July 1-2: Still flying high from their dramatic comeback to close out June, the Mets put up another huge two-out rally against Braves pitching. This one was almost as impressive, coming against the usually stingy Greg Maddux.
The Mets took a slim lead in the first inning when a dropped third strike to Mike Piazza allowed Derek Bell to score from third. But the real fun came in the second when, after two quick outs, Maddux suddenly became unable to retire anyone.
Benny Agbayani started the onslaught with a solo home run. That brought up Al Leiter, renowned as a horrible hitter even amongst pitchers (.085 lifetime batting average to start this game). But he managed to flare a single into left field. Perhaps unnerved by this indignity, Maddux ceded back-to-back doubles by Melvin Mora and Bell to score two more runs. An Edgardo Alfonzo single drove in another, and Mike Piazza capped it off with a two-run bomb off the camera stand in straight-away center field, making this the 14th consecutive game in which he had at least one RBI.
Maddux was yanked after this inning, one of the shortest outings of his career, but the damage was long since done. Bell added a two-run homer in the eighth, Al Leiter pitched seven strong innings, and the Mets cruised to a 9-1 victory that pulled them to within one game of first place. Even more so than the victory, Leiter was pleased that the game ended in time for him to see Bruce Springsteen at Madison Square Garden.
Unfortunately, the Braves took their turn at a blowout in the series finale. Glendon Rusch faltered for once, giving up seven runs and 13 hits in five innings of work, while his teammates could do little against Tom Glavine in a 10-2 defeat. The loss meant the Mets were in the exact same spot as when the Braves series began, two games out of first.
Still, even if they were treading water in the standings, the Mets felt as if they'd made progress in their minds. Psychologically, the Braves no longer seemed like such a huge hurdle. "I think what happened is, we just felt like it didn't really matter who we were playing," Piazza said once the Braves had left town. "I don't think we really saw them as the Braves or the 'Team of the 90's' or anything like that. We saw ourselves as playing good baseball. Whatever way you want to take it, that's a positive thing for us."
Meanwhile, the front office was trying to shore up an ailing pitching staff. Brad Radke was an early target, but he signed a four-year extension with the Twins, thus taking him off the market. Curt Schilling said he'd accept a trade to the Mets, among other teams, but a pitcher of his caliber would surely cost a king's ransom in prospects. Mike Mussina was another target, but the Orioles did not yet signal if he was available or not. For the time being, they Mets would start Bobby M. Jones, recently recalled from triple-A, in place of the injured Rick Reed.July 3-5: A brief trip to Florida to take on the Marlins lacked the crowds and excitement of the Braves series, as well as the positive results. The Mets could do nothing against Jesus Sanchez, a former Mets farmhand, who shut them down over eight innings. Bobby Jones The Elder (Bobby J.) and the Mets bullpen kept the Marlins off the scoreboard until the ninth, when Turk Wendell gave up a single to Mike Lowell and a walkoff bomb of a home run to Derek Lee. Wendell had only allowed one run in his previous seven outings, but it was the fourth game-winning homer he'd given up in 2000.
The next night, the Bobby Jones The Lefty (Bobby M.) was not nearly as effective as his namesake, squandering a 5-0 lead and allowing seven runs in only four innings of work. The Mets threatened in the ninth, but Todd Pratt and Melvin Mora struck out with the tying run at second to complete a 9-8 loss. In the finale, they capitalized on many Marlin errors to escape with an 11-2 win. Mike Hampton was removed after six innings, despite only throwing 79 pitches, with the expectation that he'd face the Yankees on short rest in the next series.
July 7: The opener of the Shea portion of the Subway Series featured a fierce pitchers' duel between Orlando Hernandez and Al Leiter. The Mets' lefty got into trouble in the first, loading the bases, then giving up RBI singles to Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada. He'd recover to go eight innings and strike out eight, but his teammates could do little against El Duque. The Mets managed to hit balls hard against him all game, but only into the Yankees' gloves. Like in the eighth, when Derek Bell made a bid for a game-tying home run, only to see the ball land in Paul O'Neill's glove for a very long sacrifice fly. That made the score 2-1, and that's where it stayed.
The Yankees had won their third game in a row, but even so, they appeared to have no patience for the hype and hoopla of this series. Joe Torre in particular seemed very grumpy, especially the two-stadium double header set for the next day.
It was due, in part, to the Yankees' struggles so far that season (although these being the Yankees, those "struggles" meant they were in first place by a mere half-game). Many writers spoke of how free and easy the Mets played compared to the tense, squabbling Yankees. In the Daily News, Lisa Olsen noted:
They used to be such a fun bunch, but these days, on the rare instances when they do bother to show their faces in the clubhouse, they snap and snarl at innocuous baseball questions, as if they were being asked to figure out the square root of their batting averages. Losing and turmoil has brought out a nasty side of players who have owned New York for the last few years, and it isn't pretty to watch.
Olsen contrasted these Gloomy Guses with shiny happy examples from the Mets like Todd Zeile and Mike Piazza, who seemed to enjoy winning in New York and being the focus of attention in a way their crosstown rivals did not. The Yankees, it seemed, had tired of the spotlight.
But everyone's positivity would be tried the next day, during the Shea-Yankee Stadium twin bill. What should have been a fun event turned into one of the weirdest, ugliest days in New York sports history.