For the thrill of victory and the corresponding thrill of inflicting the agony of defeat, nothing beats a Mets walkoff win. You should definitely read about every one the Mets garnered in 2006 again at a blog that continues to amaze in its dedicated mission to investigate and celebrate Met minutiae (our blolleague's word for it — I'd call it core curriculum).
You should read about the 10 best Mets days of 2006 here, too, but if some of the last at-bat triumphs you lovingly remember aren't here, you should be able to revel in them again, and MWO is the site to provide the revel-ation. I present this advice not just as a public service for every Mets fan who should be reading Mets Walkoffs and Other Minutiae anyway, but to inoculate myself for not highlighting certain games you might be expecting to see on this particular list.
Yes, they were great. Yes, they stir wonderful memories. Yes, we want them on the DVD.
To offer a “but” would be to diminish them or their walkup-win (my pet phrase for when the Mets go on the road and prevail in the top of the final inning) counterparts. I don't want to dismiss that which was gloriously messy or messily glorious on any given Met day or night in 2006 just because that which nosed them out for one reason or another did, in fact, nose them out. Suffice it to say in constructing this segment of our retrospective and crafting a sum-of-its-parts narrative for the season, I relied on my idol Roger Angell's guidance as it applied to the final entry of the 1986 World Series:
We need not linger long on Game Seven, in which the Mets came back from a 3-0 second-inning deficit and won going away (as turf writers say), 8-5. It was another great game, I suppose, but even noble vintages can become a surfeit after enough bottles have been sampled.
Enough playing defense. On with the countdown.
10. August 19: Hands On The Torch
It started as a trickle. Then, one by one through sporadic raindrops and field level boxes, they poured. The damp August night lit up like a Christmas tree. On Niemann! On Elster! On Teufel and HoJo and Hearn! On Wally and Lenny and Danny and Aggie! Make room for Mitchell and El Sid, too.
Not all the 1986 Mets returned home on August 19. A few were unavailable or made themselves so. But the 20 former players who haunted Shea as eternal world champions on the night of their 20th reunion represented a closing of a ruptured loop in Met lore.
The Mets have been uncommonly considerate of their world titles. From 1970 through 1985, they gave 1969 room to breathe. There would be no confusing it with other championships. Hey, did Clendenon hit that homer in '69 or '71? Was Rod Gaspar in the '72 Series? Or was that '74? Man, they all blur together. When they finally deigned to crowd the crown, they allowed a decent interval of 17 years to pass. And once they added 1986 to the trophy case, they didn't cramp its style either. You couldn't mix up 1986 with 1987 or 1988 or any Met year in the ensuing decade or two. From a historical viewpoint, the Mets have kept it simple.
They were determined to abandon that policy in 2006. It wasn't a bad idea. No year felt more like 1986 since 1986 than 2006. It missed the mark by a bit, but the timing of the Mets acknowledging at last their spicy and successful past seemed like more than a coincidence of the calendar. The '86 Mets enjoyed a seven-month roll. The '06 Mets were in the fifth month of theirs. One edition taking bows as the other was taking names was as appropriate as it gets.
Mookie. Mex. Kid. Straw. The Rockies never stood a chance.
9. July 30: A Nice Place To Visit
Is everybody with us? Nobody on the tour got lost? Great. We're walking, we're walking…OK, everybody. Y'all can rest your feet for a moment while I show you our next stop, beautiful Turner Field in Atlanta. This very charming ballpark opened its gates in the summer of 2006. Let me show you some of the points of interest.
Here's the pitchers' mound. This is where Mets ace Pedro Martinez righted himself on a Friday night in 2006. He had been injured for a month and struggled for an inning, but then the future Hall of Famer really showed his stuff. The Mets won that night.
Here's the outfield fence. This is the wall that couldn't hold Carlos Beltran in the midst of an MVP-caliber season. On a Saturday afternoon, Mr. Beltran hit not one but two long home runs over it. The Mets won that day.
