Welcome to The Happiest Recap, a solid gold slate of New York Mets games culled from every schedule the Mets have ever played en route to this, their fiftieth year in baseball. We’ve created a dream season consisting of the “best” 67th game in any Mets season, the “best” 68th game in any Mets season, the “best” 69th game in any Mets season…and we keep going from there until we have a completed schedule worthy of Bob Murphy coming back with the Happy Recap after this word from our sponsor on the WFAN Mets Radio Network.
GAME 067: June 16, 1997 — Mets 6 YANKEES 0
(Mets All-Time Game 067 Record: 25-24; Mets 1997 Record: 37-30)
According to the indispensable Baseball-Reference.com, the pitcher to whom statistical profiles suggest Dave Mlicki compared most closely the season he turned 27 was Jack Brewer, a New York Giant righthander during and just after World War II. The pitcher to whom Dave Mlicki compared most closely the season he turned 28 was his contemporary, righty reliever Tim Worrell, just then embarking on a journeyman career. In 1997, the season Dave Mlicki was 29, bb-ref pegs Mlicki’s historical near-doppelgänger as onetime Met Juan Berenguer. But for that year — certainly for one unprecedented Monday night inside it— Mets fans required no Bill Jamesean similarity score to determine the pitcher Dave Mlicki was most like.
Dave Mlicki was Tom Seaver.
Dave Mlicki was Dwight Gooden.
Dave Mlicki was Seaver and Gooden combined, with a dash of Christy Mathewson thrown in.
Dave Mlicki borrowed the right arm of the Lord, and it would, per Samuel L. Jackson’s climactic speech in Pulp Fiction, strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy his brothers, and you would know his name was Mlicki when he laid his vengeance upon thee.
Thee, on the evening of June 16, 1997, referred to the Yankees.
It was the first time every hypothetical schoolyard, bus stop and barroom debate came to a proving ground near us. Who would win if the New York Mets played the New York Yankees for real? Not in St. Petersburg. Not in Ft. Lauderdale. Not for some garish trophy the mayor was offering up in the name of sandlot baseball…even if Casey Stengel insisted to Hizzoner Robert F. Wagner, Jr., that after fifty years in baseball and accepting “many gifts from playground committees,” the Mayor’s Trophy his club captured in 1963 was:
“…possibly, for the Mets, the biggest gift that I have to give to the ownership, from my players, in beating such a wonderful team, the Yankees, but I realize that at my age, and the cities that I have attended, that this is the biggest thing that we feel you’ve done this year for the youth of America.”
The biggest thing Dave Mlicki could do for Mets fans and the biggest gift Dave Mlicki could give to Mets fans was pitch the game of his life in the first-ever Interleague meeting between those Mets’ descendants and the “wonderful” team facing them at Yankee Stadium almost exactly 34 years after Casey’s new boys (25-43) beat Casey’s old boys (36-23), 6-2. As on June 20, 1963, the Yankees hosted the Mets as defending world champions. But this was not an exhibition game. It was a real game. It was a game that counted every bit as much in the standings as it did in your gut.
Dave Mlicki, in his previous start, at Wrigley Field, won but wasn’t smooth in doing so, allowing the Cubs a four-run fifth that was forgivable only because the Mets had staked him to a seven-run lead. In his start before that, versus Florida, he was on the generous side of adequate: three runs on seven hits and four walks over eight innings in an eventual 5-2 loss to the Marlins at Shea. And in 36 previous career starts for the Mets, glimpses of the talent that convinced Joe McIlvaine to trade budding slugger Jeromy Burnitz to Cleveland in exchange for Mlicki and two other young pitchers (Paul Byrd and Jerry DiPoto, both gone from the Mets by ’97) but never any kind of consistency.
Except maybe that he was consistently frustrating to watch. Among the five starters who constituted Bobby Valentine’s surprisingly effective rotation over the first two-and-a-half months of the surprisingly buoyant 1997 season, most Mets fans would have preferred Bobby Jones, Mark Clark, Armando Reynoso or Rick Reed to take on the historic task that awaited Mlicki (it was a popular topic on WFAN, to say the least). But Valentine danced with those what brung ’em in terms of whose turn it was to pitch. Clark and Jones had started the Mets’ last two games — in the Mets’ first Interleague series of any kind, a rematch of the 1986 World Series vs. the Red Sox — and Reynoso and Reed were scheduled to take on the Yankees in the final two games of this three-game set. Hence, it was Mlicki’s ball.
