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Mets of the 2000s: 10-3

Welcome to the tenth 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 [1]. 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.

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10. STEVE TRACHSEL, 2001-2006
Slowly, he turned [3]…actually, the pitcher most identified with inflicting a pace-of-play problem on modern baseball didn’t move so slowly when it came to turning around the trajectory of his Mets tenure. True, Steve Trachsel commenced his six-year stay in Flushing torpidly and terribly in 2001, with an ERA topping 8 after eight starts. But that was only the beginning, and, in the spirit of Bobby Jones a year earlier, the veteran righty agreed to go to Triple-A to figure out what was wrong with him and get it fixed. The Norfolk Miracle Cure went 2-for-2, because once Steve came back, he was a legitimate major league pitcher again. As the seasons went on, yeah, some games felt like seasons unto themselves, but that was more about reputation than irrevocable (believe it or not, Steve’s final start of ’01 was a complete game shutout of Pittsburgh that took only 2:12). Trachsel wasn’t necessarily the slowest worker in the world, but he might have been the most dependable starting pitcher the Mets had over a long stretch of a decade when not every edition of the club’s rotation was what it was cracked up to be. As the only Met righty to record double-digit wins more than twice in the 2000s — he did it five times — Trachsel made a pair of no-hit bids in 2003, the year he went 16-10 for a 66-95 club. Steve held forth with the Mets through five playoffless seasons, enduring long enough as their staff stalwart so that when it came time to clinch the 2006 NL East flag, he recorded the win that made it official.

9. JOHAN SANTANA, 2008-2009
Also a Met in 2010 & 2012; missed 2011 & 2013 due to injury; No. 16 Met of the 2010s
Knowing what we do about the abrupt end to his MLB career, it is not quite accurate to say Johan Santana got better with age. Yet in his first Met season of 2008 — when he led the National League in earned run average, was second in strikeouts and finished third in voting for what would have been his third Cy Young — the southpaw superstar acquired to much fanfare from Minnesota definitely got better and better as his age 29 campaign progressed. By the time he was the oldest he’d be in any game that year, he was absolutely unconquerable. Good thing, too, because the Mets needed somebody who wouldn’t bow to pressure, let alone opposing batters. On September 27, in Game 161, with, oh, everything riding on his Santana’s final scheduled start, Johan hauled the Mets to the edge of the finish line, keeping them alive in a Wild Card race that was otherwise ready to slip away. He went nine innings; he shut out the Marlins on three hits; he did it on only one good knee; he did it on only three days’ rest; and he did it by himself, which is to say he gave the bullpen a much, much, much-needed breather. It turned out to be the last game the Mets ever won at Shea Stadium, but hardly the only game of note Johan threw at the old ballpark in his 16-7 season there, let alone the one being built in its parking lot. Santana would make the 2009 All-Star team and go on to give Citi Field some very memorable moments (one in particular on June 1, 2012) before throwing his last big league pitch at the age of 33.

8. EDGARDO ALFONZO, 2000-2002
Also a Met from 1995-1999
Edgardo Alfonzo reached something of a state of sanctifiction by 2000. Everybody who appreciated how good he was became convinced that nobody quite appreciated just how good he was. That’s how a player winds up tagged as “underrated” as if that’s his given first name. Underrated Edgardo Alfonzo shook off the remnants of his best-kept secret status by midseason when he was named an NL All-Star second baseman for the first time at a point when he was midway through his third all-around sensational season. When the regular year was over, Fonzie had posted a .967 OPS, a figure that simply could not be ignored. When the postseason commenced, Edgardo was all over October. His two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning of Game Two against the Giants provided the necessary breathing room the Mets would ultimately require to win in ten. His RBI double in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game Three of the same NLDS enabled the Mets to grind until they’d win in thirteen. His .444 NLCS, featuring a team-leading eight hits, paved the way to the Mets’ fourth World Series. One of the true team men in Mets history, Fonzie willingly shifted from second base back to third following the 2001 season to make room for Robbie Alomar (he had moved from third to second in 1999 when Robin Ventura came aboard). While Alomar sputtered, Fonzie rebounded from an off ’01 to hit .308 in 2002, which proved to be his final year as a Met. Upon leaving for San Francisco as a free agent, Alfonzo took out ads atop yellow cabs in Manhattan letting Mets fans know that “FONZIE ♥ NY.” After eight seasons riding along with Edgardo, the feeling from Mets fans was mutual.