And here's second base. This is where the Braves' third baseman Willy Aybar was thrown out by Paul Lo Duca as Marcus Giles was striking out with one down in the ninth inning. With that unorthodox game-ending double play, the Mets swept the Braves for the weekend and the series.
Any questions from the group? Oh yes, you in the back…uh-huh, some people consider that the case…I'll repeat the question so everybody can hear it.
That gentlemen said he'd heard that Turner Field had actually opened in 1997. While that is a not an altogether inaccurate characterization, the Turner Field we enjoy today didn't come into existence until July 30, 2006 with the Met sweep I just described. What was here previously was kind of a gloomy, uninhabitable edifice that you wouldn't want to spend any time in. Therefore, serious ballpark scholars date beautiful Turner Field to that great weekend the Mets enjoyed here.
Y'all have been a great group.
8. July 16: All Aglow
It's not often first pitch is scheduled for 5:05 PM local in a baseball season, but when you're airing a baseball game as prelude to an awards show and you want that awards show to shine in prime time, you apparently start the game when you feel like it.
On July 16, ESPN demanded the Cubs begin their Sunday night game against the Mets in late afternoon so it could get the ESPYs up and running by 9:00 Eastern/8:00 Central. It turned out to be a most pleasing aesthetic decision. Wrigley Field is brilliant in daylight, but positively radiant by twilight.
As we watched on ESPN, we saw The Friendly Confines bask in the glow of both a Chicago sunset and a New York onslaught. Come the sixth inning, night fell on Wrigley…with a 2006 Metsian thud.
Sean Marshall and Roberto Novoa gave up the most runs any pitchers ever gave up to the Mets in any one inning. Marshall, leading by three through five, retired Chris Woodward for openers. And Will Ohman got Ramon Castro for the final out because somebody had to get somebody to end it. In between, the Mets sent 14 batters to the plate and 13 reached safely. The one who didn't reached on a fielder's choice, so if you think about it, for 14 consecutive plate appearances, Cubs pitchers were tormented without pause.
Cliff Floyd, the fourth batter after the first out, hit a grand slam. That means a guy (Beltran) got on, then another guy (Delgado) got on and yet another guy (Wright) got on. Then Floyd.
The next guy after them, Nady, walked. How depressing is that if you're Sean Marshall? And what are you still doing in the game if you've just given up a grand slam?
Marshall went out and Novoa came in. His second batter, Chavez, drove in the inning's fifth run. The inning's fifth batter, Beltran, hit the inning's second grand slam and scored its ninth run.
The next guy, Delgado, doubled. How depressing is that if you're Roberto Novoa? And what are you still doing in the game if you've just given up a grand slam?
Giving up a two-run homer to Wright is what. That made it 11 runs in the top of the sixth for the Mets. They had never done that. But they did it in July — without Reyes (recuperating) and without Lo Duca (resting). Two All-Stars sat on the bench and the Mets set a team record for offense.
Imagine if they'd played.
Novoa came out at last, giving way to Ohman who walked a couple more before escaping without further damage. As if there could have been further damage.
It was the Mets at their maulingest, but there was also a thing of beauty beside the numbers. You can recognize the highlights instantly. When you see Floyd or Beltran or Wright trotting home, it's from that camera on a cable that ESPN strings up for Sunday nights. And because it was a 5:05 start and the sun is only beginning to go the way of Marshall and Novoa, there is a distinct red aura about Wrigley Field. Maybe a little orange, too.
7. August 22: One Swing
How awesome is Gary Cohen? With the Mets (mostly Delgado) having fought back from a 7-1 deficit against the Cardinals (mostly Pujols), it was 7-6 in the bottom of the ninth. Lo Duca singled off Isringhausen. Beltran stepped in and Cohen announced he could end this game with one swing. Beltran proffered one swing. He ended the game.
Forget what you're thinking about Beltran, Cardinals and another ninth inning. Just remember this one swing. You'll feel better.
6. June 15: The Road Taken
They should've sold t-shirts. NEW YORK METS 2006 WORLD TOUR I would've bought one.
