B/R MLB Rivalry Series: New York Mets vs. Atlanta Braves
Welcome to the fourth edition of Bleacher Report's MLB rivalry series.
In the weeks to come, we'll highlight some of the biggest head-to-head rivalries in our national pastime and shine light on the past, present and future of those matchups.
So far, we've run through the following rivalries:
- Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees
- Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Francisco Giants
- Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals
Next on the docket is a closer look at an ongoing NL East clash between the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets.
This rivalry doesn't have quite the same lengthy history of the first three we highlighted since the Mets entered the league as an expansion team in 1962, but there's still plenty to talk about.
The following provides a look at notable numbers and notes, a detailed breakdown of the rivalry's origins, an overview of memorable regular-season moments, a rundown of postseason meetings between the two clubs and finally a preview of the outlook of both franchises.
Rivalry Numbers and Notes
Head-to-Head Record (Regular Season)
- 433-362 (adv. ATL)
Head-to-Head Postseason Meetings
- 1969 NLCS: New York over Atlanta (3-0)
- 1999 NLCS: Atlanta over New York (4-2)
- 7/4/1985: Keith Hernandez, NYM
Notable Players Who Made an Impact on Both Sides
- SP/RP Buzz Capra
- OF Jeff Francoeur
- SP Tom Glavine
- SP Mike Hampton
- UT Kelly Johnson
- RP Greg McMichael
- 2B Felix Millan
- OF Gary Sheffield
- C/3B Joe Torre
Most consider Tom Seaver to be the greatest player to ever don a New York Mets uniform.
However, few know that his Hall of Fame career actually began in the Atlanta Braves organization.
Baseball America gave a full rundown of the strange circumstances that led to Seaver shuffling from the Braves to the Mets at the onset of his career:
Seaver began his pro career in a swirl of controversy in 1966, when his rights were awarded to the New York Mets in a special lottery arranged by the commissioner’s office.
The Atlanta Braves had selected Seaver in the secondary phase of the January draft, with the last pick in the first round, and agreed to terms on a $40,000 bonus on Feb. 24. But because the University of Southern California had already begun its 1966 spring schedule, Seaver was ineligible to sign and commissioner William Eckert nullified the contract. Because Seaver had signed a contract, the NCAA also ruled that he was also no longer eligible to play in college. It was a classic Catch-22 scenario.
Seaver’s father threatened a lawsuit, and in an unprecedented move, Eckert set up a special drawing for Seaver’s services with a condition that the pitcher would be paid a bonus of at least $50,000.
The Mets, Philadelphia Phillies and Cleveland Indians elected to participate, and on April 3, 1966, the Mets had the good fortune to pull Seaver’s name out of a hat. A day later, they signed him to a contract that provided a bonus of $51,000.
Seaver would go on to become one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, wrapping up his 20-year career with a 311-205 record, 2.86 ERA and 3,640 strikeouts to rank sixth on the all-time list.
Three years later the league expanded and the League Championship Series was first introduced, with the Mets and Braves meeting in the first installment of the NLCS.
The Mets swept the Braves in that series, and wouldn't you know it, Seaver was the winning pitcher in Game 1 of that series.
Division realignment put the Braves and Mets in the same division starting in 1994, and that further fueled the rivalry, but the origins can still be traced back to the Seaver debacle.
Notable Regular-Season Rivalry Moments
1998 Season-Ending Series
The Braves and Mets met for a three-game series in Atlanta to close out the 1998 regular season.
While the Braves had the NL East title well in hand on their way to a 106-win season, the Mets entered the series tied atop the NL Wild Card standings with the Chicago Cubs.
The Mets promptly dropped the first two games of the series, leaving them one game behind the Cubs and Giants entering the final day of the season.
The Braves would prevail again, 7-2, putting the final nail in the Mets' coffin behind a strong start from Greg Maddux, who picked up his 18th win and clinched the NL lead in ERA (2.22) and WHIP (0.980) in the process.
After sweeping the wild-card-winning Cubs in the NLDS, the Braves fell to the San Diego Padres in the NLCS, leaving them just short of their fifth NL pennant in eight years.
Chipper Jones Clinches the NL East and NL MVP
The Braves made it eight straight division titles with a 103-win season in 1999, but it didn't come easy as the Mets gave them a serious run for their money in the NL East.
The two teams entered a three-game series in Atlanta on Sept. 21 with the Braves clinging to a one-game lead in the division with 12 games to play.
The Braves would go on to sweep that series as part of an eight-game winning streak, eventually taking the NL East title by a full seven games.
It was Chipper Jones who led the way during that crucial three-game sweep, launching four home runs and driving in seven over the course of the series to solidifying his case for NL MVP honors.
The 27-year-old finished the season with a .319/.441/.633 line that included 41 doubles, 45 home runs and 110 RBI as he easily beat out Jeff Bagwell (HOU) and Matt Williams (ARI) for the award.
Sept. 21, 2001: Mike Piazza Game-Winning HR in First Game in NYC Since 9/11
In what was the first major sporting event played in New York City following the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Mike Piazza delivered one of the most dramatic moments in baseball history.
With the Mets trailing 2-1 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning, Piazza crushed a 1-2 fastball from reliever Steve Karsay to center field to put the Mets up 3-2 and give the city a much-needed reprieve from all that had happened over the previous 10 days.
"The fact that people remember that is very touching. I like hearing them paint the picture of what it meant," Piazza told fans leading up to his Hall of Fame induction.