But first, it was Mlicki’s teammates’ bats that took center stage as probably the most hotly anticipated Mets game since the 1986 World Series got underway.
In front of 56,188 fairly frenzied spectators — a midseason mixture of fans unlike any gathered in any city’s stadium in recent or distant memory — the Mets took advantage of their first ups. With one out, Bernard Gilkey doubled off Andy Pettitte and John Olerud did the same. The Mets had scored the first run in the history of the Subway Series. After a Todd Hundley walk, they scored the second, as Butch Huskey singled home Olerud. Then they stole the third: Todd, who took third base on Huskey’s hit, swiped home while Butch made off with second. It was a double-steal against a pitcher with one of the best pickoff moves in baseball.
The Mets had just scored three runs against the Yankees. And they all counted. Then they all stood up. Mlicki gave up a hit to Yankee leadoff batter Derek Jeter but then retired second baseman Pat Kelly on a grounder and struck out Paul O’Neill and Cecil Fielder.
The first inning was done. The Mets led the Yankees. Not only was the game really happening, but the Mets were really winning. And Mets fans at Yankee Stadium were really enjoying it.
Well, of course they were. Although Pettitte settled in, Mlicki gave no ground: a hit here, a hit there, but no runs. In the seventh, Olerud padded Mlicki’s lead with a two-run single to make it 5-0.
Now whose Stadium was it? Mike Lupica in the Daily News divined the answer as “Let’s Go Mets” became the pre-eminent cheer there.
“It was like a loud, raucous baseball voice from the past, on the wrong side of town, in the wrong ballpark. Almost like some wiseguy voice from the wrong side of the baseball tracks. A Queens voice sounding like a Bronx cheer to the Yankees. This wasn’t about interleague baseball. This was something much deeper and more important, on such an important night for the New York Mets and their fans. This was about interboro baseball. You go tell the Mets they weren’t going for the championship of the city last night. You tell the Mets they didn’t knock Yankee Stadium right on its ear.”
“There were a lot more Mets fans than I expected,” John Franco would say. “They were loud. It was a great atmosphere.”
Mlicki made it all the better for the visiting fans, the ones who had just endured six consecutive losing seasons, the last of them that much more painful because it coincided with a world championship for the other team in town. Those Mets fans had heard all about it in their schoolyards, at their bus stops, from the Yankees fans at the bar stool or in the cubicle next to them. They were told they were on the wrong train as the mid-‘90s grew late. They were told they had cast their lot with the losers, that the smart set knew what was what in New York, that the Yankees were where everything was at in this town.
In October 1996, that was hard to argue. In June 1997, the point was moot. The Mets were winning. The Mets were beating the Yankees. The Mets of those fans who showed up at Yankee Stadium in greater proportions than predicted. The Mets of those fans who never gave them up amid the losing of the first two-thirds of the decade. The Mets of Gilkey, Olerud, Hundley, Huskey.
The Mets of Dave Mlicki.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Yankees put a baserunner on third for the first time all night, but Mlicki left him there. In the top of the ninth, Gilkey lifted a sacrifice fly off Graeme Lloyd to drive in Matt Franco, making it Mets 6 Yankees 0. In the bottom of the ninth, Mlicki allowed two singles, but erased one of them on a fielder’s choice after one erased itself when the baserunner (Charlie Hayes) tried to stretch it into a double. But he then gave up another single, his ninth hit permitted in the game. With Yankees on first and second, Jeter was up once more. Dave worked the count to 1-2 and sent a third strike past the sophomore shortstop.
Jeter looked as it landed in Hundley’s mitt.
Called strike three. Third out. Mets win, 6-0. Yankees lose, 6-0. The Mets’ record climbs to 37-30. The Yankees’ record falls to 37-30. As of June 16, 1997, New York’s two baseball teams are equally good.
Except one has just proven itself a little bit better.
