1999: Up, up while away

In our latest look back at 1999, the Mets get All Star snubs galore, then take their revenge out on the road

After the thrilling Shea segment of the Subway Series, all the Mets save Mike Piazza were able to rest over the All Star break, as the catcher was the lone Met selected for the Midsummer Classic at Fenway Park. That came as something of a shock, since most of the Mets' infield had compiled All Star-worthy stats. And yet, the trio of John Olerud, Edgardo Alfonzo, and Robin Ventura finished no higher than fifth at their respective positions.

The only Met to come close to making the trip to Boston was Rey Ordoñez. His offensive surge in June and early July, along with an aggressive VOTE FOR REY! campaign mounted by his team, led to some late ballot stuffing on his behalf. Ultimately, Ordoñez finished second behind the NL's All Star Shortstop for Life, Barry Larkin. There was some hope that a Met or two would be selected for the National League reserves, but National League manager Bruce Bochy failed to select a single one, not even for his bullpen.

It was probably just as well, as these snubs prevented any Mets from being embarrassed by Pedro Martinez. The Red Sox starter, in the midst of a historically great season, started the All Star Game and struck out five of the six batters he faced. Pedro fanned Larkin, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire before Matt Williams reached on an error in the second inning. The pitcher shrugged his shoulders and struck out Jeff Bagwell while Pudge Rodriguez nailed Williams trying to steal.

It was one of the most impressive All Star pitching performances since Carl Hubbell struck out five future Hall of Famers in a row in 1934, and it set the tone for the rest of the game. When the senior circuit fell to the American League, 4-1, Steve Phillips theorized, "I think the National League would have scored more runs if it had more Mets."

Any anger the Mets felt over the All Star snubs was taken out on the opposition in the successful eight-game road trip that started the second half of their season, beginning with an interleague matchup in Tampa Bay on July 15. Unlike their expansion mates in Arizona, the Devil Rays continued to struggle in a manner befitting a brand new franchise. The visitors took full advantage and won two of three games at Tropicana Field, though like the stadium, the results weren't always pretty.

In the opener, the Mets fell behind 3-0 early, but rebounded thanks to a plethora of walks and errors by the Devil Rays. New York took a 7-4 lead into the bottom of the ninth, only to watch Armando Benitez allow three runs, the last one scoring when Roger Cedeño lost a Bubba Trammel fly ball in the lights and cat walks. Cedeño redeemed himself by knocking in the go-ahead run in the top of the tenth, and Benitez did the same by setting down the Devil Rays in order in the bottom half to seal a gruesome 8-7 victory. The next evening, the Mets pummeled Tampa Bay pitching and held off a late charge to slink away with a 9-7 win.

The last game in Tampa should've felt like a home game for the Mets, as it coincided with a Turn Back the Clock event that featured former Amazins such as Tom Seaver, Tug McGraw, and Ron Swoboda, presumably to draw Florida's sizable ex-New Yorker population to the ballpark. But the visitors also had to wear 1969-style flannel uniforms and never looked comfortable within them. ("There's a reason they're not made like this anymore," Bobby Valentine noted.) The home team—dressed in the togs of the Tampa Bay Tarpons, a former Reds affiliate—eked out a 3-2 win.

The Mets' next opponents, the Baltimore Orioles, were one of many teams that spent for the penthouse in the offseason and found themselves in the outhouse. Their expensive signing of Albert Belle had proven particularly unwise, to the surprise of no one. When the Mets came to Camden Yards on July 18, Baltimore was mired firmly in last place, beneath even the lowly Devil Rays.

In the opener, O's fans had to endure the sight of Armando Benitez—a reliever Baltimore consigned to the scrap heap—stifle a potential Baltimore rally. The Mets piled on to take an 8-1 lead, but Masato Yoshii and the bullpen ceded five runs in the late innings to turn a laugher into a squeaker. Benitez took the mound in the ninth to hearty boos and promptly dispatched his former team to cap the 8-6 win. In the following game, after rookie Octavio Dotel limited the Orioles to three hits over seven innings, Benitez again jogged out of the bullpen to Bronx cheers when asked to protect a slim lead. And again, he set down Baltimore in order in the Mets' 4-1 victory.

The Orioles salvaged a win in the finale behind the pitching of husky freshman Sidney Ponson. The Mets bid Camden adieu and finished out their road trip with two games in Montreal on July 21 and 22, winning them both handily by the scores of 7-3 and 7-4, respectively. It was a nice trip north for the 40-and-over set, as Rickey Henderson passed Willie Mays to occupy fifth place on the all-time runs scored list and Orel Hershiser earned his 200th career win.

While the Mets went 6-2 out of the gate after the All Star break, the Braves experienced a rare hiccup, going 3-5 over the same stretch. That meant New York would return to Shea only two games out of first place. Once they began their next homestand, however, they wouldn't just have to battle the visitors, but their own front office as well.

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