May 1-4: The Mets continued a 13-game road trip with their first visit to San Francisco's Pacific Bell Park (as it was once called, three or four names ago), a brand new stadium that received rave reviews for its spacious confines and scenic location. After decades of playing in wretched Candlestick Park, the park had given the Giants and their fans a new vitality in a city usually derided as "not a baseball town". Perhaps distracted by its beauty, the Mets were swept in this four-game set, with a few losses coming in crushing, baffling fashion.
Former Generation K member Bill Pulsipher filled in for the ailing Bobby Jones (in only his second start since his star-crossed 1995) but could not escape a wild, troublesome fourth inning, as the Mets lost 10-3. (This game also featured the first ball ever hit into McCovey Cove, clubbed 418 feet by Barry Bonds.) In game two, Glendon Rusch was felled by a nightmare six-run fourth inning (after allowing only five runs in total on the season beforehand), and the Mets went quietly, 7-1. In a refrain to be heard years later in the Mets' new ballpark, the New York writers lamented a double by Robin Ventura that bounced off of the brick wall in right-center field (some 420 feet from home plate), which would've been a home run virtually anywhere else.
In the third game, the Mets handed Mike Hampton three separate leads, but he squandered each one. Two bases-load walks in the bottom of the sixth gave the Giants a 4-3 lead, as Hampton barked at home plate umpire Jim Reynolds and his miniscule strike zone, and a Calvin Murray RBI single made the score 5-3. The Mets rallied to tie in the top of the seventh on a two-RBI Melvin Mora triple, but blew numerous chances to retake the lead in subsequent innings, and were ultimately undone by a three-run Jeff Kent homer in the bottom of the 11th.
Frustrated and not feeling very talkative, Hampton left immediately after the game without talking to the press and walked all the way back to the team's hotel ("Rather than say something stupid or something I would later regret, I just decided not to say anything."). Every Met had been used in the losing effort except Rickey Henderson, still feuding with management and sitting on the bench while journeyman Jon Nunnally got the bulk of the playing time.
In the finale, Rick Reed took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth, but was yanked for Dennis Cook when a walk and two singles tied the game. Cook unraveled after committing a balk on what he considered a normal pickoff move, then got into a shouting match with Marvin Benard because he thought the outfielder had glared at him when hit by a pitch. (It may have been retaliation for the day before, when Benard overslid home plate and plowed into Todd Pratt, a move the catcher called "cheap".) Clearly rattled, Cook was swapped for Benitez, who promptly gave up a bases-clearing triple to BIll Mueller and a two-run homer to Jeff Kent. The Mets went quietly in the ninth and were swept out of San Francisco. And though it might be too early for scoreboard watching, the Braves had just rattled off a 15-game winning streak and led the Mets by 5.5 games.
Back home, GM Steve Phillips was meeting with city officials to discuss how to deal with John Rocker's first visit to New York, even though that date was well over a month away. Over the winter, Sports Illustrated published its infamous interview with Rocker in which he had many not nice things to say about the 7 train and New York City in general, thus elevating him to the pantheon of Cartoonish Supervillainy. Some fans had gone so far as to promote a "battery night" at Shea in his honor.May 5-11: Despite a brutal late-night cross country flight, the Mets managed a 4-1 win against the Marlins behind seven solid innings from Al Leiter. Subbing for an overworked Benitez, John Franco earned his first save of the year. But they faltered the next day when Bill Pulsipher turned in another shaky performance, falling 9-1. Their troubles were exacerbated by Benitez, who told Bobby Valentine he wanted to pitch to "work on some things" and worked his way into a grand slam by Preston Wilson. Then, they couldn't back up another good outing from Glendon Rusch and were shut out 3-0 by Ryan Dempster.
After this game, Rickey Henderson blamed Mets management for the team's woes. "There's a lot of I-don't-knows, a lot of switching, a lot of everything," he said. "When you're doing all that, it's tough to win." A short while later, said management tried to resolve the issue by putting Henderson on waivers, though at his salary and advanced age, there were no takers just yet.
Next, another trip to Pittsburgh, where Mike Hampton found his old form and shut out the Pirates 2-0, despite taking a grounder off of his left wrist that left visible stitch marks. (Hampton would credit a tutorial from Tom Seaver for his turnaround.) In the middle game, the usually reliable bullpen squandered a five-run lead in a 13-9 loss (partially aided by Rickey Henderson, making a rare start, who pulled short on a run-scoring double he might have been able to catch). But they rebounded for a tidy 3-2 win, thanks to a complete game by Al Leiter, to end their road trip on a positive note. "It certainly doesn't make everything that's happened on this road trip disappear,'' Todd Zeile told reporters, "but it helps us have more momentum than we had coming in."
May 12-21: The "momentum" Mr. Zeile spoke of seemed to be lacking when the Mets dropped the first two games of their homestand to the Marlins, in ways that felt far too similar to their road trip woes. First, another contest in which Glendon Rusch was bested by Ryan Dempster, during which Rickey Henderson drew boos for turning an extra base hit into a single when he flipped his bat and put his head down, assuming he'd his a homer, only to see the ball bounce off the bottom of the outfield wall. Further outfield trouble came when Melvin Mora cut his finger on a missed bunt and was placed on the DL after the game.
