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Rickey Being Rickey

I'm having a hard time reconciling the fact that Rickey Henderson is back in a Mets uniform, albeit as a "coach," with the memories of one of the most frustrating days of baseball I can remember- September 26, 1999.

The second of what appeared to be annual Mets freefalls was in the midst of occurring that day. The team was in the process of gagging away a playoff spot having lost five straight, including three crushers to the Braves. Yet on this Sunday afternoon, my friend Barry Federovitch and I trekked to Veterans Stadium from Trenton to torture ourselves by watching the Mets take on the Phillies.

I think the ticket sales windowperson sensed that we were not pro-Philadelphia people and decided to punish us, telling us the best available seats, on a day the ballpark was more than half empty, were buried out towards centerfield, with a mix of some rather grotesque townsfolk (no offense to the residents of that city). No offense was what the Mets had that day, as they were totally inept against Paul Byrd, just as they were against Joe Grahe and Robert Person in the two days prior.

An ex-Met struck the first blow against Rick Reed, who deserved far better for his performance on this date. The Phillies deserved far worse, having entered the day 12-34 in their previous 46 games. Reed allowed a two-run homer in the fourth inning to Rico Brogna, giving the Phillies a little cushion, to which they added a run in the fifth inning. Meanwhile the Phillies defense was making the kinds of plays that land on Web Gems, only they seemed to be taking place every other inning. By the seventh inning, Barry wanted to leave, as he could not stand the noises being emoted by the fans around him, but that's not the sort of thing I do. If there's baseball torture to be seen, I wish to bear witness in person.

In the seventh, the Mets finally struck gold, or coal, or whatever it was that had prevented them from finishing any sort of rally. Rey Ordonez singled in both Darryl Hamilton and Robin Ventura, making it a one-run game at 3-2, but that charge was halted and the score stood there entering the ninth inning .

You might recall that I have clairvoyant moments from time to time and it was at this time that I chose to utter words I have since come to regret.

"Barry," I said, and he'll vouch to this day that it's true. "Watch the Mets load the bases here and not score."

It took a heck of a rally for that to take place. Hamilton walked. Ordonez walked. Even pinch-hitter Bobby Bonilla walked. So now the moment of truth was upon us. Bases loaded. One out. Rickey Henderson coming up.

Phillies manager Terry Francona, in the spirit of the moment, yanked Gomes in favor of Steve Montgomery, a medicore journeyman who had never previously saved a big league game. This will be the one that he'll probably be telling his grandchildren about.

Now, I must say that prior to this at-bat, I liked Rickey Henderson as a Met. He worked counts. He was a tough out, even in the elderly days of his career. His humorous commentary on baseball and life was refreshing. Henderson had just gotten knocked for failing to run out a double-play ball, but I was willing to live with that based on his previous successes.

Henderson worked himself into an 0-2 hole, then hit a smashing line drive. On a good day, it's a single, just past the second baseman. On this day, nonprospect David Doster fielded it on one hop, calmly flipped to shortstop Desi Relaford for one out and Relaford's subsequent throw to first beat Henderson easily for a game-ending double-play. I can still hear the cries of anguish from our section, with the Mets fans gagging and the Phillies fans gloating, to this day. They are painful memories. So was Barry's stare of despair.

The drive back to our newspaper, where we both now had to work, was not a pleasant one. It was made worse by the fact that Ed Coleman and Mets Extra went to commercial with the Cardinals leading our nearest rival the Reds, than returned with the news that a Pokey Reese walk-off home run (you knew a walk-off something was coming, right?) had vaulted the Reds past the Mets and into the wild card lead. We were about two minutes from the office at that point, and when we pulled in, I'll never forget this: Barry let me out of the car first. He couldn't bear to get out, so he went for a drive, leaving me to suffer in silence. It was probably best for both of us to commiserate by ourselves, at least for a few minutes.

Of course, the nice thing is that that story is basically the prelude that sets up the final week of the 1999 season, the conclusion of which is one of the great Mets memories of my lifetime. But I'm someone that still holds a grudge and Henderson hasn't exactly endeared himself to Mets followers since. If you read his quotes from when this hiring was announced, it sounds almost like he's expecting to not only coach, but to be given a few courtesy ABs at some opportunity. I'm all for extending kindness and goodwill towards the aged, but that might be a bit too much for me to handle.

True Metdersons know...That Rickey Henderson and Steve Montgomery (the pitcher who induced that double-play ball) share Christmas Day as a birthdate.


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