Armando Benitez

Worst Loss in Mets History?

There’s an inherent danger when a national baseball writer or broadcaster talks about a team.  These people don’t have the intimate knowledge the local media or the fans. What’s frustrating when it comes to the Mets is the national media usually treats the Yankees as the Mets biggest rival or acts like those games are bigger than any others. 

Yes, there is more juice to Mets-Yankees games than a Mets-Padres game. However, the national media makes these games to be much bigger than what they are. Case in point – of all the years you were a Mets fan, what was the single worst regular season loss you experienced?  

For me, it was the last game of the 2007 season. The Mets had unfinished business from the 2006 season. They were amongst the World Series favorites. They pretty much had the division locked up being seven up with 17 to play. No one had ever blew that kind of lead. Well, the Mets did, but they still had a chance to either win the division or force a one game playoff against the Phillies to win the NL East. 

It didn’t happen. The Mets lost to the Marlins. It was over in the first inning when Tom Glavine allowed seven runs in 0.1 innings. One of the runs scored when Glavine just threw the ball into left field while trying to throw out a runner at third base. Not only did the Mets lose, but the Phillies won. No postseason for the Mets. To make matters worse, Glavine spoke after the game and said that he wasn’t devastated by the loss or his performance. 

You may have your own moments. There is certainly the Final Game at Shea. There was the Mel Rojas game in 1998. There was Armando Benitez blowing the save against the Braves in late September 2001 thereby taking away any hope that the Mets could win the division.  I’m assuming there were games before my time, or games I’m just not remembering right now. For example, I know many people talk about how close the Mets came to winning the division in 1985 with a brutal September loss to the Cardinals. Point is, there are many valid answers. Apparently, we’re wrong. 

The Sporting News picked the game where Luis Castillo dropped an Alex Rodriguez pop up with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Derek Jeter and a hustling Mark Teixeira would score giving the Yankees a 9-8 win. Brutal loss. Absolutely brutal. However, there is no way it’s the worst regular season loss in Mets history. This is the type of mistake a national writer makes when they over-emphasize the Mets-Yankee rivalry, and they don’t pay attention to the losses that actually matter. 

In any event, my guess was closer than yours. The Sporting News listed the 2007 loss as an honorable mention. In retrospect, that’s worse because they were aware it happened. 

Baseball Player Political Endorsements

“Dad, who did you vote for in the Republican primary?”

“I voted for Donald Trump.”  

“Why Dad?”

“Well son, Paul O’Neill endorsed him.”

In my life, I have honestly never come across someone who voted for a candidate because a baseball player or other celebrity endorsed that person.  However, that still didn’t stop the outrage. 

Some people are apoplectic that this happened. Doesn’t he know what Trump stands for?  Doesn’t he know Trump’s policies?  How could Paul O’Neill possibly have endorsed Donald Trump?  I’m sure there are also people who are commending O’Neill for understanding why the country needs to elect Trump. 

For all the uproar, I haven’t seen one interview with O’Neill questioning him why he endorses Trump. I’m sure he can provide a cogent argument for his decision.  As I’m sure Johnny Damon could as well for why he has endorsed Trump.

With that said, I’m not making my decisions based upon that. I’m not going to let O’Neill’s endorsement affect the way I think about him as a player or the election.  To me, he will always be the player who Armando Benitez couldn’t strike out. He’s the guy who once kicked the ball into the infield while he was in Cincinnati. 

I encourage everyone to get involved and make their own decisions even if the my disagree with mine. Although, I wish you would agree with me. Watch tonight’s debate. Research the candidate’s history and what they believe. 

Don’t support a candidate based upon your favorite player. Don’t let a player’s endorsement let you affect what you think of that player. If you’re a Yankee fan, you should adore O’Neill for all that he’s done. As a Mets fan, tip your cap to him for having the at bat that might’ve altered the course of the entire World Series. 

I don’t watch baseball to get into endless political debate. People don’t listen to Mark Levin or watch Rachel Maddow to get their take on the Mets chances this year. People need to compartmentalize. 

I’m moving on now and ignoring who any future athletes endorse. 

