October 4, 2006: Delgado leads Mets to win in NLDS opener
The New York Mets finished the 2006 season with a 97-65 record, tied with their crosstown rivals, the Yankees, for the best record in baseball. Now they were set to face the Los Angeles Dodgers, who entered the postseason as the National League wild-card team. The Dodgers finished the season tied with the San Diego Padres but had to settle for the wild-card slot because they had won only five of the 18 games against their division rival.
Orlando Hernandez was originally scheduled to pitch for the Mets but he hurt his right calf while running in the outfield during practice the day before. The Mets had already lost Pedro Martinez to an injury and now they had lost a second veteran pitcher. Mets manager Willie Randolph was forced to choose another starter and settled on John Maine. Maine joined the team in a trade from Baltimore and had been impressive in his first season in New York. When he was told that he might get the call, he said, “It would be awesome. I never would have thought that it would have been a possibility.”1 Maine became the second rookie after Gary Gentry in 1969 to start a postseason game for the Mets. After counting on Hernandez’s postseason experience, they were suddenly asked to rely on someone who had none.
Los Angeles chose Derek Lowe to start the game. Lowe finished the year with 16 wins, the most in the National League. He had pitched impressively in the postseason when he played for the Boston Red Sox. Dodgers manager Grady Little expressed confidence in Lowe, saying, “This is his time of the year. The playoff season is his time of the year.” Lowe echoed his manager’s comments, saying, “That’s what this time of the year is all about: Confidence. To have success in the playoffs, you can’t be afraid to fail.”2
Maine pitched solidly through the first four innings. He gave up just one run over that span and showed no evidence that he was nervous about having the spotlight on him. The run came in the second on consecutive singles by Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew to start the inning. With runners on first and second, Russell Martin hit a line drive to the wall in right field. Kent waited at second base to see if Mets right fielder Shawn Green would catch the ball. The ball sailed over Green’s head, and Kent raced for home. Green ran the ball down and threw to the cutoff man, second baseman José Valentín, who relayed the ball to Paul Lo Duca at the home. Lo Duca easily tagged Kent out.
When Drew saw that Green did not make the catch, he also sprinted for home plate. He later said he didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late. “I thought Jeff was scoring standing up,” he said. “I thought the play was on me.”3
After tagging Kent, Lo Duca showed home-plate umpire John Hirschbeck that he had caught the ball. Lo Duca said later, “When I showed him the ball, it was like he was telling me, ‘You better watch out.’”4 Then he turned and saw Drew bearing down on him. When Drew tried to cross the plate, Lo Duca slapped the tag on him. In the blink of an eye, two Dodgers were out at home. Martin ended up on second base and scored when Marlon Anderson doubled to left to give the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.
Green’s fielding made the difference. He caught the ball cleanly as it bounced off the right-field wall and quickly relayed it to the cutoff man. Just two years before, Green had been one of the anchors of a Dodgers team that looked as though it might be a perennial winner. Now Green was playing against his former teammates. “It’s a crazy turn of events,” he said before the game. “[But] I’m playing with a great team in the playoffs.”5
Lowe also pitched well and allowed one hit until the bottom of the fourth inning, when Carlos Delgado homered with one out. His 450-foot blast hit off the television camera in center field. At the time, he was the oldest active major leaguer who had not played in the postseason. “I had butterflies in my stomach the first couple of innings,” he said later. “The trick is to get those butterflies in flying formation. I was able to control my emotions.” David Wright countered that “[h]e definitely did not control his emotions. He almost took my arm off, hitting my hand on the home run.”6
Lowe struck Wright out but then Cliff Floyd hit the Mets’ second home run of the inning, this one over the right-field wall. By the time Lowe struck out Green to end the inning, the Mets were on top, 2-1.
In the Dodgers fifth, Wilson Betemit singled and moved to second on Lowe’s sacrifice bunt to Maine. Maine struggled against Rafael Furcal and eventually walked him with a pitch in the dirt. Randolph decided it was time to remove Maine. The rookie had given up just one run and struck out five. “I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be,” he said later. “I didn’t want to let that get the better of me. I knew I had to go out there, execute pitches, throw strikes, get guys out. I just tried to take control.”7
Lowe got through the fifth but things fell apart for him in the sixth. After Lo Duca and Delgado singled, Wright doubled to right field. Lo Duca scored easily. Delgado was also waved home and would have been out but the throw was wide. After Lowe walked Floyd intentionally, Grady Little removed him for Mark Hendrickson, who got the final two outs The Mets led, 4-1.
The Dodgers wasted no time in catching up to the Mets. Against reliever Guillermo Mota, Marlon Anderson bunted and reached first safely when second baseman Valentin couldn’t handle the ball. Betemit followed with a grounder up the middle. Valentin tried for a force play but second baseman Jose Reyes couldn’t handle his throw. The ball went into the outfield and Anderson ended up at third base and Betemit at second. After Julio Lugo struck out, Furcal drove Anderson in with a single to center. Lofton flied to right and Betemit tagged up and went to third. Furcal stole second, putting two runners in scoring position. The next batter, Garciaparra, doubled to left field on an 0-and-2 count and both runners scored. Kent’s strikeout retired the side, but the Dodgers had tied the Mets, 4-4.
The Mets quickly regained the lead, getting two runs in the bottom of the inning. Brad Penny was now pitching for the Dodgers. He walked Reyes. After Lo Duca flied out, Reyes stole second. Penny walked Beltran. Delgado then singled, his fourth hit of the night, to score Reyes. Wright followed with his second double of the night and Beltran scored to put the Mets back in front by two runs, 6-4.
Aaron Heilman got the Dodgers out in order in the eighth, and Randolph brought in closer Billy Wagner in the ninth. Betemit leds off with a double to right. Little sent Olmedo Saenz up to pinch-hit. His fly ball sent Betemit to third. Wagner struck out Furcal, but pinch-hitter Ramon Martinez doubled to score Betemit and bring up Garciaparra with the Dodgers just one run down. But Wagner settled down and earned his save when he struck out Garciaparra to end the game.
After the last out, Delgado was announced as the player of the game. The home crowd gave him one final burst of applause as the teams left the field. “I hope it gets better,” he says in the locker room afterward.8
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also used the Baseball-Reference.com, Baseball-Almanac.com, and Retrosheet.org websites for box-score, player, team, and season pages, pitching and batting game logs, and other pertinent material.
1 Brian Costello, “Game 1 Could Be a Maine Event,” New York Post, October 4, 2006.
2 Brian Lewis, “Lowe Has Dodgers Flyin’ High,” New York Post, October 4, 2006.
3 Lee Jenkins, “A Base-Running Blunder Dooms the Dodgers,” New York Times, October 5, 2006.
5 Mark Whicker, “Former Dodger Green Happy to Be a Met,” Orange County (California) Register, October 4, 2006.
6 Kevin Kernan, “Great First Impression: Delgado’s Debut Filled With Power,” New York Post, October 5, 2006.
7 Brian Lewis, “Rook Delivers in Maine Event,” New York Post, October 5, 2006.
8 Kernan, “Great First Impression.”