The strange thing about the cycle is that it can get lost easily. But good for him. There's a guy who's a bench player, who'll pinch hit here and there. He gets the opportunity to start and it's a game he'll never forget.
Al Leiter wasn't much of a fielder on the mound, but he sure could backhand a compliment. The above quote is his attempt at giving kudos to backup outfielder Eric Valent, who hit for the cycle against the Expos on this date in 2004. More than just a guy who pinch hit here and there, Valent, a rule 5 draftee, appeared in 130 games for the Mets during the '04 season, mostly filling in at the outfield corners, but playing a little first base, too. No matter where the little lefty (Baseball Reference lists him as six-foot even, but even with spikes on that seems like a stretch) suited up, he hit. Valent's .481 slugging percentage put him ahead of such veteran run producers like Mike Cameron, Cliff Floyd, and Mike Piazza, while his 111 OPS+ trailed only rookie David Wright among Mets hitters who got more than 250 plate appearances.
That said, the highlight of Valent's surprising season was undoubtedly the cycle. Starting in left for Wally Pipp Floyd, as manager Art Howe quipped after the game, Valent singled in the second, doubled in the third, and hit a no-doubt homer in the fifth that clanged off one of the loudspeakers suspended from the roof of Montreal's Olympic Stadium. He completed the cycle two frames later by pulling a pitch from reliever Roy Corcoran into the right field corner. Told ahead of time that third base coach Matt Galante would be wave him around the bags if he hit one deep enough, Valent slid into third well ahead of a relay throw that Expos first baseman Nick Johnson double clutched.
With the triple, Valent became the eighth Met in team history to connect for every variety of base hit in a game and the fourth major leaguer to achieve the feat during the 2004 season. The other members of that quartet included David Bell, Chad Moeller, and Daryle Ward. Unfortunately, Valent's true talent level was closer to that of his fellow cycle compatriots. In 2005, he hit just .186/.300.256 in 50 plate appearances for the Mets and found himself back in the minors by late May.
- Former first base coach Luis Alicea turns 48. A utility infielder during his playing days, Alicea joined Jerry Manuel's staff for the 2009 season, but was let go at year's end.
- Felix Mantilla is 79. One of the original Mets, Mantilla started more games at third than anyone else on the new team. He's probably best known for ruining Harvey Haddix's perfect game by reaching on an error in the 13th inning.
Mets general manager Joe McIlvaine tried to buy low on July 29, 1996 when he sent Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino to Cleveland for Alvaro Espinoza and the mouldering remains of Carlos Baerga. Speaking to reporters after consummating the deal, Trader Joe said:
He's not St. Carlos, but at the same time we are satisfied at what he gives you on the field.
McIlvaine must have been an easy man to please, because at the time of the trade, Baerga was nearly one full win under replacement level according to Baseball Reference. Incredibly, he accumulated -0.6 WAR in just 26 games after joining the Mets. If there was any bright side to this transaction, it's that shedding Kent and Vizcaino opened up a spot on the infield for Edgardo Alfonzo. That Fonzie wasn't starting over the likes of Vizcaino to begin with, however, probably explains why McIlvaine and manager Dallas Green were both let go within a year's time.
Game of Note
Newly acquired shortstop Mike Bordick made Steve Phillips look like a genius on this date in 2000, sending the first pitch he saw in a Mets uniform over the Shea Stadium wall. Lenny Harris had the biggest hit of the Saturday matinee versus St. Louis, though, as he came off the bench in the bottom of the eighth to deliver a tie-breaking RBI single. Armando Benitez retired the Cardinals 1-2-3 in the ninth to give the Mets a win over their eventual NLCS foes.
Amazin'-ly Tenuous Connection
Today marks the 218th anniversary of the birth of Alexis de Tocqueville, author of the tome Democracy in America. Having spent nine months observing the citizens of the relatively new republic, Tocqueville concluded in chapter 21 of his treatise that "In the United States, a man builds a house to spend his latter years in it and he sells it before the roof is on. He plants a garden and lets it just as the trees are coming into bearing." It's a quote Mets fans can relate to, as the front office has twice sold off the fruits of the farm system, specifically good young offensive talent, in the wake of World Series victories. Immediately after the '69 championship, the team dealt outfielder Amos Otis, who'd go on to make five All-Star teams and win three Gold Gloves as a member of the Kansas City Royals. Similarly, future National MVP Kevin Mitchell got less than two months to bask in the glow of winning a World Series before he was sent packing to San Diego in the Kevin McReynolds deal.