Welcome to the ninth 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.
20. ROBIN VENTURA, 2000-2001
Also a Met in 1999
19. TODD ZEILE, 2000-2001; 2004
When you stuck around to listen to the postgame show or you read the game stories closely in the next day’s papers, the Mets who’d win the pennant in 2000 and try desperately if belatedly to defend it in 2001 seemed like they were led mainly by two veterans who made it their business to stand tall before cameras, microphones and notepads and answer questions about what went right or went wrong. Whether it was conscious or not, Robin Ventura and Todd Zeile made those Mets their team. Ventura in 2000 was coming off perhaps the most impactful debut any free agent ever made in orange and blue, culminating in the Grand Slam Single, another third base Gold Glove and significant 1999 NL MVP support. Robin’s numbers were down a year later, but he still made his impact felt, particularly in what is otherwise remembered as The Bobby Jones Game, when he put the Mets on the board right away with a first-inning two-run home run, all the runs the home team would need to clinch the NLDS. Zeile’s entree into Metsdom was tougher, as he was replacing the beloved not to mention productive John Olerud across the diamond from Ventura at first base. Todd wasn’t John, but he’d certainly been around, and as 2000 wore on, his grittiness, blended with the occasional big hit, showed itself to be a true asset. In the NLCS and World Series combined, Zeile hit .385 and served as the media’s go-to guy after every contest. In New York, that’s not an incidental skill. Both men proudly wore service agency caps in action down the stretch in 2001, and both would tip their hats meaningfully as they approached their respective big league exits in 2004. For Robin, that meant receiving a standing Flushing ovation in a Dodger uniform after he clocked the penultimate grand slam of his career, against the Mets. For Todd, back at Shea in his feelgood encore season, it was a veritable Ted Williams adieu-bidding on the final day of the year, when he put a period on his retirement announcement with a too-good-to-be-true home run in his farewell swing.
18. PAUL LO DUCA, 2006-2007
The Mets didn’t officially have a captain in 2006, but you couldn’t tell that to readers of Sports Illustrated who learned from a summertime cover  that former Dodger and Marlin catcher Paul Lo Duca was now revered in New York as “Captain Red Ass,” leading the “intrepid Mets” to a prohibitive National League East lead. What made Lo Duca’s performance most impressive in ’06, besides his hitting .318 and being elected the NL’s starting backstop in the All-Star Game, was that he was succeeding another former Dodger and Marlin catcher at Shea, and not missing a beat. Taking over for Mike Piazza was the definition of “tough act to follow,” but Lo Duca assumed his role with élan, right down to his use of “Stayin’ Alive” as his toe-tapping walkup music. And for all Piazza accomplished in a Mets uniform, not even Mike ever tagged out two baserunners on one play in a playoff game. But Paul did, against L.A. in the NLDS, uncorking a roar as loud as any his predecessor ever elicited. For the record, Lo Duca became the sixth Met catcher to be named an All-Star. Since Paul left, no Met catcher has followed in his stellar footsteps.
17. BILLY WAGNER, 2006-2009
When at his best, Billy Wagner was the reason the modern ninth inning was created. In Houston, batters were as good as struck out the instant Wagner entered a game. For three seasons in his absolute prime (1997-1999), the lefty struck out more than 14 batters for every nine innings he pitched, while pitching more than 200 innings in all. Billy was young and fresh then. He was older and wearing quite a bit of mileage when he signed with the Mets prior to 2006, but the experienced version the Mets got for their millions was regularly money in the ninth inning. Billy racked up 40 saves in 2006, passing 300 for his career and setting a Met mark for southpaw relievers. Appropriately, he threw the final pitch on the night the Mets clinched the East and then in each game of the club’s sweep of the Dodgers in the NLDS. Before leaving New York in 2009, he became the fourth Met reliever to notch a hundred saves.
16. CLIFF FLOYD, 2003-2006
Cliff Floyd spent two frustrating, injury-curtailed years in New York before bemoaning the lack of light at the end of the tunnel. In his third season, the left fielder took it upon himself to personify the light. Shea Stadium grew exponentially brighter as a result. In 2005, Cliff was a veritable monster versus all comers, slamming 34 homers and driving in 98 runs while mentoring youngster David Wright and taking some of the offensive load off pressing newcomer Carlos Beltran. Injuries would nag him anew in 2006, but the big hits he contributed to the club’s romp through the regular season — not to mention a heckuva Division Series (a .444 strafing of Dodger pitching) — is not to be underestimated in the scheme of all things Floyd.
15. BENNY AGBAYANI, 2000-2001
Also a Met from 1998-1999
Who better to turn a baseball century halfway around the world than a player who grew up five time zones from where he became a local hero? In the set of baseball games that ushered in the 2000s, so early that April hadn’t even arrived, the pride of Honolulu became the toast of Tokyo when he belted a game-winning grand slam for the New York Mets the first time MLB sanctioned a regular-season series outside of North America. It was barely past dawn back in Queens when Benny went deep, so it can be said nobody ever made Mets fans rise and shine like ol’ No. 50. Japan may be where Agbayani’s 2000 story began, but it had legs well beyond his twisting of the international date line. Take that Saturday night in August when he gave a kid in the stands at Shea a baseball, which was awfully swell of him, except, uh, Benny, the ball was still in play, and, oh dear, a run just scored because of your well-intentioned faux pas. But the Mets won that game against the Giants and not too many weeks later, on another Saturday night with San Francisco in town, Agbayani knew exactly what to do with a baseball: he launched it far over the left field fence in the thirteenth inning of NLDS Game Three, bringing the Mets to the brink of a series victory. Speaking of episodes that let the dogs out , it was none other than Benny Agbayani who drove in the winning run in Game Three of the 2000 World Series, the first Mets World Series win in fourteen years and the last for another fifteen.