It’s Not World Series or Bust

I remember back in 2000, the stories were that Bobby Valentine needed to make the World Series in order to keep his job. The amazing thing is he actually did it. 

Just think about everything that had to happen that year for the Mets to make the World Series. First, the Mets had an overhaul of its outfield during the season.  On Opening Day, the Mets outfield was, from left to right, Rickey HendersonDarryl HamiltonDerek Bell. At the end of the year, it was Benny AgbayaniJay Payton-Derek Bell. Agbayani was only on the Opening Day roster because MLB allowed the team to have expanded rosters for their opening series in Japan. 

On top of that, Todd Zeile was signed to replace John Olerud. Zeile had to become a first baseman after playing third for 10 years. Edgardo Alfonzo had to adapt from moving from the second spot in the lineup to the third spot. The Mets lost Rey Ordonez to injury and first replaced him with Melvin Mora for 96 games before trading him for the light hitting Mike Bordick. More or less, all of these moves worked. Then came the postseason. 
A lot happened in the NLDS. After losing Game One, the Mets faced a quasi must win in Game Two. They were leading before Armando Benitez blew a save. I know. I’m shocked too. The Mets regained the lead, and they won the game when John Franco got a borderline third strike call against Barry Bonds. In Game Three, the Mets won on a Agbayani 13th inning walk off homerun. This was followed by Bobby Jones closing out the series on a one-hitter. 

The Mets were then fortunate that the Braves lost to the Cardinals in the other NLDS series. The Mets tore through the Cardinals with new leadoff hitter Timo Perez. We saw all that luck run out in the World Series. We watched Zeile’s potential homerun land on top of the fence and bounce back. On the same play, Perez was thrown out at home. In the same game, Benitez blew the save. Unfortunately, there were no more heroics. 

We saw this repeated in 2015. The epically bad Mets offense had to have its pitching hold things together until help came. Part of that required the Nationals to underperform while the Mets were fighting tooth and nail just to stay in the race. 

In the NLDS, the Mets were on the verge of elimination. They weren’t eliminated because somehow, some way Jacob deGrom pitched six innings with absolutely nothing. The Mets then needed Daniel Murphy to have a game for the ages. He stole a base while no one was looking, and he hit a big homerun. It was part of an amazing run through the postseason for Murphy. Like in 2000, it came to a crashing halt in the World Series. 

No matter how good your team is, it takes a lot of luck to win the World Series. Look at the 86 Mets. 

In the NLCS, they barely outlasted the Astros. In Game Three, they needed a Lenny Dykstra two run homerun in the bottom of the ninth to win 6-5. In Game Five, Gary Carter hit a walk off single in the 12th to send the Mets back to Houston up 3-2. It was important because they didn’t want to face Mike Scott and his newfound abilities. With that pressure, they rallied from three down in the ninth, blew a 14th inning lead, and nearly blew a three run lead in the 16th inning. 

Following this, the Mets quickly fell down 0-2 in the World Series before heading to Boston. After taking 2/3 in Boston, the Mets had to rally in the eighth just to tie Game Six. There are books that can be written not only about the 10th inning, but also Mookie Wilson‘s at bat. 

First, they had to have a none on two out rally with each batter getting two strikes against them.  For Calvin Schiraldi to even be in the position to meltdown, he had to be traded by the Mets to the Red Sox heading into the 1986 season. In return, the Mets got Bobby Ojeda, who won Game Three and started Game Six. John McNamara removed Schiraldi way too late and brought in Bob Stanley. His “wild pitch” in Mookie’s at bat allowed the tying run to score. You know the rest:

By the way, keep in mind Bill Buckner wasn’t pulled for a defensive replacement. Also, the Mets had to rally late from 3-0 deficit just to tie Game Seven. 

We need to keep all of this is mind when setting expectations for the 2016 season. Terry Collins is right when he says World Series title or bust is unfair. We know way too much can happen between now and the World Series. Right now, the only goal should be winning the NL East. If the Mets do that, they have met their reasonable expectations. After that, the Mets are going to need a little luck to win the World Series. 

