October 19 is a pretty big day in Mets history.
It was ten years ago today that the Mets played the Cardinals in Game 7 of the NLCS. Two memorable things happened in that particular game. One of them good, one of them bad.
The good? Endy Chavez making one of the best catches you’ll ever see in a baseball game. The score was tied at 1 in the sixth inning. With Jim Edmonds on first base and one out, Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen hit a long drive to left which Chavez pulled back over the wall and in for the out. Then — and a lot of people forget this — he doubled off Edmonds. Watch:
The bad came in the ninth. After the Cardinals took a 3-1 lead, the Mets mounted a mini-rally against rookie closer Adam Wainwright. Jose Valentin and Chavez each singled to lead off the ninth. Wainwright bore down and got two outs, but then walked Paul Lo Duca to load the bases. A single would tie it. Extra bases would send the Mets to the World Series. Up stepped Carlos Beltran. Wainwright got ahead of Beltran 0-2 and then broke off a killer curveball. If you’re a Mets fan you know what happened: nothing. Beltran didn’t swing, the pitch was called strike three and the game and season was over:
As our D.J. Short observed earlier this afternoon, there was a prominent witness to called strike three:
Should’ve known nothing good was going to happen there.
October 19, 1999 was a pretty painful one for the Mets as well. On that day another deciding NLCS game was played. This time against the Braves. The Mets had actually been down 3-0 in this series but battled back to win Games 4 and 5. They were likewise in a big hole in Game 6, mounting rally after rally in this wild one. The score tied at eight after nine innings. Each team scored one run in the tenth.
In the 11th, for reasons that are still unclear to me, manager Bobby Valentine put Kenny Rogers into the game. Rogers gave up a leadoff double to Gerald Williams. Bret Boone sacrificed Williams to third with one out. Valentine then had Rogers issue not one, but two intentional walks. First to Chipper Jones — which was understandable, as Jones had absolutely murdered the Mets that year, winning the MVP Award that season based primarily on his supreme ownage of Mets pitchers — then to Brian Jordan, giving Rogers no margin for error. While creating a force out at every base is defensible, Rogers was not a pitcher who you wanted to have no margin for error. He walked Andruw Jones on a 3–2 pitch that came nowhere near the strike zone, scoring Williams and handing the pennant to Atlanta.
The Mets would make the World Series the next season. And, of course, they survived the 2006 NLCS too, as no one takes a franchise away simply for messing up in the playoffs. They won the NL pennant last year and had another good season this year. As they will have many good seasons in the future too. Clubs move on from even the most ignominious incidents.
Yet, to this day, October 19 and the NLCS are bad associations for Mets fans. Memories that make them shout “too soon!” even some 17 and 10 years after the fact.