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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Mets of the 2000s: 70-61

Welcome to the fourth chapter of Faith and Fear’s historical countdown of the The Top 100 Mets of the 2000s. A full introduction to what we’re doing is available here. These are the more or less best Mets we rooted for as Mets fans during the decade FAFIF came to be. In honor of the 16th anniversary of our February 16, 2005, founding, we thought it would be fun (or at least not too painful) to revisit these guys and recall a little something about them.

70. VANCE WILSON, 2000-2004
Also a Met in 1999
69. JASON PHILLIPS, 2001-2004
Break glass in case of emergency, but pray the glass stays pristine. For the Mets of the early 2000s, any day when Mike Piazza wasn’t available could constitute a crisis, as three months without their superstar catcher could pretty much shut their offensive world down. From the middle of May until the middle of August in 2003, Piazza was out with a nastily torn right groin. The result could’ve been enough broken glass at Shea to keep Annie Lennox walking from here to Astoria. Sweeping in to sweep up the debris were two catchers intent on keeping Art Howe’s Mikeless ship from altogether capsizing. Vance Wilson was a defensive catcher who normally couldn’t catch enough reps behind the plate to establish himself as a fulltime receiver because, well, Piazza. But Piazza’s bad ’03 break was a decent one for Vance, netting the future Hall of Famer’s caddy a career-high 72 starts and a personal-best eight homers. Jason Phillips stood up from squatting behind both Mike and Vance that same season to take the first base starts Mo Vaughn left behind when chronic knee pain absented the slugger altogether. In more than 400 at-bats, the goggled one proved nearly a .300 hitter in 2003, good enough to earn him de facto starting catcher status in 2004 when Piazza toted his mitt over to first base. Mind you, there was no substantive substitute for the greatest-hitting catcher of all time, but when you had Wilson/Phillips, you could hold on for one more day.

68. KAZ MATSUI, 2004-2006
Something was lost in translation. Kaz Matsui was a highly regarded shortstop in Japan. The Mets decided they absolutely had to have him in 2004, never mind that the one budding star they’d introduced in 2003 was shortstop Jose Reyes. The Mets signed Matsui, shifted Reyes to second, and waited for middle-infield magic to happen. It never did, mostly because Kaz wasn’t the cause for excitement in America that he’d been back home. Diving for balls simply wasn’t something he’d done a Seibu Lion, and it showed in the National League. He also couldn’t stay healthy consistently, and that, too, tried patience within the not-always-reasonable precincts of the Mets fan community. By 2005, Matsui was assigned second, which improved shortstop at once (becoming Jose’s dominion again), but Kaz continued to be plagued by injuries, slumps and a general level of discomfort he could never shake. Still, he did display speed; could get hot; and had the strangest knack for whacking the very first pitch he saw in every season he was a Met for a home run, one of them an inside-the-parker. If only he’d led off and left town for twelve months, Kaz Matsui would go down as a legend rather than a cautionary tale.

67. DAMION EASLEY, 2007-2008
No Mets fan would argue that every Met in 2007 and 2008 didn’t deserve a trip to the postseason, but if you were willing to look past the uniform, there was one Met you had to root hardest for to reach October. After fifteen seasons of service in other outposts, Easley found himself a 37-year-old veteran missing one appearance in an otherwise honorable career: not one single second in postseason play. Damion joined the Mets following their 2006 playoff run, ready to back up at almost any position and ride the Flushing wave into autumn. The former AL All-Star did his part well enough, knocking in the occasional big run and filling in steadily, particularly at second base. But the team he joined was not the team it became, and after near-misses (to put it kindly) in September 2007 and September 2008, Damion Easley finished his career with 1,706 regular-season games played and zero in the postseason, at the time the most for any player whose career included the Wild Card era.

Sooner or later, it had to happen. When your uncle is Dwight Gooden, when your profession is baseball and when your talent is undeniable, your destiny says you will land on the New York Mets. Mostly it was the Doc connection that always made Gary Sheffield loom as a hypothetical Met trade target. He had played for seven other franchises over 21 seasons until the storyline got its inevitable final paragraph, with Sheff signing as a Met on the eve of the opening of Citi Field in 2009. The Mets were a little short in the outfield, so the 40-year-old found a temporary home in left. Almost as soon as he got to Queens, Gary hit the 500th home run of his illustrious career, making him the first to reach that high a milestone in a Met uniform. It also meant he’d joined Doc’s old teammate Rusty Staub in the palmful of players who’d homered before turning 20 and after turning twice that. He’d keep up his powerful ways for a few months before aging into retirement.