On May 14, the Mets finally released Henderson (who would eventually sign with the Mariners and, at least for a while, find his groove again), thus leading to a season-long search for a leadoff hitter. In the coming weeks, Bobby Valentine would use Mora, Jay Payton, even Derek Bell in an attempt to find the right catalyst for an offense that ran hot and cold. In the short term, the results were largely the same, as they saw a slim lead disappear on a three-run homer by Preston Wilson in a 7-6 loss. Mike Hampton stopped the bleeding with a complete game 5-1 victory, in which he also contributed some clutch baserunning, scoring from first on a Joe McEwing double. Mike Piazza's grand slam shortly after Hampton's mad dash scored all the runs he would need.
The Rockies visited next, and in the series opener, the Mets tied the score on a Todd Zeile homer in the seventh, only to be undone by a solo shot from 31-year-old rookie Bubba Carpenter in the 11th. The next night, Al Leiter turned in another brilliant performance in a 4-2 win, while John Franco picked up another save in place of Armando Benitez, who'd thrown too many pitches the previous evening.
After the series against Colorado was cut short by rain, the Mets played the Diamondbacks for the first time since the 1999 NLDS and picked up right where they left off. Bobby Jones returned from the disabled list and gave his first decent outing of the year in the Mets' 4-3 win, despite seven stolen bases against him. (Mike Piazza's errant throws didn't help, though the catcher did atone with a home run.) The next night, the Mets waited out a three-and-a-half-hour rain delay, then took an 8-0 lead into the eighth inning, only to see Pat Mahomes, Rich Rodriguez, and John Franco conspire to allow seven runs. The struggling Armando Benitez was called on to save the day and did so, striking out Erubiel Durazo looking with the tying and winning runs on base.
The series, and the home stand, ended with some more unlikely heroics. The Mets were able to score five runs off of Randy Johnson, thanks in large part to Joe McEwing. The pint-sized utility man, recently recalled from triple-A Norfolk, hit two doubles and a home run (!) off the big lefty who was a good foot taller than him. However, they still trailed in the game until a Robin Ventura homer in the eighth tied the score, then won when McEwing led off the ninth with a single, stole second, and scored on a Derek Bell hit that just eluded Travis Lee's glove. "I'm a very humble person, so I'm not going to brag about myself," McEwing said later, "but I'm also a confident person and I believe in my abilities."
May 22-31: The Mets left New York to embark on another long road trip, this one with a curious intinerary: San Diego, back east to St. Louis, then west again to Los Angeles. It began on a sour note when Glendon Rusch tossed another great game--seven shutout innings--only to watch John Franco give up the game's only run in the eighth. The Mets managed to load the bases with one out against Trevor Hoffman in the ninth, but could not capitalize, and wound up on the wrong side of a 1-0 final. In the middle game, the Mets managed a 5-3 win when a two-run homer by Mike Piazza (pinch hitting on a rare day off) in the top of the 10th snapped a tie, but could not carry that over into the next game. In a back-and-forth contest, the Mets were undone by a Bret Boone solo homer off of Pat Mahomes in the bottom of the eighth, and they slinked out of San Diego with a 5-4 loss.
In St. Louis, the big attraction was once again Mark McGwire, who'd already hit 20 home runs (despite missing the first 15 games of the year) and was clubbing them at the insane rate of one every 5.45 at-bats. But he was relatively quiet in this series as the Mets managed a surprising sweep of the Cardinals. In the opener, they went ahead on a two-RBI single from Robin Ventura and held on for a 5-2 win. Then, they outlasted the Cards in a 12-8 slugfest by hitting four home runs, the biggest one a Todd Zeile grand slam that broke an 8-8 tie. (Unfortunately, Rick Reed was lost in the effort due to a strained left oblique.) To close out the sweep, the Mets smacked three more homers, with Zeile, Edgardo Alfonzo (in the midst of a 13-game hitting streak), and Todd Pratt going deep, and Glendon Rusch tossed seven good innings in a worry-free 6-2 victory.
The momentum did not follow them back to LA. In the opener, the offense could do nothing against Chan Ho Park, and Al Leiter was defeated when he gave up a single, hit two batters, then surrendered a grand slam to Shawn Green. To make things worse, Rey Ordonez broke a bone in his forearm trying to tag out F. P. Santangelo in the first inning. At the time, it was hoped the injury would only sideline him for six weeks, but Ordonez would eventually require surgery and be done for the year. It was not much of a loss offensively (Ordonez had only been hitting .188, weak even by his standarrds) but it was a big defensive hit to an infield that was already playing one man out of position (Zeile). For the time being, Bobby Valentine said he would probably start veteran Kurt Abbott at short.
The next day, the Mets managed a huge ninth inning rally, capped by a Todd Pratt grand slam, to defeat the Dodgers 10-5 in what was the longest nine-inning game they'd ever played (four hours, nine minutes). But the month ended on an ugly, scary note when Mike Piazza took a shot to the head from a Garry Sheffield backswing, suffered a mild concussion, and had to leave the game. They rallied to tie the game at 3 on a home run from Kurt Abbott and an RBI double from Edgardo Alfonzo, only to lose on a walkoff home run from ex-Met Kevin Elster.
The Mets ended May much in the way they ended April: five games over .500 and still looking very cold. Things would heat up in June, and then some.
W-L Record, May 31: 29-24