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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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’99 Faltered, But Dotel Ain’t Done

The “we” and the “us” was not at all out of line, nevertheless I found it surprising how much Octavio Dotel engaged in first-person plural pronouns when interviewed after the St. Louis Cardinals won the 2011 World Series. He hasn’t been a Cardinal much longer than he’s been most anything else in the big leagues, but his champagne-soaked commemorative t-shirt and cap didn’t deceive. Dotel was and is, in fact, a World Champion St. Louis Cardinal.

So there’s that to like from the 6-2 win the Cardinals hung on the Rangers in Game Seven of the just-completed aptly named Fall Classic. And there’s a slew of players whose pre-tee gamewear couldn’t quite bring me down as much as my traditional personal antipathy for those two Redbirds perched on that yellow bat would suggest (even if the sight of so many sad Texas Rangers in one losing dugout kind of did). Unless you are brutally partisan, it was tough to find anything wrong with David Freese, the kid from St. Louis, winning the MVP for St. Louis. Shoot, he said that when he pitched in Little League, he wore No. 45 to honor Bob Gibson, whom he’d grown up reading about and hearing about…because he was a Cardinals fan being brought up in Cardinal country.

So there was that to like. There was the sheer unlikeliness of what the Cardinals achieved to applaud as well: mired in nowheresville at the end of August, they flapped their unflappable wings through September at a pace (23-9) that would have made Tug McGraw slap his glove against his thigh in approval 38 years earlier. There was their taking advantage of the Braves’ delicious collapse and there was their most welcome outclassing of the supposedly unbeatable Phillies. There was the best hitter maybe any of us has ever seen putting up the best individual World Series game any of us is bound to ever see, and there were two comebacks plus one walkoff for the ages squeezed into the most stunning, shocking and superlative Game Six any of us will ever see this side of October 25, 1986.

Amid my momentary uncharacteristic generosity toward everything Redbird, I even discovered a rationalization that allows me to implement a very temporary moratorium on my standing desire to watch Yadier Molina spontaneously combust. “Well,” I said to Stephanie as the cameras found our old nemesis in the middle of the celebratory scrum Friday night, “at least it’s not Jeter.”

And, at least a refugee from our half of the recently declared “best postseason series of all-time” has proactively earned a World Series ring a dozen years after we most fervently wished one on him and his two dozen then-teammates. That’s Dotel, of course. I can’t say “win one for Octavio” was exactly my rallying cry this October, but I was cheered when my friend Kevin brought to my attention that our long-ago rookie sensation had a shot at breaking a dry spell it never occurred to me existed. Until October 28, 2011, nobody from our mutually favorite Mets team had ever reached the promised land — won a World Series title, that is — since the night the ’99 Mets got driven down in old Dixie.

No, I said, that can’t be…until I looked it up and realized Kevin was absolutely correct. There was a handful of ringbearers who came to that team — Al Leiter, Dennis Cook and Bobby Bonilla from the 1997 Marlins (they could have kept Bonilla), Orel Hershiser from the 1988 Dodgers, Rickey Henderson from the 1989 A’s — but nobody who used losing to the Braves twelve years ago as a springboard to ultimate baseball reward. Until now, the only 1999 Postseason Met who played on a world champion after having been a 1999 Postseason Met was Cook, a 40-year-old member of the 2002 Angels, but one whose injury-interrupted season ousted him from the Halos’ playoff roster.

So, no, Cook did not really pitch his way to a post-’99 championship. Neither did Jason Isringhausen, who requires an asterisk on both ends of his eligibility for our discussion. Izzy was traded from the 1999 Mets (with Greg McMichael for Billy Taylor, oh boy) more than two months before that postseason commenced, and he was on the DL seven years later when the 2006 Cardinals earned their…well, we all know what they earned.

