Obviously, the big news on this date in the Mets present is that Johan Santana's career is likely over after re-tearing the anterior capsule in his left shoulder. Since one injury-prone left-handed ace is the topic of the day, let's start by remembering another. Mike Hampton made his Mets debut thirteen years ago today, taking the mound at Japan's Tokyo Dome in the first Opening Day tilt ever played outside North America.
Joining the Mets on their Asian excursion were Sammy Sosa and the Chicago Cubs. Slammin' Sammy's squad served as the away team, even though both clubs were playing a combined12,500 miles west of their respective home fields. Shortly after 5:00 a.m Eastern Standard Time (4 o'clock Central), Mike Hampton delivered the first pitch of the 2000 season, which Cubs' leadoff batter Eric Young took for a called strike. That would prove to be one of the few pitches Hampton threw in the zone that day. His next four offerings were off the plate, as Young worked the first of nine walks the former Astro issued in five innings of work. Despite putting 14 of the 25 batters he faced on base, Hampton was, as the cliché goes, effectively wild. Only two runners came around to score, one courtesy of an RBI single by former Met Damon Buford in the first and the other via a bases-loaded walk to third baseman Shane Andrews four frames later.
The Mets offense, meanwhile, couldn't get the team's new ace off the hook. Cubs' workhorse Jon Lieber held New York to five hits and one run, plated on a sac fly by Darryl Hamilton, through seven innings. Neither team's relievers were as sharp (or, if you prefer, lucky) as the starters, however. Met lefties Dennis Cook and Rich Rodriguez each gave up a homer in their respective innings, while Mike Piazza cut into the Cubs lead by blasting a two-run shot in the bottom of the eighth. That made the score 5-3 Chicago and that's where it would stay. Final score: Cubs go, Mets san.
- Former Mets outfielder Billy Beane is 51. Seventeen years before he became general manager of the Oakland A's (and 31 years before Brad Pitt depicted him on the silver screen), Beane was a first round selection (23rd overall) of the Mets in the 1980 June amateur draft. Indelicately put, Beane was a bust, going just 3-for-18 for New York in two cups of coffee during the 1984 and '85 seasons. Thankfully, the team had another pick in the 1980 draft (the first overall, in fact) and they used it to take another outfielder by the name of Darryl Strawberry.
- Eric Gunderson turns 47. A lefty specialist, Gunderson made 44 relief appearances for the Mets in 1994-95, posting a pretty 2.70 ERA despite iffier peripheral stats like a sub-2.00 K:BB rate. Still, be it luck or random variance, but Gunderson was as effective as a reliever can be in '94. His strand rate in the strike-shortened season? A perfect and utterly unsustainable 100%.
- Tommy Holmes, a star for the war-weakened Boston Braves in mid-1940s, would have been 96 today. Two decades after his retirement as a player, Holmes joined the Mets front office in 1973 as the director of amateur baseball relations. He'd go on to hold that position for three decades.
- Finally, turning 41 is Alex Ochoa. The centerpiece of the trade that sent Bobby Bonilla to the Orioles, Ochoa was billed as a future star and he certainly seemed like he was developing into one during the 1996 season. Promoted from Triple-A Norfolk in late June, Alex amassed 2.4 rWAR over 82 games and showed off his enticing combination of power and speed by hitting for the cycle against the Phillies ten days after his call up. He regressed big time in 1997, though, and fell out of favor with management. During that offseason's winter meetings, GM Steve Phillips sent him packing to Minnesota for Rich Becker.
Amazin'-ly Tenuous Connection
Denton True "Cy" Young was born on March 29, 1867, in the tiny town of Gilmore, Ohio. Twenty-three years later, Young would make his major league debut with the Cleveland Spiders and spin a three-hit shutout, the first of his record 511 wins. Of course, his mound prowess later earned him the posthumous honor of becoming namesake of the MLB award given to the best pitcher in each league. Three former Mets are in possession of one of Young's trophies: Tom Seaver (winner of three), Dwight Gooden, and R.A. Dickey. May they all be praised.