Burnings in Atlanta

The last time the Mets were in Atlanta back in mid-April, thanks to a Friday night rainout, they were forced to play a doubleheader against the Braves, their second twin-bill in three days following another weather-induced one at home against the Rockies. The two teams play each other 19 times during the season and had a few mutual off days that could have accommodated both of their schedules. But the call on when to make up the rainout falls to the home team, and the Braves opted to make the Mets play two. They promptly lost both, bringing their losing streak to an unsightly seven.

The Braves were well in their rights to do this, and if the tables were turned, I expect the Mets would do the same. Still, this decision angered me, mostly because it reminded me of Atlantan gamesmanship of years past. Granted, at the height of the Braves-Mets rivalry, this "gamesmanship" was largely limited to simply being better than the Mets. Even so, the tide of luck always seemed to break their way, particularly at Turner Field, to the point where you thought that some sort of trickery or black magic was involved.

This feeling of doom has dissipated somewhat. Of the principal villains of those years, only Chipper Jones remains in Atlanta, and very few of his old teammates are still active anywhere. (Andruw Jones is still in the majors, though he's adopted a different kind of villainy by wearing pinstripes.) The Braves of 2011 are largely young, fresh-faced, and--dare I say it?--likable in a way the Braves of Maddux, Smoltz, and Glavine were not. If you are a Mets fan of more recent vintage than me, you may not even remember the days when going to Turner Field was akin to visiting Mordor.

So at the risk of torturing us all anew, and of also sounding like a Bleacher Report SLIDSHOW, I present the worst soul-crushing Mets defeats at Turner Field from the prime of the two teams' rivalry. For the purposes of this post, that's from Turner Field's debut as a baseball stadium in 1997 through 2001.

September 17, 1997: Prior to this game, the Mets got a whole slew of bad news. Todd Hundley revealed he would be reduced to pinch hitting for the remainder of the season, thanks to bone chips in his elbow (he would eventually need Tommy John surgery). John Franco left the team to get an MRI on his aching back. But the real pain awaited in the game itself. In the bottom of the first, Bobby Jones--who'd enjoyed a good season up to that point--had a complete meltdown. His line to open the game went something like this:

Walk, walk, error on a tapper right back to him from Chipper Jones, walk to force in a run, grand slam by Ryan Klesko, single, single, walk.

Jones left the mound without retiring anyone, and two batters later, reliever Yorkis Perez gave up a three-run homer to Jeff Blauser. The nine-run outburst led to an eventual 10-2 defeat, one that eliminated the Mets from the NL East race, and put them 6.5 games behind the Marlins for the wild card.

July 5, 1998: With the score tied at 2 in the bottom of the eleventh, John Franco loaded the bases with one out on two hit batters and an infield single. A fly to shallow left field prompted Michael Tucker to try to tag up and score fro, third. Bernard Gilkey's throw to the plate beat Tucker by several feet, and on replay Mike Piazza appeared to tag a high sliding Tucker (who tore a gash Piazza's thigh with his cleats) before he touched home. Umpire Angel Hernandez called him safe anyway, ending the game. The Mets protested loud and long to no avail as Hernandez and the other umpires left the field, refusing to confer on the call. Piazza called it "the most ridiculous call I've ever seen in my 10 years of pro baseball, in my 20 years of baseball, period. It was just beyond belief."

September 25-27, 1998: In the last series of the regular season, the Mets were desperately trying to win the wild card. The Braves had long since clinched the NL East. And yet, Atlanta fought each game tooth and nail, while the Mets stranded baserunners left and right and made inexcusable mental errors (like September callup Jay Payton getting thrown out at third in the middle of a rally with Piazza standing on deck). Despite having nothing to play for, the Braves swept the Mets, who missed out on the postseason by one game.

September 21-23, 1999: The Mets came into this series in Atlanta just a game out of first place. They left it in a fog. In game one, Chipper Jones singlehandedly defeated the Mets, homering from both sides of the plate in a 2-1 loss. Game two featured a managerial chess match between Bobbys Cox and Valentine, a top of the eighth that took 10 substitutions and 40 minutes to complete, only to see the Mets fail to score again en route to a 5-2 defeat. Game three saw the Mets commit a series of head-scratchingly awful mistakes on offense and defense in a 6-3 loss. The series sweep was the beginning of a seven-game losing streak that almost denied the Mets the playoffs yet again.

1999 NLCS Game 6: If you must relive this, click here. I'm not sure I have the stomach to do so, even now.

September 29, 2001: Despite playing uninspired baseball for much of 2001, the Mets managed to find some life and challenge for the NL East as the regular season drew to a close. A dramatic come-from-behind win against the Braves in the first game played in New York following the September 11 terrorist attacks gave fans hope that this year might be different. Unfortunately, they still had to travel to Atlanta for the last week of the season. After losing the first game at Turner Field, the Mets carried a 5-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth of game two. Closer Armando Benitez proceeded to give up two singles, a double, a walk, and three runs to cut the deficit to one.

John Franco was called on to get the final out, but he walked pinch hitter Wes Helms to load the bases. That brought Brian Jordan to the plate. The slugger flailed at two Franco change ups, but the pitcher inexplicably followed these pitches with an 0-2 fastball. then gave up a grand slam to Brian Jordan that ended the game--and, for all intents and purposes, the Mets' season.

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