Dotel is, by all indications, the Last of the Met-hicans from the Wild Card bunch that gave us the four-game triumph over Arizona and the six-game heartbreak versus Atlanta; he, Izzy the eventual Oakland A and Melvin Mora were the only 1999 Mets active in 2011 — though Bonilla continues to receive meal money from the club. When Melvin was released by the Diamondbacks in June (perhaps as payback for throwing out Jay Bell at home in the eighth inning of what is otherwise known as the Todd Pratt game), that left Dotel alone to carry the torch from the ten games that lit up our lives twelve Octobers ago.

I wouldn’t have expected Octavio to be thinking about that October when he had this one to stay busy during. Besides, he’s been everywhere, man. It would be just about as easy to list the teams for whom he hasn’t pitched as it would to catalogue his many, many major league stops. Yet, as the enterprising and entertaining Pat Borzi let us know in the Times just after the Cards decked the Brewers to earn their World Series appointment, Dotel — traded to Houston in December 1999 with Roger Cedeño for Mike Hampton and Derek Bell — still hangs on to the bittersweet emotions of October 1999 at least a little.

Maybe more than Kevin and I do, even.

In Borzi’s article, Dotel revealed a surprising reservoir of resentment for how little he was used in the last NLCS of the last century. He didn’t pitch in Game Six, being passed over for the notorious Kenny Rogers (the previous 1999 Met to see World Series action, in 2006 for Detroit, against our chums from St. Louis) and wasn’t called on in the league championship series at all until the thirteenth inning of Game Five.

“What I remember about Game Five,” Dotel told Borzi regarding the three innings of one-run ball he threw to hold the fort in advance of Robin Ventura’s Grand Slam Single, “is I kept seeing pitchers coming out of the dugout, starting pitchers, and I was like, ‘What about me?’ At one point, I was like, ‘I’m not good? I’m not good enough to get in the game?’ That was the main thing. Then they decided, ‘Let’s lose the game. Let’s put in Doti.’ And then I won the game. I showed Bobby Valentine I could do it.” As for the series-ending eleventh inning of the sixth game, “nothing against Kenny,” he said, “but I think I was the right guy to come in in that situation.”

Only Dotel knows if he’s been stewing about 1999 all this time or whether Borzi’s inquiry got him going. Either way, one can understand the deep bone bruise of memory he might now and then have nursed in the ensuing decade and change. Dotel was 25 and on a team two games from the World Series. He wouldn’t get that close again until he actually made it at age 37 this year. I imagine 2011, when Octavio Dotel — a Cardinal since late July — can rightfully brandish all the “we” and “us” he wants, more than makes up for the chance he missed out on when he was much younger.

That’s the beauty and pain attached to watching the clinching/elimination game of a postseason sort itself out. Izzy plays on one world champion his entire career, but injury prevents him from participating. Mora never goes back to the playoffs, having been sent from the eventual pennant-winning Mets of 2000 to the never-contending Orioles (before winding his way to a Rockies team that strives for and misses the playoffs in September 2010 and a Diamondbacks team that heated up upon his departure in 2011). Rogers’s well-being none of us much cares about, I assume, but consider that his first World Series experience came as a 1996 Yankee, earning by participation one of those ballyhooed rings but otherwise imploding (two innings, five earned runs) and not getting another shot at earning a championship by succeeding until 2006. He’s brilliant in one World Series start at age 41, but this time his team, the Tigers, comes up short of a championship.

One never knows. Onetime Jorge Velandia trade bait Nelson Cruz tied the single-postseason home run record (8) this year and it didn’t propel him toward becoming a world champion — same as those whose shared record he tied: Barry Bonds, who never made it back to the postseason after his massive October of 2002; and Carlos Beltran, who didn’t get to the World Series when he was figuratively on fire in 2004 or when he had his moments in 2006.  That fuc…I mean excellent catcher Molina is 29 and has already made four postseasons, been in three World Series and is, as of last night, a two-time world champion. A 28-year-old third baseman named David who could have been accurately described as obscure everywhere but St. Louis a couple of months ago is now a World Series MVP. A 28-year-old third baseman named David who could have been accurately described as a superstar in and out of New York a couple of years ago — and still might answer to that description, pending fence reconstruction in an otherwise deathly quiet ballpark this suddenly snowy autumn — has yet to play in a World Series.

