The following is an elaborate spin-off of an essentially live blog entry I wrote in August as the New York Mets bullpen blew a lead for Johan Santana for the sixth time in the 2008 season. Part one/two/three/four.
So last time we left off, the New York Mets had officially hit rock bottom, leading to wholesale changes for the upcoming 2005 season.
Jim Duquette and Art Howe were out as general manager and manager, Omar Minaya and Willie Randolph were in.
Minaya didn’t mess around. He was kind of in a bind in Montreal because he had little or no money to play with. He was like a kid in a candy shop when he got to Flushing.
Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran were the big signings when Minaya took the helm, and a winning team started to take shape. A core of Beltran, Reyes, and Wright was solidified in 2005.
Beltran didn’t have anything close to an amazing season, but considering his paychecks, his name needed to be included. Wright hit 27 home runs and reached the century mark in RBI, and Reyes stole 60 bases.
Mike Piazza had a disappointing ’05 season for the Mets, and it was his last. Piazza was a beloved figure in New York, and luckily it wasn’t the last Mets fans saw of him.
Though the offense was starting to come around, the pitching staff was another story. We no longer had Al Leiter, though we had Pedro, our new bona fide ace, to replace him. In typical Mets fashion, the bullpen blew a save in Pedro’s first start, giving him the ever-plentiful ND in the stat book.
Apart from Pedro, there was nothing. Tom Glavine, Kris Benson, Kaz Ishii were among his surrounding cast. Oh yeah, and Victor Zambrano. Victor. VICTOR. Ugh.
We officially moved Aaron Heilman to the bullpen, alongside Heath Bell, Roberto Hernandez, and our new closer, Braden Looper.
We’ve never had much luck with closers, have we?
August ended on a sour note, as Beltran and Mike Cameron had a head-on collision in the outfield in a loss to the Padres. It was Cameron’s last game in a Mets uniform, and he needed facial surgery.
Out of contention, September still provided us with a bright spot. The Mets brought up a kid by the name of Mike Jacobs to spend some time at first base since the Mike Piazza experiment failed and Doug Mientkiewicz was about as beloved in New York as John Rocker (okay, I’m exaggerating).
Jacobs went off for 11 bombs in 30 games, and we found us a new first baseman...from the FARM?! How exciting!
Omar Minaya made a questionable move the following offseason, which turned out to be a pretty good deal. He sent our new first baseman, Jacobs, to Florida to acquire Carlos Delgado. It’s just like the fantasy baseball strategy I always ignore: Sell ‘em when their stock is high.
Paul Lo Duca was also inherited in the trade with the Marlins, and the Mets’ other major move in the offseason was signing closer Billy Wagner.
Can somebody tell me why we all hated Looper so much? He never blew any playoff games for us, and he only pitched two seasons for us. I vividly remember hating everything about him, but in retrospect, I have no idea why, considering Armando Benitez was his predecessor.
Maybe Mets fans are just born to hate whoever their closer is, present company excluded (for now).
Still copying the Yankees, SportsNet New York, the Mets’ new TV network, launched in ’06, and our luck had officially turned around...kind of.
Despite a plethora of injuries, the Mets dominated the N.L. East the entire year. Pedro missed several starts due to injury, and we used 15 different starters throughout the season.
For novelty’s sake, here are a few of the names who graced Shea’s rubber in 2006: Alay Soler, Brian Bannister, Dave Williams, Geremi Gonzalez, and Victor Zambano. Victor. VICTOR. Ugh.
One of the more debatable moves Minaya has made came in ’06, and though it’s still unfathomable, I’ll try to work it out in words right now. We had a lot of pitching issues due to injury, so Minaya signed Jose Lima...
No use in trying to validate the transaction. It was just dumb. Lima supporters might say he had some good years, and even some great years, but no. Just no.
In four starts he went 0-4 with an ERA almost in double-digits. He never played again, though he’s probably doing the old Barry Bonds/Sammy Sosa thing, catching a tan next to the free agent pool.
Hey, I hear the Phillies need a starter (wink, wink). No? Eric Milton perhaps? Victor Zambrano?
Glavine and Steve Trachsel each won 15 games in 2006, and despite our pitching inconsistencies, we won the East by 12.5 games. We led by as many as 16.5 and were the first team to clinch in mid-September.