Piazza finished that game 3-for-4 with two doubles and the home run.
Postseason Rivalry History
The 1969 MLB season brought four new expansion teams with the addition of the San Diego Padres, Kansas City Royals, Montreal Expos and Seattle Pilots.
With that came the inception of two divisions in each league and a best-of-five round prior to determine each league's pennant winner.
The first National League Championship Series would be a meeting of the Braves and Mets for NL supremacy.
The "Miracle Mets" as they would come to be known rallied from a slow start to the regular season to close out the year on an 82-39 run. That left them with an even 100 wins, enough to overtake a Chicago Cubs team that collapsed late.
Meanwhile, the Braves claimed the NL West title by three games over the San Francisco Giants with a strong finish of their own, winning 10 of their last 11 games.
The postseason series would be all Mets, though, as they outscored the Braves 27-15 in a three-game sweep.
Tommie Agee (5-for-14, 1 2B, 2 HR, 4 RBI) and Ken Boswell (4-for-12, 2 HR, 5 RBI) paced the Mets offense, while Hank Aaron (5-for-14, 2 2B, 3 HR, 7 RBI) turned in a strong series in a losing effort for the Braves.
From there, the Mets went on to win the first World Series title in franchise history, besting the Baltimore Orioles in five games.
While the Braves used the aforementioned late-season sweep to propel them to yet another division title in 1999, the Mets managed to right the ship in time to win the NL Wild Card and reach the playoffs for the first time since 1988.
The Mets topped the Arizona Diamondbacks in four games in the NLDS, closing out Game 4 with a walk-off home run from backup catcher Todd Pratt, who had hit just three home runs all season.
On the other side of the NLDS, the Braves bested the Houston Astros in four games as well, setting up the first postseason meeting between the two rivals in 30 years.
The Braves came out swinging to win the first three games of the series, but the Mets weren't finished fighting just yet.
The Braves took a late 2-1 lead in Game 4 after back-to-back home runs from Brian Jordan and Ryan Klesko to lead off the top of the eighth, but the Mets responded in the bottom of the inning when John Olerud delivered a a two-out, two-run single against Braves closer John Rocker that proved to be the difference.
That set up a dramatic Game 5 that would go down as perhaps the greatest game in the history of the rivalry.
The Mets struck for two early runs in the bottom of the first inning and the Braves tied things up with two of their own in the top of the fourth. From there, the teams would not score again until the 15th inning.
An RBI triple from Keith Lockhart off of reliever Octavio Dotel, who was in his third inning of relief, finally broke the stalemate and left the Mets three outs from elimination.
However, Braves reliever Kevin McGlinchy ran into trouble of his own in the bottom of the 15th.
A single and a pair of walks loaded the bases with one out, and McGlinchy then walked Todd Pratt to walk in a run and tie the game.
That brought Robin Ventura to the plate, and he delivered the knockout blow with a home run over the right field fence.
Ventura would be mobbed by teammates before reaching second base and only the winning run would come around to score on the play, leaving Ventura credited with an RBI single in the books. The play became know as the "Grand Slam Single" and stands as one of the biggest moments in Mets history.
Unfortunately, the fight ended there for the Mets, as they lost another thriller in Game 6.
The game went to extra innings again, and the Mets briefly led 9-8 in the top of the 10th, but Ozzie Guillen tied things up with an RBI single in the bottom of the 10th and the Braves took the pennant when Kenny Rogers walked Andruw Jones with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 11th.
The Braves would go on to be swept by the New York Yankees in one of the most lopsided World Series in recent memory, as they were outscored 21-9 over the four games.
The Present and Future of the Rivalry
While the Mets are coming off of a run to the World Series last season, the Braves are still in the early stages of a full-scale rebuilding effort—they have reached the postseason just three times in the past 10 years on the heels of their 14 straight division titles.
The current Mets team is built around one of the best starting staffs in all of baseball.
Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Bartolo Colon began the season hailed as one of the best rotations in recent memory.
While they have not quite lived up to expectations and Harvey is out for the year following thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, the rotation has still been a clear strength with a 3.41 ERA that ranks third in the majors.
The offense, on the other hand, has been abysmal, as they are hitting an NL-worst .239 as a team and have been historically bad in the clutch with a .208 average with runners in scoring position.
Despite those struggles at the plate, the Mets are still 55-51 on the year and just 1.5 games back in the wild-card standings. Adding Jay Bruce at the trade deadline should help spark the offense as they look to make a return trip to the postseason.
As for the Braves, they have the worst record in baseball at 37-69, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
The front office has done a terrific job building up a farm system that Bleacher Report named the best in all of baseball immediately following the June draft.
Shortstop Dansby Swanson headlines a system that is loaded with pitching talent, and they added three more top-tier pitching prospects in the June draft with the selections of Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz and Kyle Muller.
They then capped off a busy spring by signing the No. 1-ranked international prospect, Kevin Maitan, to a $4.25 million bonus.
They're still a few years away from beginning the climb back toward contention, but the Braves are building something special.
Meanwhile, the Mets also appear to be in good shape long term thanks to the trio of Syndergaard, deGrom and Matz all being under team control through at least 2020.
Young outfielders Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo have shown flashes of their talent while still trying to establish themselves, while shortstops Amed Rosario and Gavin Cecchini and first baseman Dominic Brown headline a farm system that we ranked No. 19 overall.
For now, the rivalry has cooled a bit, but a few years from now the Braves and Mets could once again be battling for NL East supremacy.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.