The Mets will look to get something, anything, going this weekend when the Miami Marlins come to town. And this week on “Glory Days,” we take a look at the man the then-Florida Marlins acquired along with Mike Piazza in that historic trade from the Dodgers in 1998 (the Fish would hold on to him for just a while longer than they did Piazza, but not by much). It’s the best baseball day ever for the last New York World Series first baseman: Todd Zeile.
Dateline: May 27, 2000. The Mets are at Busch Stadium to take on eventual NLCS foes the St. Louis Cardinals. Batting sixth for the Amazin’s, in between Robin Ventura and Benny Agbayani, is first baseman Todd Zeile, who signed with New York over the offseason after a year and a half stint with the Rangers. In the 1st inning the good guys tag Cardinal starter Andy Benes for five runs: an RBI double by Edgardo Alfonso and back-to-back jacks by Ventura and Zeile.
Now you would think the game would be pretty much over at this point. A five-run lead after the first? Surely that’s enough for New York’s Rick Reed to work with. No dice: Reed lasted just three innings on the hill and let the Redbirds tie the game before his departure. A Mike Piazza home run gave the Mets the lead again in the 4th, but two St. Louis runs came in the next half inning on Rich Rodriguez’s watch. And when Pat Mahomes let in another in the 6th, what started out as a banner day for the orange and blue appeared to be all but washed out.
But the sun was about to shine again. Jon Nunnally led off with a walk against Heathcliff Slocumb in the 8th, and Alfonso was on right after when Craig Paquette booted a ball at third base. After Dave Veres was brought on in relief, Piazza walked, and suddenly the Mets had the bases loaded without the benefit of a hit. Up came Mark Johnson, pinch-hitting for the pitcher after a double switch, looking to be the hero. But this is edition of Glory Days is about the man who came up to bat after Johnson struck out looking, and on a 1-1 pitch from Veres, Todd Zeile stunned sucked the life out of the 48,690 in attendance by blasting a grand slam. Unlike Ventura’s from the playoffs the previous year, all these runs counted, and the Mets were back on top 10-8. New York added insurance runs in the 9th from RBIs by Piazza and Jay Payton, and John Franco sat down the Redbirds 1-2-3 by way of the K to end a wild one at the Gateway to the West. Final score: 12-8. Zeile’s final line: 2-6, 2 HR, 5 RBI.
Todd Zeile played an unsung but important role on that team that won 94 games and went to the World Series, hitting .268 with 22 home runs and 79 RBIs. He would spend another season in Flushing before being shipped off to Colorado, but was brought back in 2004 to play out his final year in the majors in front of the Shea faithful. While he was never outstanding, his 16-year career was a fruitful one: a .265 average (good for 2004 total hits), 253 home runs, 1110 RBIs, and sets of uniforms from 11 different franchises.
May 27. A good day for Montreal baseball fans in 1968 (city is awarded an expansion team, the Expos) and Curt Schilling in 2006 (won his 200th career game). Also a good day for Czar Peter the Great of Russia in 1703 (founded the city of Saint Petersburg). A bad day for the public health of San Francisco in 1907 (outbreak of the bubonic plague) and old-timey car enthusiasts in 1927 (Ford stops production of the Model T). A great day for Todd Zeile in 2000.