This article was written by Joel Rippel
Even though they were making their first postseason appearance in more than a decade, the New York Mets were ready for the pressure of Game One of their National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Four must-win games over the previous four days had prepared them for the postseason.
“Since we’ve been through it in the last few days, it’s not going to get any harder from here,” Mets pitcher Kenny Rogers said. “We already felt like we were at the bottom, and I think it prepared us for the playoffs. We were basically in a playoff atmosphere for the last four days.”1
With less than two weeks left in the regular season, the Mets trailed NL East Division-leading Atlanta by one game and had a four-game lead over the Cincinnati Reds in the wild-card race. The Mets then slumped with a seven-game losing streak that left them two games behind in the wild-card race going into the final weekend of the regular season.
The Mets regrouped to sweep a three-game series from Pittsburgh at Shea Stadium – winning two of the games by one run –to finish in a tie with Cincinnati for the wild-card spot. In a one-game tiebreaker – the second consecutive season a one-game playoff decided the NL wild-card spot – the Mets defeated the Reds in Cincinnati to earn their first postseason berth since 1988.
The four consecutive victories salvaged a postseason berth for the Mets after an early-season slump had almost derailed the season. An eight-game losing streak in late May and early June had left them one game under .500 and led to the firing of three coaches. But the Mets recovered and had the best winning percentage in the NL over the next two months.
The first game of the Division Series featured the Mets, playing their third game in three different cities in less than 72 hours, and the well-rested Diamondbacks, managed by former Yankees manager Buck Showalter. The Diamondbacks, the first expansion team to reach the playoffs in its second year of existence, had won the NL West with a 100-62 record, 14 games ahead of second-place San Francisco. The Diamondbacks, who had gone 65-97 in their inaugural season, had clinched the division title on September 24, with nine games remaining in the regular season.
For the second time in two days, Edgardo Alfonzo provided the spark for the Mets. Alfonzo, who had homered in the first inning of the Mets victory over the Reds in the tiebreaker, hit a home run on Randy Johnson’s sixth pitch of the game to stake the Mets to a 1-0 lead. Alfonzo, who had hit 27 home runs (a franchise single-season record for home runs by a second baseman), then capped the evening with a grand slam with two outs in the ninth inning to lift the Mets to an 8-4 victory.
Mets manager Bobby Valentine, managing in the playoffs for the first time after 1,704 regular-season games, praised his team’s resiliency: “Well, you know, they are not just going on adrenaline. We have a lot of talent and a lot of strength and plenty of endurance.”3
After Alfonzo’s first-inning home run, the Mets extended their lead to 3-0 in the third inning on John Olerud’s two-run home run – the first home run surrendered by Johnson to a left-handed hitter in two years.
The Diamondbacks, who won seven of the nine regular-season meetings with the Mets, got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the third on Jay Bell’s sacrifice fly, but the Mets restored their three-run lead in the fourth when Robin Ventura led off with a double, went to third on a bunt single by Shawon Dunston, and scored on a sacrifice bunt by Rey Ordonez.
As Johnson settled down with four shutout innings, the Diamondbacks forged a tie. Erubiel Durazo’s solo home run in the bottom of the fourth pulled the Diamondbacks within 4-2. They tied it in the sixth when Bell led off with a single to right and Luis Gonzalez followed with a two-run home run to chase Mets starter Masato Yoshii.
Ventura opened the top of the ninth with a single to right. Ventura remained at first when Johnson caught Roger Cedeno’s bunt attempt, but Ordonez singled to left and Melvin Mora coaxed a walk to load the bases and end Johnson’s night.
The first hitter to face reliever Bobby Chouinard was Rickey Henderson. Diamondbacks third baseman Matt Williams made a diving stop on Henderson’s groundball and threw home to force Ventura. With two outs Alfonzo stepped to the plate and hit Chouinard’s 3-and-1 offering just inside the left-field foul pole to make it 8-4.
“I didn’t know if it was a foul or fair ball,” said Alfonzo, who had a team-high 191 hits and batted .304 with 108 RBIs during the regular season. “I was waiting, and they said it was fair.”4
In the bottom of the ninth, Armando Benitez, the third Mets reliever, retired Durazo, Steve Finley, and Hanley Frias in order (on two fly outs and a popup) to save the victory. Dennis Cook, Turk Wendell (the winning pitcher), and Benitez combined for 3⅔ innings of one-hit shutout relief.
For Johnson, it was his sixth consecutive postseason loss – a major-league record. Going into the start, Johnson, whose postseason record fell to 2-6, was tied with Joe Bush (1914-1923) and Doyle Alexander (1973-1987) with five consecutive postseason losses. Johnson threw 138 pitches as he allowed eight hits and seven runs in 8⅓ innings. Johnson, who struck out 364 during the regular season (the fourth highest in major-league history), struck out 11.
Johnson was the first of three Arizona left-handed starting pitchers the Mets would face in the series. The Mets, who were 97-66 (counting the victory in the tiebreaker), were just 22-18 against left-handed starters in the regular season.
“I don’t think anybody on our team necessarily thinks that we’re a .500 team when we play against a left-hander,” Ventura said. “Those numbers don’t mean a whole lot once you’re here.”5
This article was published in “Met-rospectives: A Collection of the Greatest Games in New York Mets History“ (SABR, 2018), edited by Brian Wright and Bill Nowlin. To read more articles from this book at the SABR Games Project, click here.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted Newspapers.com and Retrosheet.org.
1 Dan Bickley, “This loss bad omen for D-Backs,” Arizona Republic (Phoenix), October 6, 1999: C2.
2 Kit Stier, “Built to Win Now, Mets Do Just That,” Journal News (White Plains, New York), October 5, 1999: 7K.
4 Associated Press, “Alfonzo’s Slam Lifts Mets,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, October 6, 1999: C4.