Guess sometimes watching something really isn't a substitute for doing it. Bobbing out of Shea on the outgoing tide of happy fans, I'm just marveling at how five seconds can turn a cold night with scattered Benitezness into a great night.

6. June 17, 2001: The Yankees had beaten us in the first two games of the Shea leg of the Subway Series, and it was beginning to dawn on us that the irritating drawbacks of the 2001 team weren't some passing thing. 7-2 Yankees, eighth inning, and we look as dead as dead can look. Ventura reaches on an error by Derek Jeter — Schadenfreudish snickers. McEwing HBP. Relaford RBI single makes it 7-3. Ordonez walks, causing thousands of fans to pinch, punch and set fire to themselves to confirm such a thing really happened. Mark Johnson strikes out. Randy Choate exits for someone named Carlos Almanzar. Agbayani singles to make it 7-5. Hope lifts its weary head, looks around, blinks, sees Yankees, awaits execution. Shinjo hits a grounder, slides into first to demonstrate that this thing about Japanese players and good fundamentals is a myth — but isn't doubled up. Ordonez scores: It's 7-6 with two outs and Piazza striding to the plate. Hope begins to scamper about wildly, still pretty sure it's gonna get its head bashed in with a shovel, but what the heck. On an 1-0 pitch, Mike destroys an Almanzar pitch for an 8-7 lead and the salvation of our honor. Hope does a drunken jig, goes into the fetal position when Armando tries his hardest to blow the save, begins dancing again when he somehow doesn't.

5. Sept. 16, 1998: The one day we all thought the idea of Mike Piazza behind the plate and Todd Hundley in left field might work. Having been muzzled by Mike Hampton, we had to face Billy Wagner in the ninth, down 2-0. Two outs, one on and Piazza connected — a jaw-dropper of a drive that paved the way for Hundley's pinch-hit shot in the 11th. The postgame interview was startlingly awkward — rarely have two players on the same team standing so close together seemed so far apart — but no matter. It meant a series win against the Astros, who were running away with the NL Central, and left us just a game behind the Cubs in the loss column for the wild card. (Great series: The previous day we lost when Derek Bell led off the 12th with a dinger off Jeff Tam, a terrific game that just ended up wrong.) We had all sorts of wild thoughts about a Piazza/Hundley combo that turned out to be silly. But after this, you made sure you were at your station in front of the TV if Mike Piazza was batting. Phone ringing? Watch the game, dummy. Gotta pee? Watch the game, dummy. Just spontaneously combusted and should really get to a New York Hospital? Watch the game, dummy. Can't you see who's at the plate?

4. July 10, 1999: One of those days that makes newcomers into baseball fans, and that stopped a city. It's the Matt Franco game, the 9-8 win with Rey Rey leaping in the coach's box and Mariano finding out that an 0-2 strike doesn't always end things. (Next time you're cursing Angel Hernandez, which every Met fan should do at least weekly, stop and have a kind word for Jeff Kellogg.) The friggin' Yankees hit six home runs: two by Posada, two by O'Neill, one by Ledee, one by Knoblauch. Big whoop: None of them went 482 feet, bouncing off the tent in the picnic area. No matter what team you rooted for, you talked about the one Mike Piazza hit off Ramiro Mendoza. Hell, dogs who saw it got up on their hind legs and began howling in terrified awe. Later in the day, Brandi Chastain was so moved by the memory of it that she tore off clothing after some other sporting event. Six home runs? Feh. Those weren't home runs. When a well-struck baseball makes dogs howl, tents buckle and women spontaneously undress, that's a home run.

3. October 19, 1999: Sure, this one ended with Kenny Rogers making like Julio Santana against Andruw Jones, igniting a simmering rage in the Gambler that would finally find release six years later against the nation's cameramen. More ups and downs than a thousand rollercoasters, but no up was up-er than Piazza — playing with one thumb, for Chrissakes — bashing a John Smoltz pitch over the fence to right-center in the seventh to make it 7-7. That one shot erased all the horror and frustration that built up in watching the Grand Slam Single victory curdle into a 5-0 hole with Leiter not recording an out. Sure, Franco would fail and Benitez would fail and finally Kenny would throw Ball Four, but it was Piazza who erased the hurt and the rage and ensured we'd walk away defeated, but proud nonetheless.

