October 5, 2000: John Franco saves the day, Mets even Division Series vs. Giants
The 2000 National League Division Series against the NL West champion San Francisco Giants and the wild-card New York Mets was the first postseason series played at Pacific Bell Park. The Bayfront stadium was opened in April of that year. The Giants finished with a 97-65 regular-season record, 11 games ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Meanwhile, the Mets finished with a record of 94-68, narrowly edged out by the Atlanta Braves for the NL East title. With the teams separated by just three games, the best-of-five series shaped up to be an intriguing matchup between evenly-matched squads.
The Giants won the opener, in San Francisco. Backed by an Ellis Burks three-run homer that capped a four-run third inning, right-hander Livan Hernandez coasted to a 5-1 victory. The Mets found themselves in a must-win position to avoid returning to New York down two games to none.
A capacity crowd of 40,430 jammed Pac Bell Park for Game Two, a matchup between a pair of veteran southpaws. Al Leiter, 16-8 during the regular season, was given the start for the Mets while Shawn Estes (15-6) took the hill for the Giants. Estes delivered the first pitch at 5:07 P.M. under clear skies, a comfortable game-time temperature of 62 degrees and a 10-mph breeze blowing out to right field. The weather was ideal for an October evening in San Francisco.
The starters tossed scoreless first innings. Estes walked Mike Piazza, while Leiter retired the Giants in order. Estes helped the Mets out when he struggled with his control in the top of the second. After hitting Robin Ventura, the left-hander walked Benny Agbayani and Mike Bordick to load the bases. With two outs, right fielder Timo Perez singled to center to drive in two Mets runs. The Giants answered with a run of their own in the bottom of the inning when Jeff Kent led off with a single to right, stole second, and scored on Burks’ double to short left field.
Piazza led off the top of the third with a single and advanced to second when Agbayani singled two outs later. However, the Mets rally fizzled when Jay Payton grounded out to short. The Giants also threatened but failed to score in the bottom half of the frame when Estes drew a four-pitch walk off Leiter. After Calvin Murray struck out, Bill Mueller sent a high chopper deep in the hole at shortstop. Estes, going in standing up, beat the throw from Bordick but immediately came up hobbling and fell off the bag. Edgardo Alfonzo applied the tag for the second out and Estes came up lame and limped off the field. The threat never materialized and the left-hander was done for the remainder of the series.
Kirk Rueter, the Giants fifth starter, was summoned to relieve Estes in the top of the fourth inning. Another veteran left-hander, Rueter — nicknamed Woody for his resemblance to the Toy Story character — was on top of his game and turned in an excellent performance. He scattered three hits in 4⅓ innings. The closest thing to a Mets threat came in the top of the sixth, when Bordick stroked a one-out single. The Mets shortstop was quickly erased when Leiter tried to advance him into scoring position but instead bunted into an inning-ending double play.
Leiter was equally as effective on the mound. Following Mueller’s third-inning infield single, the left-hander breezed through the next five innings. He looked to be in complete control as he allowed only three Mets to reach base.
Ventura’s fly ball to right to lead off the top of the eighth wrapped up Rueter’s stint. Right-handed Doug Henry relieved Rueter and issued a one-out walk to Agbayani, who was lifted in favor of pinch-runner Joe McEwing. Henry induced Jay Payton to hit into a 1-4-6-3 inning-ending double play.
Henry, who was set to lead off the bottom of the eighth, was pinch-hit for by utilityman Felipe Crespo. The versatile Crespo was retired on a foul pop fly to third before Murray singled to left and Mueller hit a sharp grounder to short that resulted in yet another inning-ending double play.
The score remained 2-1 Mets going into the top of the ninth when right-hander Felix Rodriguez entered the game with the task of keeping the game within striking distance. After Rodriguez struck out Bordick and Leiter, Perez picked up his third hit of the night with a single to left field. That brought Edgardo Alfonzo to the plate. After Rodriguez fell behind 2-and-0 to Alfonzo, the Mets second baseman blasted a two-run homer to left-center to increase the Mets’ lead to 4-1. With the ease with which Leiter was mowing down the Giants, the two insurance runs appeared to put the game out of reach.
