Top Ten Highlights of 2007
In their debut year of 1962, the New York Mets set the all-time record for losses in a season, losing 120 games. However, 2007 was easily a more disappointing season for Mets fans — perhaps one of the most anguishing seasons in baseball history for a particular team’s fans. What was worse? The ’64 Phillies? The ’78 Red Sox? The ’04 Yanks?
Let’s see … the 2007 Mets were less than a .500 team from June to the end of the season. Yet, they found a way to stay in first place that entire time … well, almost. They stayed in first until the last weekend, managing to blow a 7-game lead in 14 games. That’s right; on September 12th, the Mets had a seven-game lead over the Phillies after winning game #145. By game #159, the Phils and Mets were tied for first, with the Phillies winning two out of their last three and the Mets losing two out of three to end the most miserable collapse ever seen in MLB. Oh, it didn’t help that it had to be Phillies, led by MVP Jimmy Rollins — the same Rollins who brazenly proclaimed in March that his Phils were “the team to beat”. No crow on Jimmy’s Thanksgiving table.
But somehow, in this horrendous season, we’re going to find the top 10 highlights of the year. Wish me luck.
1. Mets open the season with a three-game sweep of the Cardinals.
As terrible as the ending was, the beginning was just as sweet. After being embarrassed and eliminated in front of their hometown fans in the seventh game of the 2006 NLCS — the game that should have turned Endy Chavez into a living legend — the Cardinals had to go one further and rub the Mets’ collective noses in the dirt by hosting them for their World Series ring ceremony to open the season. In response, the Mets made certain to make 2006 a memory, beating the Cards 6-1, 4-1, and 10-zip to sweep them out of St. Louis. Tom Glavine, Orlando Hernandez, and John Maine all pitched spectacularly, and it looked as though the Mets might just walk away with the NL East for the second consecutive year. Ah, such optimism we had in that first week of April!
2. Easley’s Early Season, Late-inning Heroics
During the offseason between 2006 and 2007, the Mets signed journeyman utilityman Damion Easley. At the time, it made no sense to me. After all, the Mets had Jose Valentin to play second base — Easley’s best position — as well as Anderson Hernandez, Ruben Gotay, and also-acquired David Newhan. How many second basemen did the Mets need?
It seemed even more illogical after Gotay started out with a hot bat. What was the point of keeping the aging, at-best adequate Easley around?
Then the heroics began.
First, Easley parked one into Shea’s leftfield bleachers in a 7-2 victory against the Braves. Not particularly dramatic, but it was a foreshadow of something on the way.
A few days later, in a game against the Rockies. Colorado starter Aaron Cook locked horns with Orlando Hernandez, as the two hurlers threw up zeroes from frame to frame. Finally, in the tenth, the Rockies broke through with a run against the unusually wild Billy Wagner. In the bottom of the inning, Colorado closer Brian Fuentes got two quick outs and appeared to have the game sealed when he got ahead 0-2 on pinch-hitter Damion Easley. However, Easley wasn’t about to concede the game, and instead redirected a Fuentes fastball into those leftfield bleachers to tie the game one-all. The Mets won the game an inning later thanks to a dramatic bunt by Endy Chavez that scored Shawn Green.
Easley’s flair for the dramatic continued in May — eight games later, in fact. The Mets were losing by a run to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who had brought closer Jose Valverde in to save the game. Valverde, by the way, would go on to lead the NL in saves — and had been successful in ten out of eleven at this point in the year. However, on this day, he ran into a bit of trouble, allowing two runners to reach base with one out before Easley came to bat. Over in the dugout, Willie Randolph had some lefthanded bats to face the righty Valverde, but had a good feeling about Easley and left him in the game. His hunch was a good one, as Easley sent Valverde’s third offering over — you guessed it — the leftfield wall (though this time it was in Phoenix, not Flushing). The blast put the Mets ahead 6-4, and David Wright added another three-run homer later in the inning to top off a 9-4 victory.
3. Joe Smith
In June of 2006, Joe Smith was a nondescript sidewinder who had just completed classes at equally unknown Wright State and been selected in the third round of the MLB draft by the New York Mets. The selection and his eventual signing barely drew a yawn from the New York baseball writers, and no one could have predicted he’d be striking out Albert Pujols to secure an Opening Day victory only ten months later. But he did.