Lupica, in the next day’s News:
“For this one night, the Mets were the best team in town. The star of the game was not Andy Pettitte, World Series hero, it was Dave Mlicki, who is 18-21 lifetime, who had never pitched a shutout, whose record was 2-5 coming into Mets vs. Yankees. The star of the game was Mlicki, from start to finish, on the night when he became part of the city’s baseball history. He is the reason the Mets are 1-0 lifetime against the Yankees this morning.”
It was a game that belonged to every Mets fan, every descendant of every Giants fan and Dodgers fan, maybe. It was a game that Bobby Valentine could build on, that the young and astonishing 1997 Mets could use to insinuate themselves a little further into their unforeseen competition for the National League at-large playoff berth. Nobody picked them to do anything, yet here they were, in third place in the mythical Wild Card division, just three games behind the Marlins.
Eternally, it was a game that belonged to Dave Mlicki, who would have a few more moments as a Met before being traded less than a year later to L.A. for Hideo Nomo, but only six more wins and no more shutouts. Certainly nothing like the night of June 16, 1997, when Dave put the Mets on the board and kept the Yankees completely off of it.
“Tonight,” Mlicki told reporters as he soaked in his accomplishment, “was great.”
Or as Lindsey Nelson asked rhetorically after listening to Casey Stengel describe the wonders of winning that first Mayor’s Trophy Game, “Well, what more could any Met fan ask for than being baseball champions of the city of New York?”
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On June 15, 2002, Shawn Estes couldn’t win for winning. Oh, he won, all right. Had himself a helluva day as judged by the Shea Stadium scoreboard this Saturday afternoon, shutting out the Yankees on five hits over seven innings, piling up eleven strikeouts along the way. And if that wasn’t enough, Estes hit a home run against one of the best pitchers of the previous two decades. It also bears mentioning Shawn’s impeccable control: only one walk and no hit batsmen…though that’s where winning a Subway Series game by the score of 8-0 couldn’t quite get Estes an untarnished W in the court of public opinion.
Every Mets fan watching appreciated Shawn’s scoreless pitching, and they were absolutely tickled at his home run, considering who it was hit off, but what they wanted most of all was that opposing pitcher to be hit literally. This was less a game pitting Shawn Estes, first-year Met, versus the New York Yankees as it was a grudge match two years after the fact.
On July 8, 2000, Roger Clemens — hopelessly outclassed on the field of play — beaned Mike Piazza at Yankee Stadium, endangering the superstar catcher’s well-being and signaling total cowardice on his own part. The “Rocket” had been lit up by Piazza for a career .583 batting average. Incapable of getting him out through his widely renowned pitching skills, Clemens resorted to headhunting. That was certainly the Mets fan’s view of the issue, and it wasn’t meaningfully altered in the 2000 World Series when Clemens flung half a broken bat at Piazza allegedly by mistake (the pitcher said he thought the bat shard was a foul ball that had mysteriously trickled fair). As that game took place in the Bronx, Clemens didn’t have to worry about retaliation, not until 2002, when his number finally came up unavoidably in Joe Torre’s rotation, and he had to pitch at Shea. If he pitched there, under prevailing authentic baseball rules, Clemens had to bat there, too. There was no DH for him to hide behind. By the same token, there was no way for Estes to avoid assuming a role in a controversy with which he had nothing to do in 2000, when he was a San Francisco Giant.
Nonetheless, all eyes were on Estes when Clemens strolled to the plate in the top of the third. Everybody expected Clemens to be hit. Clemens expected to be hit. Weighed down by universal expectation, Estes threw behind Clemens…behind Clemens’s behind, as it were. He missed that rather large target. It was Shawn’s one shot at direct revenge on behalf of the 2000 Mets in 2002. Merely by taking aim at Clemens in such obvious fashion, he triggered home plate ump Wally Bell’s predictable warning to both sides that ejections would be risked if there was any more funny business.
The only business from there was profitable to the Mets’ bottom line: Estes’s pitching, Estes’s batting and Piazza taking care of his own business by blasting a homer off Clemens in the bottom of the sixth to extend the Mets’ lead to 4-0. Clemens (who actually doubled off Estes in the top of the sixth) was soon gone and Estes was soon victorious, 8-0. But the lefty never quite lived down the fact that he left one piece of business lingering unfinished. Clemens would never again pitch — or bat — at Shea Stadium as a Yankee. And he would never take one off his enormous ass.
