The Mets-Mariano Rivera Walkoff Trilogy

With Mariano Rivera’s well-deserved election to the Hall of Fame, let us remember that he was surprisingly mortal against his rivals from Queens. Rivera was 4-4 with a 3.53 ERA against the Mets in 34 regular-season appearances. He did have 20 saves, (plus two more in the 2000 World Series), but the Mets did walkoff against him three times. Each of the walkoff victories were seven years apart, from 1999 to 2013. Let’s rewind to those special days.

July 10, 1999

It was the second game of a three-game series at Shea Stadium. The game is commonly known as the Matt Franco Game in Mets’ lore, so named for pinch-hitter Matt Franco’s game-winning ninth-inning single off Mariano to win the game for the Mets 9-8. The starting pitching matchup featured Rick Reed for the Mets, and Andy Pettitte for the Yanks.

The game was a thrilling back-and-forth contest with five lead changes. The Yankees hit six home runs in defeat. Mike Piazza’s mammoth three-run homer off Ramiro Mendoza in the bottom of the seventh inning gave the Mets a 7-6 lead, but the Yanks reclaimed the lead, 8-7, in the eighth.

 

That was the score heading into the bottom of the ninth against Rivera. Rickey Henderson started a rally with a one-out walk, followed by a double by Edgardo Alfonzo. Bernie Williams had a chance to catch Alfonzo’s ball at the left center field wall, but missed it. After John Olerud grounded out to first, Mike Piazza was intentionally walked to load the bases.

Mets manager Bobby Valentine sent up the left-handed hitting Matt Franco to pinch-hit for Melvin Mora with the game on the line. After Franco took a borderline 0-2 pitch called low for a ball, he lined the next pitch into right field for a single. Henderson and Alfonzo scored to give the Mets the victory. Pat Mahomes was the winning pitcher for the Mets.

 

May 19, 2006

It was a Friday night, the first game of a three-game weekend series at Shea. The Yankees started Randy Johnson, while the Mets countered with Geremi Gonzalez. Gonzalez was a journeyman pitcher from Venezuela in the last year of a six-season major league career. He made only three career starts the Mets, and this was the worst of them. He surrendered six runs on nine hits in 3+ innings before being removed from the game after a leadoff double in the top of the fourth.

Despite the bad start, the Mets stayed in the game against Johnson. The key blows were a three-run homer by Carlos Beltran in the bottom of the first, and a two-run shot by Xavier Nady in the bottom of the third. Kaz Matsui tied the game at 6-6 with a single to left in the bottom of the fifth scoring David Wright.

 

The score stayed the same until the bottom of the ninth, when Rivera came into a tie game for the Yanks. Paul Lo Duca hit a one-out double, and Carlos Delgado was intentionally walked with two outs to bring up David Wright with runners on first and second. Wright hit it a 2-2 pitch over Johnny Damon’s head and onto the centerfield warning track to drive in Lo Duca for the win.

May 28, 2013

The Mets have by now moved into Citi Field, and this was the second of four straight games the Mets would sweep from the Bombers that season. Unlike the first two games in our trilogy, this one was a pitching duel. Matt Harvey, who was in prime form during his All-Star year, started for the Mets, opposed by Hiroki Kuroda for the Yankees.

Harvey held the Yanks to one run on six hits while striking out 10 in eight innings. However, the Mets trailed 1-0 entering the bottom of the ninth. Rivera, who was in the final year of his career, entered the game looking for the save. This time, Rivera was unable to even record an out before the Mets rallied for the victory.

Daniel Murphy led off with a ground-rule double to left. David Wright followed with a line-drive single to left center to drive in Murphy to tie the game. Then, Lucas Duda ended the contest with a single to right to score Wright and give the Mets a 2-1 win. The Amazin’s had walked off against Mariano Rivera for the third time in his glorious career.

In addition, the Mets defeated Mariano 3-0 in the 10th inning of a game at Yankee Stadium on July 7, 2001. Mike Piazza, Timo Perez and Todd Zeile all had RBI singles against him that day. So, he really was quite human against the Mets, which we are happy to remind you of on this great occasion.

Congratulations Mariano!

The Bad Guys Won

While the 2004 New York Mets were inside Shea Stadium getting pounded by the St. Louis Cardinals, Jeff Pearlman was in the parking lot spreading the word about the 1986 World Champion New York Mets.

Pearlman, author of The Bad Guys Won which chronicles the ’86 Mets wild ride both on and off the field, spent his Thursday afternoon slapping promotional flyers for his book on the windshields of Met fans cars with the help of a couple friends.

This was not Harper Collins’ idea, it was writer’s brainchild.

For Pearlman, a lifelong Mets fan, the grass roots public relations efforts have already paid dividends. Released on April 27, The Bad Guys Won broke the New York Times Top 30 bestsellers list. Impressive? It’s Pearlman’s first book.

The Bad Guys Won reads like a modern day Ball Four filled with behind-the-scenes tales of one of baseball’s wildest teams. In a phone interview from his home in upstate New York, Pearlman said he started the project without an agenda.