Mike Piazza, Edgardo Alfonzo and ten other 1999 Postseason Mets went to the 2000 World Series but didn’t win. Shawon Dunston got back, as a sidekick of Bonds’s in San Francisco, but they fell one game short to the Angels in ’02. Cedeño got back, with the ’04 Cardinals, but those Birds got swept. Ventura never got back. Pratt never got back. John Olerud never got back. Rey Ordoñez never got back. Benny Agbayani never got back after 2000, though he helped Valentine’s Chiba Lotte Marines win the Japan Series title in 2005…which is pretty great, but it’s not the World Series.

Octavio Dotel was a 1999 Postseason Met and later an Astro, an Athletic, a Yankee, a Royal, a Brave, a White Sock, a Pirate, a Rockie, a Dodger, a Blue Jay and, at last, a World Champion as a 2011 St. Louis Cardinal. After thirteen big league seasons, he pitched five games in this World Series, and in Game Seven, he faced two batters, striking out Ian Kinsler and flying out Elvis Andrus to end the top of the seventh.

I’m sorry he didn’t get to do something like that as a 1999 Met, but I’m not sorry he got to show Bobby Valentine at last.

6 comments to ’99 Faltered, But Dotel Ain’t Done

  • Kevin From Flushing

    Indeed, the silver lining in an otherwise puke-inducing World Champion. Though the word “world” should be used lightly, as they couldn’t even champion their division.

    Sorry, I’m bitter. Very happy for Dotel, but still bitter. Bitter that the stupid Cardinals have another title, bitter that another stupid Wild Card has another title, bitter that stupid Tony LaRussa has another title (HOW DO YOU RUN OUT OF POSITION PLAYERS AFTER 9 INNINGS?!), bitter that the 2011 Cards out-99′d the 99 Mets… but mostly I’m just bitter at being bitter. I wish I knew how to let it go.

    • Opposing viewpoint: Once you win your LCS and enter the World Series, you’re no longer a wild card — you’re a league champion. If the teams that win divisions don’t like it, they should win their series. They (in this case the Phillies, the Brewers and the Diamondbacks) had the same opportunity to take three of five and then four of seven as the Cardinals did.

      A pox on La Russa, et al, but with a hellacious September and 90 wins en route to picking apart three outstanding teams, the Cardinals earned this one. (Implicit, despite their following the rules five years ago: 2006 fell into their laps…but now who’s bitter?)

      • Kevin From Flushing

        The Brewers already faced off against the Cardinals in a 162-Game Series and won. Why must they have to prove it again in a best-of-7?

        • ‘Cause them’s the rules they and everybody else signed off on.

          That’s a fairly doctrinaire answer, I realize, but I have less of a problem with wild cards and playoffs philosophically (an eight-team championship tournament featuring four qualifiers from each league) than I do with those who bemoan the fate of best-of-five losers in any given year, as in “poor Phillies” (or “poor Yankees” this year). You’re the best team in your league? Play like it until you’re a champion.

          I understand the objections to the Wild Card on a logical and traditional level, but personally, its existence doesn’t bother me. If baseball invented it out of the blue as it did the designated hitter gimmick, I’d hate it. But wild cards existed in other sports and I grew used to them there. They work for me here.

  • open the gates

    Izzy-for-Billy Taylor, Nelson Cruz-for-Jorge (ouch!) Velandia…

    Amazing how the idiot Met trades poke their putrid heads out of even the most unrelated discussions.

    Next article, try to work in Ryan-Fregosi. For some reason, this time of year I feel more masochistic than usual.