7. CARLOS DELGADO, 2006-2009
When the moment arrives to get serious about contending for a championship, Carlos Delgado is the kind of player you add to your team. Technically, Carlos Delgado is the exact player you add to your team if you’re the Mets on the cusp of 2006. After failing to lure him as a free agent for 2005, the Mets pulled off a trade with the Marlins to bring in their second big-batted Carlos, and it made all the difference in the division, as the Delgado-driven Mets improved from 83 to 97 wins and the ’06 title. Carlos D.’s numbers in that championship seasons were powerfully good: 38 home runs and 114 runs batted in, with his 9 and 20 in those departments in April serving notice on the rest of the National League that this coming year was gonna be the Mets’ year. In his first postseason game, to open the 2006 NLDS, Delgado made up for all the lost time he had finishing out of the money in Toronto and Miami, going 4-for-5 with a game-tying homer in the fourth inning and a tiebreaking single in the seventh inning. Overall, the first baseman was a .351 hitter in the National League playoffs. Though the Mets fell short of October in 2008, it was Delgado who elevated them from their midseason doldrums and into serious contention during Shea’s last months. From June 29 (when he drove in a franchise record nine runs to filet the Yankees on a beautiful Bronx afternoon) through September 24 (when he launched a grand slam off the Cubs’ Carlos Zambrano in Queens), Carlos played in 80 games, socking 27 homers, notching 79 ribbies and batting .317, perhaps the most scorching half-seasons’s worth of slugging any Met ever inflicted on opposing pitchers. Honestly, when Delgado was in one his grooves, you almost felt sorry for whoever was trying to get him out.

6. PEDRO MARTINEZ, 2005-2008
Every fifth day when he was available, Shea Stadium was Pedro Martinez’s world. The rest of us were just grateful to be buying a ticket to live in it. Though it could be argued the Mets signed the three-time Cy Young winner primarily to make a statement about wishing to be taken seriously in their market, Pedro had more than just his name left in the tank at age 33. Every one of his first-season starts at Shea turned into an event just by his participation, beginning with his home debut before 55,351 enraptured souls. Martinez went 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA and lifted the 2005 Mets to legitimate playoff contention by September. He was having the same impact as 2006 got underway (his second All-Star season as a Met), but injuries began to wear away at his availability, which really hurt when it was learned he wouldn’t be able to compete in the postseason. Pedro’s absences inevitably made the heart grow fonder. Each of the Hall of Fame-bound righty’s five starts in September 2007, taken within the context of innings-limiting precautions after a layoff of nearly a year, kept the Mets as viable as they could manage to be as they ostensibly tried to not miss the playoffs. Goodness knows his return to the Shea mound on September 9 was treated by the 51,847 on hand as a veritable second coming. Martinez didn’t have much left in his last year as a Met, but on September 25, 2008, he gave the fans braving a rainy night in a pennant race all he had left: six solid frames and a tip of his cap to practically every section of the ballpark when he was removed in the seventh. The Pedro Martinez era was over. It was something to behold.

5. AL LEITER, 2000-2004
Also a Met from 1998-1999
The story should have been allowed to write itself to its logical not to mention sentimental conclusion. Al Leiter was going to pitch a complete nine innings in the fifth game of the 2000 World Series, the final Fall Classic showdown that would ever be contested at Shea. His pitch count had blown past a hundred, but Leiter couldn’t be lifted. This was his game, and — just as whenever he pitched for his childhood team — these were his Mets. Al had struck out the first two batters he faced in the ninth. He’d probably struck out the side, but a dubious call by home plate ump Tim McClelland let the third plate appearance of the inning continue, and it became a walk, which was followed by a hit, which was followed by a ground ball single that transformed a nailbiting 2-2 tie into a yawning 4-2 deficit. After 142 pitches, Al Leiter finally had to leave the mound. Sadly, the World Series was minutes from ending in the other team’s favor, Al’s almost glorious 8⅔ innings notwithstanding. The lefty from Jersey had given the Mets his all, as he inevitably did in seven Met seasons and a pair of Met postseasons. Leiter won 16 games for the 2000 NL champs and 15 more for the NL East cellar-dwellers of 2003. Wherever the Mets were going to finish, Al was going to keep going until somebody appeared in his midst to tell him it was, at last, time for him to go.