2. June 30, 2000: We've written about it before. We'll write about it again. It's rivaled only by the Grand Slam Single as the most-emotional game I've been lucky enough to attend — I have an MP3 of the climax of the 10-run inning that I still listen to every so often, grinning like a damn fool as Alfonzo comes up with us down 8-6 and the crowd finally daring to believe. The night before had been John Rocker's return, with pleas for sportsmanship and cops everywhere and us losing, so the pasting we were taking the next night was doubly depressing. So Mulholland pitches to Piazza with the score tied and 50,000+ baying and it was like somehow Mike knew that there was no need for unnecessary drama. First pitch, WHAM! on a line out by the retired numbers, and Todd Pratt's leaping over the dugout rail and even Piazza can't go around the bases stoically on this one, pumping his fist in un-Mike-like jubilation. Leaping up and down in the stands I thought I might be having a heart attack and briefly paused, then decided I didn't particularly care and started leaping around again, because how, really, could life get much better than this?

1. Sept. 21, 2001: A wounded city, a shocked nation. It seemed childish and even callous to talk of baseball, and 41,000+ streamed into Shea tense, frightened, wondering if we were there to watch a baseball game or just huddle up together until we figured out what the hell we were supposed to do next. We stood silent during a 21-gun salute, cheered for cops and firefighters and emergency responders and soldiers and even for Braves, who broke out of file along the third-base line to shake hands and trade hugs with Mets. And then Diana Ross and Marc Antony and Rudy Giuliani and finally a baseball game — a taut, terrific baseball game on a night we would have forgiven the two teams a half-awake mess. Which almost felt like a shame, because at first it was difficult to focus on the game that night, to settle into its rhythms and greet it with the enthusiasm it deserved. To my astonishment, it was Liza Minnelli — in my mind a generation-ago joke — who first broke through to us in the seventh-inning stretch. She chirped how happy she was to be there, and up in the mezzanine I remember we kind of eyed each other, then shook our heads as she assembled an impromptu kick line of firefighters and policemen to accompany her for “New York, New York.” It didn't seem appropriate, this happy show-bizzy playing to the cheap seats. But on second thought the firefighters and cops didn't seem to mind, and if they didn't, who were we to object? And no sooner had I thought that than I realized she was singing the heck out of the old chestnut, making it bittersweet and urgent, and by the halfway point we were all 41,000+ singing along feeling the same way, and we ended it roaring as Liza found a way to make it hard-fought and triumphant. (And then Benitez let in the go-ahead run, and hey, that was old and familiar, so we could get used to grousing again. Armando, he always did his part.) Bottom of the 8th, down 2-1, Steve Karsay (a Queens boy) on the mound, and Alfonzo coaxes a one-out walk. And here's Mike, 0-1 count, and he connects for an absolute no-doubter over the center-field fence, and in that second we were plunged back into pure baseball, into the joy and euphoric release it can bring. We weren't going to forget about bigger things — that would be impossible. But with that swing, Mike made it OK to lose ourselves in baseball once more, gave us permission to turn a little thing like who won or lost a baseball game into a big thing again.

Thanks, Mike — for those and all the others. Now how aboout eight more, memorable or not, to discuss before we bring the blue-and-orange curtain down?

