The 2000 New York Mets are following up their ’99 Renaissance with a solid wild card lead. The squad they beat with a Todd Pratt walk-off in the division series are the closest at 4 1/2 games back. The two teams have split the first two games at Shea going into a Sunday afternoon game looking for the series win.
On the mound for the Mets is Mike Hampton, the 27-year-old, 5’10″ southpaw from Chrystal River HS in Florida. The Mets traded for Mike in the off-season and he has pitched rather well, although he and the Mets had a scare his last time out on August 17.
“(3rd baseman) Robin Ventura detected the grimace when Mike Hampton hit a grounder in the third inning. The next indication was Hampton’s trot to first base.
Ventura approached Hampton during his warmup pitches the next inning. ‘I know you want two more innings but if you keep pitching and really hurt yourself, the next two months aren’t going to be too good,’ Ventura said he told him.”
–Rafael Hermoso, New York Times, 08/18/2000
X-rays showed a pre-existing stress fracture in Mike’s right ribs, one he said he suffered in a 1989 high school football game. Along with that, it appeared he strained an oblique. For precautionary reasons, Hampton skipped his scheduled Tuesday start in San Diego and was penciled in for this big game.
“Athletic trainers said Hampton could do no further damage, basing his ability to pitch on tolerating pain….’There’s a difference between having pain and being hurt,’ Hampton said.’This is just a pain.’ ”
-Hermoso, NYT, 08/28/2000
He is 12-7 with a 3.38 ERA going into play.
Leading off for the Diamondbacks is right fielder Danny Bautista. He is 2 for 7 in the series. Their is a nervous buzz within the walls of Shea, as every single one of the 42,277 people want to see how Hampton responds to the rest. He looks in, sets and pitches a fastball outside. On a 1-1 count, Bautista pops it up to 2nd baseman Edgardo Alfonzo, who pockets the ball for Out Number 1. The next batter, 2nd baseman Jay Bell, singles right through the middle for the 1st hit of the ball game. He steals 2nd with left fielder Luis Gonzalez up, and travels to 3rd when L-Gon grounds to short. With a runner 90 feet away and 2 out, Hampton gets the ground ball he needs and escapes the inning unscathed.
On the mound for Arizona is Armando Reynoso, the 34-year-old, 6’0″ former-Met right-hander from Jalisco, MX. Though he is having a mediocre season, Armando is certainly ready to deal today. He gets left fielder Benny Agbayani to fly out to Deep right, right fielder Darryl Hamilton to dribble one in front of the pitcher, and Fonzie to strike out looking. With that, we are scoreless through 1.
Manager Bobby Valentine is having a conniption with basically every action Hampton performs. Mike gets the out at 1st to open up the 3rd by diving towards the 1st base side for a grounder, and he takes a huge cut at a 1st-pitch fastball in the bottom of the 3rd, even though pitching coach Dave Wallace advised against it.
” ‘Be smart with this thing. Use your head.’
Hampton said the swing was instinctive when he saw a pitch over the plate. “
The top of the 4th gets started with a bang when Agbayani homers on the 2nd pitch he sees. The Mets take a 1-0 lead, but it was all they would get for a while. Hampton’s only sour inning is the 5th, when 7 of his first 8 pitches are balls. After issuing a lead-off walk to catcher Kelly Stinnett, Hampton gives up a 2-out single to Bautista that knots the game up at 1.
Ventura nearly gives the Mets the lead once more, but center fielder Steve Finley leaps at the wall much like he did in the fall. This time, however, he makes the catch, going 3 feet over to take the home run away.
‘ ”You have to get it out of his reach to be sure,” Ventura said. ‘You just shake your head and go back to the dugout.’ “
The Diamondbacks are in must-win mode, and while they’ve gotten a valiant effort from their pitcher, they really need to lock this game down. Still, manager Buck Showalter decides to leave his pitcher in the game to start the bottom of the 7th, with the score still tied at 1. Catcher Mike Piazza and Fonzie both hit 1-out singles to put runners at 1st and 2nd for Robin Ventura. With a 1-1 count on the 3rd baseman, Reynoso tries to pick off Edgardo but fails, and replays prove it. Armando, however, seems angry, and is visibly frazzled by the umpire’s call. He throws 3 straight balls to Robin, who takes the walk, loading the bases for 1st baseman Todd Zeile. Zeile hits s dribbler between shortstop and 3rd. All shortstop Hanley Frias can do is get the force-out at 2nd, and the Mets take a 2-1 lead. That’s it for Reynoso, as Buck calls on Byung-Hyun Kim to finish the inning.
All Hampton needs is the extra run, as he gets through the 8th for a fantastic outing. He gives up only the run on 3 hits, 2 walks and 3 strikeouts. He lowers his ERA to 3.27 and is 4-0 with a 2.18 ERA in his last 6 starts. Closer Armando Benitez locks down the win with his 35th save of the year, an error by center fielder Jay Payton notwithstanding.
” ‘It’s late in the season,” Hampton said. ”I’m not out there just trying to get through. I’m out there trying to help my team win.’ ”
” ‘If he wasn’t 100 percent, I’d hate to see him healthy,’ Arizona Manager Buck Showalter said. ‘He was outstanding. He was the difference.’ “
Though he pitches with pain the whole way through, Hampton finishes strong and lowers his ERA to 3.14 with a 15-10 record. The Mets win the wild card and breeze through the Giants and Cardinals for the Pennant. Though they lose to the Yankees in the World Series in 5, the season is one of the most fun campaigns in the History of the Orange and Blue (and, for over a decade more, Black.)
The 2000 New York Mets.