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Queens Chronicle

Our hometown heroes for 50 years — Part XI: 1997-1999

A New York Mets anniversary special

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Posted: Thursday, June 28, 2012 4:45 pm | Updated: 1:22 pm, Thu Jul 19, 2012.

The Mets really revved it up at the end of the ’90s, but kept the fans on an emotional roller coaster as they finished 1998 and 1999 in heartbreaking fashion, falling just short of the postseason in the former and losing the League Championship Series in six in the latter.

1997

Record: 88-74, third in National League East.

After a 3-9 start, the Mets enjoy their first winning season since 1990. Newly acquired John Olerud leads the club with 102 RBIs and hits 22 home runs; Todd Hundley hits 30 homers and drives in 86; Butch Huskey hits 24 and drives in 81. Bobby Jones (15-9) and Rick Reed (13-9) are the big winners on the staff.

The season is marked by a special tribute to Jackie Robinson on April 15, a game attended by President Bill Clinton, who speaks at Shea Stadium. Interleague play debuts in 1997; the first official game in the Subway Series between the Amazin’s and their crosstown rival Yankees is won by the Mets 6-0 at Yankee Stadium; Dave Mlicki is the winner.

 

1998

Record: 88-74, second in National League East.

The season is a bitter disappointment, as the Mets lead the Wild Card race by one game with five to play, only to lose all five and miss out on the postseason. Al Leiter (17-6, 2.47 ERA) is acquired from Florida; Reed goes 16-11. Mike Piazza (23 home runs, 76 RBIs) is acquired in May. John Olerud hits 22 home runs and leads the Mets with 93 RBIs while also setting a club record with a .353 average. Edgardo Alfonzo leads the team with 94 runs and drives in 78.

1999

Record: 97-66, Wild Card winners, Division Series winners.

In one of the most memorable seasons in club history, the Mets make the postseason for the first time in 11 years.

They start the year 17-9, then slump to 27-28. They pick it up bigtime, however, and on Sept. 19 are 92-58 and only one game out of first — but then suffer a seven-game losing streak, including three in a row each in Atlanta and Philadelphia. On Sept. 30, a 4-3 loss to the Braves puts them two back in the Wild Card race with three to go, and in unbelievable fashion, they sweep Pittsburgh the last weekend of the season to tie Cincinnati for the Wild Card at 96-66. In a one-game playoff in Cincinnati, Leiter pitches a magnificent two-hitter to defeat the Reds 5-0 and give the Mets a playoff berth.

Piazza enjoys a 24-game hitting streak, hits 40 home runs and drives in a club record 124 runs while scoring 100; newcomer Robin Ventura hits 32 home runs, including three grand slams to tie a club record, and drives in 120; Olerud chips in with 19 home runs and 96 RBIs. Alfonzo hits 27 home runs, scores a club record 123 and drives in 108 to become the first Met with more than 200 runs produced.

On Aug. 30, in Houston, Alfonzo enjoys perhaps the finest offensive game ever by a Met, as he goes 6-6 (a club record), scores six runs (a club record) and hits three home runs (tying a club record) while driving in five in a 17-1 Mets win.

The ’99 Mets boast one of the greatest infields ever, as they make just 81 errors.

Other memorable wins include a 9-8 victory over the Yankees July 10 at Shea, the winning runs coming on pinch-hitter Matt Franco’s two-run ninth inning single off the invincible Mariano Rivera, as well as the three-game sweep over Pittsburgh, the Mets winning Game 1 3-2 on Ventura’s 11th inning single, and winning Game 3 2-1 on Melvin Mora’s scoring the winning run in the 9th on a wild pitch.

On the mound, Leiter and Orel Hershiser each win 13; Masato Yoshii wins 12 and Reed 11. Armando Benitez replaces John Franco in mid-season as the bullpen ace and saves 22.

In the postseason, the Mets dispose of Arizona in four games for one of the National League Division Series titles. They take Game 1 8-4 on Alfonzo’s 9th-inning grand slam, and win the deciding Game 4 on Todd Pratt’s 10th inning walk-off home run.

In the League Championship Series, the Mets lose the first three to Atlanta before winning Game 4 3-2, on Olerud’s 8th-inning two-run single. Game 5 is one of the most memorable postseason games ever, won by the Mets 4-3 as they score two runs in the bottom of the 15th, the first coming on a bases-loaded walk to Pratt, followed by Ventura’s famous “grand slam single” — he had hit it over the fence, but it was ruled a single when he never rounded the bases.

Game 6 in Atlanta is another classic: After the Braves take a 1st-inning 5-0 lead, the

Amazin’s rally to tie it 7-7 in the 7th. They then take one-run leads in both the 8th and the 10th, only to see the Braves come back and tie; and Atlanta finally wins 10-9 in the 11th, on a bases-loaded walk.   

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