For the first time in Major League history, the Cincinnati Reds are not hosting the first MLB game of the regular season. No, that tradition had to die so Major League Baseball could begin the 2000 season in Japan. That led to the Mets and Cubs playing the first two games of the season in the Tokyo Dome.
Everything about the game was bizarre. There were the players wearing advertisements on their jerseys to be reminiscent of NPB players. There was the the slightly expanded rosters to accommodate the teams traveling to Japan and having a slightly shorter Spring Training. There was also fans having to get up for a 6:00 A.M. first pitch.
Really, in terms of baseball, Bobby Valentine, who had managed the Chiba Lotte Marines before coming back to the US, was probably the only person comfortable. That would not be true for long as he would quickly become rather uncomfortable with the Cubs hitters looking very comfortable at the plate against new Mets ace Mike Hampton.
Before you could blink, it was 1-0. Hampton walked Eric Young to start the game, and he would quickly steal second allowing him to score on a Damon Buford (who previously played in Japan) RBI single. Mark Grace was hit by a pitch, and suddenly, you were cringing at the prospect of a Sammy Sosa homer.
While much changed about the Mets this past offseason, most of the greatest infield of all-time remained in tact. We saw that as they turned a 6-4-3 double play helping Hampton and the Mets get out of the inning without further damage.
This is pretty much how it went for the Mets all day. Hampton would walk the ballpark, nine in total over five innings, and the infield defense would bail him out.
After a lead-off walk to Shane Andrews in the second, he was immediately erased as Jose Nieves hit into a 6-6-3 double play. In the fifth, things would have been much worse after Hampton walked Andrews to force in a run had he not induced Nieves to hit into a 5-4-3 double play to end the fifth.
After that pitch, Hampton was done. He had thrown 103 pitches over five while allowing four hits and nine walks. He’d also throw a wild pitch while striking out two. If you are looking for a bright side, he was getting a lot of groundballs in front of what is still an amazing infield defense, and he did not allow one extra base hit.
While Hampton was fighting it throughout the game, Jon Lieber cruised through seven innings.
Believe it or not, the Mets real offensive threat early in the game was Rey Ordonez. He had a lead-off single in the third, and after Hampton bunted him over, and Rickey Henderson singled, he’d score on a Darryl Hamilton sacrifice fly.
The following inning, the Mets had an opportunity to break the 1-1 tie to take the lead with Ordonez drawing a two out walk to load the bases, but Hampton was not able to help his own cause.
Things were interesting and close into the seventh due to Dennis Cook bailing out Turk Wendell in the sixth. Unfortunately, Cook could not get out of his own trouble in the seventh as Andrews hit a two run homer to give the Cubs a 4-1 lead. That lead would grow to 5-1 when Grace homered off Rich Rodriguez in the eighth.
With Lieber out of the game in the eighth, Edgardo Alfonzo drew a lead-off walk off of Brian Williams, and Mike Piazza homered to pull the Mets to within 5-3. Unfortunately, this was not the start of a huge comeback as six of the last seven Mets recorded outs to end the game.
It was one day, but the moves made by Steve Phillips to take this Mets team over the top did not do much. Hampton took the loss while walking nine over five innings. Derek Bell, who also came in that trade, was 1-for-4, and Todd Zeile, who was signed to replace John Olerud, was 0-for-4.
Still, it is just one game, and it was an odd one by all accounts. We shall see how the next game goes as well as the rest of the 2000 season.
Game Notes: Bobby Jones and Al Leiter did not make the trip as they are preparing for their starts at Shea. This means Rick Reed will start the second game of the season. Henderson isn’t exactly endearing himself to fans as he followed playing cards with Bobby Bonilla with a demand for a new contract. He was, however, 1-for-4 with a walk.
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.
On August 21, 2001, Mike Piazza hit an RBI single in the first inning, and Shea Stadium went crazy. They went crazy again when he homered in the second extending the Mets lead to 4-0 in a game they would eventually win 5-2. To be fair, Mets fans always went crazy whenever Piazza did anything, but this was heightened over what is usually was.