18 comments to Ten to Remember, Eight to Go

  • Anonymous

    How many Mike home runs can dance on the head of a pin? It's unknowable, but these Top 10, beautifully relived, are peerless. I'd like to pay special kudos to No. 6 on the list, 6/17/01, probably the least remembered of all of them. I loved this home run. It came not only in impossible fashion but amid a sea of sludge in 2001. That it sparked a mini-revival (Mets went out and won four in a row) was secondary to the sheer joy of Mike spankin' Yank hind. I let out such a scream on my stationary bike that you'd think I'd won the Tour de France (don't get any weird ideas that I exercise a lot — it was a luck thing). Two points about that eighth inning:
    1) Torre's refusal to go to Rivera, even if it worked to our advantage PISSED me off. Torre treated every game against the Mets, even the World Series games, like they were an imposition. So when that one started to get away from him, I wondered, when're we gonna see the greatest closer ever? And we never did. Yeah, I understand the need to rest guys (like Roberto Hernandez) but this was as huge a game as the Skanques would have all regular season. The next night they were headed to Detroit. Detroit? You don't need to save Mariano Rivera for Detroit.
    2) Mike's homer was totally set up by Shinjo's dive into first. He was in pain, man. Pain! He grabbed his quad afterward and was out for a while. But Tsuyoshi Shinjo totally got what was at stake, the need to beat the crosstown rivals, to not get swept in our own ballpark. It was, in that way we used to throw this word around for baseball players, heroic.
    Armando had to go out and preserve this miraculous win, no easy task. It came down to him and Bernie Williams. I remember ESPN flashed a graphic that Williams was like 8-for-9 against Benitez lifetime. The average was in the .800s, no kidding. Natch, their centerfielder sent a long home run just foul off the right field line. Then A.B. beat him. Whew!
    Now, as for nobody remembering this marvelous, mood-changing, face-saving, shoulda-been-legendary comeback, it ended at like 12:30 in the morning. The back page of the Daily News blared MIDNIGHT EXPRESS and that was only if you had the four-star final edition. Not a few Mets fans turned off the TV and hit the hay before the eighth. Not good form, I know, but the Mets were about to lose three straight to the Hateds and it was very late and the whole season was suckage. So when I went into work the next day, I was greeted with “they did?” and “he what?” and “REALLY?” To this day, I communicate with Mets fans who swear they don't remember the Carlos Almanzar home run.
    I'd call it the Mike Piazza home run, but there are so many to choose from.
    A few honorable mentions, if I may:
    Sept. 4, 1998: Leiter vs. Glavine. Effusive Southpaw vs. Dour Lefthander. Wild Card Desperados vs. Perennial Champs. Hope vs. Shoo-In. And into the fray, in the sixth, with Olerud on first and zeroes filling the scoreboard, stepped Michael Joseph Piazza. He JACKED a Glavine pitch over the bleachers and nearly electrified the new Keyspan sign, some 480 feet from where he swung. Mets 2 Braves 0. Al went the route to win 2-1. Like Keyspan, it was a sign that the Braves couldn't take us lightly anymore. Or so it felt.
    June 22, 1999: In his last at-bat of the evening, in the bottom of the eighth, Mike collected his first hit of the game, a robust roundtripper off Vic Darensbourg of the Marlins. So? So it was Mike's 24th consecutive game with at least one hit, tying the Mets record set by Hubie Brooks in 1984. It always tickles me that this is a franchise where Mike Piazza and Hubie Brooks can be mentioned in the same breath for the same thing. It's a good thing.
    Oct. 12, 2000: The Monster was out of the cage the night before on a double, but Mike left no doubt that he was on a rampage when he took somebody named Britt Reames very deep in the third inning of Game 2 of the NLCS at Busch. The Cardinals were as good as plucked.
    Aug. 13, 2003: Hi Mike. Since you've been gone the last three months with that nasty groin business, things have changed around here. Alomar's gone. Benitez is gone. Burnitz is gone. Steve Phillips is gone. But Reyes is here. And you're back. What do you do? You hit a pretty convincing “glad to be home” homer off the Giants' Jerome Williams. You go on to collect five RBIs in your return. Think we didn't miss ya?
    May 6, 2004: One night after setting what had come to be thought of in some quarters as that stupid record, Mike proved more than ceremonial. He put Jim Brower and the Giants to sleep in the eleventh with a walkoff wallop that swept San Fran and sent Mike merrily on his way to first base for what was assumed to be the rest of his career.
    Mike's next home run will also be great. They all are.

  • Anonymous

    This was an awesome list.