GAME 068: June 25, 1970 — Mets 8 CUBS 3
(Mets All-Time Game 068 Record: 25-24; Mets 1970 Record: 37-31)
There are statement games and there are statement series. This one was surely the former and confirmed that it would be the punctuation of the latter.
The Mets and Cubs, bitter rivals in 1969, were at it again in 1970 — at it for an extended stay at Wrigley, too. Thanks to a May rainout, the Mets would be playing a five-game set on the North Side of Chicago. It would be, by definition, long on innings and, as the divisional race was developing, fraught with implications. When the series began, Gil Hodges’s second-place Mets trailed Leo Durocher’s Cubs by 3½ games, sitting just a game ahead of the Cardinals and Pirates. The quintet of contests presented the Mets with a rare opportunity to gain massive amounts of ground in the standings. Or it could backfire and send them reeling in the other direction. Anything in between could happen, too.
How would this five-part midsummer sequel to the soap opera that made 1969 famous unfold? Very favorably, it turned out.
First Game: A back-and-forth affair sees the Mets go forth and claim victory after Donn Clendenon clouts a three-run pinch-homer in the eighth to break a 5-5 tie. Tommie Agee’s fifth-inning home run helps the club overcome Gary Gentry’s shaky start. Mets win 9-5, move within 2½ of first place.
Second Game: A seven-run fourth inning, featuring consecutive run-scoring singles from Jerry Grote, Ray Sadecki and Agee, puts the Mets up 8-5. But it’s not enough. Cubs storm back to lead 10-8 after five. A Ken Boswell two-run single ties it in the ninth. Duffy Dyer, the personification of “light-hitting backup catcher,” gets ahold of a Phil Regan pitch and sends it out of Wrigley for the decisive tally. Mets win 12-10, move within 1½ of first place.
Third Game: A four-run eighth in this doubleheader opener blows open a game firmly in Tom Seaver’s control. Perhaps Seaver loses a bit of control thereafter, as his 8-1 lead is reduced to 9-5 in the bottom of the ninth when Ernie Banks socks a three-run pinch-dinger, the 505th tater of his career. Well, they are playing two. Seaver holds on to beat Bill Hands, striking out eleven in the process. Mets win 9-5, move within a half-game of first place.
Fourth Game: It’s actually kind of quiet batwise in the nightcap. Nolan Ryan gives up one hit in seven innings. Tug McGraw gives up one hit in the next two. Mets collect all the runs they need off prototypical second-game-of-a-doubleheader starter Archie Reynolds. Mets win 6-1, move into first place with a half-game lead.
That would be enough of a high to leave Chicago on, but the Mets can’t go until they play some more. Nobody would rightfully complain about a 4-1 series versus the dangerous Cubs, but a loss in the finale would undo some serious Met momentum and send them out of first place almost as soon as they arrived there. The Mets had thus far in 1970 made only a token appearance at the top of the division, in the middle of May. All the struggling the erstwhile Miracle workers had done might be for naught if they couldn’t get out of Wrigley in first.
So the struggle continued this Thursday afternoon. And if it had been a struggle for the Mets, imagine the state the Cubs were in: they had given up an instantly legendary large lead in 1969 and now, in 1970, they were fumbling another sizable margin. As recently as a week earlier they led the pack by 4½. Now they were behind. But a win would flip the order and give Durocher’s darlings something to cackle about.
No such luck, Leo.
The Mets dug a hole for Cub starter Ken Holtzman in the top of the second, kicked the lefty in and proceeded to methodically shovel dirt all over him. Clendenon led off with a single. Ron Swoboda doubled him to third. Joe Foy’s infield hit scored Clink, while Rocky raced to third when All-Star shortstop Don Kessinger made a poor throw to first. A Wayne Garrett single brought home Swoboda and put Foy on second. Red and Joe put themselves a base ahead on a double steal, with Foy scampering home as catcher Jack Hiatt’s throw landed in the outfield.
Mets led 3-0 by now and were positioned to do a little more damage as Holtzman walked Grote. Jerry Koosman struck out on a bunt attempt, but that was just a temporary reprieve for Holtzman and the Cubs. Agee singled in Garrett and Bud Harrelson doubled home Grote, with Agee taking third. Now it was 5-0 and Durocher was removing Holtzman. Roberto Rodriguez came on in relief and got Ken Singleton to ground to Glenn Beckert at second base, another All-Star infielder.
