The New York Mets have a pitching-rich history. From Tom Seaver to Dwight Gooden and from Johan Santana to Jacob deGrom, we have witnessed some of the most elite pitchers grace the mound in Queens.
Above all else, these starting pitchers have excelled in New York City's bright lights and have been able to lead their respective staffs.
Growing up in the ‘90s, the Mets weren’t very good, especially in the early ’90s with the ‘worst team money could buy.’ However, towards the end of the decade, the Mets ship started to steer itself in the right direction.
In 1998, the Mets made a pivotal trade to bring starting pitcher Al Leiter to New York from the then-Florida Marlins.
The Marlins were just coming off winning the World Series and were in the first of many fire sales. Al Leiter, who started and pitched well in the decisive Game 7 of that Series, had a respectable year in Florida going 11-9 with a 4.34 ERA. With the great year Kevin Brown, Alex Fernandez, and Livan Hernandez were having, Leiter was like the anchor of that Marlins staff.
The Mets brought Leiter into a rotation that was headlined, at the time, by Bobby Jones and Rick Reed.
That would quickly change as Leiter had a stellar first season in orange and blue. He went 17-6 with a 2.47 ERA and finished 6th in the Cy Young Award voting. He quickly established himself as the ace of the staff.
Leiter became a fan favorite in Queens with his energetic personality on the mound and his penchant for pitching in big games. It also helped that he grew up as a Mets fan, so now that he was pitching for the team he loved, it made him even better.
Did I say he had a penchant for pitching in big games? Yeah! Leiter helped lead the Mets to back-to-back postseason berths for the first time since the team’s inception.
Outside of one really bad start against Atlanta, Leiter pitched really well in his playoff opportunities. One interesting stat that always boggled my mind was that in seven postseason starts for the Mets, Leiter did not win a game, not even one! He always kept his team in the game but could not pull off a victory.
The most important game he pitched wasn’t necessarily a playoff game. In 1999, with the Mets and Cincinnati Reds tied atop of the NL Wild Card, a one-game playoff was needed to advance to the divisional round and that game was added to the season as Game 163.
In what was the best performance of his Mets career, Leiter pitched a two-hit shutout to help send the Mets to Arizona for their first postseason berth in eleven years.
Leiter would go on to pitch seven years for the Mets winning 95 games, which is good for 6th in all-time in franchise history.
So what happened to the rest of that trade with the Marlins? Well, they received A.J. Burnett, Jesus Sanchez, and Robert Stratton. The only one of those pieces to really have success was A.J. Burnett. Burnett had a 17 year career, winning 164 games, a World Series with the 2009 New York Yankees, and became an All-Star in the final season of his career in 2015.
The Mets did get another player in the trade, Ralph Millard, but he had just a cup of coffee with the big league team appearing in only 10 games.
This trade was an absolute win for the Mets and helped launch them into a playoff contender. For Leiter, he takes his place as one of the best pitchers in Mets history and will be honored for it.
During the 2023 season, he will be inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame alongside Howard Johnson, Gary Cohen, and Howie Rose. An honor that is a long time coming.