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1999: Fonzie goes off the 'dome

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This week in 1999: The Mets head to Houston, where Edgardo Alfonzo has a night for the ages

After a tidy 4-2 homestand against the Cardinals and Astros, the Mets headed to Phoenix on August 27 to begin the second of three westward trips that would close out their 1999 season. The Diamondbacks enjoyed a hearty lead at the time, 7.5 up in the NL West ahead of the fading Giants, and had taken five of six games against the Mets earlier in the year.

Octavio Dotel did his part to buck that trend in the series opener by pitching eight innings of one-run ball. He lobbied to complete the game, but with 110 pitches thrown and a five run lead to work with, Bobby Valentine removed the rookie in favor of Billy Taylor. The trade deadline acquisition promptly gave up singles to the first three batters he faced, plating a run with more threatening to score. Armando Benitez was called on to put out the fire and allowed an inherited run to score but nothing else, capping a needlessly tight 6-3 win. Dotel eschewed his usual postgame workout to watch the carnage, so he addressed reporters in the visiting clubhouse while pedaling away on a stationary bike.

Hopes that this might turn the Mets' luck against Arizona didn't pan out, as they dropped the next two at Bank One Ballpark. The 5-3 loss in game two came at the end of a back-and-forth contest, one that went the D-Backs way when Dennis Cook allowed the go-ahead run to score in the bottom of the seventh, with some assistance from Rickey Henderson, who watched a double sail past him as speedy Tony Womack ran home all the way from first. In the series finale, more shoddy outfield defense and an Al Leiter error on a comebacker led to four first inning runs. The Mets pulled together their own three-run rally before Taylor and Chuck McElroy gave up some back-breaking insurance runs in an 8-4 defeat.

The Mets headed next to Houston for their last scheduled trip to the Astrodome. (The Astros were set to open their brand new quirkified downtown stadium, then dubbed Enron Park, in 2000.) They certainly looked happy to have the BOB in their rearview in the series opener on August 30, as they pummeled the home team by the score of 17-1. Every Met chipped in some offense, even players inserted in the late innings of a laugher. But no one had a better day than Edgardo Alfonzo.

At the time, Alfonzo was known, if at all, for quietly doing his job and being a team player, having shuffled around the Mets infield multiple times to accommodate more well-regarded players like Jeff Kent and Rico Brogna. He'd begun to establish himself at third base in 1998, only to watch his team acquire gold glover Robin Ventura. So he moved over to second, where he formed a deadly double play combo with Rey Ordoñez. He also had begun to hit, and had the knack for coming through with a big hit when the Mets needed it the most. But he was still little more than an afterthought in the minds of most, outshined by the bigger bats of Piazza, Ventura, and Olerud.

And that was fine with Fonzie. He not only didn't mind being overshadowed, but seemed to prefer it. In a profile of Alfonzo that ran just before the team left for Phoenix, he told Jack Curry of the Times, "I think it’s good when nobody notices you. Then, when everything’s over, they’ll look at you and see the numbers and say, ‘I didn’t know he could do that. I didn’t even notice this guy.’"

It was difficult for Alfonzo to go unnoticed when he put on the most prodigious offensive display in franchise history. At the Astrodome, Fonzie went 6-for-6, a double and three homer. He was the first Met to go deep three times in a game since Gary Carter did it in 1985. His 16 total bases set a new club record (formerly 14, set by Darryl Strawberry in '85) and were just two shy of the all-time record. When he rapped out a ninth inning single for his sixth hit of the day, the remaining Astros fans rewarded him with a standing ovation.

The stunning output upped his batting average a stunning 8 points in one day. It also forced people to notice he'd been putting up MVP-worthy stats all year. And in typical Alfonzo fashion, when asked for his favorite moment of this historic day, his response was, "The last out, because we won the game."

The Mets should have been riding high from this record-setting high, but struggled to score the next night against Astros starter Jose Lima. A late game-tying home run by John Olerud was negated when a rusty Turk Wendell (coming off six days of rest he didn't want) gave up a grand slam to Ken Caminiti, the difference in a 6-2 loss. But the offense returned with a vengeance in the final game at the Astrodome, as Robin Ventura drove in four runs, Roger Cedeño knocked in two, and Piazza and Olerud each belted a pair of doubles in a 9-5 victory. The Mets would head back home for six games against the Rockies and Giants, trailing the Braves by 2.5