An MMO Fan Shot by Harris (Lindro88)
If you love baseball, you have felt that sick feeling when you know your teams closer is about to blow a game. It usually starts with a lead-off walk. As a Mets fan, I’ve been in the ballpark, when ball one was all it took for the low murmur to start. Some combination of anxiety, anger, and fear. Sometimes the walk would be followed by an out. Okay, maybe we were wrong. More often than not, we were right. The inning would eventually go sideways, whether it came quickly, or dragged on until two outs and a 0-2 count.
There is one group of fans that never had to go through this. For most of his 18-year career, Mariano Rivera made the ninth inning nothing more than a formality. Lead-off walks rarely led to problems. Big error made behind him? Not to worry, he’d find a way out of it. That’s during the regular season, when one inning was all he was called on for. Come playoff time, the Yankees needed to get 21 outs before turning the ball over to Rivera. In really crucial times, 18 outs were enough.
As a fan of New York’s other team, I did not watch Mariano’s career as closely as a Yankee fan. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to have him sitting in the bullpen. Despite that, I did get to see quite a bit of him and those great Yankees teams he anchored. From 1997-2000 the Mets had very good teams. Mets vs Yankees regular season games were a big deal, and while we had our moments, each series seemed to go the same way. If the Mets won the first game, you could count on the Yankees winning the next two.
For the most part, it was the same movie. It all culminated in 2000 when they met in the World Series. The Yankees had finished off the regular season terribly. The Mets had a terrific season, winning 94 games, capturing the NL Wild Card.
After a few shaky moments in Game 1 against the San Francisco Giants, (hello Armando Benitez), they waltzed their way to the World Series. Of course, the Yankees straightened themselves out by then, and while this wasn’t a vintage Yankee season, here they were, back in the World Series.
Games against the Yankees seemed too long. Yes, there were nine innings, but no lead, big or small, felt safe. At some point, the rally was coming. Often it started with a break. An error on a routine play. A walk after getting ahead of the hitter 0-2. Give them a tiny opening and they would shove the whole team through.
While Yankees fans can reel off dozens of examples, for me Game 1 of the 2000 World Series stands out. The Mets were the better baseball team that night. When you’ve been watching baseball as long and as closely as I have, nine times out of 10 you can tell when a ball is a home run off the bat. In the top of the sixth inning, with Timo Perez on first base, Todd Zeile hit a line drive to left field that looked gone off the bat. In the World Series, the prevailing theory is not to take anything for granted.
Unfortunately, that didn’t occur to Perez, as he made his way to second base as if he expected the ball to land 30 rows deep. At best this was going to be two or three rows deep, and in the cool October weather, the ball hit off the top of the wall. Perez had better than average speed, and once he realized the ball stayed in the park, he tried to make up for his slow trot out of the gate.
Had the Mets been playing any team besides the Yankees, I’m convinced one of three things happens. The ball leaves the park, Perez runs hard right away, or the Yankees don’t make two perfect throws to nail Perez at the plate. Of course, it was the Yankees, the ball hit the top of the wall, Perez didn’t run hard out of the gate, and the Yankees did execute perfectly. David Justice, to Derek Jeter, to Jorge Posada.
Instead of a 1-0 lead, the game stayed tied. The Mets would take a 3-2 lead into the ninth inning, only instead of Mariano Rivera on the mound, we had Armando Benitez. Benitez had an excellent regular season, but once the playoffs came around, you never knew what you were going to get, and more often than not, it wasn’t going to be good.
Paul O’Neil came up with the bases empty and one out. After falling behind 1-2, he walked after a tremendous 10 pitch at bat. Two singles, and a sacrifice fly later the game was tied. Three innings later the Yankees won on a bloop down the left field line by legendary slugger Jose Vizcaino. Yanks win 4-3. They’d win the series in five games, celebrating deep into the night at Shea Stadium.
This week Mariano Rivera was the first player in MLB history to be a unanimous selection into the Hall of Fame. His unanimous selection put an end to the silly tradition of not letting anyone enter the Hall with a perfect ballot. It was ended by arguably the most valuable postseason player of all time. I know many people will ask, “how can a player who might not get in a game, be considered the most valuable?”
Next October when the playoffs roll around, watch a few games. It won’t take long to understand. Mariano Rivera was the most dominant weapon any team had the luxury of deploying. Teams knew if they didn’t have the lead, or at least have the game tied, by time number 42 trotted in, it was over. No other player in baseball history had that impact.
* * * * * * * * *
This Fan Shot was contributed by MMO community member and die-hard Mets fan Harris (Lindro88). Have something you want to say about the Mets? Send your article to GetMetsmerized@aol.com or use this Contact Form. Or ask us about becoming a regular contributor.