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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: 40-31

Welcome to the seventh 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.

40. DEREK BELL, 2000
For a while there, the throw-in to the preceding offseason’s biggest deal turned out to be its biggest star. The Mets had to take the last year of Derek Bell’s contract off Houston’s hands if they wanted the real target of their affections, 1999 Cy Young runner-up Mike Hampton. The Astros’ presumed $5 million burden became the Mets’ April pleasure. By the end of a full month of baseball in 2000, Derek was slashing .385/.449/.567 and vaulting the Mets to a start nearly as smoldering, while the pitcher the Mets craved far more struggled to acclimate to New York. The right fielder was also the better story, what with him living on a yacht docked at a Hudson River marina. As he explained to Sports Illustrated, “Why chill on land when you can float in style?” But the summer months saw Bell’s bat drift out to sea, and an injury in the first game of the playoffs that sidelined the slump-ridden veteran for the rest of October didn’t tangibly throw the Mets off course. By the time the 2000 pennant flew high over Shea Stadium, Derek’s ship had very much sailed.

39. AARON HEILMAN, 2003-2008
The Mets never quite knew what they had in Aaron Heilman. His status as the club’s first pick of the 2001 draft out of Notre Dame suggests they thought they had a star in the making. Aaron’s elevation to the starting rotation in 2003 showed he had a ways to go before consistently retiring big league batters. When he threw a complete game one-hitter against the Marlins in April 2005, it could be inferred that Heilman had at last arrived. Yet soon enough, the righty was a staple of Willie Randolph’s bullpen, where for the rest of the year he thrived, even taking over the closer’s role by season’s end. But that was temporary, as he was shifted back to setup duty for 2006, and his effectiveness there no doubt helped the Mets build an impenetrable fort around their divisional lead. Perhaps regular-season workload (74 games) caught up to him in the playoffs. When Aaron was trusted to preserve a ninth-inning 1-1 Game Seven tie versus St. Louis in the NLCS, the faith placed in him shattered. Pieces of it were last seen flying over Shea’s left field fence, off Yadier Molina’s bat. The two-run homer Heilman allowed in that tensest of clutch situations was the difference between a pennant and a nice try, and try as he might in the two seasons that followed — and lord knows he tried, pitching roughly every other day in 2007 and 2008 — Aaron Heilman could never put it back together as a Met.

38. TODD PRATT, 2000-2001
Also a Met from 1997-1999
What do you do for an encore to the episode you’ll be known for the rest of your life? In the case of the man called Tank, you just keep rolling. Todd Pratt had made himself the patron saint of Met backup catchers when he socked the NLDS-winning homer that eliminated Arizona in 1999. In 2000, with his role secure, Todd continued to prepare for whatever might arise as Mike Piazza’s understudy. When the star went down as a result of a most horrific plot twist — Roger Clemens’s July 8 beaning in the Bronx — Tank stepped into the spotlight as he had the previous autumn. Back at Shea on July 9, when the Mets absolutely, positively needed to beat the Yankees, it was Pratt catching a 2-0 shutout and practically manufacturing the insurance run by himself via walk, advance on a bunt, advance on a wild pitch and a dash home on a fly ball. When he started in 2000, Tank hit better than .300. Just before he departed in a July 2001 trade, the catcher gave his about-to-be old team something to remember him by: a home run, off former Met Robert Person, in his final Met at-bat, a curious bookend to the home run he hit in first Met at-bat, off future Met Al Leiter, four years earlier.

37. ORLANDO HERNANDEZ, 2006-2007
For a team that was fairly secure in its first-place perch for six months, the 2006 Mets never seemed to have enough starting pitching to get them to the next series. Yet when they traded for Orlando Hernandez, that particular concern tangibly diminished. Acquired from the Diamondbacks in late May, the Cuban righty everybody referred to as El Duque baffled batters by blending speeds like nobody else in the majors (“Bugs Bunny curveball,” anyone?) and gave the Mets’ rotation a degree of stability it had been clearly lacking. After he racked up nine victories over the final four months of the season, the Mets looked forward to taking advantage of the veteran’s legendary October savvy; Duque had won his first eight career postseason decisions, a streak snapped by the 2000 Mets despite Hernandez notching a dozen strikeouts against them in Game Three of the World Series. Unfortunately, what El Duque could do in the home colors at Shea when the lights shone brightest was never discovered. Orlando suffered a calf strain prior to the start of the NLDS and wouldn’t be ready to pitch again until the World Series…a destination at which the Duque-deprived Mets never arrived.

36. TSUYOSHI SHINJO, 2001; 2003
If Tsuyoshi Shinjo wasn’t necessarily born to be a Met, his hair was dyed for life in Flushing. Yes, that was orange underneath his cap, a shade accessorized by his same appropriately colored wristbands and general fluorescent flair for the game. The former Hanshin Tiger became the toast of Shea in his initial appearance at the old ballpark, the 2001 Home Opener, when the right fielder blasted his first North American homer. The love affair burned brightly throughout the otherwise dispiriting first half, climaxing on May 20 when Shinjo’s walkoff RBI single spawned one of the most appropriate back page headlines of the decade, courtesy of the Daily News: “SHINJOY”.

