So far, Mike Hampton just isn’t the ace the Mets thought they were getting when they paid the hefty price of Roger Cedeno, Octavio Dotel, and minor leaguer Kyle Kessel. This game against the Giants was just the latest example.
The Mets have lost two in a row, and their bullpen has been a bit taxed of late. They are without their best player in Mike Piazza. For the first time this season, the team needed a big start from him. He just wasn’t up to the task with walks once again being a big problem for him.
For the second time in as many days, the Mets gave their starter a 1-0 lead. This was courtesy of a Jon Nunnally lead-off homer off of Russ Ortiz. Then, for the second time in as many days, a Mets starter immediately gave back the lead.
The Mets manufactured their own run when Nunnally walked in the third, stole second, and scored on a Derek Bell RBI single. The rally ended there when Edgardo Alfonzo hit into the inning ending double play. Like in the first, Hampton gave that run right back.
The trouble started when Hampton walked the opposing pitcher to start the inning. After a Robin Ventura error, there was two on and no outs. Hampton did his job by getting Bernard to hit into a double play. However, he could not get that last big out when he allowed Barry Bonds to hit a game tying RBI single.
Again, the Mets would pick up their ace and not the other way around. Jay Payton reached via fielder’s choice and stole second. After a wild pitch, he was on third, and he scored easy on a Todd Pratt RBI double. That’s where the game was until Hampton completely unraveled in the sixth.
It started with Hampton issuing a lead-off walk to Kent. Things really fell apart quickly from there for Hampton with him walking four batters in that inning. It should be noted here the Mets were frustrated by the umpiring during this game (more on this later), and they have been over the past two games.
Still, Hampton didn’t adjust and locate well. Even Bobby Valentine making a rare mound visit did little to get him back into the game. Ultimately, Hampton would wind up walking the last three batters he faced in the game with the last two walks forcing in runs. Dennis Cook would have to come into the game to get Hampton out of the inning, but he would not do so before allowing an RBI single.
Hampton’s final line was an uninspiring 5.1 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 6 BB, 2 K. Yes, he was squeezed, and there was an unearned run, but frankly, Hampton just needs to be better than this. The Mets an ill afford for their purported ace to pitch like a fourth or fifth starter. That goes double when you consider they don’t exactly have a fifth starter right now.
Hampton would not get the loss because his teammates picked him up. In the top of the seventh, Melvin Mora hit a two RBI triple to tie the game. Despite his standing on third with less than two outs, he would be stranded there. That would cost the Mets as the game would go into extra innings.
One of the reasons it went into extras was the Mets again failed to capitalize on opportunities in the eighth. After Alfonzo led of the inning with a single, Ventura hit into a double play. Piazza came off the bench in his first at-bat since his home plate collision in Colorado.
Piazza nearly hit one out. Given the dimensions and wind in PacBell, it’s very likely that ball goes out in the other 29 parks. Just not here. Piazza was then stranded on second when Todd Zeile struck out looking to end the inning. To be fair to Zeile, neither strike two or three were in the strike zone. Again, this was a matter of an inconsistent strike zone which frustrated the Mets all game and series long.
Extra innings would be more of the same. After Benny Agbayani and Bell led off the tenth with back-to-back singles, no one could push them home. Turk Wendell did a tight rope in the 10th to send it into the 11th. That’s where the umpire problems really came to a head.
Zeile led off the the 11th with a single. Pratt hit a ground ball to Kent who threw wide to Rich Aurilia. Despite Aurilia not touching second before his relay to first, the umpires ruled it was a double play. Instead of a runner on second with one out, the Mets had two outs.
That bad umpiring decision loomed large when Wendell did not record an out in the bottom of the inning. After Bernard led off the inning with a single, Wendell wanted no part of Bonds effectively pitching around him to set up first and second with no outs.
As an aside here, Wendell would not typically be used in this situation. With the left-handed Bernard and Bonds due up to start the inning, that is a spot where Valentine would have normally gone with Cook. However, Cook was unavailable because he was needed to bail out Hampton earlier in the game. Also, Valentine could not go to Rich Rodriguez because he was coming off an extended outing, and more than that, he has been completely ineffective this year.
The end result was a rally started by the Giants, and once again, it was the former Met Kent there to do the damage. Kent would hit a walk-off three run homer to give the Giants an 8-5 victory.
There were a number of things wrong in this game including the umpiring. However, if the Mets aren’t going to take advantage of opportunities, and Hampton isn’t going to pitch like a top of the rotation starter, the blame will ultimately fall upon them.
Game Notes: With Piazza available to pinch hit, he appears set to start tomorrow’s matinee. Rickey Henderson was held out of the lineup, and he requested to speak with Steve Phillips about how he has been used this season.
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.