It wasn’t Carlos Beltran finally reaching a World Series last night that made me realize what today’s date was. Rather, it was the mere fact that I’ll never forget the date of the Mets’ last playoff game. It was October 19th, 2006, Game 7 of the National League Championship Series at Shea. I was there, and the outcome wasn’t Carlos Beltran’s fault. Before we get to Game 7, let’s look at what happened before that…
The 2006 Mets were the team I enjoyed watching the most – more than the 1999 and 2000 squads (I’m too young to have any vivid memories of 1986 or 1988). In 2006, the Mets were a machine. Despite not having the most talented or deepest starting rotation, they used their high octane offense to – in the words of Gary Cohen – run “roughshod” over the National League on the way to their first National League East title in 18 years.
By the time they reached the Playoffs, though, the Mets were partially decimated. Duaner Sanchez, their 26 year old setup man, had his season come to an abrupt end on July 31st when he was in a taxi accident. Sanchez was having a tremendous year, and the accident broke up the Aaron Heilman/Sanchez duo that had been the bridge to closer Billy Wagner.
During the last week of the season, it was discovered that Pedro Martinez would be out for the remainder of the year. That was a huge blow to the rotation, but the biggest one came on the eve of the NLDS opener against the Dodgers.
While going through his between starts regimen, Orlando Hernandez, who was slated to start Game 1 of the NLDS, suffered an injury, and was declared out for the series. Hernandez missed the NLCS as well, but would’ve been able to pitch had the Mets reached the World Series.
Despite the losses of Sanchez, Martinez, and Hernandez, the Mets swept the Dodgers in the first round to advance to the NLCS against the Cardinals.
The Mets were dealt another blow in the NLCS, when hobbled Cliff Floyd was removed after his first at bat in Game 1. He didn’t start a game for the rest of the series, and really should’ve been taken off the roster. He wasn’t, and it would cost the Mets later.
Without their setup man, two key members of their rotation, and their starting left fielder, the Mets took on the Cardinals in the NLCS.
The Mets won Game 1, with the only runs of the game coming courtesy of a two run homer off the bat of Carlos Beltran. They were ahead in Game 2, but lost the lead and eventually the game, when Billy Wagner gave up a go ahead home run to light hitting So Taguchi.
With both Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez out, the Mets were forced to start Steve Trachsel in the pivotal Game 3, and Trachsel gave up five runs in one inning of work before being removed. The Mets lost that game, but rebounded to crush the Cardinals 12-5 in Game 4 (Carlos Beltran went 3 for 4 with 2 home runs and 4 runs scored). The Mets had the lead entering the bottom of the fourth in Game 5, but Tom Glavine couldn’t hold it as they fell to St. Louis 4-2.
With the Mets on the brink of elimination, Jose Reyes led off Game 6 with a home run and the Mets never looked back. That set up the winner take all Game 7 on October 19th.
I was fresh out of college, and working at a nonprofit in the South Bronx. With advance apologies to the employer I eventually worked for for close to five years, I got absolutely no work done that day. All I could think about was Game 7 at Shea, and a potential date with the Tigers in the World Series.
I got to the stadium incredibly early, entered, and sat in my seats in the upper deck taking it all in. As Shea began to get packed, the buzz that filled the place was palpable. The crowd of 56,357 was as energized as I’d ever seen, and there was a feeling in the air that this was our night.
The Mets grabbed an early 1-0 lead when David Wright dunked an RBI single into shallow right field in the bottom of the first. The Cardinals tied it when they scratched out a run in the top of the second, and that’s where the score remained until the top of the sixth.
The angle in that video is very similar to the one I had. After Chavez came down with the ball in his glove, Shea erupted. It was the loudest and craziest I remember any sporting venue ever being. Strangers were hugging one another, people were screaming incoherently, and the entire upper deck was swaying back and forth. The upper deck had swayed before during big moments, but after Endy’s catch, it actually felt as if the stadium might topple over. I was too excited to worry.
The Mets loaded the bases in the bottom of the frame, and appeared to be on the brink of turning Chavez’s game saving catch into the true turning point of the game and the series. What happened next? Jose Valentin struck out swinging, and Endy Chavez flew out to center field. The game remained tied, and stayed that way until the top of the ninth.
With Aaron Heilman on the mound and one out, Scott Rolen hit a seeing eye single to left field and Yadier Molina followed by hitting a two run homer to left. Shea fell deathly quiet – so quiet that I could hear the Cardinals’ owners cheering from their seats by the St. Louis on deck circle.
In the bottom of the ninth, though, it looked like the Mets were about to overcome the injuries they were dealing with and all of their missed chances and make it to the World Series anyway.
Jose Valentin and Endy Chavez led off the inning with back to back singles. In one of the worst moves I’ve ever seen, manager Willie Randolph sent up Cliff Floyd to hit. Putting Floyd in the game was akin to handing the Cardinals an out. Floyd was in no condition to hit, and he struck out meekly.
The next batter, Jose Reyes, hit a screaming line drive to right center field. It looked for a second like the ball was about to split the gap and tie the game, but it wound up in Jim Edmonds‘ glove instead. Paul LoDuca was up next, and he drew a walk to load the bases with two outs. In stepped Carlos Beltran.
A single would’ve likely tied the game. An extra base hit would’ve likely sent the Mets to the World Series. Shea was in a frenzy, believing that this moment would end with the Mets celebrating. It didn’t. Beltran struck out looking on an unhittable curveball, the season was over, and the rain began to fall.
Yes, Carlos Beltran struck out to end the game. No, the Mets losing the 2006 NLCS wasn’t Carlos Beltran’s fault. If the Mets weren’t missing four of their most important players, I believe they would’ve cruised past the Cardinals on their way to the World Series. Hell, the Mets probably wouldn’t have made it to Game 7 in the first place had it not been for Carlos Beltran.
There are too many Mets fans, though, who refuse to remember that the Mets were shorthanded heading into the Playoffs in 2006. They block that from their memory, just like they block out the fact that Beltran single handedly won Game 1 of the NLCS for the Mets, or the fact that he crushed two homers in their Game 4 victory. They place no blame on Jose Valentin for coming up empty when the Mets had a chance to go ahead in the sixth inning of Game 7, and refuse to remember that Willie Randolph handed the Cardinals an out in the ninth inning of that game when he sent hobbled Cliff Floyd up to hit with runners on first and second and no one out.
The Mets didn’t make it to the World Series in 2006 because too many things got in their way. Their rotation was decimated, their bullpen was in disarray after the loss of Duaner Sanchez, and they failed to capitalize on early leads and late chances throughout the NLCS. Carlos Beltran didn’t swing at an unhittable curveball at the end of Game 7, and that’s what most people remember.
Most people need some perspective.