  • Anonymous

    A lovely post. I would like to point out, though, how many of these involved Armando giving up the lead — or trying his hardest to — either just before or just after Mike made us so happy. For all that I do not believe in Looper — and I surely don't — I really don't miss Armando, or the hard nugget of pain that used to churn in my stomach when he stood on the mound looking so clearly brainless.

  • Anonymous

    I had the exact same reaction. In fact, going down that list, Armando: 10) wasn't on the team; 9) wasn't needed in a blowout; 8) wasn't on the team; 7) blew the save; 6) served up a meatball to Bernie Williams that just missed being a game-tying HR; 5) wasn't on the team; 4) didn't appear in the game for some reason now lost in the mists of time; 3) blew the save; 2) gave up a hit and a walk to bring the tying run to the plate; 1) let in the go-ahead run. So, five appearances, two blown saves, one go-ahead run allowed, two shaky outings. That's a perfect record of a sort.
    Much as I wish I had the mathematical chops to be a new-stats guy, Armando Benitez was (and is) living proof of how statistics can obscure truths. Boy do I not miss him.

  • Anonymous

    Armando.
    As (a) Armando's Met career largely overlaps Piazza's; (b) dramatic homeruns generally come in a save situations appear in; and (c) dramatic homeruns come largely in games against better opponents, against whom saves are harder, this perception is surely unavoidable.
    Armando Benitez certainly saved the Mets' bacon numerous times when Mike Piazza came up short. But it's the nature of relief pitching that success is assumed, and that's not fair.
    Edgy DC
    The Crane Pool Forum

  • Anonymous

    First of all, great work, Jason. I've plugged this essay elsewhere on the net.
    Second of all, come on. Surely you have the mathematical chops to see that statistically the deck is stacked here. Late-inning come-from-behind home runs tend to occur in games where the pitching has to some extent failed.
    I invite you and Emily to review the Mets comeback of September 2001 leading up to their failures against the Braves and Brian Jordan. The guy was Superman, and every game was the supposed big game-type that he alledgly always blows.
    Edgy DC
    The Crane Pool Forum

  • Anonymous

    I'm with you, DC. Much as his name will always invoke a decidedly mixed reaction within me, and much as I hated it when he started licking his lips on the mound, I unabashedly call Armando the second most irreplaceable player of the Mets' back-to-back playoff teams*. Where is this team in October without him…? Same place they were in 1998 without him. Home, counting their strokes.
    One thing I always dearly love to note: During the 1999 regular season, he retired every single Atlanta Brave he faced. That includes two sit-down scoreless innings during The Most Horrible Loss Ever. And he saved Game 4 1-2-3, which at the time was as big as it got, and brought the streak to 24 straight Atlanta Braves retired. Can any other Mets of the 1997+ era lay claim to that sort of dominance against the Fuckheads?
    * = Look. People may want to argue Fonzie…I won't vehemently disagree with them, because I like Fonzie, and he's underrated anyway.

  • Anonymous

    I don't have the mathematical chops to figure out how many shoes I need to put on in the morning — when I find myself barefoot, with an extra one tied awkwardly to a hand, or clomping along unevenly I know I've blown it again. And now you're asking me to be logical about Armando Benitez. It's all too much, I tell you. I'm going to hide under the bed and try not to think of Brian Jordan.