And another All-Star infield error for the Cubs. Beckert booted the ball for Chicago’s third miscue of the inning. Agee raced home and the Mets led 6-0.
From there, it was mostly Koosman. He’d give up an RBI single and a two-run homer to Jim Hickman but would keep the Cubs ice cold otherwise. And for insurance purposes, Foy singled Clendenon home in the seventh inning for the Mets seventh run and scored the Mets’ eighth run when he stole home on the back end of yet another double steal (notorious speedster Grote taking second).
Ahead 8-3 in the ninth, Kooz closed the deal: Hickman flied to right, Ron Santo popped to first and Banks — who was not known to suggest, “Let’s play five in four days!” — grounded to short. The Mets held on 8-3 and swept the five-game series to go up a game-and-a-half on the Cubs, two on the surging Pirates and five on the fading Cardinals.
The Mets had never before taken every game of a five-game series. But they had won a division title and were suddenly positioning themselves to possibly win their second straight. If “Let’s win two!” wasn’t their rallying cry, they were sure playing like it was.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On June 19, 1994, Dwight Gooden could have been forgiven for wondering where everybody went. No offense to Fernando Viña, Jose Vizcaino, Joe Orsulak, Bobby Bonilla, Jeff Kent, David Segui, Todd Hundley and Ryan Thompson, but none of these were the players who supported Doc as he grew into the National League’s most ferocious starting pitcher in 1984 and 1985 and a world champion in 1986. Ten years after setting the baseball world on fire, Gooden was the last Met who remained from the heart of that glory era. With the exits of Sid Fernandez and Howard Johnson in the previous offseason, Gooden was the sole ’86er still on the active roster by ’94. The Mets were clearly in rebuilding mode this Sunday night at Joe Robbie Stadium as they took on the Marlins.
More than their last-place standing at the moment, the most obvious sign that the Mets were looking ahead could be found in the Mets’ TV booth, where SportsChannel’s special guest was recent No. 1 draft choice Paul Wilson. Wilson was the top pick in the nation (available to the Mets because they were the worst team in the land in 1993). He was projected as the next Dwight Gooden, the pitcher who would lead the Mets to their next glory era.
In the meantime, down on the JRS mound was the current Dwight Gooden, struggling to overcome a toe injury let alone regain the form that made him Dr. K. He seemed to be progressing. In his last start, on June 14 at Shea, he limited the Phillies to two runs and five hits over seven innings, striking out a vintage eleven batters in a tough 3-2 loss to the Phillies — not that many noticed, considering the big story in New York that night was the Rangers’ winning their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. Not many would notice what Gooden (2-3, 6.43 ERA) would do in Miami, either, since the Knicks were in Houston trying to nail down their first NBA championship in 21 years.
Gooden wasn’t trying to do anything so lofty. He was just trying to keep pitching well. And he did: eight innings, three hits, one walk, only one run allowed, on a homer to Greg Colbrunn. Doc racked up 6 K’s and, as he did so often when he was capturing New York’s fancy, he showed he know how to use a bat, recording a base hit off Marlin starter Charlie Hough in the second and scoring the Mets’ third run.
With the 6-1 win, Doc raised his 1994 record to an even 3-3 while lowering his 1994 ERA to 5.25. It was still unsightly and still most unDoclike, but the man had been injured. Now he was putting it back together again. In two starts, he had struck out 17 batters in 15 innings of eight-hit ball. Doc was only 29. He had 157 wins, 41 fewer than Tom Seaver’s Mets-best. The Rangers were done. The Knicks would be done soon enough. Maybe Doc Gooden’s comeback could be the next great New York sports story of 1994. Maybe Doc would retain his groove and pass Tom Terrific in a few seasons, get his 200th win, get back to the level where we were used to seeing him. Maybe if the Mets successfully rebuilt behind him, maybe the back end of a Hall of Fame career was still ahead of him. He was, it is worth repeating, only 29.
That scenario seemed more plausible than what happened next: one more start (a terrible one at Shea, versus Pittsburgh) and an imminent announcement that Dwight Gooden had violated the terms of his drug aftercare program. His suspension from baseball, seven years after he tested positive for cocaine, was automatic. By the time his banishment was over, his contract would be, too.
