In the year 1999, the Mets thrilled us with one of the greatest teams they have ever fielded. From Mike Piazza to Edgardo Alfonzo and Al Leiter to Rick Reed, the 1999 Metropolitan squad left many fans with memories that will last a lifetime. On Thursday, May 20, 1999, fan favorite Robin Ventura produced a memory that only makes sense next to his name.
The Mets and the Brewers set up for a single-admission doubleheader on this day at Shea, with Al Leiter taking the ball for game 1, which began at 4:42PM. He struck out Mark Loretta swinging to open the game, but then Lou Collier quickly dispelled notions of a No-Hitter with a double to left field. Leiter then, however, got Jeff Cirillo to ground out to 3rd and Jeromy Burnitz to line out to short.
In the bottom half, Jim Abbott started for the Brewers and quickly got both Roger Cedeno and Jermaine Allensworth out. He then, however, walked John Olerud, gave up a single to Mike Piazza and walked Edgardo Alfonzo to load the bases for the man you do not want the base loaded against. Up walked Robin Ventura, and he quickly ran the count to 3-2 on 5 pitches. Jim Abbott stared in, wound up and threw the sixth pitch to Ventura, who drilled it deep down the right field line for the 13th Grand Slam of his career. The 19,542 who came to see lots of baseball on this Thursday afternoon went wild, and the Mets jumped out to a 4-0 lead.
Things were calm until the 3rd inning, when the Brew Crew got 3 back on Leiter. They were able to tie the game in the 4th on an error by Al, but the Mets quickly took that lead back in the bottom half on Milwaukee’s own E1. Leiter went out for the top of the 5th looking to lock it down after the lead was handed back to him, but unfortunately let the Brewers score twice to take their own 1-run lead. The Mets would have none of that on this day, though, and led off the bottom of the 5th with singles by both Mike Piazza and Edgardo Alfonzo. After Robin Ventura flew out to left field for the first out (since their wasn’t that extra runner he wanted), the Brewers manager gave Jim Abbott the hook. The new pitcher, Steve Falteisek, entered the game to face Benny Agbayani, and on a 2-1 pitch the Hawaiian crushed the ball to deep left-center field for a 3-run home run, and the Mets had the lead back, 8-6.
They scored 3 more times on a 2-run home run by Piazza in the 6th and a solo shot by Benny in the 7th for his 2nd home run of the game. It was looking good for the Mets with an 11-6 lead, but things would not be that easy.
In the top of the 8th, Queens-born Allen Watson, who had been pitching for the Mets since the 6th, gave up a 3-run home run, cutting the score to 11-9. The Mets tried to get some of that back in the bottom half, but could not turn a couple walks into runs. John Franco was brought in for the 9th trying to hold the 2-run lead.
In his normal nail-biting way, Franco gave up a double to Marquis Grissom to lead off the inning. He then, however, got Bobby Hughes to strike out swinging on 3 pitches. Alex Ochoa then walked, putting runners on 1st and 2nd for a young Ronnie Belliard. He put a scare into the Shea faithful by sending a long fly ball to deep left-center. It was, however, caught for the 2nd out. The crowd cheered on as Sean Berry walked up to the plate to pinch-hit for the latest Brewers pitcher. On a 1-1 count, Franco threw and Berry popped it up to Alfonzo at 2nd base for what appeared to be an easy last out. Only Edgardo dropped the ball, and Grissom scored for the 10th run. The fans clinched their heads in fright as Ochoa trucked around the bases as the tying run, but Cedeno was alert enough to pick the dropped ball up and throw it home to tag Ochoa, who didn’t bother to slide. As the evening sky dimmed, the Mets were able to hold off the Brew Crew and win the game 11-10.
The 2nd game, which began at 8:47PM, did not hold the same drama, with Masato Yoshii going 7 innings of 1-run ball, the Mets winning 10-1. In the 4th, however, Robin Ventura found himself in familiar territory with a Met clogging up every base. Fans in the park thought to themselves, “Wouldn’t that be awesome if he did it again?” The count ran full on 5 pitches once more, and on the 6th pitch, Ventura sent it soaring down the right field line yet again for the 14th Grand Slam of his career and the 2nd Grand Slam in as many games, let alone his 2nd Grand Slam of the doubleheader. Fans who did not know at the time that they were witnessing history later found out when they turned on the highlights that Ventura was (and still is) the only player to ever hit a Grand Slam in both games of a doubleheader. Ventura would finish his career with 18 Grand Slams, good for a tie with Willie McCovey for 5th on the all-time Grand Slam list.
The 2 wins that day brought the 1999 New York Mets to 23-18 on the year. They would go on to a 97-66 record (including a 1-game playoff win against the Cincinnati Reds), and would put a scare into those Atlanta Braves in the Championship Series, vying to become the 1st team in baseball history to come back from a 3-0 series deficit. Alas, it was not meant to be, as Kenny Rogers walked the Braves to the World Series in the 6th game. In a year filled with unbelievable memories, however, the twin bill on this date in 1999 most certainly ranks near the top.