The 2005 season may be one of my favorites as a Mets fan. That year, David Wright and Jose Reyes were just coming to fruition as bona fide studs. For the first time since the turn of the century, the Mets appeared to be a playoff team. Omar Minaya, eager to make a good first impression as the new general manager, grabbed headlines by adding big name veterans Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez.
There were few headlines, however, for the Korean left-hander they signed on January 8, 2005. Minaya did his best to drum up the signing of reliever Dae-Sung Koo by citing his success in Japan and the Olympics in a press conference. Still, few fans were focused on the 35-year-old rookie. He only made 33 appearances for the Mets in 2005, and for his major league career, and his statistics were about as pedestrian as the Mets' record that season. Still, all it took was one of those appearances for Koo to have his name inscribed in the annals of New York history.
Any season the Mets fail to make the playoffs, fans settle for the next best thing: the Subway Series. Call it luck or the pressure of the New York stage, but games between the Mets and the Yankees have a strong propensity to be wacky and wildly fun. From out-less Mariano Rivera blown saves to predictable Luis Castillo miscues, these rivalry games can often be just as exciting as playoff matches, and it was on this unique stage that Dae-Sung Koo made a name for himself.
Koo was called on to set aside the Yankees in the seventh inning in relief of Kris Benson, and swiftly set down the Yankee hitters he faced in order. The story could have easily ended there. For a pitcher who likely dreamed of tossing in the big leagues, making the Yankee lineup look like a pack of minor leaguers in New York is a good day. Fans would have spoken positively the next day of Koo's performance, and the Mets probably still would have won handily.
But Willie Randolph was determined to make questionable managerial decisions. And when Willie Randolph wants to make a questionable decision, he does it. Instead of taking Koo out, putting in a pinch hitter, and letting Roberto Hernandez take the entirety of the eighth inning, Randolph elected to keep Koo in the lineup for the sake of facing a hitter in the eighth.
It wasn't the first time Randolph let Koo hit. Just a week before, Koo was called upon to step up to the plate against Reds setup man Todd Coffey. He watched three fastballs cruise over the plate for a backwards K. Of course, that time it was a blowout victory for the Mets and Randolph wanted to preserve his bullpen instead of trying to scrape out a 10th run to embarrass the Reds.
This time, however, was different. It was a 2-0 ballgame. The Mets had already used Cliff Floyd and Doug Mientkiewicz off the bench, but Marlon Anderson and Eric Valent were readily available, and Koo's spot was set to lead off the inning against Randy Johnson. Although hindsight tells us this was accidentally one of Randolph's greatest decisions, leaving Koo in just didn't make much sense. Below, we see Koo stepping up to bat. A blank expression on his face, he timidly enters a mild squat reasonably far from the dish. It's plain to see that Koo does not quite look at home, and Joe Buck immediately points this out. Tim McCarver replies, "I'm going to go out on a limb and say that thus far in this young season, this is the biggest give up at-bat," and then...
As if to affirm to the entire baseball-watching world that McCarver is full of it, Koo took a lame duck fastball and drilled it to the center field wall. It was the first swing of his career; the first time the bat left his shoulder since high school, and he gave that ball a ride. Koo cruised into second base with a double. Birds everywhere chirped with glee, and along with them chirped David Wright:
But Koo was not done. Most pitchers would have jumped for joy at such a momentous feat, but the blank expression on his face as he stood on second base told it all: Koo's job was not done until he touched home plate, and boy did he.
For whatever reason, with the pitcher on second and nobody out, Jose Reyes was told to lay down a sac bunt, and he did with ease. But this bunt was a special one. Instead of letting his pitcher take care of fielding the bunt and throwing Reyes out, Posada, knowing Reyes's speed, elected to vacate home plate and dispose of Reyes before he became an issue. But it was not Reyes he should have been worried about.
In a show of heads up baserunning, Koo saw that home plate was empty, and he immediately bolted for the vacant dish. Jorge Posada, lunging to protect both the plate and his integrity, was able to put a tag on Koo, but was too late. The Mets' 35-year-old rookie reliever had gone from second to home on a bunt and had completed one of the best trips around the bases in Mets history. Perhaps it was the success of the questionable bullpen management and bunting on this particular day that later inspired Jerryball, as then-bench coach Jerry Manuel was most certainly present and taking notes.
Koo's wild ride around the basepaths is almost nine years old now, although to most Met fans it feels like yesterday. The beauty of that day is timeless and was also very much indicative of how the 2005 season would play out. When all was said and done, the Mets finished 83-79, tied for third place with the Marlins and only a few games out of last place in the division. Still, 2005 may be one of the best Mets seasons in recent memory. Besides the joy being even remotely in Wild Card contention, the 2005 New York Mets team was a pleasure to watch. The team had personality, played solid baseball, and had good young talent. It was a season of theatrics, and at the center of it all was Dae Sung Koo's trip around the bases.
Koo never stepped to the plate again in 2005, and was out of major league baseball before 2006. To this day, he owns a .500 career batting average, with a double and a strikeout. Against Cy Young winners, however, his average will forever remain 1.000. Step aside, Joe McEwing.