Nobody knew it, but in beating the Marlins 6-1 on a little-noticed Sunday night in South Florida, Dwight Gooden had just won his final game as a New York Met.
GAME 069: June 17, 2003 — Mets 5 MARLINS 0
(Mets All-Time Game 069 Record: 19-30; Mets 2003 Record: 32-37)
A perfect game is 27 up, 27 down. Squint and you could see, on this Tuesday night in Miami, perfection…or something an awful lot like it.
Near-misses were suddenly surrounding the 2003 Mets in mid-June. Two days earlier in Anaheim, Steve Trachsel allowed only a sixth-inning single to David Eckstein plus four ultimately harmless walks in what became a one-hit, 8-0 shutout of the defending world champion Angels (in the same game that rookie shortstop Jose Reyes launched the first home run of his career, a grand slam off Jarrod Washburn). The Mets flew to Florida in time to take part in another one-hitter the next night, though not as they would have preferred. This time, the winner was phenom Dontrelle Willis, completely baffling every Met but third baseman Ty Wigginton (a one-out single in the fourth) as he bested T#m Gl@v!ne in a 1-0 duel of youth vs. experience.
Yes, something was in the air as the Mets prepared to take on the Marlins once more, just maybe something that had eluded the Mets across their first 41 seasons.
For three innings, it appeared so. Or Seo, as in impressive rookie righty Jae Weong Seo. He went through the Marlin order untouched the first three innings he pitched, needing only 29 pitches to retire all three sides. It was nine up, nine down. In the fourth, he needed only seven pitches to put away Juan Pierre, Luis Castillo and Pudge Rodriguez. Jae Seo was perfect through four.
The perfection continued into the fifth when Seo struck out cleanup batter Mike Lowell to start the inning. That was Jae’s third strikeout and his thirteenth consecutive batter. Lucky thirteen, perhaps?
Perhaps not. On the 45th pitch he threw, Seo gave up his first hit, a single to left by right fielder Juan Encarnacion. With the Mets’ bid for perfection foiled yet again, Jae had to turn his attention to tamping down a potential Marlin rally. It was, after all, 0-0, as Carl Pavano was shutting out the Mets in slightly less dramatic fashion than Seo was handling the Fish.
Encarnacion, meanwhile, was intent on manufacturing a run. He took off for second on Seo’s second pitch to Derrek Lee. Catcher Jason Phillips nailed him trying to steal. The first Marlin baserunner of the evening had been erased for the second out of the bottom of the fifth. A couple of pitches later, Lee flied to Timo Perez in center to end the inning.
The no-hitter and all that was gone, but something fairly interesting was happening. Seo had faced 15 batters through 5 innings: the minimum. It’s the kind of number associated with a perfect game, but even with a momentary flaw, the minimum could be attained as long as the flaw was deleted. Encarnacion’s caught-stealing was just the delete key Seo needed to tap.
Jae Weong Seo was, thus, working on a perfect game lite.
His work continued without blemish in the sixth as he got Alex Gonzalez on a grounder to second, Todd Hollandsworth on a fly to left and Pavano on a called strike three. That was 18 Marlins up, 18 Marlins down. Pavano went back to the mound for the seventh and, after grounding out Cliff Floyd, gave up a home run to Jeromy Burnitz. At last, Seo had a lead with which to work, and he put it to good use, teasing groundouts from Pierre and Castillo. But then the righty from Korea called for the Mets’ trainer. His right index finger was giving him problems — he had split a nail. In pain, he agreed to leave. David Weathers came on to ground out Rodriguez. Two Mets pitchers had now accounted for 21 Marlins up, 21 Marlins down. Weathers stayed in and stayed on top of the situation, getting out Lowell, Encarnacion and Lee in the eighth. 24 Marlins up, 24 Marlins down.
Three outs from something approaching perfection, the Mets offense gave their pitchers some breathing room at last. Wigginton led off the visitors’ ninth with a homer off Pavano. After Roberto Alomar reached on an error, Jack McKeon removed his starter. The Marlins fell apart immediately. After a wild pitch, another error and an intentional walk, Phillips singled home a run; Reyes and Roger Cedeño did the same. The game moved to the bottom of the ninth with the Mets up 5-0.
