2000 Game Recap: Derek Answers The Bell
It is a good thing the Mets left Al Leiter home to prepare for this Shea Stadium Opening Day start because it appeared the Mets bats were jet-lagged from their trip home from Japan. That may be a bit of a misnomer because aside from the Benny Agbayani Sayonara Slam, the Mets offense has not been the dynamic offense it was last year.
Leiter was great for the Mets against a good Padres lineup which includes future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and Phil Nevin, who was actually drafted ahead of Derek Jeter and had a breakout season last year. Nevin aside, Leiter dominated this lineup allowing just five hits over eight one run innings where he walked none and struck out seven.
The problem for Leiter and the Mets was not only Sterling Hitchcock matching him pitch-for-pitch, but the Padres had a 1-0 lead entering the seventh due to Nevin’s second inning homer off of Leiter. Entering that seventh inning, the Mets had just two hits, and just one runner in scoring position.
Finally, Hitchcock made a mistake issuing a lead-off walk to Edgardo Alfonzo. Mike Piazza followed with a single putting runners on the corners with no outs. That’s when Todd Zeile had his first big moment as a Met delivering a game tying sacrifice fly.
The Mets then squandered their chance to take the lead. After Zeile’s sacrifice fly, Hitchcock hit Robin Ventura, and the Padres went to the bullpen to summon Donne Wall. He responded by striking out Darryl Hamilton and Rey Ordonez to get out of the jam.
Like Hitchcock, Wall looked unhittable. After striking out Hamilton and Ordonez, he would come out for the eighth, and he would get Jon Nunnally to pop out before striking out Rickey Henderson. As an aside, it is really bizarre Bobby Valentine would go with Nunnally to pinch hit for Leiter.
Nunnally has not been good for two years running. While there is a case to be made for the L/R split, last year Nunnally hit .286/.286/.357 off right-handed pitchers last year whereas Agbayani hit .279/.347/.512 off of them last year. Throw in his grand slam in Japan, and you have to wonder why he didn’t come to the plate.
Fortunately, it didn’t matter. Just like when Zeile had his first big Mets moment, Derek Bell would have his own with a go-ahead game winning homer off of Wall. Armando Benitez, in his first year as the Mets full-time closer picked up where he left off last year by mowing down the Padres in the ninth.
We can harp on things like the Mets offense not appearing through three games this year. However, behind that has been some really good pitching and two wins. If the Mets keep playing like that, this is a team who can fulfill the World Series aspirations we have for them.
Game Notes: After experimenting with Hamilton batting second in Japan, Valentine put Bell in his comfortable second hole in the lineup from his Astros days. That could be a function of the left-handed pitcher going.
Editor’s Note: With there being no games to begin the season, this site will follow the 2000 season and post recaps as if those games happened in real time. If nothing else, it is better to remember this pennant winning season and revisit some of the overlooked games than it is to dwell on the complete lack of baseball.