Fortunately, the Mets are carrying a four leaf clover in the form of Matt HarveyJacob deGromNoah Syndergaard, and Jeurys Familia

Happy Bobby Valentine’s Day

It’s that time of the year when we get that warm and fuzzy feeling. It’s a time when you feel even closer to what you love. I am of course referring to Pitchers and Catchers reporting to Spring Training this week. 

As the Mets report, they are trying to do something that only Bobby Valentine’s Mets have ever done. They are trying to go to the postseason for consecutive years. It’s still amazing to think that in the 54 year history of the Mets, they have only e been in consecutive postseasons only once. Gil Hodges couldn’t do it. Davey Johnson couldn’t. Willie Randolph came agonizingly close. 

No, the only one to do it was Bobby V. He did it with a core of Mike PiazzaEdgardo AlfonzoRobin Ventura, and Al Leiter. He had a terrific bullpen of Armando BenitezJohn FrancoTurk Wendell, and Dennis Cook. Each year, he had drastically different outfields and rotations. Yet, he was still able to make it work. He got the most out of these teams.  The Mets made consecutive NLCS appearances, and they were close to winning a World Series. 

This now is the task set forth for Terry Collins. For the first time in 16 years and the second time in Mets history, he is tasked with leading a Mets team to consecutive postseason berths. Like Bobby V, he has a strong core of players. Unlike Bobby V, he has not had much turnover in the roster. 

Overall, the one thing uniting Bobby V’s Mets and Terry Collins’ Mets is hope. Mets fans hope and believe in this team. We all believe this is our year even after a heartbreaking loss. And yes, as this is Valentine’s Day, Mets fans love their team. 

So remember on this the coldest of Bobby Valentine’s Day, Spring is in the air, and we will soon be reunited with the team we love. 

Revisiting the Impact of the 2000 Offseason 

With Mike Piazza finally getting elected to the Hall of Fame and this current Mets offseason, I’ve been thinking a lot about missed opportunities in Mets history. For me, the 2000 offseason and 2001 season might’ve been the biggest missed opportunity in Mets history (or at least my lifetime).

Coming off a disappointing loss in the World Series, the Mets had a ton of important decisions to make. The most intriguing one was Alex Rodriguez. The Mets passed calling him a 24 and 1 type of player. The biggest free agent in baseball history, a 25 year old shortstop with 40/40 capability, and the Mets weren’t interested. They weren’t interested despite A-Rod wanting to be a Met. The Mets wouldn’t sign a big bat in lieu of him.

The next big decision was NLCS MVP Mike Hampton. The Mets have up a lot to get him, namely Roger Cedeno and Octavio Dotel. However, Hampton delivered. He was 15-10 with a 3.14 ERA. He won a Silver Slugger. He was an ace. He and Al Leiter were terrific that year during the regular season, and they helped pitch the Mets to the World Series. The Mets wouldn’t outbid the Rockies, who offered him the biggest contract in baseball history (until A-Rod signed with the Rangers) and the benefits of the Denver school system.

With the Mets missing out with these two players (and Mike Mussina), the Mets decided to build a deep, cost effective starting rotation. By the way, where have we heard of a World Series losing team choosing depth over high-end expensive players? In any event, the Mets re-signed Rick Reed and added Kevin Appier and Steve Trachsel. The last two moves were about as popular now as they were then.

The end result? The Mets got a compensatory pick for Mike Hampton (more on that in a minute) and an 82-80 record. It would be the last year the Mrts finished above .500 until 2005, which was Piazza’s last year with the Mets. The end of Piazza’s prime was wasted by the Mets. He would never return to the postseason with them. He would never play in another World Series. Was it worth it? Well, it depends on your point-of-view.

For me, the pivotal figure in this inquiry is Hampton. For startees, I say Hampton because I believe the Mets were never truly enamored with A-Rod. The Wilpons and Nelson Doubleday were fighting over the valuation of the Mets. The Wilpons were buying out Doubleday, and they didn’t want the value of the franchise to increase any further. A-Rod would’ve done that. Furthermore, it’s likely they would’ve had a hard time signing A-Rod, building a pitching staff, and buying out Mr. Doubleday. Hence, it was Hampton and not A-Rod as the pivotal figure.