Welcome back my friends to the road that never ends, the trip that made the Mets impenetrable. The Road Trip. That's all you have to say. Anybody who witnessed it from afar will never forget it.
The Mets board an airplane and fly to Los Angeles. A fella you'd barely heard of, Alay Soler, gives up one earned in seven innings. A fella you'd all heard of, Jose Reyes, gets into the habit of getting on and scoring right away. A fella you were sure you were gonna hear more from, Lastings Milledge, salts away a rubber game.
The Mets board another plane and fly to Phoenix. El Duque throws a three-hitter. Beltran and Delgado go deep repeatedly. Wright bursts into flames. Soler adds a shutout. Everybody, including Eli Marrero (just acquired for Kaz Matsui), hits. Four games, four wins.
The Mets board one more plane and fly to Philadelphia. The first game requires excellent defense from our third baseman to seal it. He's Wright on time with his glove. The next game is less close, less stressful, more fun. Two games, two wins.
Now a third. Losing it won't inflict much damage, not in the standings, not in the psyches. But wouldn't it be great to sweep the Phillies, the last conceivable challenger for the N.L. East title, and wouldn't it be even better to end this road trip on the highest of high notes?
Yes it would. And yes it was. On the afternoon of June 15, the Mets started strong — four in the first — and after a brief Trachselian lag that allowed the Phillies to inch close, finished unbeatable. The club's calling card through mid-June may have been its zero-to-sixty offense (eight straight wins on this trip, each with at least one run before the third out was recorded), but its signature was the bullpen. Nine Phillies batted in the final three innings of the series finale. Heilman faced three. Sanchez faced three. Wagner faced three. Among these batters were the cream of their generation of Mets-killers and Mets-wounders: Victorino, Rollins, Utley, Abreu, Pat Fucking Burrell, the burgeoning menace that is Ryan Howard.
None of them touched the Mets' relievers. Nine up, nine down. Had the second-place Phillies swept, they would have been 3-1/2 out. Instead, they were swept and sat 9-1/2 behind on June 15.
The first-place Mets boarded a bus and headed for home. The road ahead was free and clear.
5. April 17: Early Admission
They marched through the Marlins. They knocked off the Nationals. They brushed aside the Brewers.
Here came Atlanta. Here came trouble…potentially.
The Mets began 2006 on a 9-2 roll, as good as they'd ever been out of the gate. It was noted by a few cynics they had played nobody in particular on their way to the top. The schedule is the schedule. You play who they put in front of you.
It didn't matter. Florida…Washington…Milwaukee…Atlanta. They were all the same. As of April 17, it was obvious. The National League belonged to New York.
Can you truly clinch a division title in the twelfth game of a 162-game season? Technically, no. Spiritually, absolutely. It was in the dozenth contest of 2006 that the Mets knocked the 14-time winners, the only champions the five-team National League East had ever known, back into another division. The second division. They were tossed on a heap of Marlins and Nationals and Brewers and would be joined eventually by Padres and Giants and Pirates and just about everyone else out there.
It was April 17. It was obvious.
It was Pedro. He struck out eight en route to his 200th win.
It was Nady, Delgado and Lo Duca, three heretofore strangers who collected eight of our nine hits.
It was Sanchez holding the fort and Wagner bolting the door.
It was Atlanta catcher Todd Pratt, a hallowed Met soldier of campaigns past swinging at the last strike as a Brave. It not only put away the Braves but said in some dimension that this year was going to be different from not just the well-short efforts of the past few seasons but even the relatively high times of Tank's time. Not that there was anything wrong with it, but these Mets weren't going to scratch and claw for fingernails' inclusion in anybody's Wild Card race.
It was final score Mets 4 Braves 3, the Mets 10 wins and 2 losses, the Mets 5 games up on the Braves and light years ahead of the league on April 17.
It was, heart of hearts, done.
4. October 4: Tag Body Spray
Major League Baseball began three division series on a Tuesday and the fourth on a Wednesday. We were in the fourth.