“I didn’t go into this book with an idea that it could be about a wholesome baseball team,” said Pearlman.

“I knew they were a wild bunch. But I certainly didn’t have any pre-conceived notion … I didn’t know what the stories would be, I didn’t know how the book would play out, it was mostly a blank page for me.”

It may have started as a blank page but the final product will surprise even the most diehard Met fans. From the opening chapter titled “Food Flight,” a 10-page tale of the post game mayhem on the trip from Houston to New York after the Mets won the 1986 National League Championship Series 7-6 in 16 innings, the offbeat stories, breathe life into Mets history.

“If you look at ‘Ball Four’ (by Jim Bouton) and ‘The Bronx Zoo’ (by Sparky Lyle), those books have done extremely well,” Pearlman said. “I am sure Yankee fans were cringing when they read those books. I think people, more than anything, are just fascinated by what goes on behind-the-scenes.”

The Bad Guys Won is not a “tell-all” book. It offers no scandal, no accusations, no smoking gun. It’s a 287-page collection of entertaining tales – true tales – from inside a chasmpionship team. It’s a healthy departure from today’s bombshell offerings in print.

Pearlman, who spent six years covering baseball for Sports Illustrated including his controversial story in 1999 on former Braves pitcher John Rocker, spent 2 ½ years researching and writing The Bad Guys Won. He interviewed 29 of the 33 members of the 1986 New York Mets including Gary Carter, Keith Hernandez, Mookie Wilson, Len Dykstra, Ray Knight, Howard Johnson, Wally Backman, Kevin Mitchell, Jesse Orosco and Ron Darling.

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In The Bad Guys Won the real stories from 1986 Mets are narrated by a lesser known core of Mets players and team employees. “To me, the best reporting comes when you talk to the people who haven’t been asked about these things a million times … the clubhouse guys, the equipment guys, the Doug Sisk’s and Randy Niemann’s and the Terry Leaches, guys like that. That’s where you get the real stories that haven’t been told.

“I was ripped in a column up here in a column in the Bergen Record, asking, how could you not talk to Dwight Gooden!?,” said Pearlman.

“My answer is two-fold: one, I made every effort to talk to him but more importantly, when I set out to do this book, I knew that the key to writing a good book like this, is not about talking to the superstars. That includes Hernandez and Carter, Gooden, Strawberry, because those guys have told these stories 8,000 times.”

Despite repeated efforts, Strawberry and Gooden, frankly the most-recognized members of the 1986 Mets team, were not on the record, but they are in the book. “Strawberry was in jail and refused to talk,” said Pearlman.” … and Gooden refused to talk.

“It’s an interesting thing because I called his agent and he came back and said, Dwight’s not interested. Then I called Gooden at his Tampa office number two or three times and never got a call back,” Pearlman recalls. “Then I saw Gooden in person and mentioned it to him and he told me he was interested and that I should call him in Tampa. I called him a bunch more times and he didn’t return any of my calls.”

“Number two, to be totally honest, I didn’t consider Gooden or Strawberry to be totally reliable sources. There track track records don’t speak real well for their truthfulness in these areas. I always think it sounds bad, and I always need to explain it, but the truth of the matter, in some ways the book may be better for it, because I feel it’s a more honest book.”

The fact that Pearlman never talked to Gooden or Strawberry doesn’t seem to matter. In the first 30 days of the books release, fans are consuming The Bad Guys Won fast and furious.

Pearlman has been on a promotional parade since the book was released. His appearance on the FOX sports/talk television show “The Best Damn Sports Show,” set the stage for his first face-to-face appearance with a member of the 1986 New York Mets in the wake of the release.

“I showed up and Ron Darling was doing it with me,” said Pearlman. “The first thing he said to me when he saw me was, ‘That book was eerily accurate.’ It was my greatest moment since this book came out.” Darling told Pearlman he read the book twice.

No one from the 1986 New York Mets has denied any of the stories reported in the book but some of the characterizations apparently ruffled feathers. “Lenny Dykstra was supposed to be on the show (FOX’s “The Best Damn Sports Show”) too and he refused to do it because he was angry about the book,” said Pearlman. “I guess he didn’t like how he was portrayed.”

And why would he? The same applies for Hernandez, Strawberry, Gooden, Sisk, Heep, even Mets manager Davey Johnson, who turned his head when the Mets off-field antics surfaced. He would shrug it off and say, “boys will be boys.”

The Mets behavior in 1986 is no secret. They were great on the field – and they are proud of it. They were bad off-the-field – and they don’t apologize for it.

Now, 18 years after the Mets dream season, Pearlman’s book reminds us the Mets were the bad guys. “The Bad Guys Won is a quote from Davey Johnson,” said Pearlman. “When the Mets won the World Series he was asked by someone whether the country would appreciate the Mets and he said, ‘I don’t think so because the bad guys won.”

