When the New York Mets awoke on Wednesday, September 17, 2008, they found themselves in second place in the National League East, a half-game behind the Philadelphia Phillies. They had enjoyed a 3½-game lead just a week earlier before losing four of their next five games. The recent rough patch brought up memories of the previous season, in which the Mets were up seven games with 17 to play, and then went 5-12 and missed the playoffs. “Last year was last year,” said general manager Omar Minaya. “This is a totally different situation from last year. Last year we had a lead that we were trying to protect – I mean, a big lead. This year we’re in a pennant race. This is just a straight-out pennant race. Compared to last year, there’s just no comparison.”1
“I’ve said all along it’s a little bump in the road,” said Mets third baseman David Wright. “It does not matter what Philadelphia does. It doesn’t matter. It’s about what the New York Mets do. It’s about what the guys in this clubhouse do. We plan on getting the job done. We’re going to see what we’re made out of. This is a little bump in the road. I’m excited moving forward because I think we’ve got a room full of guys that will not allow us to fail.”2
Before the previous day’s game against the Washington Nationals, Mets manager Jerry Manuel gathered the team for a meeting. “Just touch base on where we are, what we need to do,” he said. “Try to get back in the direction that we were headed in, kind of remind them of the good baseball that we played for a long period of time, that we’ve just got to keep playing good baseball.”3
“We’ve got to get it done on the field,” Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado said. “I think what Jerry was trying to do, which is very smart, is keep the troops together, give us a little encouragement and continue to go. It’s an exciting time. … This is a pennant race, and we’re going to fight like a pennant race.”4
The Mets lost Tuesday’s game, their third straight loss, while the Phillies beat the Braves to take over the division lead. New York was also a half-game behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL wild-card race. With only 12 games left to play, Wednesday’s matchup, on the road, was crucial. “There are 12 games left between the white lines,” Minaya said. “That’s what this is about. Finding a way to get it done, understanding that we have some obstacles in front of us. We have a major challenge in front of us. I think the good thing is everybody is dedicated to the cause. When it’s all said and done, it’s not going to be because guys didn’t give their best. That’s what Jerry [Manuel] did. We’re all trying to do the best we can.”5
On the mound for the Mets was 32-year-old Brandon Knight, making only his second career start. Knight’s journey to this point was anything but usual. He was selected in the amateur draft three times before signing a contract, traded, taken in the Rule 5 draft, returned to his previous team, and finally made his major-league debut in 2001 after six years in the minors. He was out of the league after making just 11 appearances across two seasons, followed by a couple of years playing overseas in Japan and Venezuela. On the verge of retiring, he got a call from the Atlantic League and was persuaded to return to baseball. Then came 2008. He signed a deal with the Mets, made the Team USA Olympic roster a couple of months later, won a medal in Beijing, and was back with New York for less than a month when he was named the starter for September 17 against the Nationals.
“I never thought this was realistic,” Knight said. “It’s amazing how this game is, how life is, and how it can all change just like that.”6
Knight had three previous appearances with the Mets up to that point: a start on July 26 against the St. Louis Cardinals – his first career start – in which he gave up four runs over five innings and got a no-decision, as well as two one-inning relief appearances earlier in September. “I can’t be concerned with it,” said Knight about his inconsistent pitching schedule. “I’ve just got to go out there and do what I can. I’m excited for it. I want to get out there. I like starting. That’s where I’m most comfortable.”7
“Shutout – nine innings of shutout ball and I won’t take anything less,” joked Manuel about his expectations for Knight, whose career ERA entering the game was 9.57.8
The series of events that even led to a player like Knight getting the ball at this point in a pennant race was also a bit of an adventure. According to the Mets’ regular rotation, Johan Santana should have been on the mound, but a rainout on Friday, September 12, completely upended that schedule. Santana, who was also supposed to pitch that night, was pushed to game one of the Saturday doubleheader. For game two, Manuel went with Jonathan Niese instead of Pedro Martínez, whose turn it was in the rotation. The reason, according to Manuel, was: “It would have been a situation we’d have to have two spot starters back to back [on Tuesday and Wednesday]. It would have put a little more stress on us than we’d like.”9 And so Oliver Pérez went Sunday, Martínez pitched Monday on seven days’ rest, and Mike Pelfrey on Tuesday. Santana wouldn’t be ready to pitch again until Thursday, creating a hole in the rotation. Enter Brandon Knight.