The Mets had the lowest bullpen E.R.A. in the National League, featuring Duaner Sanchez (2.60), Pedro Feliciano (2.09), and Chad Bradford (2.90). Sanchez’s season was cut short in late-July when he was in a car accident, prompting Minaya to trade our starting right fielder, Xavier Nady, to the Pirates for Roberto Hernandez and some Oliver Perez guy as a throw in.
The Mets also acquired Guillermo Mota in August, leading to Minaya’s autobiography: This is How You Destroy a Bullpen.
Highly touted prospect Lastings Milledge made his debut in 2006, instantly ticking off everyone whose path he crossed. High-fiving fans after hitting a mid-game home run was among his infractions. The Mets ended up losing the game.
My favorite highlight of the ’06 season doesn’t involved Jose Lima, Victor Zambrano, or the Mets winning the World Series, it’s actually Piazza’s triumphant return to Shea.
In early August, Piazza came back as a member of the Padres. He received a standing ovation throughout the series and even hit two home runs off Pedro in one game. Down 4-2 late in the same game with two runners aboard, Piazza almost hit a third, but it was just short of the wall.
Everybody went home happy. The Mets won and Piazza performed well against his ex-club.
Enough dilly-dallying, it’s time to face our demons. The 2006 playoffs:
Pedro was hurt, we were (for some reason) counting on El Duque to be healthy to guide us, and that fell through. Our postseason pitching staff looked like this: John Maine, Tom Glavine, Steve Trachsel, ?, ?, ? (Victor Zambrano was hurt).
We lucked out in the Division Series. The Mets were able to sweep the Dodgers, as hard as the bullpen tried to screw it up. That’s a shot at you, Guillermo Mota.
The Mets weren’t exactly bleeding confidence going into the NLCS, but we were playing the 83-win Cardinals. Plus, we finally got the spotlight. We were still in the playoffs, and the Yankees weren’t. THE BACK PAGE IS OURS!!!
Be careful what you wish for.
Jeff Weaver and Tom Glavine engaged in a pitchers’ duel in game one with the Mets surviving. Chris Carpenter and John Maine each got thrashed in game two with the Cardinals surviving: A sequence of events which didn’t make sense at the time and still doesn’t today. The series was tied, 1-1.
We couldn’t touch Jeff Suppan or Adam Wainwright (Adam &$@#ing Wainwright as I refer to him), and Scott Spezio had his stupid red-dyed soul patch. It’s almost as if Albert Pujols didn’t even exist.
Eventually the series was tied, 3-3. Let’s set the stage. Game seven, the score is even, 1-1. In a frenzy to find a starter, the Mets gave the ball to mid-season acquisition Oliver Perez, who touted numbers to the tune of 3-13, 6.55 E.R.A. in 2006 between the Pirates and Mets.
He pitched a gem.
Scott Rolen is at-bat in the sixth inning with a runner on. Mind you, Rolen was in Tony LaRussa’s doghouse, so he was looking to make some noise.
He hits a high fly ball to deep left field. The immortal words of John Sterling would have best fit what happened next.
“IT IS HIGH, IT IS FAR, IT IS...CAUGHT!”
Never mind, words don’t describe “the catch.” Endy Chavez elevated higher than anyone thought possible to bring Rolen’s long ball back into play, lost in all the pageantry of “the catch” is the fact it was actually a double-play.
I forgot to mention this earlier, but I was skeptical about Minaya bringing Endy over from Montreal with him, but he earned his stripes off the bench throughout the season. Endy was my boy.
Chavez came up with the bases loaded in the bottom of the inning. He’s still a kid, so of course he was swinging for the fences when all we needed was a base knock. He flied out. It’s fine, he made “the catch.”
There’s still no way we can lose this game.
Enter: Aaron Heilman.
He took the mound in the ninth inning. Scott Rolen singled with one out, bringing up the light-hitting Yadier Molina.
I blocked the at-bat out of my memory, but the score was 3-1 Cardinals after it was over.
I really wish the best for Heilman in Seattle. I really do.
The Mets somehow loaded the bases against Adam &$@#ing Wainwright in the bottom of the ninth, bringing our highest paid player to the plate.
SNY’s marketing slogan for the Mets in 2006 was something along the lines of “The time is now,” but with one pitch, it changed to “Maybe next year.”
Wainwright drops a nasty deuce on Beltran. The bat never leaves his shoulder.
Coming soon: Part Six: The “C” Word.