The 1997 New York Mets are an exciting bunch, having played winning baseball for the majority of the year. Manager Bobby Valentine, who took over for Dallas Green 131 games into the 1996 season, has rejuvenated the Mets and their fanbase after 6 straight losing seasons. With a 58-43 record, they are coming off their 2nd straight win going into the 1st game of a 3-game set against the Padres at the Qualcomm.
On the mound for San Diego is Andy Ashby, the 29-year-old, 6’1” right-hander from Park Hill High School in Kansas City, MO. He will be facing center fielder Lance Johnson to commence the affair at 7:06 Local Time. He looks in, winds up and pitches…a ball off the plate. Lance steps out, adjusts his gloves, steps back in and waves his bat towards Ashby. Andy winds up and throws. Lance swings and hits a fly ball to the short left field line. Rickey Henderson settles under it for the 1st out of the ball game. Up next for the Mets is left fielder Bernard Gilkey. He is having a bad year, and continues that with a swinging strikeout. 1st baseman John Olerud, a hit machine, singles through the right side, but catcher Todd Hundley flies it deep to right-center, and it settles into center fielder Steve Finley’s glove for the final out of the frame.
Trotting out to the mound for the Mets is Mr. Dave Mlicki, the 29-year-old, 6’4” right-hander from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, OK. He has had an inconsistent season, though he is coming off a 7-inning, 1-run performance against the Reds. Dave will face the one and only Henderson to lead thing off in the bottom half. The 4th pitch is hit through the 3rd base hole after Mlicki gets behind Henderson 2-1. The next batter, 2nd baseman Quilvio Veras, hits it through the same hole, and Henderson takes 3rd. Not exactly how Dave wanted things to start. Now, he has to face one of the greatest hitters of all time, Mr. Padre, Tony Gwynn. On a 1-0 pitch, Gwynn sends it through the 3rd base hole yet again, and Henderson scores to give the Padres the 1-0 lead. Mlicki then walks 3rd baseman Ken Caminiti to load the bases. He has got to buckle down as Finley walks up to the plate. On a 1-2 pitch, Dave strikes out Steve for a huge 1st out. Next up is 1st baseman Wally Joyner, and he grounds into a force-out at home. All of a sudden the Mets need 1 out to limit the damage. They get that 1 out, as shortstop Chris Gomez grounds into a 2nd base force-out to end the inning.
2nd baseman Carlos Baerga singles with 1 out in the top of the 2nd, but is caught stealing as right-fielder Carl Everett strikes out swinging to end the frame. After Mlicki gets the 1st 2 out in the bottom half, he walks Ricky, who yells out to Dave, “Ricky’ll take a walk!” He immediately takes 2nd, and Veras singles him home for the 2nd Padres’ run. Mlicki, after all that, gets Tony Gwynn to strike out swinging.
Things stay quiet till the top of the 6th, as both the Mets and the Padres collected a few LOBs. Gilkey leads off and grounds a double to left field. A rare John Olerud strikeout occurs to fill the empty out void, but Hundley makes sure to cash in with a line-drive RBI double to left. The Mets aaaaaaaare on the boaard. 3rd baseman Edgardo Alfonzo walks to put 2 on, and the Mets have something going. While Baerga grounds to 1st, moving Fonzie and Hundley to 2nd and 3rd, respectively, Everett strikes out, however, and the Mets settle for 1.
Ashby goes 6 innings, giving up only that 1 run. He is pinch-hit for in the bottom of the 6th when the Pads have something going. Mlicki goes 6 as well, giving up only those 2 runs. LOBs continue for both teams, however, till the top of the 8th. The Padres bring in Tim Worrell to face Bernard Gilkey, and he reaches 1st on an error by Caminiti. Olerud moves Gilkey over to 2nd on a groundout to 1st. Hundley has a chance to tie the game with only a single, but strikes out swinging instead. Padres are an out away from taking their 3rd baseman off the hook. Worrell walks Alfonzo and Baerga, however, and manager Bruce Bochy has had enough. He calls on his closer, Mr. Trevor Hoffman. It’s now Carl Everett’s turn, who could redeem some early big-time outs with a big 2-out knock right here. On a 2-1 pitch, he drives a single to center field, scoring both Gilkey and Fonzie. Baerga moves over to 3rd. And THE METS! take a 3-2 lead. With Shortstop Luis Lopez up (he pinch-hit for Rey Ordonez in the 7th) Everett takes off for 2nd, but Hoffman throws over there and has Carl in a rundown. Baerga edges off 3rd, prompting a throw to Caminiti from 2nd baseman Veras. Baerga starts for the plate, and Ken flips the ball to catcher John Flaherty. Baerga fliches back to 3rd and the ball hits his helmet and ricochet’s away, allowing Baerga to plate the 4th Met run. Certainly not Caminiti’s inning. Lopez goes on to ground to 3rd, but the Mets will take a 4-2 lead.
The Orange and Blue have a spotless bottom half and go quietly in the top of the 9th as well. Greg McMichael, who relieved Takashi Kashiwada in the 8th, sets Ricky Henderson, Quilvio Veras and Tony Gwynn down in the 9th to lock up his 6th save and the 4-2 win for New York. Kashiwada gets the W, his 3rd of the year.
It is the Mets 8th win in their last 9 games, and they are 16 over for the 1st time since October 3, 1990. While they battle hard the rest of the way, the Mets miss the playoffs in 3rd place with a 88-74 record. Still, it is the most exciting year the Metropolitans have had in a long, long time, and the Met fan feels real good as to their position in baseball going forward.
The 1997 New York Mets.