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Unscripted Walk-Off

The comeback attempts of Sammy Sosa and Paul Wilson are intertwined by the moment in Mets history that they share in common. While Sosa is having success in his comeback attempt with the Rangers, Paul Wilson's bid to return from injury to the Reds was halted by news of his release the other day.

Paul Wilson is a lesson to the likes of Mike Pelfrey, Phil Humber and Joe Smith, that things don't always work out as they planned. They can go awfully well for awhile, to the point where you think you're invincible, only to shatter in an instant or two. Baseball life can be extraordinarily frustrating when great expectations are unfulfilled and Wilson is the poster child for that.

Let's go back to Wilson's rookie season, 1996, his only season with the Mets, and remember how bright the future was for the trio of Wilson, a collegiate No. 1 pick, Jason Isringhausen and Bill Pulsipher. It was May 3 at Wrigley Field and the Mets were facing the Cubs in the first of three games. It was the sixth start of Wilson's career and in many ways, it was his finest big league moment.

Lance Johnson's speed helped create two early runs for the Mets, who took a 2-1 lead in the third, at which point the game turned into a quick-paced duel between Wilson and Jaimie Navarro. Wilson allowed two hits in the first, but was flawless for the next seven innings, allowing just one baserunner and retiring 18 straight in one stretch. Through eight innings, he had eight strikeouts. New York Times writer George Willis, in a moment of hyperbole, compared the outing to those thrown by Gooden and Seaver.

The score held at 2-1 into the last of the ninth and Dallas Green decided to stick it out with his starter and give him a taste of what real pressure was like.

Scott Bullett led off the ninth and got on base the only way the Cubs could at that point, by bunting for a hit. Undaunted, Wilson struck out both Brian McRae and Ryne Sandberg, and even Bullett's stealing second didn't deter Green's plan of getting his pitcher the CG.

With two outs and Bullett on second, Mark Grace was the batter, and the newspaper stories laid out the situation thusly. Pitch to Grace, who was hitting .370, or skip him, put the winning run on base and roll the dice against Sammy Sosa. The decision was made easier by the stats, which told us that Sosa was in the midst of simultaneous slumps of 0-for-18 and 1-for-28 with 18 strikeouts. Grace was walked.

The one thing about slumps is that eventually, they reach an end-point, and in this case, the end of Sosa's slump, meant the end of the game. He crushed a poorly-placed slider over the left field fence and onto Waveland Avenue for a game-winning three-run home run.

"That home run is not supposed to be part of the script," Mets outfielder Bernard Gilkey told the media that day, and unfortunately, the thriller of a career that Paul Wilson had to that point was soon to turn into a horror flick.

Wilson went on to make 20 more starts for the Mets. Some resembled that one. Many of the others did not. He finished up 5-12 with a 5.38 ERA. In the offseason, surgery was necessary for a torn up shoulder. It was the first in a slew of significant injuries, both to his shoulder and elbow, that kept him from returning to the major leagues for the next three seasons. When he did return, it was not as a Met, but as a Devil Ray. There were flashes of the brilliance shown in this game, particularly in 2004, when Wilson went 11-6 for Cincinnati, but there have been more bad moments than good ones.

Wilson pitched 13 1/3 unfortunately ineffective innings with the Reds this spring, in attempting to return to the majors after another injury led to a yearlong hiatus.

Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News wrote this other day:

"He was a camp favorite — the hardest worker, the earliest arrival each day. He had an upbeat attitude and a willingness to help younger pitchers. "

Unfortunately, just as it was on that May day in 1996, that just wasn't good enough.

True Metsons know...Sammy Sosa has two career walk-off home runs against the Mets, with the second coming just two days after the first one.


Anonymous said…
That afternoon something at work drove me to mangle a set of venetian blinds, throw some furniture, whatever was handy. I was really steamed.

Then, couldn't have been more than five minutes later, Sosa off Wilson. I wanted to restart the office carnage all over again but I'd glumly decided I'd already had my tantrum for the month and just stared at the tiny pitcher walking off the tiny mound on the tiny screen I kept around for the occasional Channel 9 affair.

What a crappy afternoon.

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