Sun Life Stadium By Any Other Name Still Stunk

Sunlife_medium
Those of you who've read my recaps here or my Twitter feed know that the Marlins angry up my blood more than any other baseball team. There are other teams who thoroughly bug me from time to time, and you can probably guess which ones they are, but none infuriate me on mere sight more than the Marlins.

One big difference between the Marlins and the other teams who get under my skin is that I at least respect these other ones, however begrudgingly I might offer that respect. In the late 1990s/early 2000s, I couldn't stand the Braves, as they seemed to exist merely to crush Mets fans' dreams and souls (Chipper Jones in particular). However, even the most dedicated Mets fan had to tip one's cap to their unbroken string of success, amid the growls and sneers.

I've never felt a similar graciousness with the Marlins, and there are many reasons why. There's the unchanged color scheme--black and teal--that screams early 1990s; I look at them a good 18 years after their debut and I can still hear the Bodyguard soundtrack and Dan Cortese.There's the fact that they've won two championships and dismantled each time, showing absolutely no inclination to build a fanbase. There's the matter of Jeff Loria, who, if not the worst owner in MLB, is certainly the most cartoonishly villainous.

Though it's certainly not the largest factor, I think the Marlins' stadium is one of the major reasons why they infuriate me so. Under its many monikers (six in total, and if you can name all of them you win absolutely nothing), the quote-unquote ballpark known now or formerly as as Sun Life Stadium has always made the game of baseball feel like something between a plodding slog and a baffling ordeal.

From its hastily constructed bullpen walls to the omnipresent sacks of infield drying agent to its acres of empty orange stands, the Marlins' home has never seemed welcoming to the game of baseball. Which makes sense, since it was never intended to host the sport to begin with. Titanic homers hit by either team would rattle around in abandoned outfield seats, clanging against the folded chairs like an errant ping pong ball. Players seemed unnerved by the tiny audiences who would gather there, as if they were the only ones who didn't get the news about a bomb threat. At any moment, the heavens could open up, dump a torrential downpour onto the field, and delay play for an indeterminate amount of time.

There was just something downright unwholesome about playing baseball at Whatever It Was Called That Week Stadium. And while not every game the Mets played there was torture (as Greg Prince reminds us), they seemed to suffer some horrific, gut-punch loss or crushing sweep within its confines at least once every season--usually of the walkoff variety, and occasionally of the season-damaging variety. So, because I love pain, I've taken a look at some of the more grueling contests the Mets participated in during its 19 seasons doing disservice to the game of baseball. Take in the carnage after the jump.

June 29, 1993: The first game the Mets ever played at what was still called Joe Robbie Stadium was a doozy. But then again, so was their season to this point, a miserable slog perpetrated by a regrettable collection of overpriced free agents who were the very definition of hired guns. Since taking over midstream for the overmatched Jeff Torborg, manager Dallas Green had lodged a 5-27 record. Pitcher Anthony Young was in the midst of a record-breaking bit of bad luck. Their "ace," Bret Saberhagen, hadn't won a game since May 10. The team itself hadn't won consecutive contests since April 17. In the words of New York Times' beat writer Joe Sexton, "All the losing had begun to bestow on the Mets' season a kind of weird, warped majesty. To lose as often as they did required great effort, and the Mets were clearly gifted in their pursuit of failure." And he hadn't even seen the worst of it yet.

In light of this, such a game seems oddly appropriate. The Mets took an early 2-1 lead on solo homers from Jeromy Burnitz and Todd Hundley, then piled on with four more runs in the top of the seventh to support a decent pitching effort from the ancient Frank Tanana. In the bottom half, the Mets' bullpen--in the persons of Jeff Innis, Mike Draper, and Pete Schourek--conspired to cede seven runs to the Marlins, a rally that included a pair of three-run homers belted by Jeff Conine and Rich Renteria, a second baseman who somehow found himself on the expansion team's roster after not appearing in the majors since 1988.

The Mets rebounded with three runs of their own in the top of the eighth on longballs from Eddie Murray and Jeff Kent, giving them a 9-8 lead. John Franco somehow wriggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning, only to blow the save in the bottom of the ninth by allowing an RBI single to the immortal Greg Briley. The game teetered listlessly in extras until the top of the twelfth, when Burnitz belted a leadoff double, advanced to third on a mishandled relay throw, and scored on a Tim Bogar sacrifice fly. The win went to Dave Telgheder, who threw three perfect innings of relief.

