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Piazza Delivery

It has been nearly nine full years since Mike Piazza last played a game at Shea Stadium as a member of the enemy.

In that last contest, on August 21, 1997, he hit a home run. He also homered, off Dwight Gooden no less, the first time he came to Shea Stadium with the enemy, back when he was an unknown rookie on April 27, 1993.

As good as he was when he was a Met, Piazza has been 10 times better against the Mets. In 48 games against the Flushing 9, Piazza has a .341 batting average with 12 home runs and 35 RBI. Among active players with at least 200 plate appearances against the Mets, only Derek Jeter (.374) and Todd Helton (.362) have higher batting averages.

The one good thing about Piazza's return to Shea Stadium on Tuesday night. He can't beat the Mets in walk-off fashion.

But that doesn't mean he hasn't done it before.

We flash back to July 8, 1994, just prior to the All-Star Break, with the humdrum Mets closing out the first half in Los Angeles for four games. The pitching matchup for the second of this series pitted Pete Smith against Orel Hershiser, so you wouldn't exactly term that favorable, nor would you expect much from the Mets after Piazza's first inning blast gave the Dodgers a 2-0 lead.

But the 1994 squad had a little bit more fight than the embarassing predecessors of the year prior. They got the score back to 2-2 after four innings and Smith rebounded to match Hershiser pitch for pitch.

The Mets thought they had taken the lead in the 7th inning when, with two on and two out, Todd Hundley creamed Hershiser's last pitch of the night to centerfield. Brett Butler raced back, leaped and stretched over the fence and robbed Hundley of a 3-run homer. The Dodgers crowd gave Butler a standing ovation described to be as loud and as long as there had been at Chavez Ravine in quite some time.

The catch was the story of the game and overshadowed the ending of this contest, which didn't come until the 10th inning. The Mets mustered little after Butler's snatch and it was just a matter of time before the Dodgers would seize the opportunity to win.

With two outs and nobody on Delino Deshields singled, than stole second, a move that could potentially take the bat out of the hands of the Dodgers best hitter. Instead, Piazza, with the count 3-2, got too good of a pitch from Mets reliever Roger Mason. The result was a single to right field that plated Deshields with the winning run.

You would think that the Mets would have learned their lesson at that point, and perhaps they did, but by the 14th inning of their game in Los Angeles on April 9, 1997, it might have slipped from memory.

You see, that night was the last of a grueling 9-game West Coast trip to start the season and it was one that didn't begin pleasantly, thanks to a 1o-run inning on Opening Day and three extra-inning walk-off defeats.

The last came that Wednesday and dropped the squad to 3-6. The Dodgers flawless bullpen, which hadn't allowed a run all season to that day, finally yielded one with two outs in the 9th, when new Met John Olerud's single tied the score, 2-2.

If there was one positive to come out of the day, it was that the game marked a turning point for another new Met, Rick Reed, who threw five scoreless innings, keeping the game even from the 9th through the 13th.

With Reed out in the 14th, the Dodgers again seized upon the chance to win. Butler reached on an infield hit, and went to second on a sacrifice. Raul Mondesi's ground ball to third was butchered by corner man Butch Huskey, giving the Dodgers runners on the corners with one out.

It was here that Bobby Valentine decided to push his luck. Rather than have pitcher Barry Manuel issue an intentional pass to set up a force at any base (and bring up Eric Karros, who hit into a DP earlier in the day), he had Manuel pitch to Piazza. That's what we in the biz call a mismatch. On a 1-0 pitch, Piazza lined a game-ending single to center.

The Mets were fortunate that of the 11 games they played against the Dodgers that season, that Piazza only played in six of them. In 1997, Piazza hit a career-best .362 with 40 home runs and 124 RBI in 152 games.

The next season, the Mets came to their senses and realized that if they couldn't beat Piazza, they might as well get him to join them. By the end of May 1998, Piazza was a member of the team and a significant player in the club's history. For that, on Tuesday night, many will show their thanks.

True Metazzas know...Active players with more than one walk-off RBI against the Mets include Jim Edmonds (3), Brian Jordan (2), Derrek Lee (2), Mark Kotsay (2), and Mike Piazza (2).


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