For an intro to this series, see the Pregame Show. If you're nostalgic for the previous year's team, peep The 1999 Project.
July 9: The Mets were still reeling from the Piazza beaning, and tried to exact revenge before game time any way they could. GM Steve Phillips banned the Yankees from using the weight room and Shea's underground batting cage. Joe Torre responded (with a straight face, apparently), "I was disappointed that happened. It is unfortunate. They had access to our weight room...we like to conduct what we do with class."
He did not explain if throwing a 92 mph fastball at someone's head fell under his definition of "class." Or if "class" could define the spin-tacular, easily refuted comments of George Steinbrenner, who said the Mets had only made such a big deal out of the incident to distract people from the fact that "the Yankees won the series, in pretty convincing fashion." The Yankees had won 3 of 4 games, by an aggregate total of five runs, which does not translate to "convincing" by most calculations.
He also said "Bobby Valentine is a good manager. He's also a smart P.R. guy. He knows there were rumors about his position, and he came in looking for a big series." Contrary to this insinuation, despite being in the last year of his contract, there had been no serious rumors about Valentine's job security all season. The Boss insisted Clemens would never hit someone because "he's a family guy who loves his kids." Even though you don't have to hunt too far to find someone who loves their kids and still does terrible things. It was interesting that Steinbrenner was accusing the Mets of trying to shift focus, since he was an excellent practitioner of doing just that every time one of his own moves mackfired, as Ira Berkow recounted in the Times.
"It's a P.R. stunt?" Piazza responded. "That's a heck of a P.R. stunt. Next time we're going to pull a stunt like that, I'll volunteer not to be the guinea pig. Trust me." Bobby Valentine, who'd been hit in the head as a minor league player, was not pleased. "Unless you've been looking down at someone who's been hit in the head or looking up at people looking at you, you shouldn't have anything to say about that arena, because you don't know anything about that arena."
The game was tense, to say the least, clouded by the knowledge that anything close to a brushback pitch could cause an ugly, bench-clearing incident. Nevertheless (or perhaps because of this), it turned out to be a pitcher's duel. Both Mike Hampton and Andy Pettite were throwing on short rest, but certainly didn't look like it. Pettite pitched a bit better than Hampton, but he also gave up a home run to Todd Zeile to open the bottom of the fourth. The Yankee lefty was pulled in the eighth after a leadoff walk to Todd Pratt and a sac bunt by Hampton. Reliever Jeff Nelson threw a wild pitch that moved Pratt to third, and Melvin Mora followed with a sac fly to score him.
For his part, Hampton gave up more hits, but used pickoffs and strikeouts to keep the Yankees off the board. The game started with a Chuck Knoblauch single, but he was erased on a strike-em-out-throw-em-out double play. Paul O'Neill led off the top of the fourth with a single, then was picked off trying to steal second.
Hampton left with a forearm cramp after seven innings, so Bobby Valentine called on Armando Benitez for a two-inning save. Following Hampton's lead, he escaped a jam in the eighth by striking out Knoblauch and catching Jose Vizcaino trying to steal second. The Yanks threatened in the ninth with a single and a walk, but Benitez induced a grounder from Felix Jose to end the game and the series. Not a moment too soon, it seemed.July 11: Mike Piazza was still recovering from his concussion, one of many stars to sit out the All-Star Game (Cal Ripken, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and Barry Bonds just a few notable examples). That left the Mets with two representatives in Atlanta for the Midsummer Classic. Edgardo Alfonzo, a first-time All-Star, acquitted himself well in the field but went 0-for-2 at the plate. Al Leiter pitched one inning, loaded the bases thanks to an error by Barry Larkin, then gave up a two-run single to Derek Jeter. After the events of the past weekend, it came as no surprise that Jeter would win the MVP award and Leiter would be tagged with the loss.
July 13-20: The Mets began an 11-game road trip by continuing their circuit through AL East teams. In the series opener in Boston, they managed to score two whole runs against Pedro Martinez, a small miracle. Piazza returned to the lineup and eschewed the DH role he could have taken in an AL park, catching all nine innings. His eighth inning single allowed the Mets' third run to score (abetted by a Carl Everett error). The Mets had a 3-2 lead, but in the bottom of the ninth, Melvin Mora misplayed a grounder at short that could have been a game-ending double play. Shortly thereafter, Brian Daubach ended the game different way by hitting a two-RBI double that gave the Red Sox a 4-3 walkoff win.
Piazza showed no ill effects in the middle game, clubbing two homers in the Mets' 6-4 win. It was an odd game, one in which the Red Sox insisted on having balls examined by the umpire because they were suspicious of the way reliever Dennis Cook rubbed them up. Cook was later ejected after hitting Carl Everett. The lefty barked that the outfielder was crowding the plate and standing outside the batter's box, an issue that would blow up the next evening.
During Everett's first at bat, the home plate umpire Ron Kulpa drew a line in the dirt, indicating the outlines of the batter's box. Incensed, Everett went ballistic for a full five minutes, got into the umpire's face, bumped him, slammed his helmet, and even head butted Kulpa. He would eventually earn a lengthy suspension for his histrionics. Boston manager Jimy Williams blamed the Mets for insisting the umps enforce this rule, while Bobby Valentine accused Williams of "making statements that he has no clue about." If anyone noticed, the Mets lost 6-4, though Piazza hit another home run in the effort.
But there was more injury news--Robin Ventura had traveled back to New York to get an MRI on his ailing shoulder, and soon wound up on the DL with a bruised rotator cuff. Lenny Harris would take his place at third--not the best option, but one of the few the Mets had.