  • Anonymous

    I doubt my friends want to relive that particular month Armandowise or otherwise so I took a look:
    9/1 vs FLA
    Tie Game, Armando starts 9th
    1 IP, 2 H, 0 R; Mets win in 11
    9/3 at PHI
    Mets up 3, Armando starts 9th
    1 IP, 1 BB, 0 R; SAVE
    9/4 at PHI
    Mets up 2, Armando starts 9th
    1 IP, 0 R; SAVE
    9/6 at FLA
    Mets up 1, Armando enters with 2 out in 8th, runners on first and third, strikes out Dave Berg; Mets score 2 in 9th to take 3-run lead, Armando pitches scoreless 9th
    1.1 IP, 0 R; Strands 2 Inherited Runners; SAVE
    9/8 at FLA
    Mets up 2, Armando starts 9th
    1 IP, 0 R; SAVE
    9/17 at PIT
    Mets up 3, Armando starts 9th
    1 IP, 1 H, 0 R; SAVE
    9/18 at PIT
    Mets up 2, Armando starts 9th
    1 IP, 0 R; SAVE
    9/21 vs ATL
    Tie Game, Armando enters with 2 out in the 8th, runners on first and second; gives up double to Brian Jordan, allowing run to score, putting runners at second and third; walks Dave Martinez to load bases; retires Andruw Jones; Mets score 2 in 8th to take 1-run lead; Armando gives up leadoff walk to Javy Lopez to start the 9th, then strikes out Surhoff and gets a DP grounder from Lockhart.
    1.1 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 0 R (1 inherted runner scores); WIN
    9/22 vs ATL
    Mets up 1; Armando enters with 2 out in the 8th, runners on first and third; strikes out Caminiti; Mets score 3 in 8th to take 4-run lead; Armando gives up a single, gets 2 out, gives up another single, gets the final out.
    1.1 IP, 2 H, 0R, strands 2 inherited runners; SAVE
    9/23 vs ATL
    Mets up 3, Armando starts 9th
    0.2 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 3 R, incl. 2-run HR to Jordan; BLOWN SAVE; Mets lose in 11
    9/26 at MON
    Mets up 3, Armando starts 9th
    1 IP, 0 R; SAVE
    9/29 at ATL
    Mets up 4, Armando starts 9th
    0.2 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 5 R (Armando leaves with Mets up by 1 and runners on second and third; Franco walks Helms and gives up game-losing grand slam to Jordan); BLOWN SAVE AND LOSS
    9/30 at ATL
    Mets up 3, Armando starts 9th
    1 IP, 0 R; SAVE
    ***
    So what have we learned?
    Armando pitched in 13 games that September when the Mets were making a very late, very difficult charge at Philadelphia and Atlanta. He entered 11 games in which the Mets had the lead and 2 games in which the score was tied. He collected 9 saves and 1 win; the Mets won 11 of the 13 games in which he pitched. Four times he pitched more than inning and got 3 saves and 1 win on those occasions. He held 1 tie in check but gave up the go-ahead run, already on base when he entered in the other, the only inherited runner he allowed to score all month. He entered two games with 1-run leads and saved both. Six of his appearances were spotless, 11 of them resulted in no runs, earned or otherwise on his ledger. He certainly didn't lack for work which is what will happen when a team is in a race and plays a lot of close games as the 2001 Mets were and did.
    For all that, the naked eye could very well see Superman.
    I see Kryptonite. Armando Benitez couldn't hold a 3-run lead with two outs and one on at home in the ninth and couldn't hold a 4-run lead with nobody on to start the ninth in Atlanta. Those two games were the difference in 2001. If you'll allow for the “everything else remains the same” caveat, then consider that if the Mets win that Sunday game at home on September 23 and that Saturday game in Atlanta on September 29, the Mets, the Braves and the Phillies enter the final week of the season all tied for first with records of 82-74. Instead, Atlanta led Philly by 2 and the Mets by 4 and that was essentially that.
    Would the Mets have made their tremendous 25-6 run without a strong closer? No. Did that closer have to be Armando? Could they have accomplished the same feat with a 2004 Braden Looper let alone a 2004 Eric Gagne? We'll never know. Armando contributed to their comeback (as well as their getting to the post-season in '99 and '00) and he deserves to be remembered as a major factor in the Bobby V era success the franchise enjoyed, but it's nearly impossible to think of him without thinking of his two blown saves which, when taken in tandem because of the opponent and the games' chronological proximity, represent to me (personally) the worst moment in Mets history.

  • Anonymous

    Hey, do you have any way of sending that MP3, I'd love to listen to it.

  • Anonymous

    If you can, Jason, my e-mail is reyomcd1031@yahoo.com-the name speaks for itself(haven't changed it in 7 years.)