We know Hampton was terrible in Colorado, but then again most pitchers are. It’s fair to assume, he would’ve continued pitching as well as he did in 2000 for the next year or two with the Mets. That’s about a pitcher with a 4.7 – 6.6 WAR. Would that have been sufficient to keep the Mets afloat in 2001? Would he have been enough to rescue an offense with the least runs scored in all of baseball that year?

We don’t the the corresponding moves. We also don’t know if the lack of moves created a negative vibe over a Mets team that sputtered out of the gate in 2001. This was a team that was Jekyll and Hyde. It was 38-51 in the first half and 44-29 in the second half. In reality, their second half push came too late leaving them no margin of error, as we know all too well with yet another huge Armando Benitez blown save.

Maybe with Hampton the season starts off different. It’s possible the Mets don’t make the flurry of moves they did in 2002 that proved disasterous. Maybe with Hampton the Mets make the postseason in 2001 and/or 2002. Maybe Piazza gets his ring. Maybe Mets fans are not waiting 30 years for a World Series. We don’t know. All we know is two things: (1) the Mets missed Hampton; and (2) Hampton leaving might’ve been the best case scenario.

The second reason Hampton is the pivotal figure is the player the Mets got in his stead. When Hampton left, the Mets received a compensatory pick. With that pick the Mets selected one of the best high school bats. The Mets got a third base prospect by the name of David Wright. Wright has been a big part of Mets history. He’s the Mets All-Time leader in games played, runs, hits, doubles, RBI, and walks. He’s second in homers. He’s hit the first a Mets homerun at Citi Field and the first World Series homerun at Citi Field. He was a big part of two postseason teams, which is no small feat in Mets history.

Essentially, you cannot tell the story of the Mets without David Wright. It’s unfathomable to imagine Wright in another uniform. However, I ask you has he been worth it? Was he worth wasting away the last years of Piazza’s prime? Was he worth losing all momentum from the 1999 and 2000 seasons? Would you rather have had a shot for another World Series run back then in exchange for Wright’s entire career?

Before answering, I ask that you keep some thoughts in mind. The first is if Hampton returns, you don’t hate him the way you do now. In fact, you may not hate him at all. Next, I’m not asking you to assume the Mets win the World Series Hampton re-signs. I’m only requesting you think about how he would’ve impacted the 2001 Mets and/or his impact in subsequent years. With that in mind, what do you do?

Now, if you asked me this question in 2000, I’m taking Hampton. No doubt about it. Hampton was a much better option than Appier. If the Mets got Hampton and Appier without signing Trachsel, even better. However, I’ll be honest, while I can separate myself from my hatred of Hampton, I can’t separate myself from my love of David Wright.

Sure, Piazza is my favorite player, but Wright has also been a terrific Met. He’s a homegrown Met. He has a contract that may make him a lifetime Met. Generally speaking, Wright has been everything good about the sport of baseball since he was called up. He’s created some great memories for Mets fans. His name is all over the record books. I’m not sure I could part with that, perhaps not even at a chance at a World Series.

So begrudgingly, I believe I’d pick the entire career of David Wright over the possibility of another World Series title. Sure, World Series titles are rare, but so are the David Wrights of the world. I’m hoping in 2016 Mets fans can celebrate both Wright and a World Series title. It’s a lot more fun than playing the what if game.

Magic Number is 12

Yesterday, the problem was finding out who to pick for 14 in this series with the paucity of choices. Today’s selection was an abundance of good choices. 

There was Roberto Alomar‘s disappointing tenure. I’m sure there are Mets fans that would’ve picked Willie Randolph, but he was decent with the Mets in the last year of a good career. Furthermore, I was higher on him as a manager than most people. I remember that Jeff Kent was hated by Mets fans, except the ones in my household. 