65. BRUCE CHEN, 2001-2002
The eyes of a city were upon a newcomer the night of September 21, 2001. The Mets were facing the Braves in the first baseball game New York was hosting since the terrorist attacks of ten days before. Was it too soon? It couldn’t be for Bruce Chen, whose job it was to throw that Friday’s first pitch and resume the path to municipal normality. The ex-Brave, acquired from the Phillies in July, did his part splendidly, giving up no earned runs over seven tense innings, setting the stage for Mike Piazza’s bat to take care of the drama and catharsis in the eighth.

64. LASTINGS MILLEDGE, 2006-2007
Reach out and touch Lastings Milledge. If you sat in the first row of the right field stands on the Sunday afternoon the Mets’ first-round draft pick from 2003 hit his first major league home run, you had an excellent chance of personally making contact. In the bottom of the tenth inning on June 4, 2006, with a runner on and the Mets trailing by two runs, Lastings went deep to tie the Giants and extend the action. Jogging back to his position, he exchanged casual high-fives with any fan who wanted them. A baseball generation or so later, he’d likely be marketed as the kind of player the sport desperately needed. Back then, before anybody thought to celebrate let alone retweet a bat flip, the old guard (manager Willie Randolph especially) tut-tutted. Perhaps if Milledge had hit and hustled more consistently, he would have been welcomed more heartily into the fraternity. Later in 2006, Lastings would be greeted by a sign at his locker that warned him to “KNOW YOUR PLACE, ROOK.” When his place was in the starting lineup, he could demonstrate why he was drafted so high, but any chance Lastings would put all of his tools together in New York was short-circuited following the 2007 campaign when he was traded to Washington for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider.

63. RAMON CASTRO, 2005-2009
The easing out of a legend is never easy, though the process that edged Mike Piazza toward the Shea Stadium exit in the final year of Mike’s long-term contract seemed a little less upsetting that it could have been on those days Piazza’s position was in the capable hands of Ramon Castro. Putting down targets to the approval of new Met ace Pedro Martinez, Castro made himself indispensable to the hopes of the 2005 Mets, getting into almost a hundred games and blasting off Ugueth Urbina the season’s most important home run, a three-run job that vaulted the Mets over the Phillies on August 30, moving New York to within a half-game of the NL Wild Card. September contender aspirations at Shea soon disintegrated, but Castro cemented his role as the Mets’ main backup catcher for the next several seasons of wire-to-wire contention.

62. PAT MAHOMES, 2000
Also a Met in 1999
Pat Mahomes was a long-relief revelation during his first season as a Met in 1999. Come 2000, his role would expand to see the veteran start five times, including a brilliant 5⅔-inning outing in which he gave up only two singles and no runs to the Dodgers en route to a 1-0 victory that became the Mets’ eighth straight win. But maybe what Mahomes should most be admired for from 2000 was his prescience in bringing his namesake son to Shea to shag flies during the postseason. Young Patrick, then five, was photographed warming up alongside Mahomes’s staffmate Mike Hampton in the leadup to World Series action. It’s a picture that would circulate widely and give Mets fans pride some twenty years later as Patrick grew up to lead the Kansas City Chiefs to an NFL championship in Super Bowl LIV.

If the Mets’ collective back wasn’t against the wall, it wasn’t too many inches from cold concrete when one Met stepped up to, as the saying goes, take one for the team. In Game Three of the 2006 NLCS, the club had fallen disturbingly behind the Cardinals in the third inning. Darren Oliver, who’d been the long man for Willie Randolph all year, entered in the second inning. He’d stay on the mound through the seventh, allowing no earned runs in his six innings of work, preserving the rest of the Mets’ pen so they could rest and be ready for the must-win games that lay ahead.

4 comments to Mets of the 2000s: 70-61

  • open the gates

    Piazza’s groin injury? Piazza at first base? In what universe is that “not too painful?” Anyway, props for having three of my almost-favorite backup catchers of all time in one post. (Hey, there’s only one Todd Pratt.) And further props for the Wilson Phillips reference. Maybe the kids didn’t pick up on it, but I did.

  • mikeski

    Kaz Mat-sooey

    Number One super guy.

  • Dave

    I guess every Mets fan has one guy who they always forget was a Met until someone reminds them. For me that guy is Bruce Chen. Don’t know why, but it is. And then I swear that if you told me he was a Met in 1992, I’d believe you. Or if you said 2013.

  • B Hut

    I used to love being the one guy yelling a hello to the Mariners’ bullpen catcher (J. Phillips) and waving my Mets hat at him! I like to think he appreciated being recognized :)