Barry Bonds led off the bottom on the ninth with a double to right-center, prompting Mets manager Bobby Valentine to lift Leiter in favor of Armando Benitez. Despite his outstanding season, in which he saved 41 games while striking out 106 batters in only 76 innings, Mets fans were accustomed to holding their breath when the right-hander was called upon to close out a game. Benitez had blown five saves during the year and struggled in the last month of the season with a 4.50 ERA.
Benitez got ahead of Jeff Kent 0-and-2 before the Giants first baseman laced a groundball deep in the hole at shortstop. Although Bordick was able to field the ball cleanly, Kent was able to beat the throw to first as Bonds wisely held at second. That brought the tying run to the plate. Benitez and the Mets were given a short-lived reprieve when Burks hit a pop fly to right on the first pitch. With the Giants down to their last two outs, manager Dusty Baker sent J.T. Snow to the plate to hit for second baseman Ramon Martinez. Snow, the Giants regular first baseman, wasn’t in the starting lineup to allow for another right-handed bat in the lineup against Leiter. After getting ahead 2-and-1 in the count, Snow hit a high arching shot down the right-field line that just cleared the 25-foot wall in right field, tying the game 4-4. Benitez retired the next two batters, but the damage was done. After the game, Benitez credited Snow. “I give him my hat,” Benitez said.i
But these Mets were resilient. In the top of the 10th inning, with two outs, pinch-hitter Daryl Hamilton doubled off Rodriguez and Payton followed with an RBI single to plate Hamilton and put the Mets back on top, 5-4.
Benitez returned to the mound in the bottom of the 10th and surrendered a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Armando Rios. Valentine had seen enough and yanked a rattled Benitez in favor of 40-year-old former closer John Franco. The left-handed veteran, now serving in a situational setup role, was called upon to do what he had previously done 420 times in his 17-year career — save a ballgame. This time the stakes were a bit higher.
Marvin Benard, pinch-hitting for Murray, was the first batter to face Franco. The left-handed-hitting Bernard sacrificed Rios to second with a deftly-placed bunt to the first-base side. Mueller followed with a sharp grounder to shortstop. Though the ball was hit in front of him, Rios inexplicably tried to advance to third and was thrown out, causing Fox play-by-play man Thom Brennaman to comment, “Boy, you have to wonder what in the world Armando Rios is thinking about there.”ii The Giants were now down to their final out, but as if someone had scripted the scenario in advance, up to the plate came the Giants’ best player and most polarizing figure, Barry Bonds.
Facing the most dangerous hitter in the baseball, Franco fell behind 2-and-0 and 3-and-1 to Bonds. The Giants slugger took a slider for strike two before fouling off a high fastball he couldn’t quite catch up to. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Bonds was caught looking at a 3-and-2 changeup that plate umpire Gary Cederstrom ruled a strike.iii Questioned about the 3-and-2 pitch selection after the game, left-hander Franco left little doubt. “I’ve been making a living for 17 years getting people out on my changeup,” he said. “What better time to throw it?”iv Thanks to the peculiarities of official scoring, Franco preserved the victory for Benitez as the series shifted back to Shea tied at a game apiece.
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 Baseball-Reference.com.
i Sean Deveney, “Standing Room Only,” The Sporting News, October 16, 2000: 15.
ii Mets at Giants Game Two 2000 NLDS Live Clips, Retrieved from youtube.com/watch?v=2rG8cZTjfSg.
iii 2000 NLDS Gm2: Franco Freezes Bonds, Mets Even Series. Retrieved from youtube.com/watch?v=w85HX4rc-vw.
iv “Quick Hits: Players Who Provided Special Postseason Moments. Change Is Eternal: John Franco,” The Sporting News, October 16, 2000.