Smith’s sidearming slider buckled the knees of Pujols and dozens of lesser men in the first half of 2007, before overuse led him to burnout by the All-Star break. Still, Smith was one of the feel-good stories of the season, a genuinely good, humble, likeable kid who conquered the best hitters in the world in the greatest city on earth. In times when professional athletes were going to jail for murder, assault, and dogfighting, Smith’s biggest troubles were with parking tickets.
From April to July, Joe Smith was one of the biggest surprises of the young season, anchoring the middle relief corps with stunning consistency. He finished the year appearing in 54 games, going 3-2 with a 3.45 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 44 innings. Elbow tendinitis — the result of the biggest workload of his life — shortened his season and affected his overall numbers, but Smith showed enough in his rookie year to suggest that he won’t be “just another Joe”.
4. Shawn’s Walkoff
“I haven’t pulled a home run like that in a long time,” Green said.
You can say that again. Shawn Green’s brief tenure in a Mets uniform was fairly unexciting when compared to the rest of his career. Green, who through the years had been a Gold Glover, an All-Star, a 40-homer slugger, and an MVP candidate, was none of those things as a Met. Rather, he was something of a disappointment, particularly to Mets fans who were clamoring for the presence of Lastings Milledge in right field.
However, every once in a while Green would hark back to his golden years and pull off something impressive. Though his remarkable .407 hitting in September was a feat in itself (and an ideal way to ride off into the sunset), his most dramatic work came on June 25th against the Cardinals.
Through ten innings, the Mets lineup managed only two hits and one run against career scrubs Mike Maroth (making his NL debut) and Ryan Franklin. Their only run came on a third inning solo blast by rookie Carlos Gomez, while Mets pitchers combined to hold the Redbirds to one run on 8 hits.
After being no-hit through eight consecutive innings — their last safety was the Gomez homer in the third — Shawn Green led off the bottom of the eleventh against journeyman reliever Russ Springer. Green had been kept hitless by the two previous St. Louis pitchers — both lefties — and was 1 for 11 career against the righty Springer. Perhaps because of his lack of success against Springer, Green was patient at the plate, working the count full. But instead of looking for a walk, Green guessed fastball.
“When it got to 3-2, I felt he has got to throw a strike here. I figured he would throw me a fastball. I wasn’t necessarily trying to hit a home run, I was just trying to drive one somewhere,” Green said.
But homerun he did — he drove Springer’s offering far and deep over the 410 mark in centerfield, a prodigious blast that exited the Stadium in a flash. The Shea crowd, which had been bored to sleep thanks to the previous eight hitless innings, erupted in kind to only the second walk-off homer in Green’s illustrious career.
5. Tom Glavine’s Near No-Hitter
It wasn’t quite as dramatic nor as impressive as Maine’s near no-no (mentioned later in this post), but if not for a lucky infield hit by Scott Rolen in the top of the second of Game 76, Tom Glavine would have pitched the first no-hitter in Mets history.
Of course, the feat would have been slightly tainted, in that the game was shortened to five and a half innings due to rain. Still, it went into the books as an official game, and had it not been for that 55-bouncer off Rolen’s bat, Glavine’s shutout would have been hitless.
6. John Maine Gets Mad
John Maine is a fine pitcher, but not exactly a fireball of excitement — not flashy, not outspoken, nothing over the top about him. One might call him stoic, balanced, unemotional — possibly even nondescript. It seems that nothing affects him — good or bad. Unflappable might be a good word.
However, for the first time as a Met, we saw John Maine mad — though he’ll never admit to it.
After pitching lights out in the first half of 2007, someone with even less personality — Tony LaRussa — left Maine off the NL All-Star team. Instead of rightfully placing Johnny on the roster, LaRussa chose Brandon Webb and Roy Oswalt — both of whom were outpitched by Maine from April to July. As fate would have it, Maine’s last start before the All-Star break came in Houston against Oswalt. Showtime.