June 19, 1994: On Father's Day, Doc Gooden threw eight easy innings, stifling the Marlins as the Mets cruised to a 6-1 victory. His father, Dan, was on hand to watch his son pitch for the first time since the 1988 All Star Game. After giving up a solo homer to start the top of the second, Gooden retired 21 of the next 23 batters he faced. It would be his last win in a Mets uniform. Following a miserable outing against the Pirates at Shea the following week, he once again tested positive for cocaine. This, combined with another test he subsequently failed, caused him to be suspended for the rest of the 1994 season and all of 1995. The next time he took the mound in the major leagues, it would be as a Yankee.

August 9, 1996: The Mets scored one lone run in regulation, thanks to a series of baserunning blunders (such as Bernard Gilkey trying to steal third in the top of the eighth). But Robert Person and Dave Mlicki held the Marlins to one run through nine innings as well. After bypassing another scoring opportunity in the top of the 10th, Mets reliever Doug Henry walked pinch hitter Alex Arias. A sac bunt moved him to second, and Arias came around to score the winning run on a single slapped over Rey Ordonez's head by Luis Castillo, just recalled from double-A Portland and playing only his second major league game. The Mets would lose 10 of their next 14 games; this, plus Dallas Green's pointed comments about the front office's pushing of the Generation K storyline, cost the manager his job and paved the way for Bobby Valentine's arrival.

September 19, 1997: At what was now known as Pro Player Stadium (not to be confused with Pro Player Park, as it was briefly called for murky reasons), the Marlins knocked around Mets pitching, helped in large part by a two-run homer from Moises Alou, and carried a 5-0 lead into the ninth. Called on in a non-save situation, closer Rob Nen loaded the bases  and allowed two runs on a groundout and a wild pitch. When Carlos Baerga reached on a Jeff Conine error, Todd Hundley (still dealing with bone chips in his elbow) came up to pinch hit as the tying run. The slugging catcher popped up to short. "I just missed the son-of-a-gun,'' he sighed later. ''It's a game of centimeters." Though the Mets surprised virtually everyone by competing so late into the season, this loss all but ended their hopes of catching Florida for the NL wild card berth. Still, they managed to win the next two from Florida and at least prevent them from clinching a playoff spot on their watch.

June 14, 1998: Fortified by the additions of Al Leiter and Mike Piazza, the 1998 Mets were in the hunt literally all season. And yet, throughout the year they seemed to have great difficulty defeating the miserable, post-fire-sale Marlins, going 7-5 against a team that logged 108 losses. Few defeats were more galling than this one.

The newly acquired Hideo Nomo threw six scoreless innings, despite some typically muggy, Floridian weather, and ex-Marlin Dennis Cook contributed his own clean frame. The Mets held a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the eighth when Mel Rojas allowed two runs, and Brian Bohanon gave up a game-tying two-run shot to Cliff Floyd. Dave Hudek got the last out of the inning and retired the first two batters in the ninth, then gave up back-to-back infield singles to Edgar Renteria and Todd Dunwoody. Todd Zeile followed with a bouncer past shortstop to score Renteria and give Florida a walkoff win. The Mets would miss finishing in a three-way tie for the wild card (with Chicago and San Francisco) by one single game, and their middling performance against also-rans like the Marlins were often cited as the main culprit.

April 5, 1999: The Mets opened their season in Miami, after having spent early and often in a effort to return to the playoffs. One of their biggest pickups was former All Star Robin Ventura, one of the most sure-handed third basemen in all of baseball. But Ventura committed a key error that led to a three-run first-inning rally against Al Leiter. The Mets' lefty ace looked a bit nervous and wild pitching in Miami for the first time since winning World Series with the Marlins (though he pitched all of 1998 with the Mets, he somehow never had to face Florida on the road). Leiter spent 124 pitches to struggle through five innings. Mets hitters could do little damage against Alex Fernandez, a pitcher who hadn't taken the mound in 18 months, and stranded 14 runners total. The uninspiring 6-2 loss caused great weeping and gnashing of teeth in the collected New York sports press, who expected the 1999 Mets to do big things in 1999--immediately--or else.