“At this point, right now, every game counts,” he said. “That’s the way it is in the Olympics. You lose one or two games and you’re done. I love it. This is where you want to be.”10
Knight’s game started at 7:10 P.M. at Nationals Park in Washington. The temperature was 73 degrees and the recorded attendance was 25,019. The first pitch thrown by Nationals starter Shairon Martis to Jose Reyes was in for a ball, and in the words of Mets play-by-play broadcaster Gary Cohen, “We’re underway.”
It was the biggest major-league game of Knight’s career, and it was also the best game of his career. He lasted five innings, giving up two runs on six hits and striking out five. When he left the game, the Mets had a 7-2 lead, thanks in part to home runs by Reyes, Delgado, and Carlos Beltrán. Seven relievers followed Knight, only two of whom managed to record three outs. In the end, the Mets scraped out a 9-7 victory and Knight had his first major-league win. Said manager Manuel: “I can’t recollect straining like that [for a win], especially with what’s at stake. But we won, that’s what’s important. We came up with a victory. That’s huge for us right now.”11
“We needed the win,” said Beltrán. “There’s no more options for us. Basically every game counts. Today was good that we went there and scored a lot of runs. It would have been better if we would have won with a good lead. Things happen.”12
“It was a little bit like, ‘Really? Is this really happening?’” Knight said of earning his first major-league win. “All of us who had pitched were in here, taking deep breaths, saying, ‘OK, everything’s going to be fine.’”13
The Phillies and Brewers also won on Wednesday, meaning there were no changes in the division or wild-card standings. The Mets went 5-6 over their final 11 games, finishing a game behind the Brewers for the wild card and three games behind in the NL East to the Phillies, who went on to win the World Series.
September 17 was the final major-league appearance of Knight’s career,14 and so his first win as a pitcher also proved to be his only win. “I wasn’t really nostalgic,” Knight said. “More like, ‘Wow, it’s taken this long?’ But it was all worth it.”15
This article was fact-checked by Bruce Slutsky and copy-edited by Len Levin.
Photo credit: Trading Card Database.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author used Baseball-Reference.com, Newspapers.com, and Retrosheet.org.
1 Adam Rubin, “Meetin’ Mets Are Bunch of Zeroes,” New York Daily News, September 17, 2008: 54.
2 Steve Popper, “Mets Knocked Out of First and Lose Tatis,” Hackensack (New Jersey) Record, September 17, 2008: S1.
3 Popper, “Mets Knocked Out of First.”
4 Popper, “Mets Knocked Out of First.”
5 Popper, “Mets Knocked Out of First.”
6 Stefan Bondy, “Enjoying a Minor Miracle,” Passaic (New Jersey) Herald-News, July 26, 2008: E5.
7 Brian Heyman, “Olympian Knight to Start for Mets,” Central New Jersey Home News Tribune (New Brunswick, New Jersey), September 17, 2008.
8 Steve Popper, “Mets Sweat Out a Victory to Keep Pace,” Hackensack Record, September 18, 2008: S1.
9 Steve Popper, “Extra Rest,” Hackensack Record, September 14, 2008: S5.
10 David Lennon, “Much Power, but Little to Spare,” Newsday (Long Island, New York), September 18, 2008: A66.
11 Popper, “Mets Sweat Out a Victory.”
12 Popper, “Mets Sweat Out a Victory.”
13 Howard Fendrich (Associated Press), “Mets Hang On to Defeat Nationals,” September 18, 2008.
14 The Mets sent Knight to Buffalo before the 2009 season began. They released him in late July and he pitched in the Korean league through 2014.
15 Popper, “Mets Sweat Out a Victory.”