  • Anonymous

    I feel sick. I had indeed hoped never to relive that month Armandowise. We must never speak of it again.

  • Anonymous

    I don't get it. Going into his blown save 9/23, Benitez had pitched ten scoreless innings with virtually no margin for error. When he finally did crack, he was pitching his third straight day, and his fifth in seven, with even less margin for error.
    He entered in the eighth with runners on base the previous two games against the Braves, and hung on, under very. Trying. Circumstances.
    The only standard Benitez didn't meet is perfection, and that's an unreasonable standard.
    Teams win games and teams lose games. It's hateful how it all gets hung on the closer. The Mets, as a team, dug a huge hole, and Benitez carries the burden for not being perfect enough to dig them out of it.
    They lost to the Braves. They quite simply would not have been in a position for that game to matter without him. When he coughed it up, he coughed it up big and ugly and it hurt. But when the ledger sheet is fairly tallied, it was, for the most part, the statistical nosedives of Zeile, Alfonzo, Ventura, Agbayani, et al. that made 2001 come up short. Not Benitez's inability to make up for it all. No closer in that situation is gets judged fairly.
    My friend was battered down that nightof September 23rd by somebody making the emotional argument that night about how Benitez saves meaningless games but cracks in the big one. Even amid the heartbreak of the loss he wouldn't yield to bad logic.
    “Was last night a big game?” he asked.
    He's still hasn't gotten an answer.
    Sincerely,
    Edgy DC
    The Crane Pool Forum

  • Anonymous

    What's not to get? It's acknowledged that Armando saved a lot of games for Mets teams that went to or near the playoffs. It's acknowledged game by game (above) what he did in September 2001. Just as his two monstrously blown saves shouldn't blot out the good he did before that, the good he did before that can't overshadow the two monstrously blown saves. It hardly matters that various 2001 Mets did not live up to their previous performances prior to September. The point is the team as a whole (Armando included) got to the cusp of great things when the ball was placed in Armando's right hand with two games on the line — a lead of three runs and a lead of four runs, respectively, in his care — and he didn't get the job done. You can't ask fans to look at the forest when there are two trees screaming for their lives and one guy is left holding the chainsaw.
    Baseball is as much informed emotion as it is straight logic. Otherwise it would be trig.
    It's also worth pointing out that if either Atlanta or Philadelphia had played with a touch more consistency than they did in 2001, that the Mets, despite their surge — even if that surge had included two more saves from Benitez on 9/23 and 9/29 — wouldn't have been anywhere near first place so late in the season. But baseball is never about all the things that went right but shouldn't have. It's about what went wrong and didn't have to.

  • Anonymous

    I'll give you all that.
    But what about what should be?
    Shouldn't the failures of game six in the 1999 NLCS hang as well on Al Leiter for retiring nobody? Piazza throwing the ball into center? Rey Ordonez for blowing a beautiful rally with a double play?
    Benitez was run out of town. McDowell is remembered lovingly. It's not that McDowell failed any less or any less freqeuntly, but McDowell's Mets had enough firepower (and a second closer) so that they didn't need him to be so perfect.
    What I'm saying is… any closer on any team that fall just short of their goal can (and almost always will) end up being as reviled as Benitez. It's unjust.