June 3, 2001: The Mets were in the middle of a miserable stretch when they traveled to Miami for a four-game set. After taking two of the first three games, they struggled to score against Marlins starter A.J. Burnett, as he and reliever Antonio Alfonseca kept them off the board for nine innings. Kevin Appier and Turk Wendell did the same to the Marlins for eight, but in the bottom of the ninth, Wendell ceded a one-out grounder between first and second to Luis Castillo. The freak hit bounced off of Todd Zeile's glove and eluded second baseman Desi Relaford, giving Castillo an odd double. John Franco relieved Wendell and induced a grounder that was hit just a tad too slow for a double play, moving Castillo to third. Franco then saw a Preston Wilson hit ding off his glove. Joe McEwing fielded it and heaved it to first, to no avail. Castillo scored the game's only run, handing the Mets a crushing 1-0 loss and dropping their record to 24-33.

June 16, 2003: This was the first meeting between the Mets and the high-kicking Dontrelle Willis, and would set the tone for all future faceoffs. In a quote that encapsulated the entire, uninspiring Art Howe regime, the Mets' manager said friends from Oakland (Willis' hometown) had given him a scouting report on the young lefty. "They told me to be ready," Howe said. "I guess we weren't." Willis limited the Mets' offense to one lone hit by Ty WIgginton and one walk. The Marlins could manage just four hits against Tom Glavine (making his first start since going on the DL with elbow tendinitis), but one was a Pudge Rodriguez homer, which proved the difference in the 1-0 loss. Willis required a few sparkling defensive plays from his teammates to throw the one-hitter, but he got them repeatedly. So it went whenever Willis started against the Mets.

May 30, 2004: The Mets rallied to overcome an early 6-3 deficit and tie things up in the top of the seventh on a Jason Phillips homer. But in the bottom half, after Mike Stanton retired the first two batters, Juan Pierre reached on a Kaz Matsui error and stole second. Once Pierre swiped the bag, Art Howe removed him in favor of David Weathers, even though Stanton had the batter (Mike Lowell) in a two-strike count. Lowell proceeded to hit a double off of Weathers, scoring Pierre and giving the Marlins the lead once again. They tacked on with an Alex Gonzalez homer in the eighth and went on to win, 8-6, topping off a three-game sweep of the Mets. Two of the three games were saved by ex-Mets closer Armando Benitez; the other was won on a walkoff homer by Lowell clubbed against ex-Marlins closer Braden Looper.

May 29, 2005: Coming into this game at what was now called Dolphins Stadium, the Mets' had high hopes for their first ever four-game sweep in Miami. They carried a 2-1 lead into the seventh behind some strong pitching by Tom Glavine. But it disappeared in a hurry after Heath Bell allowed two singles that just barely missed infielders' gloves to start things off. ("The ball didn't like me today," Bell said, curiously.) Lefty reliever Dae-Sung Koo came on and fell behind 3-0 to Carlos Delgado. He assumed Delgado would be taking the next pitch and threw a get-me-over fastball. Delgado proceeded to get it over the fence in right field for a three-run bomb. The Marlins went on to win 6-3.

August 1, 2006: In an otherwise triumphant year, the Mets suffered an annoying loss at Dolphin Stadium (notice the suddenly singular fish) when Billy Wagner gives up a two-run homer to Josh Willingham in the bottom of the ninth, turning a 4-3 victory into a 5-4 loss. However, the worst Florida-related news actually came from New York, where Duaner Sanchez had season-ending shoulder surgery. The Mets' setup man had been lights out all year, but after coming to Miami for this road trip, he had the grave misfortune to be in the back of a cab when it wound up in an accident. Sanchez was never the same, and the Mets' World Series hopes all but died along with his career.

September 20, 2007: The Mets won the first five games they played at Dolphin Stadium in 2007, but that was long before everything began to go wrong with their season. When this series began, they were already engaged in the brutal death spiral that would result in one of the worst regular season collapses in baseball history. When not suffering one crippling injury after another, they received repeated bouts of preternaturally bad luck. Case in point: While warming up in the bullpen during this game, Aaron Heilman was hit in the wrist by a random baseball that seemed to come out of nowhere. No culprit was found. It was that kind of time.