The reason for that was the hits came off of Mike Hampton, who had become public enemy number one among Mets fans. That’s an impressive feat when you consider at that time the Atlanta Braves had players like Chipper Jones and John Rocker.
With it being 20 years later, perhaps we should revisit exactly why Mets fans hate Hampton.
Things weren’t always this way with Hampton. Mets fans rejoiced when he was obtained from the Houston Astros. Even with the high price of Roger Cedeno and Octavio Dotel, Mets fans were envisioning a World Series with a pitching staff headed by Hampton and Al Leiter.
Hampton delivered on that promise. In 2000, he was 15-10 with a 3.14 ERA and a 1.346 WHIP. Overall, he was a top 10 pitcher in the National League with his having the fifth best ERA+, seventh best FIP, and the 10th best WAR. When you combine how good a hitter the 2000 Silver Slugger was, Hampton was everything the Mets hoped he would be.
He would then pitch the Mets to the World Series being the NLCS MVP after going 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 0.813 WHIP in his two starts. It was Hampton who was on the mound when Rick Wilkins flew out to Timo Perez.
No, Hampton wasn’t particularly good in the World Series, but he wasn’t bad either. In his lone start, he took the loss in Game 2 after allowing four earned over six innings in the game forever known for Roger Clemens throwing a bat at Piazza.
In the offseason, Hampton was a free agent, and he did what almost every player did. He took the best offer given to him. In the end, it was a huge eight year $121 million deal from the Colorado Rockies. Hampton tried to spin it as being for family reasons, but it was a bit much to take for everyone. For example, Sandy Alderson, who was then a executive vice president for Major League Baseball said, “He’s an outstanding pitcher. It’s a lot of money. Case closed. I don’t want to hear about the Wheat Ridge (Colo.) school system.” (ESPN).
Hampton going to Colorado proved to be bad for him and the Mets. Hampton predictably struggled pitching in Coors Field, and the Mets never could quite assemble a roster which could take the Mets over the top. In fact, that offseason was one of the more disappointing in Mets history.
What began with visions of Alex Rodriguez and/or Hampton ended with Kevin Appier, Steve Trachsel, and Tsuyoshi Shinjo. Sadly, that is not an exaggeration. To hear the Mets tell it, A-Rod was a 24+1 player, and Hampton chose the Rockies not because they didn’t offer enough, but rather, for lifestyle reasons.
As Mets fans, knowing all we know now, should we continue to hate Hampton?
By now, we know better about how the Mets spend money. After all, it was prior offseason where Bobby Valentine called into question about the real reason John Olerud left. We also can’t begrudge Hampton for taking the most money, and when we look at his brief tenure with the Mets, he did everything we could have expected him to do.
Looking back, it does go back to that World Series game.
After the game, Hampton questioned Piazza’s reaction to Clemens saying, “I think we should’ve fought, to be honest with you. But that’s not my call. You can’t make something happen if guys aren’t going to defend themselves. Different people react differently. Mike’s a little calmer. I’m more hot-tempered. I would’ve reacted a little different.” (NY Post).
He wasn’t the only Met to feel that way with Lenny Harris also questioning Piazza’s reaction or lack thereof. What made it harder to take from Hampton is he didn’t exactly pitch lights out in that game, and he also didn’t exactly respond by going head hunting in the ensuing inning.
Since that game, Hampton has gone from beloved to hated. The switch flipped that fast. Aside from games he has appeared as a visitor, especially with the hated Braves, Hampton was stayed away.
That is until now. With this being the 20th anniversary of that pennant, Hampton has appeared at Spring Training with fellow members of that team like Turk Wendell and Glendon Rusch. By all accounts, the once detested Hampton has been welcome back at Port St. Lucie.
Perhaps, now, it is time to move on from out hatred of him. After all, the Mets not doing what was needed to keep him and replace him wasn’t his fault. That’s on the Mets. More to the point, no fan should be ever upset at a player for taking the best contract and situation for his family.
As for the World Series, well, it was massively disappointing for us all. Hampton and Piazza included. For any comments between the two, Piazza more than got his revenge hitting .294/.357/.569 off of him with two doubles, four homers, and 12 RBI.In the end, Hampton got it, and Piazza went to the Hall of Fame.
