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World Baseball Walk-Off

Apparently there's some sort of basketball tournament taking place these weeks, with 16 franchises remaining to see who's the best of the best. My interest in that is somewhat minimized because I can't really seem to find a rooting interest. I didn't attend one of those Division I places where they make such a big deal about basketball that you'd think they actually make money off the games.

Likewise, I haven't really cared too much for this World Baseball Classic and must admit that the other day, when I saw Alex Rodriguez batting in the ninth inning against Mexico, I was hoping that he would enter a state of eternal goathood, even at the expense of a Team USA defeat.

Maybe I'll write about this NCAA Tournament at some point, but since the World Baseball Classic went down to the final two teams last night (Japan and Cuba for those as unintrigued as I), I'll pen something related to that competition.

It caught my ear the other day that the Japanese baseball team has a player on it named Tsuyoshi. I was disappointed to learn that it wasn't Shinjo because perhaps his presence would have made this thing worth watching.

Tsuyoshi Shinjo wasn't a great Met, particularly when you consider the mediocrity of his second stint with the team, but he was a fun Met. He packed a fair share of memorable moments into a brief tenure, particularly as the Mets made what I like to call their "Why Not Us?" chase to the top of the NL East in 2001.

Shinjo had a couple of neat skills. For one, he liked to flip his bat when he hit a home run. Pitchers didn't like this, but fans did. Pitchers also didn't like Shinjo's success in bases-loaded situations. He went 7-for-12 with four doubles and two walks in such spots in that debut campaign.

My favorite Shinjo memory is actually of a defensive play he made in the 8th inning of that ill-fated September 23rd series finale against the Braves (the first of two "Why us?" games in which the Mets bullpen failed to hold significant ninth inning leads). With the Mets protecting a one-run cushion Shinjo raced back to the fence to snare what could have been a game-tying hit by Bernard Gilkey, one that, with the help of a blown call at third base, turned into an inning-ending double play.

Shinjo's ability was such that you wanted him in the game because he had an ability for making things right. I venture the memory bank back to a game against the Florida Marlins on July 18, 2001 when the Mets sat double-digits out of first place. The Mets were in the midst of a mini-win streak and honored Bobby Valentine that night, for having recently reached 1,000 wins. Some early wackiness, involving a goofy play in which two Mets occupied third base during the fourth inning was the story in the papers the next day, as Valentine successfully lobbied for a call that turned out to net the Mets a run, but the story of more pertinence to us took place in the late innings.

The Mets led by a run going into the seventh but the Marlins rallied with two to take a one-run edge into the last of the ninth. Six-fingered Antonio Alfonseca tried to close the Mets out, but a one-out hit by Desi Relaford apparently made him skittish. Shinjo, fresh off a monthlong DL stint, was next and he was plunked by an Alfonseca pitch.

With runners on first and second, the Mets had their best man up in Mike Piazza. Alfonseca got two quick strikes, than induced Piazza to ground to short. Perhaps Marlins shortstop Alex Gonzalez got a little flustered by Shinjo's presence on the basepaths. He double-clutched the ball, than threw well wide of second, allowing Relaford to score the tying run and Shinjo to advance to third. Gonzalez atoned, throwing Shinjo out at the plate after the next batter, Benny Agbayani grounded to short. That left us with some bonus baseball.

The Marlins loaded the bases in the 10th inning but the always-reliable Turk Wendell got Mike Lowell to fly to Shinjo in right field to end the threat. In the last of the 11th, Shinjo came up with Joe McEwing on first base. He lined an offering into the right center gap. Marlins outfielder Eric Owens made a valiant dive but was unable to spear the baseball, and it rolled past his helpless grasp. McEwing came all the way home with the winning run.

It should be noted that this winning hit came against relief pitcher Vladimir Nunez (a Havana native), making this, as my luck would have it, the story of a Japanese player triumphing over a Cuban one.

True Metjos know... Shinjo, who had 11 game-winning RBI in 2001, became the first Japanese player to play in the World Series, doing so for the 2002 Giants. Also of note, Shinjo and Rod Gaspar share the Mets team record for assists by a rookie outfielder with 12

Comments

Anonymous said…
Great game for Shinjo indeed.

The classic moment in the 4th was the fault of Rey Ordonez. Todd Zeile was on third (he'd singled) and Ordonez on second (his double advancing Zeile).

The next batter, Appier, hits the ball into the infield, with both runners initially starting to advance. Zeile is looked back to third and gets back safely, but Rey also arrives into third. Appier reaches first safely.

Initially, after Tony Perez gets his say in, Zeile is called out, but Bobby V. shows up, knowing the rules better than the umps do, as he always did, and now we've got a great show going.

He gets them to correct the call, with Ordonez called out. Tony Perez then comes storming back out. We all know he's getting tossed once he leaves the dugout but he gets a nice show in regardless.

Next batter, McEwing, brings Zeile home with a crucial run that allowed the Shinjo-magic.

Thanks for bringing back that fond memory.

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