The Mets took an early 3-0 lead against the usually unbeatable (for them) Dontrelle Willis, only to see Willis get a Marlins rally started in the bottom of the fifth with a leadoff "double" that caromed off the first base bag. Hanley Ramirez doubled him home, and soon after Miguel Cabrera smacked a three-run homer to give the Marlins a 4-3 edge.

The Mets rebounded in the top of the ninth by loading the bases against Florida closer Kevin Gregg. Marlon Anderson unloaded them with a three-run double, and Carlos Beltran singled him home, putting the Mets up by the seemingly comfortable score of 7-4. Unfortunately, Billy Wagner was not available due to back spasms, so manager Willie Randolph initially chose Pedro Feliciano as his closer-for-the-night. Randolph gave him very little rope, as a leadoff single by Jeremy Hermida prompted him to remove Feliciano in favor of Jorge Sosa. The righty proceeded to allow a Cabrera double, an RBI groundout to Afredo Amezaga, an RBI infield single to Mike Jacobs, a single to Cody Ross, and a game-tying RBI groundout to Matt Treanor.

Sosa got the last out of the inning, for all the good it did. He was inexplicably left in to start the tenth inning and allowed a single to Ramirez and a walkoff RBI double to Dan Uggla, handing the Mets an excruciating 8-7 loss. "A lot of crazy stuff happening," that night's starter, Tom Glavine, said later. "Some of it, you can’t believe. We’ve lost every which way. It’s hard to believe it’s happening." Oh, you had no idea, Tom.

August 30, 2008: Mike Pelfrey had a decent performance against the Marlins, if you can believe that, allowing just two runs in 6 2/3 innings. Cody Ross got very chatty when Pelfrey hit him with a pitch for the second time in as many outings against Florida. Ross barked at the Mets righty but did not charge the mound ("I told him I was right here," Pelfrey said later. "He kept talking.") and was promptly picked off first. But the Marlins had the last laugh. The Mets held a slim 3-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth, but Miek Jacobs tied things up with a solo shot.

In the bottom of the ninth, with Billy Wagner still dealing with elbow woes (which would eventually result in Tommy John surgery), Aaron Heilman was called on to keep the score tied. He walked Hanley Ramirez to start things off, and after a sac bunt moved him to second, uncorked a wild pitch that put the winning run on third with one out. Heilman walked the next two batters intentionally to create a force at any base, but then issued a decidedly unintentional walk to Josh Willingham that forced in the winning run in a brutal 4-3 defeat.

April 12, 2009: A pitchers' duel between Josh Johnson and Johan Santana at the park with the new, Parrothead-y name of Land Shark Stadium was marred by a defensive miscue. After striking out the first two batters in the bottom of the second, Santana walked Jeremy Hermida, then saw Cody Ross hit a long fly ball to left field that Daniel Murphy brutally misplayed, allowing Hermida to score from first. Ronnie Paulino followed with an RBI single that plated all the runs the Marlins needed. Johnson looked as if he might falter in the ninth when he gave up a two-out double to Carlos Delgado and an RBI single to Carlos Beltran, but he induced a liner from Ryan Church for the game's final out. The 2-1 loss was mercifully quick, if nothing else, over in a mere two hours, four minutes.

May 16, 2010: After losing the first three games of a four-game set at the newly christened Sun Life Stadium, the Mets fell behind early thanks to a third inning that was damaging in more ways than one. With two runs already in, starter Jon Niese reinjured the hamstring that knocked him out of the previous season while trying to field a Gaby Sanchez bunt. Hisanori Takahashi took his place but couldn't stop the bleeding, and when the dust settled, the Mets were down 6-0. A Dan Uggla homer put them up 7-0, but the Mets crawled closer with a two-out, three-run rally in the sixth and three more in the seventh. Fernando Nieve promptly gave up a three-run pinch hit homer to Chris Coghlan to stretch the Marlins' lead to 10-6 in the bottom of the seventh. The Mets managed single runs in the eighth and ninth, but could do no more against Leo Nunez. The 10-8 loss topped off a four-game sweep and portended another long, long season for the Amazins.

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