35. OLIVER PEREZ, 2006-2009
Also a Met in 2010
34. JOHN MAINE, 2006-2009
Also a Met in 2010
Teams with their sights set squarely on the World Series generally have a pretty good idea who will constitute half of their postseason rotation well in advance of October. In 2006, the Mets went with a couple of barely known hands in the hopes they’d get hot at exactly the right instant. John Maine was the seeming afterthought in the deal that sent Kris Benson to Baltimore (with Jorge Julio the alleged “get”), but when holes opened on the staff, Maine commenced to filling one. The largely unheralded righty shut out the Astros on July 21 and placed himself on the fringes of the postseason consideration map. At the time, the Pirates harbored a talented if erratic lefty toiling away on the shores of the Three Rivers. His name was Oliver Perez. Ten days after Maine’s four-hitter, the two pitchers were Met teammates, with Perez’s acquisition considered secondary to supplementing the bullpen via the return of Roberto Hernandez. Ollie was viewed as a project for the future, though when he threw a shutout, versus the Braves on September 6, it was possible to believe the future was closer than expected. A month later, with veterans Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez physically unavailable to pitch, the youngsters were thrust into the playoffs. Maine started the first game of the NLDS and twice more in the NLCS. Perez was given the ball in must-win Games Four and Seven of the Championship Series. Both acquitted themselves well enough to a) keep the Mets’ World Series dream aloft to the best of their abilities; and b) earn spots in the 2007 rotation. Given full seasons to show their stuff, Maine and Perez proved long-term finds, each of them winning 15 games for a club that would need every last win it could get. Injuries ended John’s major league ride in his early thirties. Ollie’s is still going, less than six months shy of his fortieth birthday.

Also a Met from 2010-2011; No. 42 Met of the 2010s
Trouble with the bullpen? Sure, you could fix what’s in there, or you could go for a complete overhaul and theoretically have the whole thing come out like new. After the massive relief implosion that sucked September 2008 into oblivion, GM Omar Minaya didn’t mess around at the margins. Instead, he brought in the closer who’d just set the major league record for most saves in a season, Francisco Rodriguez of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. K-Rod didn’t have to match the 62 saves he’d notched out west, but being the last pitcher standing at the end of as many games as conceivable would be splendid. For a while, Minaya’s vision was razor sharp. Frankie converted his first sixteen save opportunities and was logically named to his fourth All-Star team. The second half of 2009, with the Mets’ hopes to contend long gone, wasn’t as kind to Rodriguez, yet he still finished up with 35 saves, a long drop from the mark he set out west, but the most to that point by any righty Met closer not named Armando Benitez.

32. MIKE CAMERON, 2004-2005
Entering 2004, the Mets talked up speed and defense, having just signed as a free agent a player who embodied both. “CATCH THE ENERGY” was the slogan of the moment, and Mike Cameron its veritable spokesmodel. Cameron was a gifted center fielder, a basestealing threat, a dependable power threat and an refreshingly personable presence on a team whose profile could use some raising. The first impression he made, sitting atop the Mets’ dugout roof to sign autographs and engage fans prior to the Home Opener, certified his crowd appeal. The thirty homers he socked, along with the 22 bags he swiped and the many breathtaking plays he made from his post in shallow center confirmed Mike’s addition as a net Met positive. Yet whatever Cameron injected into the Mets’ bloodstream wasn’t viewed as vital enough in the big picture to hinder new Mets management from pursuing another center fielder — one younger, more talented and embodying the next come-on. The 2005 slogan, “THE NEW METS,” seemed like true advertising because, to the shock and delight of Metsopotamia, the club signed Carlos Beltran, the prize of his free agent class. Suddenly, Cameron was a right fielder and, ultimately, superfluous to the Mets’ plans. Though he made some spectacular catches in right, the image that serves as metaphor for Mike’s final Met season was him down on the ground after running headfirst into Beltran as each man dove for a sinking liner in San Diego. Both outfielders had to be ferried to the clubhouse by cart. Beltran would return to action in short order. Cameron never played for the Mets again.

31. XAVIER NADY, 2006
As a significant piece in what was turning into a magnificent puzzle, Xavier Nady fit the 2006 Mets beautifully. Unlike Mike Cameron, for whom he was traded, Nady was a willing right fielder. Within a lineup stacked with offense, he slipped quietly into the sixth or seventh slot most days and was content to take his shot at knocking in the runners who always seemed to be on base. His welcome to New York could not have gone any smoother, with a 4-for-4 performance on Opening Day and an average hovering in the neighborhood of .290 by mid-May. Though Xavier cooled off after a while, it seemed right field was a given as long as it was in Nady’s hands. Alas, come late July, the Mets judged it essential to remove the job and, for that matter, his uniform from his grasp, reluctantly trading their steady contributor to the Pirates for urgently needed pitching depth. Giving something to get something is a fair exchange. But as life without Xavier Nady reminded us, it can also be a real drag.

2 comments to Mets of the 2000s: 40-31

  • Greg, I’m enjoying these nuggets to such an extent that I went back and re-read the Mets of the 2010s as well.

    Surprised that Nady ranks higher than the two starting pitchers at #34 and #35, given how many innings they threw for the Mets and how they are Mainestays in Oliver minds. :-)

    I had forgotten about Relaford and probably would have put Marlon Anderson ahead of him. Anderson had that key 3-run PH double in Florida in September 2007 which gave the Mets a lead until the Marlins accosted Acosta for a walkoff win.

  • open the gates

    I always think of Ollie Perez as he finished his Mets career, sitting uselessly in the bullpen, not trusted to pitch to a single batter, refusing a demotion to AAA for a tuneup, and using up a perfectly good spot on the roster. I don’t know if I was more annoyed at Ollie for refusing the demotion, or with the Mets for not doing addition by subtraction and simply cutting him. If you were to tell me then that he’d still be a major leaguer in 2022, I’d have said you were crazy. I thought he’d be done by 2011. Go know.