When fans booed Kent, my Dad was baffled. When he saw Kent, he saw a terrific player. My Dad was right. Kent played well in his five years as a Met. Kent would win the 2000 NL MVP and finish his career with the most homeruns by a second baseman. However, all of that happened elsewhere. Why elsewhere? Well, the Mets made an idiotic trade including him and Jose Vizcaino for Carlos Baerga and today’s selection, Alvaro Espinoza:

  
Espinoza was not a great major league player, but truth be told, he was at his best in those 48 games with the Mets. So, why pick him?  He was part of a trade that ditched a possible Hall of Fame second baseman for a player fading fast in Baerga. Neither player was of much help, especially in a 1996 season when the Mets finished 71-91. 

Baerga’s numbers dropped steadily his three years in New York, and he couldn’t stay on second base.  He would be gone before the glory years of 1999 and 2000, but you know who would reappear in 2000?  Vizcaino. The man who put an end to Game 1 of the 2000 World Series. He was in that position due to Timo Perez‘s lack of hustle and Armando Benitez once again caving in from the pressure. 

So I picked Esponiza more as a symbolic gesture as a reminder that the trade for the star usually doesn’t work in the Mets history. I think that reminder is quite aprospros this season. 

With that in mind, please join me in offering a hat tip to Magic Number 12, Alvaro Espinoza. 

Oh Billy Billy Billy

Admittedly, I have been apoplectic over the Tyler Clippard trade. The reason is because the last time the Mets made a trade like this it ended very badly. Faith and Fear in Flushing invoked the infamous John Smoltz and Jeff Bagwell trades. For me, it reminded me of Billy Taylor

In 1999, the Mets were in competition for the playoffs for really the second time in my life (and second year in a row). I was too young to truly remember this (although my first baseball memory is the Buckner game) or this. After the previous season’s collapse, I was desperate to see the Nets make the playoffs. I was appreciative when Steve Phillips was aggressive at the trade deadline. Notably, he added Kenny Rogers (I still don’t want to talk about it), Shawn Dunston, and Darryl Hamilton (RIP). He also traded for Billy  Taylor. 

To acquire Billy Taylor, the Mets sent Billy Beane’s A’s Greg McMichael and Jason Isringhausen. At the time, I loved the move. Over a three year stretch, he had 73 saves on mediocre Athletics teams. In 1999, on an A’s team on the rise, he had 26 saves (his peripherals were awful but I didn’t follow such things back then). I was giddy at the prospect of the Mets having a 7-8-9 of Billy Taylor-John Franco-Armando Benitez (this is before we knew he was terrible in October). I didn’t care about the cost. All I wanted was a playoff berth, let alone a World Series. 

Boy, was I wrong. In 18 appearances, Taylor had an 8.10 ERA. He was terrible. He didn’t pitch in the postseason. He was gone at the end of the year. He was out of baseball after the 2001 season. 

The real cost of Taylor’s 18 innings?  Jason Isringhausen’s career. He was once part of the fabled Generation K. In 1999, he was only given five starts. Mostly, he was a seldom used reliever who bounced between Norfolk and New York. He was coming off an elbow injury. At the time of the trade, he had a 6.41 ERA. His star had fallen. While he wasn’t good, Bobby V didn’t want to put him in the bullpen because that was “akin to using an Indy car as a taxi.”

I love Bobby V, but he was proven wrong. In 1999, he would save eight games for the A’s with a 2.13 ERA. That might’ve been helpful as Kenny Rogers walked in the winning run. Since the trade, Izzy accumulated 299 saves (one for the Mets in 1999 and seven for them in 2011).  That was a lot to give up for 18 appearances. 

Now, I don’t think Tyler Clippard will be as bad as Billy Taylor. He’s a much better pitcher. In actuality, through all of my hand wringing, I have noted Clippard is a quality addition that will help a back of a bullpen that needs it. I think the 7-8-9 of Bobby Parnell-Tyler Clippard-Jeurys Familia could be very good, or at least better than the 1999 version. If the Mets win the World Series, I’ll be thrilled and I won’t care how good Casey Meisner becomes. 

However, I shudder at another Mets trade with Billy Beane for a reliever.  While I hope one day I’m regaling my son of the 2015 championship season, I’m afraid that I will be explaining how Casey Meisner could have been a Met.