The series continued in Toronto, where Al Leiter experienced "the most inconsistent umpiring I've ever had in my 12 years in the big leagues." The home plate ump, rookie Mike Fitcher (one of many now in the bigs thanks to the massive umpire resignation/firing of 1999), squeezed Leiter at several key points, particularly before he gave up a grand slam to Marty Cordova. Blue Jay pitcher Roy Halladay didn't seem to suffer from such problems (to demonstrate how long ago this was, Halladay's career ERA to that point was 11.68), and Toronto cruised to a 7-3 win.
Valentine called a team meeting to see if he could break the Mets out of a funk. It seemed to work, as they took the last two games of the series. First, they came from behind to pull out a 7-5 victory in 11 innings, then scored early and often against Chris Carpenter in an 11-7 win. Piazza hit another home run in the series closer, a grand slam clubbed some 426 feet.
While still north of the border, the Mets played a quick two-game set in Montreal. Using a B-squad lineup, they managed a 5-3 win, with contributions from subs like Joe McEwing and Mark Johnson. But they faltered in the second game, 4-1, and lost another player to injury: Edgardo Alfonzo left the game with a sore hip. He'd been dealing with the ailment all season, but the pain had become intolerable. With a series in Atlanta looming, it was a bad time to be playing at half strength.
July 21-23: As the Mets arrived in Atlanta for the first time in 2000, they had reportedly completed a deal for perpetual All-Star shortstop Barry Larkin. But Larkin had to approve the trade, and like Ken Griffey Jr. before him, he vetoed a move to New York, opting instead to sign a three-year extension with Cincinnati.
That's why they fielded a lineup in which Joe McEwing led off and played second base. After falling behind 2-0, the Mets knocked Terry Mulholland out of the game with a three-run top of the third inning. But the Braves came right back in the bottom half, aided by a Lenny Harris error. With Andruw Jones at third, Harris fielded a ground and decided to throw home, but his toss was right in the basepath. Jones collided with Piazza, the ball got away, and the Braves wound up scoring two runs, en route to a 6-3 win.
Rick Reed outdueled Greg Maddux and even contributed an RBI sac fly in a 4-0 Mets win in the middle game. Then it was the Mets' turn to get shut out. Bobby Jones allowed one slim run to the Braves, but his teammates could do nothing against the newly acquired Andy Ashby, who kept them off the board in a complete game washout. Benny Agbayani came within inches of hitting a game-tying double in the ninth inning, but the ball dropped just foul, and he grounded out to end the game.
A mere two games out of first to close out June, the Mets were now six games back. They had won a grand total of two games in their last 17 at Turner Field.
July 25-30: After a trying road trip, the Mets closed out July with a most welcome homestand. GM Steve Phillips made some noise about acquiring another pitcher, but the ace he most coveted, Curt Schilling, was dealt to Arizona. His price tag was too high for Phillips to stomach, and the Phillies seemed wary of trading their ace within the division to begin with. After this news broke, Phillips said the team's focus would switch to the bullpen as the trade deadline approached.
On the field, the team's woes suddenly dissipated. Edgardo Alfonzo returned to the lineup after resting his sore hip for several games. Glendon Rusch pitched seven solid innings in the opener against the Expos as the Mets put together a hassle-free 5-0 win. A rainout the next day necessitated a double header that the Mets swept. Rookie Grant Roberts was roughed up for seven early runs in the first game, but the Mets rebounded to squeak out a 9-8 win on a misty afternoon. Then, Mike Hampton gave a bullpen a much-needed rest by going to distance in the nightcap as the Mets won 4-3. It was not a day for the ages, as both Derek Bell and Melvin Mora were injured by batted balls and the two teams combined for nine errors, no win was too ugly for the Mets to accept these days.
As the Cardinals came to town, the Mets finally pulled the trigger on a few trade deals, none of them particularly sexy or, as the passage of time has proven, good either. Following failed attempts to get a big time reliever to shore up the bullpen, they acquired Bubba Trammel and Rick White from Tampa Bay in exchange for Jason Tyner and Paul Wilson (thus divesting themselves of both a former first round draft pick and the last member of Generation K). They also got veteran shortstop Mike Bordick from the Orioles, who'd been having a surprisingly good year. Unfortunately, they'd given up a package of four young players to do it, one of whom was Melvin Mora. Needless to say, Baltimore would make out better in the long run.
Though at the time few people thought Melvin Mora would become much more than a utility player, the deals were still criticized in the press. Particularly since the Braves solidified their lineup by trading for slugger B.J. Surhoff, while giving up no one of consequence to do so. Mike Lupica asked Mike Piazza if the Mets were still good enough to beat Atlanta. "Healthy, yes," he said, while John Franco had a more unqualified answer: "Fuck 'em. We'll beat them with Surhoff."
With their lineup seemingly set for the year, the Mets took on St. Louis and managed another sweep. In the opener, Al Leiter and the bullpen stifled St. Louis just enough for a 3-2 win. The next day, Robin Ventura returned from the DL to shore up the lineup and the shaky infield defense, and Mike Bordick made an impression by clubbing the first pitch he saw as a Met for a home run, as the Mets prevailed in a back-and-forth 4-3 contest. Bubba Trammel followed Bordick's lead by homering in his own first at bat as a Met, a three-run shot that proved the difference in the 4-2 win. Even more impressive: Bobby Jones went the distance, retired the first 14 batters he faced, and struck out nine, including the dangerous Jim Edmonds three times. It was his first complete game since 1997.
It was a trying month, to say the least, but the tide finally seemed to be turning in the Mets' favor.
W-L Record, July 30: 59-44