It’s been 20 years, and when you think about it, Hampton has a special place in Mets history. It’s now time to remember, honor, and celebrate it. It’s time to forgive. It’s time to cheer Hampton this year and welcome him with open arms.
As the trade deadline approaches, every team usually states that they need bullpen help, and those that are true contenders usually add an extra arm or two to the bullpen. For example, back in 1999, one of the biggest strengths for a Mets team fighting for the NL East and the Wild Card was their bullpen. Armando Benitez had taken over the closer role much earlier than anticipated. Turk Wendell and Dennis Cook were having excellent seasons. Pat Mahomes was a revelation as the long man in the bullpen. Ex-closer John Franco was expected to return form injury to help with the playoff push. Greg McMichael was having an off year, but he had previously been a valuable bullpen arm in a pennant race from his days with the Atlanta Braves. On top of that, the Mets had some young promising arms to go to down the stretch with Jason Isringhausen and Octavio Dotel (even if Bobby Valentine thought they were better suited and belonged in the rotation). Overall, the point being is the Mets did not need bullpen help.
Even with that being the case, a Mets team that was very active during the trade deadline made sure to acquire another arm for the bullpen by sending McMichael and Isringhausen for Billy Taylor. It turns out Billy Taylor was washed up, and he would not even be on the postseason roster thereby forcing the Mets to make do with the already good bullpen pieces they had. The Mets find themselves in a similar position than the 1999 Mets did.
The Mets bullpen is led to Jeurys Familia who is the best closer in the game. When needed, Familia can pitch two innings to get the big save that the Mets need. The primary eighth inning set-up man has been Addison Reed, who is only sporting a 2.26 ERA and a 0.912 WHIP. This duo has only lost one lead that has been given to them this year in 32 attempts. Behind them is Hansel Robles who has done everything the Mets have needed in the bullpen. He can come out and bail the Mets out of a bases loaded no out jam or pitch 3.2 terrific innings to save a Mets bullpen from a first inning injury to a starting pitcher. Jerry Blevins has been an extremely effective LOOGY allowing lefties to hit .210/.269/.310. By the way, he has been even better against righties limiting them to a .107/.188/.214 batting line.
Behind these pitchers are some very solid options. There is Jim Henderson, who was great before Terry Collins abused his arm. Henderson is currently in AAA on a rehab assignment. Seth Lugo has been absolutely terrific out of the bullpen in his two appearances. However, it is only two appearances, and there still remains a (remote) chance that he may wind up in the starting rotation with the Matt Harvey injury. There is Erik Goeddel, who even despite one poor performance this season, still has a career 2.75 ERA and a 1.054 WHIP. There is still Sean Gilmartin, who was an essential part of the Mets bullpen last year. He is a starter in AAA, but if the Mets are that desperate for major league relief help that they will swing a trade, they should pull up a known quantity to help the team where he is needed.
If the Mets will consider calling up players from the minors, there are some good options in AAA. Josh Edgin has a 2.45 ERA in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. Paul Sewald has taken over as the closer, and he has recorded nine saves. There is always the alluring Josh Smoker, who is having a down year but still sports a mid-nineties fastball.
Finally, in addition to all of these players, there is still Antonio Bastardo, who is going nowhere. It is doubtful a rebuilding team will want to add him into the mix with his high salary and poor production. The Mets are stuck with him, and they are going to be stuck with him for the full season, regardless of whether they make another move to add a reliever or not. In essence, Bastardo is the reason why people mistakenly believe the Mets need bullpen help. With that in mind, the best thing the Mets can do is to find a way to get Bastardo back on track. That will help the Mets bullpen more than them adding another reliever.
Overall, the Mets bullpen is in fine shape with four outstanding relievers and plenty of good options behind them. The Mets do not need a reliever. They need to fix Bastardo since he’s going to be here whether or not the Mets make a trade. With that in mind, the Mets should leave the bullpen as is and turn their attention to the teams other needs at the trade deadline.
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 Piazza, Edgardo Alfonzo, Robin Ventura, and Al Leiter. He had a terrific bullpen of Armando Benitez, John Franco, Turk 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.