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Remembrances of Spoils Past, Part Two

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The Mets' plans to potentially ruin another team's season hit a speedbump last night, thanks to Mike Pelfrey and the bullpen served one up on a platter to the hungry Cardinals. However, there are two games left in St. Louis, and every win is crucial to a team fighting for its playoff life. The Mets know that better than anyone.

Yesterday, we discussed the thrilling conclusion to the 2004 season, when the Mets put a serious hurt on the Cubs' playoff hopes. Today we look back at the end of a far different year, 2005, when the Mets rebounded from a terrible start to September and single-handedly destroyed three teams' seasons.

As you probably recall, 2005 marked the beginning of the quote-unquote New Mets. New GM. New manager. New faces like Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez. The team competed seriously again for the first time in what felt like forever (though in truth, the Art Howe years only seemed like an eternity). Coming down the stretch, they were in the thick of a very crowded wild card race. Following a thrilling win over the Phillies at Shea on August 30, when Ramon Castro hit a go-ahead three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth, the Mets were just a half game behind a triumverate of wild card leaders (Philadelphia, Florida, and Houston) and just barely ahead of other playoff hopefuls like Washington. 

That was as close as they would get, however, because the bottom fell out immediately once September began. The Mets lost the next two games to the Phillies, then two more down in Miami. Following one measly win against the Marlins, they were swept in Atlanta and lost the first three of a four-game set in St. Louis. They returned to New York and were swept by the Nationals; the finale on September 15 was a particular brutal affair, where Washington scored the tying run in the top of the ninth on a Kaz Matsui error, went ahead in the 10th, and defeated the Mets 6-5.

The sweep by the Nats plunged the Mets into last place in the NL East and virtually ended any postseason dreams they had. Though still mathematically alive, they were spiritually eliminated, their play over the first part of September so dreadful that no one could imagine them making the playoffs. So at this point, they set about trying to ruin the dreams of others. The Mets took two out of three from the Braves next, although Atlanta still enjoyed a healthy five-game division lead. The real spoilage would have to wait until the Marlins showed up.

Florida came to Shea two games behind Houston in the NL wild card chase, and the Mets proceeded to put a serious dent in their hopes. In the opener, they tied the Marlins twice, then outlasted them extras. In the bottom of the 12th, David Wright hit a two-out double off of Brian Moehler. With first base open, Florida decided they'd prefer to walk Mike Piazza and face Mike Jacobs instead. Unfortunately for them, this was the one magical period in Jacobs' career when he was able to hit major league pitching with some regularity. He lined a single into right field to score Wright and give the Mets a walkoff 3-2 win.

The next night, events conspired against the Marlins yet again, this time in somewhat eerie fashion. First, Miguel Cabrera had to leave the game with an injured knee. Then, a bank of lights went out and could not be turned back on, which caused the Marlins to play the game under protest. Even so, Florida scored two runs in the top of the eighth off of Braden Looper (who'd been doing a lot of that during the Mets' swoon) to take a 4-3 lead, only to see the Mets tie it up in the bottom half on a Piazza RBI single. In the top of the ninth, Jeff Conine hit a leadoff double off of Roberto Hernandez and moved to third on a sac bunt, putting the go-ahead run on third with one out. But after an intentional walk of Carlos Delgado, Conine was erased on a grounder to the infield, and Hernandez wriggled off the hook.

Having failed to capitalize on the Conine double, the Marlins did not get another chance. Jose Reyes hit a one-out single to center field, and when Juan Pierre failed to handle it well, he dashed for second and made it safely. One batter later, Miguel Cairo knocked him in with an RBI single, and the Mets had another walkoff win. Though the Marlins took the last game in New York when Dontrelle Willis outdueled Pedro Martinez, they were four games out of the wild card lead with nine games to play, and their playoff hopes, like the Mets', were all but dead.

Next, the Mets returned the favor to the Nationals by going down to charmless RFK stadium and sweeping them. By this point the Nats' playoff hopes were even slimmer than the Marlins', but the sweep did officially eliminate from contention and allowed the Mets to leapfrog them and climb out of the cellar of the NL East. However, the most damaging spoilage by far came in Philadelphia. When the Mets traveled to Citizen's Bank Park for the penultimate series of the year, the Phillies were just a game behind Houston in the wild card race.

In the series opener, Philly carried a 5-2 lead into the top of the eighth when their bullpen unraveled. Ugueth Urbina started things off by giving up a double to Marlon Anderson, a walk to Jose Reyes, and an RBI double to Miguel Cairo. But the wheels didn't really come off until Chase Utley booted a Carlos Beltran grounder, then made things worse by throwing the ball away. Both Reyes and Cairo scored on the error, tying the game. Aaron Fultz and Ryan Madson conspired to allow the tying run to score on a Mike Jacobs sac fly. The Mets held on for a 6-5 win.

The next night, the Mets took an early 3-0 lead against Jon Lieber, in large part due to Reyes, who went 4 for 5 and scored two runs. The Phillies, meanwhile, could do virtually nothing against the normally fragile Victor Zambrano until the fifth inning, when his wildness combined with a few infield errors to gift the Phillies two runs and bring up rookie Ryan Howard, who'd already hit nine homers in the month of September. But Howard was neutralized by the immortal lefty reliever Kaz Ishii. The Phillies would get just two hits the rest of the way, and watch the tying run get gunned down at third in the eighth inning when David Bell tried to go first to third.

The Mets went on to win 3-2. The Phillies took the series finale, but still found themselves three games out in the loss column with three games left to play. "If the Houston Astros emerge from the survival-of-the-fittest competition also known as the National League wild-card race," the Times opined, "Phil Garner should consider sending the Mets some of his playoff share, or, at the very least, some gourmet fruit baskets." As it turned out, Philly would miss out on the postseason by one game--a feeling the Mets would know before long.