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On 'Gardo

I'm a little late to the gate on this one, since Edgardo Alfonzo got traded from the Giants to the Angels last week, but I was in the middle of my holiday week tribute, which I didn't want to disturb.

I don't think Alfonzo would mind.

It didn't seem like much bothered Alfonzo during his eight-year tenure with the Mets. The guy was pretty much unflappable, regardless of the situation and it's a shame that Giants fans didn't get to see him during the prime of his career. Alfonzo wasn't a superstar but he developed into a terrific player One of these days, I'm going to make a list of the most clutch Mets of all-time (I have a date in the future in mind) and the only players guaranteed spots, in my mind, are Keith Hernandez, John Olerud, and Alfonzo. It didn't matter if he played second or third, hit second, third or wherever, Alfonzo was clutch at the plate, on the bases, and in the field.

Finding examples of the latter two are difficult, so you'll just have to take my word on that, but I can tell you plenty of examples of his "plate clutchness." For now, you'll have to settle for one, and I'm actually going to avoid referencing a walk-off.

On April 9, 1998, an episode of Friends aired titled "The One With All The Haste" aired on NBC. One of the plots had Chandler and Joey betting their new apartment to try to win Knicks tickets from Monica and Rachel. The gang drew cards, with the high card winning and in the climactic moment, Rachel picked a Queen from the deck, leaving very little possibility for the men to win.

Joey gets ready to pick and does so with a little showmanship. "Uh-huh, not as high as..."Joey says, at which point there's an ever-so-slight dramatic pause as he picks a card...

"It worked!!! King!"
(at which point the men celebrate and the women commiserate)

I bring this up because four months and 20 days later, I had my own little such episode "when the Mets were in Los Angeles to play the Dodgers. I was at the Trenton Times that day, with an assignment whose subject escapes me. I don't remember why (maybe it had something to do with FOX), but for some reason at around 7pm, I wound up sitting by the one computer with internet access and logged on to AOL.

The Mets didn't exactly start a Murderers Row lineup that day. The 5-6-7 slots were occupied by Brian McRae, Jermaine Allensworth and Luis Lopez, so it makes sense that Al Leiter only got two runs of support, while allowing three, through the first eight innings. The Mets were down 3-2 going to the top of the ninth inning.

Nowadays, there are a million scoretrackers on sites like Yahoo, CBS Sportsline, ESPN.com and MLB.com, but back in 1998, the only reliable one for me was on AOL Sports. So I sat and stared at the small rectangular box that relayed the count, pitch-by-pitch.

The first two Mets, pinch-hitters Lenny Harris and Matt Franco, made outs against closer Jeff Shaw, putting the Dodgers within an out of a win. Tony Phillips, who didn't do much of a positive nature during his Mets career, worked a walk on a 3-1 pitch, bringing Alfonzo to the plate.

I had a longstanding argument with one of this blog's occasional contributors, Times copy editor Barry Federovitch, as to who was a better player: Edgardo Alfonzo or Jeff Kent. For me, there was no question that it was Alfonzo, even as Kent put up gargantuan numbers in San Francisco, the argument came down to this. In a situation such as the one taking place now, there was no hitter I'd rather have at the plate.

So I'm sitting at this computer, and I'm in full beg-and-plead mode with a piece of machinery over something I couldn't see or hear, taking place 3,000 miles away. "Cmon....hit a home run...hit a home run...hit a home run."

Alfonzo battled through a lot of the 4,562 plate appearances (postseason included) that made up his Mets career and this one would serve as the example for his ability to do so. Shaw and Alfonzo battled to a 2-2 count and the Mets third baseman managed to foul off the next two offerings.

When you're sitting and watching a baseball game via computer update (sans audio/video), there is nothing like the anguish of the lengthy at-bat. You stop everything you're doing. If you have to go to the bathroom, you hold it in. If the screen stays the same for too long, you jiggle the mouse to make sure you didn't have a dreaded freeze-up. You start to mutter to yourself. Sometimes you say things like "There's no way we can win this game" (I borrow that from a colleague of mine, fellow Mets fan Gordon Mann, who recorded a brilliant commercial on this subject, using basketball as his example). Sometimes you say things like

"C'mon...hit a home run...hit a home run...hit a home run."

Shaw, as it turned out, was overworked at this time of year, a season in which he registered a career-best 48 saves. He would get some rest after this contest and it would pay off, because the next 10 times he entered a game, he closed it out. Had I been on another score-tracker, I might have known that Edgardo Alfonzo entered the at-bat with four hits in seven times up against Shaw and that the odds were in our favor. On this occurrence, Shaw tried to finish Alfonzo with a fastball. Alfonzo was still young then (allegedly 25). He could get around on such a pitch. On this one, he got all the way around and crushed it to left-center field.

The AOL update changed suddenly. The words "HOME RUN" appeared on the screen, in the results section.

Well, in the words of Joey Tribiani. "It worked!!!"

Alfonzo was the King in this case and the Mets had certainly just drawn a high card. Sometimes it's true, when there's a will, there's a way.

The funny thing, if I recall correctly, is that in my moment of jubilance, I wandered back over to the sports department. Someone flipped the TV on, and sure enough, there was the Mets-Dodgers game, live and in color. "The One With All The Haste" apparently also applied to my decision to race to the computer, but that was alright. John Franco sweated out the ninth, allowing a hit and a walk, but escaped, and the Mets had a 4-3 win, and after the Cubs lost later that night, the lead in the wild-card race.

My cousins, Michael and Matthew, gave me an Edgardo Alfonzo card as part of their families holiday gift. On the back of this 2002 Opening Day card, there's a quote from longtime major league coach Rich Donnelly, who calls Alfonzo "probably the most respected player in the game. He...honors baseball through the way he plays." So I guess to call him a 'Baseball Angel' is appropriate now in more ways than one.

True Metfonzos know...Edgardo Alfonzo had three walk-off hits and a walk-off sacrifice fly while with the New York Mets.

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