4. CARLOS BELTRAN, 2005-2009
Also a Met from 2010-2011; No. 29 Met of the 2010s
What do you get when you go out and sign perhaps the best player in baseball? If nothing goes wrong, you get perhaps the best player in baseball. For a three-season span, from 2006 to 2008, Carlos Beltran was determined to erase “perhaps” from the description of his status in the game. He’d established himself as a Royal, put himself at the top of the free agent wish list after exploding all over the postseason for the 2004 Astros, and then accepted a lucrative contract offer from the Mets ahead of 2005. That first year was the embodiment of the phrase “couldn’t get untracked”. But 2006 was a new year, and for Beltran, it was downright MVP-caliber. Forty-one home runs. One-hundred sixteen runs batted in. One hundred twenty-seven runs scored. Gold Glove defense in center field. Nobody ever used a mulligan to such spectacular effect. Nobody remembered 2005 as Beltran led the Mets into the 2006 postseason. Some would forget the 2006 regular season after Beltran ended the NLCS with a bat on his shoulder, but 2007 and 2008 simply brought more magnificent production. The power numbers remained high. The speed — 48 steals and only five times caught — percolated. As for fielding, grab a gander [4] at that sprint and catch up Tal’s Hill in Houston in the fourteenth inning of a game he wasn’t ready to let expire. As for clutch, go check which Met drove in the final walkoff run and socked the last home run in the life of Shea Stadium. Beltran was a .344 hitter in September of 2008, He knocked in 27 runs in September of 2007. The Mets may have collapsed ignominiously both months. Carlos stood tall. That he once stood and gauged an unhittable curveball as something other than a strike to swing at hardly defines his seven seasons as a Met. His being selected an All-Star five times and voted to the franchise’s fiftieth-anniversary team gets much closer to the heart of the matter. No perhaps about it. Beltran is one of the best players the Mets ever had.

3. JOSE REYES, 2003-2009
Also a Met from 2010-2011 & 2016-2018; No. 15 Met of the 2010s
He was so young. That’s the first thing you knew about Jose Reyes when he was promoted from Double-A Binghamton one day before his twentieth birthday. There’d been nine teenage Mets before Jose came along in June of 2003, though none in nearly twenty years. There’ve been none in the suddenly nearly twenty years since, giving credence to that cliché about when they made this guy, they broke the mold. Or maybe the mold broke because young Jose was so anxious to burst out of it. His speed had been advertised in advance. His power introduced itself ASAP, via a grand slam on his very first road trip in the majors. Hamstring difficulties notwithstanding, Jose Reyes’s career as the best all-around shortstop the Mets ever had was off and running as soon as he was properly loosened up. From 2005 through 2008 — still a veritable kid — Jose Reyes lit up the National League like nobody else. Certainly he performed as no Met before him did. Four years in a row of double-digit triples. Three years in a row of triple-digit runs scored. A new record for home runs by a Met shortstop. A new record for most stolen bases by any Met in a season and eventually a career, leading the league three times in bags swiped. Most emblematic was the leadoff excitement Jose generated, the announcement of his name to start the bottom of the first getting the crowd going in a chorus of “Jo-sé-Jo-sé-Jo-SÉ!!!” anticipation. He couldn’t run forever. He couldn’t hit forever. He couldn’t maintain that grin of impetuous youth forever. But when he was at the top of that order, at the top of his game, no Met could top what he meant to his team.

Still to come: The No. 2 and No. 1 Mets of the 2000s