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I Want My Turn At Bat

I can remember a game from my disastrous final season of Little League in which we trailed by 10 runs or so in the final inning. With two outs, I was on deck,with a runner on third and two outs. The opposing pitcher threw one that was slightly askew, but our baserunner wasn't quick enough scampering down the line, and was thrown out at the plate to end the game. It wasn't a smart play at the time, but our team wasn't exactly known for it's baseball intellect.

It isn't so much the ridiculousness of the play I remember, but the reaction on the face of the batter to what happened.

"Man," he said to his mom and dad. "They didn't even give me a chance to hit."

It would be about a dozen years later that I'd see that look again, only this time, it came from a New York Met.

There was no doubt that the Mets were going to win the 162nd game of the 1999 season to either win the wild card, or set up a one game playoff against the Cincinnati Reds. Well actually, there was a lot of doubt, especially considering that the Simon men were going to be at the game. To that point, my dad and I had a history of attendance at bad Mets moments (homers by Cedeno, Pendleton and Scioscia among them), and I had just spread some negative karma a week prior, attending a game in Philadelphia. That Sunday, with the Mets trailing by a run, I had last-out clairvoyance, predicting that "The Mets will load the bases and not score." When Rickey Henderson hit into a game-ending double play with the bags drunk, my traveling companion Barry Federovitch, was ready to assault me. It got worse on the car ride home when we learned that Pokey Reese hit a walk-off home run for the Reds.

The Mets had won the previous two days and were helped by the Brewers, who beat the Reds twice to even the wild card race. Sunday's pitching matchup featured veteran Orel Hershiser for the Mets and future-Met Kris Benson for the Pirates. The PA system played "Baby I'm Ready to Go" for Hershiser's warmups, but it was the Pirates who scored first. Benson nursed a 1-0 lead into the fourth before the Mets tied it on Darryl Hamilton's RBI double.

Hershiser was terrific for 5 1/3 innings, allowing only one run and two hits. The parade of relievers that followed were also up for the challenge provided that day by Benson, who scattered just seven hits and that lone run over seven excellent innings.

The score remained even after Armando Benitez got the final out of the ninth inning and the Mets came to bat against their former farmhand, Greg Hansell. With one out, Melvin Mora singled and Edgardo Alfonzo advanced him to third base by singling him to right field. With John Olerud up next, Pirates manager Gene Lamont called for an intentional walk, figuring he had a better chance to retire Mike Piazza, who was 0-for-4 in the game, and who had a tendency to beat certain pitches into the ground for easy double plays.

Another former Met entered the game in submarine-style pitcher Brad Clontz, whose Flushing tenure lasted a mere two games in 1998. Bizarre conspiracy theorists may suggest that Clontz wanted to help out his former club, but he insisted after the game that his only desire was to get Piazzza out.

Clontz's first pitch barely made it two-thirds of the way to the plate. It skidded away from catcher Joe Oliver all the way to the backstop. Mora raced home with the winning run. It was a great moment in the history of the New York Mets. Though they were not assured of any playoff fate (rain in Milwaukee delayed the Reds-Brewers finale) for six hours, the Mets were assured of having forced a one-game playoff at worst and clinched the wild card at best. That was unbelievable, considering that on Friday they were two games back with three to play in what looked to be another season of bitter disappointment.

The best way to describe Piazza's reaction to the events that unfolded would be to use the words that the doctor used, testifying at the trial of Massachusetts vs Seinfeld, Costanza, Benes, and Kramer.

Restrained jubilation.

Piazza was no doubt elated that the Mets had won, but the look on his face said, "Man, I wanted to be the one to win this thing."

I hold no grudge against Piazza for wanting to bat in that ninth inning spot. This was the situation for which he was brought to Shea Stadium, to hit the Mets into the postseason. This was going to be his magic moment. He, like the batter in my Little League game, wanted his chance to make something special happen.

The good news for Piazza was that there were still plenty of special Mets moments to come.

True Metazza know...The Mets have had 10 walk-off wins in which the game ended on a wild pitch (there's an asterisk here, but I'll explain it another time). The last such game was this one, on October 3, 1999.


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