We had waited long enough.
Six years from 2000, the last time October showed up at Shea. Six months from April, when our autumnal participation could be reasonably imagined. And now an extra day, just long enough to learn that the playoffs would take place not just without Pedro Martinez but sans El Duque.
Before you could say “calf injury” three times fast, the tournament was under way. It's a shame, almost, that Fran Healy wasn't broadcasting these 2006 Mets this October because for the length of it, Shea Stadium was rocking. For Game One, every Dodger was genially harassed. Every Met was sincerely revered. Every Mets fan, in the long lost words of Fran, was on the verge of exploding — and that's not Healy hyperbole.
Just being in the NLDS with home-field advantage was enough to light the collective fuse. It took only until the second inning for 56,000 to detonate.
John Maine, nobody's choice but contingency's to start a series opener, was in a bit of trouble. There was no score but there were runners on second — Jeff Kent — and first — J.D. Drew. Russell Martin drove a Maine pitch to deep right. The runners were off if not running. They were definitely off. Kent thought it might be caught and didn't dart immediately toward third. Drew was burdened by no thoughts and shot past second. Third base coach Rich Donnelly later copped to thinking this:
“I was hoping they'd throw the ball away.”
No such luck, pal. Shawn Green played it off the base of the wall and fired to Jose Valentin. Valentin relayed to Paul Lo Duca. Lo Duca, a big-leaguer since 1998 and a postseason veteran of just over one inning, received Valentin's throw and tagged an onrushing Kent. Sensing another presence approaching over his left shoulder, he turned and tagged an onrushing Drew.
Two onrushing Dodgers out. No onrushing Dodgers scored. 56,000 volcanic Mets fans spurted happiness like it was lava.
The two tags at one plate for two outs on one ball set the tone. The joint never stopped rocking. Contributions from many Mets, particularly Carlos Delgado and the first four hits of his first-ever playoff game, ensured a positive result. Lo Duca's moment of deja tag made it something we'll relive over and over again.
3. October 7: Holy Saturday
What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?
—Tom Grunnick, “Broadcast News”
A little before 7:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time…
Tigers 8 Yankees 3
Detroit wins series three games to one.
Approximately five hours later…
Mets 9 Dodgers 5
New York wins series three games to one.
News like this you don't keep to yourself.
2. September 18: Redemption
This one was for a team that didn't require much in the way of redemption for 5-1/2 months but then squandered a three-day stay in Pittsburgh. It would redeem itself by doing at home what it failed to do on the road.
Tastes of redemption were evident everywhere on the third Monday night in September.
This one was for the starter, the guy who got here just after the last taste of glory. He had been sometimes good, more often lucky, not generally loved. He put in 6-1/3 innings of shutout ball.
This one was for a failed pinch-hitter turned ad hoc second baseman who was nowhere to be found on that position's depth chart in March and didn't take over his job until June. He hit two home runs.
This one was for a middle reliever whose only association with the club was negative. He came on board in August and earned a place by throwing hard and getting outs. He did that per usual in the seventh.
This one was for a setup man who had been zigged out of the rotation and zagged into the bullpen and stepped up into a role he didn't want. He made the eighth inning academic.
This one was for a closer who never enjoyed the mass confidence of his audience but proved a damn sight of an improvement over his immediate predecessors. He generated a popout to second and a flyout to center and then a fly to left.
This one was for a leftfielder whose on-field presence was fringe for large stretches of the year but one whose soul was too enormous to be discounted. The leftfielder was in left field awaiting one final fly ball. He caught it.
This one was for two fans who each answer to the name of diehard, who by chance bought tickets for this game weeks in advance because they would go to any game on any September 18 regardless of stakes or consequences.
This one was for 46,727 fans essentially exactly like them.
This one was for a franchise that had clinched its previous division title 6,570 days earlier.
This one was for 18 years of going without.
This one was for a night of getting in.
This one was for us. All of us.
