The Mets have lost a lot of games as a franchise, but as far as Opening Day is concerned, they’re the best team in baseball. It’s fitting, then, that a Mets player accomplished one of baseball’s most impressive Opening Day feats: In every year from 1994 to 1997, catcher Todd Hundley homered on Opening Day, becoming just the third player in history to do so in four consecutive seasons.
The first came at Wrigley Field off Cubs starter Mike Morgan. Mets leadoff hitter Jose Vizcaino had just taken Morgan deep with one out in the third inning, when Hundley followed with a long ball of his own to give the Mets a 2-1 lead. Hundley, hitting out of the two hole, finished the game 2-for-5 and helped the Mets to a 12-8 win. Dwight Gooden got the win, despite being knocked out in the sixth inning of the high-scoring affair.
The following year, the Mets played a similar game with, unfortunately for them, the opposite result. Hundley, this time hitting seventh in the lineup, went 4-for-6 in the first game ever played at Coors Field. The biggest of those hits was a sixth-inning grand slam off Rockies starter Bill Swift, which tied the game up at five after Mets starter Bobby Jones’s early struggles. The game was a bit of a seesaw, with the Mets pulling ahead in the top of the ninth, only to see the Rockies score in the bottom of the inning to send the game to extras. After the same thing happened in the 13th inning, the Mets once again scored in the top of the 14th, but were sent home after Dante Bichette launched a walk-off three-run bomb off Mets reliever Mike Remlinger.
The Mets got back to their winning ways on Opening Day of 1996, when they beat the Cardinals, 7-6, at Shea. Hundley collected only one hit in four at-bats from the seven hole, but the hit was a big one. After the Cardinals jumped on Bobby Jones for six runs, Hundley put the Mets on the board with a two-run shot off Cardinals starter Andy Benes in the sixth. The Mets rallied for five more runs in the sixth and seventh innings to put the team ahead, and closer John Franco shut the door in the ninth to secure the win.
Hundley’s streak continued in 1997, when the catcher homered on a remarkable fourth straight Opening Day. Now hitting cleanup, Hundley took Padres starter Joey Hamilton deep in the third inning with a runner on first to give the Mets a 2-0 lead at Qualcomm Stadium. After the Mets took a 4-0 lead into the sixth, however, starter Pete Harnisch and three Mets relievers melted down to the tune of 11 runs, including back-to-back-to-back homers off Harnisch to lead off the inning. Hundley finished the day 1-for-3 and was unable, along with his teammates, to overcome the big deficit in a 12-5 Mets loss.
After big years for the Mets in 1996 and 1997, Hundley missed the first half of the 1998 season to an elbow injury. By the time he returned to the Mets’ lineup in July, Mike Piazza was the team’s starting catcher and the rest, as they say, is history.
Speaking of history, here’s another quirky fact about Hundley’s four straight Opening Day home runs: The only two other players to accomplish the feat were Yogi Berra and Gary Carter. Not only were they both catchers, like Hundley, but they also both played for the Mets (albeit very briefly, in Berra’s case). While Berra and Carter compiled their streaks before joining the Mets, it’s a pretty bizarre coincidence nonetheless.
So, if history’s any guide, the next player to hit four straight Opening Day home runs should be a Mets catcher. Will Kevin Plawecki start his own streak today? We’ll find out soon enough!