October 4, 2000: Giants' Livan Hernandez shuts down Mets in NLDS opener
When the New York Mets played the San Francisco Giants in the 2000 National League Division Series, it was the first time the teams had faced each other in the postseason. The Giants had finished in first place in the National League West Division with a 97-65 record, the best in baseball. They clinched their division in the middle of September, allowing them to coast into the playoffs. It was the Giants’ first appearance in the postseason since they lost to the Oakland A’s in the 1989 World Series
The Mets were returning to the playoffs for the second year in a row. Just as in 1999, they had finished second in the NL East and were looking forward to eventually beating the Atlanta Braves, their division rivals, to reach the World Series. But first they would have to get past the Giants.
The Giants were hoping to take advantage of being the home team. They had won 54 of their last 73 games at Pac Bell Park that year, beginning with a four-game sweep of the Mets in May. The Mets, on the other hand, were 39-42 on the road during the season.
Livan Hernandez took the mound for the Giants. The Giants ace finished the season with a 17-11 record, the best on the team. He dominated the Mets immediately, striking out the first two batters he faced and getting the third out on a grounder to shortstop.
When the Giants came to bat in the bottom of the first, they were facing left-hander Mike Hampton. Hampton finished the season with a 15-10 record and a 3.14 ERA, the lowest of any Mets starter. He was 6-0 against the Giants going back to 1996, when he was with the Houston Astros.
The Giants jumped on Hampton in their half of the first. Bill Mueller doubled with one out. Barry Bonds, the next batter, had been the best player during the regular season for the past decade but he had struggled in the postseason. Prior to this year, he had hit only .245 with one home run and four RBIs in nine postseason games.
Before the game, the Giants’ Jeff Kent downplayed the focus on Bonds’ past, saying, “We don’t have any questions about Barry. Too many people make too big a deal about what he’s done in the postseason. We need him just like we need the 25th player on the team. As good as he is, you can’t go into a war with just one guy. He’s one of 25 leaders on this team.”1
Bonds hit a single and advanced to second when Mets center fielder Jay Payton tried to get Mueller out at third. Kent then hit an 0-and-2 pitch to shortstop that scored Mueller to give the Giants a 1-0 lead.
Like Bonds, Mets slugger Mike Piazza had struggled in the postseason. Before this year, he had hit just .226 in the playoffs. Mets manager Bobby Valentine played Piazza in fewer games during the season in the hope that he would be prepared for the playoffs. “I’m not good at comparing but it seems like he’s in really top physical condition right now,” Valentine said when the team arrived in San Francisco.2
Hernandez got the Mets out in order again in the second. Piazza was one of those outs as he popped out to shortstop. The Mets tied the score in the third when Mike Bordick and Hampton singled. After Hernandez walked Benny Agbayani to load the bases, Payton hit a fly ball that scored Bordick.
The Giants wasted no time reclaiming the lead in their half of the inning. After Hampton got the first two outs on grounders, Mueller singled to left field for his second hit of the game. Bonds fouled off three pitches before hitting a 3-and-2 pitch from Hampton down the right-field line for a run-scoring triple. It was his first triple in the postseason.
Hampton walked Jeff Kent and Ellis Burks stepped into the batter’s box. After fouling off the a pitch, he pulled the ball down the left-field line. It hit the foul pole for a home run. Suddenly the Giants were ahead 5-1. “He threw it down and in, and I was looking for something out over the plate. I just reacted with my hands and hit it fairly well. I knew I had the distance. It was just a matter of keeping it fair or foul,” Burks said after the game.3
The Giants staked Hernandez to a four-run lead and that was more than he needed as he continued to keep the Mets guessing. Hernandez gave up just three more hits and four walks before he left the game in the eighth. “Livan was phenomenal,” Bonds said. “He’s been doing it for us now for quite a while. You’ve got to go with your big dog in the big games and it’s him.”4
While Bonds’ bat came alive, Piazza struggled all evening. On his second at-bat, he flied out to center field. In the sixth, he flied out to right field. Piazza would have one final shot at shaking out of his postseason slump in the eighth but was walked on four pitches.
Piazza said after the game, “All you can do is keep going out and do the best you can. You can’t go out and put more pressure on yourself. You have to have confidence in yourself. I took a few good swings and hit two balls hard. That’s all you can do, just keep swinging the bat.”5
After Hernandez walked Todd Zeile to load the bases in the eighth, Giants manager Dusty Baker brought in Felix Rodriguez. Darryl Hamilton came to the plate as the tying run but Rodriguez struck him out to end the inning.
Robb Nen came in and shut down the Mets in the ninth. He got the three batters he faced to fly out, ground out, and pop out. The Giants claimed the victory and were two games from moving on to the NL Championship Series.
Hernandez picked up where he had left off three years before. He had won the NLCS and World Series MVP awards for the Florida Marlins as they won the Series in 1997. With the win, he was now 5-0 in playoff appearances. “When you go into the playoffs, you’ve got to play hard,” Hernandez said. “A lot of players play 15, 20 years for this chance. When I go out, I say, ‘I want to throw good. I want to win my game.’”6 Hernandez clearly was “throw[ing] good” in this game.
The Giants were elated to see their star slugger shake off his postseason malaise. Piazza said it best: “[Bonds] had situations he took advantage of. No matter how frustrated he's been at the postseason, if you give him too many opportunities to make things happen, eventually he’s going to come through.”7
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author used Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org for box-score, player, team, and season information as well as pitching and batting game logs, and other pertinent material.
1 Tom Spousta, “With Two Key Hits, Bonds Has Last Word,” New York Times, October 5, 2000.
2 Associated Press, “Piazza and Bonds Seek to Shake Slumps,” Syracuse (New York) Herald-Journal, October 4, 2000.
4 Gary Beacham (Associated Press), “Bonds, Giants Start on Right Foot,” Indiana (Pennsylvania) Gazette, October 5, 2000.
5 Tom Keegan, “Piazza Can’t Get in the Groove,” New York Post, October 5, 2000.