1. October 18: Faith-Based Initiative
You can't always get what you want. And even if you try, sometimes you just might find you don't get what you need. As Mets fans, we know that.
Boy do we know that.
Oh but when it works, when you get what you want and what you need, it's wonderful. You were so right to believe for those few instances when it paid off that you were never wrong to believe those countless times it didn't. The odds were literally against you because it was so unusual that things went the way you wanted and needed them to go. But as long at it happened once in a while, you knew it could happen again. And if it could happen again…well, it could happen.
Shortly before midnight on October 17, Adam Wainwright struck out Jose Reyes, completing the St. Louis Cardinals' Game Five victory over the New York Mets in the 2006 National League Championship Series. The Cardinals took a three-games-to-two lead in the best-of-seven set.
As if you've forgotten.
Hence, the moment October 18 began, I had one task at hand.
It was not easy. My faith, like yours, had been tested by the events of the previous five days: four games, three losses. A one-oh lead had morphed suddenly and ineffectually into a stark deficit. Our Mets, our 2006 Mets, our best team in the National League Mets, were one game from elimination. Lose and go home.
The flip side? Win and keep playing. Logically, it wasn't tough to see it clicking. Game Six of this NLCS would be at Shea Stadium. So would Game Seven, but first Game Six. Game Six is all. Game Six is where my faith would have to focus.
So it did. On October 18, I thought and I calculated and I wrote and I wore and I did every faithful thing there was to think and to calculate and to write and to wear and to do. So did you.
I don't know that I believed every word and every action I undertook and I surely didn't know if any of it would make a difference. But I understood that having no faith was no answer. Every time I was tempted to not keep the faith, I just piled it higher. If I were carrying that much faith onto an airplane, they'd make me check it.
This wasn't a drill. It was the real thing. Perhaps the most faithful thing I did was answer a call from a friend. He had an angle on two tickets for Game Six. A little on the expensive side, but it was Game Six. Win and keep playing. Priceless. Lose and go home? No refunds.
Our respective faiths hesitated but then dug deep. See you there, the usual spot.
As I had almost 30 times before in 2006, I pushed myself out my front door and toward Shea Stadium. Actually, I almost never push myself to go to a Mets game. I require no nudge at all. I go to Mets games; it's what I do. But on October 18, I was going to a Mets game that would determine if there would be any more Mets games. That was heavy. I sat on my train and I hoped for the best. I recounted in my head all the reasons why tonight should work. It exhausted me. I didn't know if I could go through this sort of mental decathlon for a Game Seven.
But then I got off of the train and I realized something.
I did get what I needed and what I wanted. I got another game. I got another night of summer. Seriously, the weather was summer. The game was baseball. The crowd was…it was a crowd. A crowd of Mets fans. Everywhere I looked, I was among the faithful. I was among me. I was headed where I was supposed to headed.
What could be better than that?
I suppose we could have lost Game Six, but once I found my friend with my ticket and once we passed through security and the turnstile and up three escalators and over several sections and up three rows and sat down and stood up in equivalent amounts for the next three-plus hours while yelling and clapping and shouting and clapping and chanting and clapping, it didn't occur to me. OK, maybe when Billy Wagner extended the top of the ninth beyond all reasonable limits of tolerance, but otherwise, no. This was too good. This was the Mets one more time in 2006. This was, at the risk of sloganeering, the year we'd been waiting for, the month we'd been waiting for, the night we'd been waiting for.
Of course we won.
It was a night of Reyes and Green and Lo Duca and Maine. It was a night guaranteeing Game Seven and all that such an event implied. That was the want-to/need-to aspect on paper as we understood it when the day began. That I still understood. The goal remained winning the pennant. We wanted it and we needed it if we were going to fulfill our ultimate desire for a world championship.
We got what we wanted, at least the part we could reach on October 18, by winning Game Six. We got tomorrow. Yet the more I think about it, the more I think I got what I needed just by getting off of that train. I had brought my faith to Shea Stadium. What else could I possibly need?
Next up: The 49 Greatest Mets of 2006.