14. RICK REED, 2000-2001
Also a Met from 1997-1999
When Rick Reed broke through in the late ’90s, it became fashionable to refer to the righty as Maddux Lite, a sincere compliment given the esteem in which Greg Maddux was held. Indeed, Reed, like Maddux, didn’t depend on a fuming fastball to get batters out. He had subtler stuff, but could produce overpowering results just the same. Thing is, by 2000, there was no need to frame Reeder as anything but Rick Reed. One of the league’s top control pitchers (sixth in K/BB ratio), Reeder steered the Mets through two of their vital October engagements in formidable fashion. He kept the club even with the Giants in the third game of the NLDS and did the same versus the Yankees in Game Three of the World Series, each eventually going down as a momentous Met win. Rick continued to work his Reedness into 2001, earning his second All-Star berth, or two more than anybody expected when he showed up at Shea without portfolio in 1997.
13. ENDY CHAVEZ, 2006-2008
As viewed through an analytic lens, Scott Rolen has a legitimate Hall of Fame case, but it does seem to need a little extra elaborating every winter because, frankly, “future Hall of Famer Scott Rolen” wasn’t exactly a phrase that permeated baseball during the heart of the third baseman’s career. Imagine if the defensive whiz and consistent hitter, who’d performed very well in the 2004 NLCS, had one more transcendent postseason moment to his credit. Imagine Scott Rolen had cracked the home run that won the St. Louis Cardinals the pennant. With that kind of hook, perhaps Rolen would be closer to Cooperstown election, maybe even already certified for enshrinement. Ah, but Scott Rolen doesn’t have that one punctuating highlight on his lifetime reel because of a Met left fielder who very definitely does— and it came at Scott Rolen’s expense. Endy Chavez was playing left field in Game Seven of the 2006 NLCS mostly because Cliff Floyd was too banged-up to fill his usual position, but really, with all due respect to Cliff, there was nobody you’d rather have had out there with everything on the line than Endy. The Mets’ fourth outfielder had enjoyed a breakout year in a supporting role, filling in ably across Shea’s pasture while batting .306 in 133 games. With the eyes of a baseball nation transfixed on Flushing, Chavez was thrust into a starring role. It was the bottom of the sixth, the score was tied at one, there was one out, and Jim Edmonds had just walked. Oliver Perez was on the mound, Scott Rolen was at bat. The pitcher delivered. So did the hitter. Rolen rocketed a ball that appeared destined to land in the visitors’ bullpen. Except left fielder Endy Chavez got a move on, got back to the fence and…why don’t we just let Gary Cohen remind us what happened? “Fastball, hit in the air to left field, that’s deep, back goes Chavez, back near the wall, leaping, a-a-and…HE MADE THE CATCH! HE TOOK A HOME RUN AWAY FROM ROLEN! TRYING TO GET BACK TO FIRST, EDMONDS — HE’S DOUBLED OFF! AND THE INNING IS OVER!” So would be Game Seven three innings later, and not in the way Mets fans wished, but the memory of “THE PLAY OF THE YEAR, THE PLAY MAYBE OF THE FRANCHISE HISTORY” would never dissolve.
12. JOHN FRANCO, 2000-2001; 2003-2004
Missed 2002 due to injury; also a Met from 1990-1999
It took what amounted to a demotion to raise the level of affection Metsopotamia felt for the pitcher who’d been among them practically forever. All but six of John Franco’s 424 saves, the most ever by a lefthanded reliever, came before 2000, but it was after the turn of the century when this son of Bensonhurst’s ability to come through in the clutch reached an apex of appreciation among Mets fans. No, John wasn’t the closer anymore, but he still got in games in late innings and at large moments. None in his career matched the tableau of Game Two of the 2000 NLDS, with the Mets up by a run in the bottom of the tenth at Pac Bell Park. A runner is on first, two are out and Barry Bonds is at the plate. On a three-two changeup, the most dangerous hitter of his generation — perhaps the most dangerous hitter of any generation — is frozen. Johnny’s changeup, a trademark borderline strike, did the trick. After a decade of high drama in pursuit of what seemed like routine saves, Franco could take the deepest bow of his Met career. But the boy from New York City  still had a few acts left, including winning Game Three of the Subway Series ahead and being the man to close out the Mets’ first game after September 11 a year later, in Pittsburgh. Franco’s orange Department of Sanitation t-shirt, worn nightly in tribute to his late dad, somehow felt extra visible that month.
11. ARMANDO BENITEZ, 2000-2003
Also a Met in 1999
Was Armando Benitez a perceptual victim of his own success? The primary victims Benitez left in his wake, not a few Mets fans would argue, were their own psyches. Transforming crucial ninths into misadventure and heartache became an occupational hazard for the hardest-throwing of Met relievers. Yet to get to those ginormous moments when the ball landed in Armando’s sizable right hand in September and October, the Mets had to ride Benitez’s back all season long, and he brought the Mets of the Bobby Valentine era where they needed to be time and time again. In 2000, his 41 saves set a franchise record. In 2001, he elevated his own mark to 43. Armando put an end to the back-and-forth of NLCS Game Two at St. Louis in 2000 and slammed the door on the defending world champions in the third game of the World Series, a destination the Mets would not have reached without his contributions to their cause. For better more often than worse, the early 2000s wouldn’t have been the early 2000s without Benitez’s fingerprints all over them.