A Bag of Balls, A lot of Questions

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A Franchise Tipping Point

Leading companies are adding new talent to support a digital operating model. To develop sharp insights using digital tools, procurement teams will need data science and analytics expertise.

The Bad Guys Won

Leading companies are adding new talent to support a digital operating model. To develop sharp insights using digital tools, procurement teams will need data science and analytics expertise.

Mets Hall Falls Short

The New York Mets 55-year history has more than 100 years worth of memories. The people (owners, managers and players), the games and the legendary success (and failure) are enough to fill an enormous amount of space and time.

Recently, I walked through the gates of Citi Field for the first time. I intentionally wanted to experience what a fan experiences, not a member of the media, so I bought my tickets online and planned my visit ever so carefully.

The Mets had just returned home from a nine-game road trip. The team had won seven straight and, to some surprise, held a six-and-one-half game lead in the National League East.

The game itself offered a handful of intriguing storylines itself: Matt Harvey was making his first start after an 11-day rest; David Wright was playing his first home game since April 14; and, the Boston Red Sox were in town. Hello, 1986.

When the gates opened to fans at 5:30 p.m. I passed through the gates into the rotunda. I had seen it in photos, but now, I could witness the expansive Ebbets Field-style entrance. Since its inception in 2009, the design has remained wholly intact.

The Jackie Robinson rotunda was a location of great debate when Citi Field opened to the public; it’s where awe and disappointment collided. The recognition of Jackie Robinson, his baseball legacy and his cultural significance are captured exquisitely in a panaromic tribute of videos, words, classic photos and the over-sized No. 42 beaming over fans criss-crossing the space.

Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, said:

“Our history is linked to the Mets and to New York. For me, the tribute being paid to Jackie actually acknowledges his historic career in baseball and, just as important, his impact on our society. So it’s the man, not just the ballplayer, that is being celebrated there.”

The wrinkle, at least among fans, is in the fact that the Citi Field rotunda is more a tribute to the Brooklyn Dodgers than its team, the New York Mets. Team owner Fred Wilpon has publicly shared his friendship with Sandy Koufax and love for the Brooklyn Dodgers as a child.

No debate there.

But what about recognizing the current tenants — the Mets?

Once inside Citi Field, you clearly see and feel the presence of the home team by way of the fans, its massive video and graphics boards and big red home run apple. But there is a feeling, a sense, that what happened at Shea Stadium is being left behind.

Let’s start at the core and that very apple. The home run apple that once was a centerpiece of so many magical Mets moments over the years, is now retired and on display outside the ballpark. It has become a gathering place where fans meet before the game, some climb through the flower bed and take a selfie in front as a memory. Lifelong fans reminisce about Darryl Strawberry’s and Mike Piazza’s moon shots that set off the apple. Good times. Understandably, the old apple was replaced by modern technology and a new, polished red apple that creates new memories every home team home run.

Remember the painted championship flags — 1969 World Series Champions, 1973 National League Champions, 1986 World Series Champions, 1999 Wild Card, 2000 National League Champions, 2006 National League East Champions — on the outfield walls at Shea Stadium? They are now static signs along the third base line. They appear much smaller and insignificant in relation to the eye-popping high tech motion graphics flashing between every pitch.

Championships, and winning, are a symbol of success. They should be prominently displayed. At Citi Field, and maybe by no intent, they’re accomplishments are diminished.

The most disturbing display of disrespect at Citi Field is the franchise Hall of Fame. I have always believed that the New York Mets are a team that has one of professional sports richest and deepest histories. Since Casey Stengel, the Mets have fielded teams (and players) and played in some of the most historic games in baseball history. That’s a lot of years and millions of games.

In response, the Mets have managed to create a small corner off the team store that the team calls the Mets Hall of Fame where maybe a half dozen jerseys, a handful of baseball, a wall of plaques, two World Series trophies and a pair of kiosks loop a short documentary of Mets memories.

Really?

From Casey Stengel to Marv Thronberry, Jimmy Piersall, Gil Hodges, Joan Payson, William Shea, Tom Seaver, 1969, the shoe polish game, Tommie Agee, 1973, Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, the Rose-Harrelson fight, Dave Kingman, the Seaver trade, new owners, Frank Cashen, Darryl Strawberry Dwight Gooden, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, 1986, Game 6 of the NLCS and World Series, Bill Buckner, Bobby Valentine, 1999, Robin Ventura’s walk-off, Mike Piazza, 2000, Subway Series, 9/11, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Endy Chavez, The Catch, 2006, David Wright Jose Reyes … and so many memorable highs and lows in between. There are so many pieces of memorabilia missing, it’s shocking.

The Mets Hall hasn’t evolved or expanded since it opened in 2010. Sure, some items have been rotated in and out, but no expansion. The Mets public relations team, and team historian, need to take a lesson from its colleagues in Cincinnati, who provide the model for team-centric Hall of Fames.

Of course, the Reds have a baseball history that begins in the 1880s. But like I said, the Mets have ample history — and a wealth of memories. It’s time to get to work.