  • Anonymous

    Game Six 1999? Blame aplenty:
    http://mets2005.myblogsite.com/blog/_archives/2005/7/13/1021972.html
    (“They Killed Kenny” is a line from a popular basic-cable program, FYI)
    You want reliever-dichotomy, what about Jesse Orosco? He's pretty much sainted as a Met but he was chased with pitchforks until he left Shea. He's remembered for his two triumphant glove tosses above all else but Jesse had peaked in 1984. He was driving people nuts for three seasons thereafter, particularly 1987. I was always a bigger Orosco than McDowell fan so I found that a little less than appropriate, but I understood it. It goes with the territory.
    Should it be that way? Mostly no. But only mostly.
    Think about the closers in Mets history, at least since the save rule was instituted.
    Taylor: His team won a championship.
    McGraw: Carried Mets on his back in so many ways to the pennant; World Series loss not retrospectively pinned on him in any discernible way even though he was horrendous for 4+ months of 1973.
    Lockwood: Team sucked, didn't matter.
    Allen: Ditto; traded for great player, so his foibles lost to the mists of history (Bo Diaz notwithstanding).
    Orosco: As mentioned, the romance wore off but he redeemed himself for posterity with final outs in two clinchers.
    McDowell: Never really THE closer having shared duty with Orosco, Myers; more a lovable character, viable option and vulture (14 wins!) in the public imagination.
    Myers: Refreshing flamethrower and nut who only started to blow games when the team as a whole was falling apart.
    Franco: Took a LOT of grief while the team sucked and when the team improved. But when the team got very good, he was no longer the closer so he sort of came through the rain.
    Benitez: Most powerful, most dominating closer the Mets ever had. Set single-season saves record twice. Key to two consecutive playoff berths. ALSO the man who couldn't hold a lead in Game 4 vs Arizona (mostly forgotten), Game 6 vs Atlanta (a detail obscured by Kenny Rogers), Game 2 vs San Francisco (remembered even though Mets came back), Game 1 vs Yankees (where it reached the unforgivable stage), 9/23/01 and 9/29/01 vs Atlanta (the breaking point for almost everybody), the Friday night Subway Series game at Shea in 2002 (the breaking point for me).
    Looper: Very competent for a lousy team, not quite as competent for a better team.
    Few of these closers got the Mets to the big stage the way Benitez did. And none of them failed on the big stage the way Benitez did. Yes, he had saves in the post-season. Without even looking it up, I remember Game 3 of the WS and Game 2 against the Cardinals and Game 4 against the Braves as huge and I know he held Atlanta scoreless in Game 5. But the images of him NOT doing it in big games, regardless of his previous successes and regardless of the team circumstances that gave him a three-run lead instead of a six-run lead or put the Mets three games down instead of eight games up, are what will endure, just as Orosco's image as a jubilant, down-on-his-knees, arms-in-the-air celebrant will endure over that of a pitcher who no longer had a fastball.
    Should it be that way?
    Paul O'Neill…Brian Jordan…J.T. Snow…the tenth inning in The Greatest Game I Ever Saw…

  • Anonymous

    Few of these closers got the Mets to the big stage the way Benitez did. And none of them failed on the big stage the way Benitez did.

    Which is why it's all unjust.

  • Anonymous

    Armando 1999 against the Braves looked like this.

    Date Res. Dec. IP H R ER BB SO
    06/26/99 L, 7-2 ND 1.0 (8) 0 0 0 0 0
    07/04/99 W, 7-6 Sv 1.0 (9) 0 0 0 0 3
    09/29/99 W, 9-2 ND 1.0 (9) 0 0 0 0 3
    09/30/99 L, 4-3, ND 2.0 (9-10) 0 0 0 0 3
    Date Res. Dec. IP H R ER BB SO
    10/13/99 L, 4-3 ND 1.0 (8) 0 0 0 0 2
    10/15/99 L, 1-0 ND 1.2 (8-9) 0 0 0 0 3
    10/16/99 W, 3-2 Sv 1.0 (9) 0 0 0 0 1
    10/17/99 W, 4-3 ND 1.0 (10) 1 0 0 0 1
    10/19/99 L, 10-9 ND 2.0 (9-10) 2 1 1 2 2

    Five perfect innings, with nine strikouts vs. the long-time most powerful division rival. In the post season, it was three and two thirds more perfectos with six strikeouts before finally yielding a lone hit in his next appearance, also a shutout inning.
    Even when he cracked and allowed a single, sad, game-tying run in that last game, he bravely sucked it up, closed out the inning, and carried on to throw another shutout inning, even after that lone failure led so many Met fans to make up their minds about him — not that they mightn't have well conveniently forgotten if the Mets somehow pulled it out.
    How, oh how, can a woman can ask any more of her man?
    Edgy DC
    The Crane Pool Forum