Back in 1999, it took 163 games for the National League to decide its Wild Card team. In a tremendous performance, New York Mets pitcher Al Leiter ensured his team was heading to the postseason.
Al Leiter doesn’t always get the credit he deserves. He was never the best pitcher in baseball and hardly ever worth putting in the Cy Young conversation. During his years with the New York Mets, he was still a consistent starter they could trust to win a big game. In 1999, he won a huge one.
Long before MLB scheduled a one-game playoff between the two Wild Card teams, it would take a tie at the end of the year for a sudden death matchup. In 1999, the Mets and Cincinnati Reds both finished with 96 wins after 162 games.
Unfortunately, the Atlanta Braves won the National League East with 103 wins and the Houston Astros were victorious in the National League Central with 97. This led to a draw between Mets and Reds for the final spot.
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The two teams met on October 4 in Cincinnati. More than 54,000 packed Cinergy Field to see Leiter versus Steve Parris.
Leiter entered the game with a 12-12 record and ERA in the low-mid 4.00s. Parris had even better numbers with a record of 11-3 and ERA in the low-mid 3.00s.
It didn’t take long for the Mets to let the Reds know they wanted this win more. After coming up short on making the postseason in 1998, it was time to end the postseason drought in Flushing. Leiter and his teammates wasted little time in giving fans faith they would see more baseball in October.
Rickey Henderson began the game with a single. From the two-hole, Edgardo Alfonzo gave the team an early 2-0 lead. A two-run home run by Fonzie got things started in the first inning before Leiter even stepped on the mound.
As it turned out, the two-run blast was all the Amazins would need. After walking Pokey Reese to begin the game, Leiter settled in. He would go on to walk four batters, but only surround a pair of hits. Cincinnati only had a handful of opportunities to score runs. They didn’t capitalize on any.
Leiter went this distance in this one, tossing a two-hit shutout with seven strikeouts. Meanwhile, Reds pitchers allowed five runs on nine hits. They gave up plenty of free passes, too. Mets batters managed to draw eight walks.
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By the time the final pitch came, Leiter had made 135 pitches. An unheard-of number by today’s standards, Leiter left everything he had on the field that day. In doing so, he became a hero for the Mets.