Weathers was replaced by Armando Benitez. Benitez was no Mets fan’s idea of perfect, but then again, a game that included one opposition hit wasn’t really perfect, either. With no obvious pressure on him, Benitez delivered: a grounder to third from Gonzalez, a fly to right from Hollandsworth and, on a 1-2 pitch to pinch-hitter Andy Fox, a swinging strikeout.
Seo, Weathers and Benitez did it: a combined one-hitter, the third one-hitter the Mets had won or lost in three games, setting some kind of record. Further, it was a game in which no Marlin scored and no Marlins was left on base. That added up to a 5-0 Mets win and 27 up, 27 down: the perfectly minimum number of batters a team can face in a nine-inning contest. You couldn’t call it a perfect game, but you could call it something remarkable the Mets never did before and haven’t done since.
ALSO QUITE HAPPY: On June 17, 2001, the Mets were dead asleep and so were many of their fans. It was a Sunday Night Baseball presentation, which meant a start time after 8:00 PM. Then it was a long, slow game with a discouraging score of Yankees 5 Mets 2 as it headed to the eighth inning at Shea. When Turk Wendell gave up a two-out, two-run double to Alfonso Soriano, that was all the motivation Monday-minded Met viewers needed to give up the 7-2 ghost and turn off their sets in favor of bed.
Imagine their surprise when they learned what transpired as the fourth hour of this Interleague followup to the previous fall’s World Series unfolded.
Robin Ventura, leading off versus Randy Choate, reached on a Derek Jeter error. Choate then hit Joe McEwing. Desi Relaford singled Ventura home and McEwing to third to make it a 7-3 ballgame. Rey Ordoñez walked to load the bases with nobody out. Choate, at last, got an out, fanning Mark Johnson. He gave way to Carlos Almanzar. Almanzar gave way to more Met forward progress: a Benny Agbayani single that scored McEwing and Relaford to cut the Met deficit to 7-5.
That was just about that, however, as Almanzar induced Tsuyoshi Shinjo to ground to Soriano at second. Agbayani was forced there and a double play appeared about to occur, but Shinjo ran as hard as he could — lunging so determinedly that he strained an already ailing quadriceps muscle as he slid — and beat out the return throw to first from Jeter. Ordoñez, in the meantime, had scored to make it 7-6.
The Mets were very much awake.
As Timo Perez came in to pinch-run for Shinjo (who would go on the Disabled List for the next month), it seemed an obvious call for Yankee skipper Joe Torre to bring in relief ace Mariano Rivera to face Mike Piazza — Rivera had flied out Piazza in Saturday’s Yankee win and had saved both games of this first ’01 Subway Series — but Torre didn’t want to overwork his world-class closer. Or maybe he needed to put his repeated insistence that these games against the Mets weren’t that big a deal into action. Thus, he stayed with Almanzar, and thus Almanzar gave up one of the longest home runs Piazza ever hit. With Mike’s shot clearing the fence and landing somewhere near Bayside, the Mets took an improbable 8-7 lead.
Midnight had struck for Almanzar (in two days he’d make the final appearance of his brief Yankee career), but it was never exactly morning in America for Met closer Armando Benitez, who was infamous for his skittish relationship with both the other New York team and save situations. Nevertheless, twelve o’clock was passed as Benitez set down Chuck Knoblauch and then Jeter for the first two outs of the bottom of the ninth. His last obstacle was Bernie Williams, and he was some kind of obstacle where Armando was concerned. Williams owned a lifetime .857 batting average versus Benitez: 4-for-5 when Armando was an Oriole and 2-for-2 since he’d become a Met. One very long foul ball (barely foul, definitely out) underscored what Armando and Mets fans were up against.
But it was foul, so it was just a strike. And there’d be a third strike. At 12:03 AM, Williams swung through it. Piazza dropped it, but picked it up and threw it to Johnson at first to end the Mets’ first win over the Yankees since they lost the World Series at Shea nearly eight months earlier. It was definitely worth staying up for
Then again, for well-rested Mets fans who learned about the result from the back page of Monday morning’s Daily News…
Piazza spoils Yanks’ sweep dream with late blast
…they had the good fortune to start their week with a helluva bedtime story.