Maine didn’t just beat the Astros that night — he pistol-whipped them. It was by far his most dominating and intimidating outing in a Mets uniform. Not only did he mow down batters, he got up close and personal with them. Back in the day, we called it “shaves”. That’s right, Maine was buzzing his fastball up and in and under the chin, getting the Houston batters to “move their feet” and otherwise respect Maine’s ownership of the inside part of the plate. The defining moment of the game for Maine came in the sixth, when Craig Biggio led off with a basehit and Hunter Spence reached on routine fly that Ricky Ledee misplayed into a single. With none out, the meat of the Astros order was up â€” Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, and Mark Loretta (the Killer Lâ€™s ?). Maine struck out Berkman and Lee and disposed of Loretta via an easy popup to end the threat and the inning.
Though he was bounced from the game the next inning, the Mets won easily (6-2). More importantly, Maine made his statement, and proved that he was worthy of an All-Star berth — one that never came.
7. Tom Glavine’s 300th Victory
Now that Tommy’s a Brave again, this milestone is somewhat bittersweet. But at least we can say we saw it, and Glavine’s 300th victory — an 8-3 win over the Cubs on August 5th at Wrigley Field — came with the lefty adorned in orange and blue.
8. Pedro’s Return
Though the 2006 Mets season was a great success in many ways, the end was sour in that the team lost the man that made them matter — Pedro Martinez. It was the signing of Pedro, after all, that justified the Mets, that turned them from pretenders to contenders. So there was a certain emptiness in September when Martinez went down, despite the Mets’ running away with the NL East title.
But it was worse than that — Pedro’s shoulder had finally given out, and he would face career-threatening surgery to his shoulder. Dozens of pitchers before him had undergone rotator cuff surgery before him, but few came back with any kind of success — his older brother Ramon included. It was expected that in a best-case scenario, Pedro would miss nearly all of 2007 — he’d be lucky to return at all.
Pedro, however, is unlike most mortals, and always has been. He worked through his rehab relentlessly, and was on a mound by May. He took the ball in a Major League game for the first time on September 3rd, beating the Reds 10-4 in a five-inning outing — less than 11 months after going under the knife.
Martinez went on to make four more starts, and finished the season 3-1 with a 2.57 ERA. Though the Mets suffered an historic collapse, you couldn’t blame Pedro — he came up big in final stretch of the season. Even his sole loss was hardly his fault; a 7-inning, 8-strikeout, 2-run performance against the Cardinals — a game in which the Mets offense was shut out on three hits against Joel freakin’ Pineiro.
9. John Maine’s Must-Win
When Willie Collazo gets into a “must-win” game at the end of the year, it’s either really good news, or really bad news.
After a fantastic first half — one in which he established himself as the Mets’ stopper — John Maine fell apart. He wasn’t awful in the second half, but in the second half, he wasn’t anywhere near the dominating pitcher we saw from April to July. Some of it was blamed on falling out of his routine during the All-Star break. Pundits claimed the rest of the league caught up to him. There were whispers that he was wearing down in his first full MLB season.
Then, just when the Mets needed him most, the “first half” John Maine reappeared.
There were two games left in the season, the Mets’ 7-game lead a distant memory. They had just lost five consecutive games and were about to play the Marlins in the second game of the final three-game series of the season. With two games left, the Phillies were ahead of the Mets by one game. In order to stay alive in the pennant race, and salvage a season that turned into one of the worst collapses in history, the Mets absolutely, positively had to win this game — no ifs, ands, or buts.
And all John Maine did was take a no-hitter into the eighth inning.
Maine struck out 14 Fish in the process, leading the Mets to an easy 13-0 victory. Since the Phillies lost that same day, the two teams were once again locked in a tie for first in the NL East. After the game, the staff ace said:
“We weren’t going to lose today,” Maine said.
Thanks to John Maine, the Mets held their destiny in their control — it would all come down to the final game of the season.
10. David Wright – Almost an MVP
In April, it appeared as though Jose Reyes was building on the breakout year he had in 2006, and reach the ranks of superstardom. At the same time, his pal David Wright was struggling mightily, and some wondered if Wright might take a step back in 2007.
Nothing could have been further from the truth — in either case.
Despite a homerless April, David Wright spent May through September as a man on a mission — the one solid rock in the lineup in a rollercoaster year for the Mets offense. Wright was the first Met to collect 30 HR and 30 SB in the same season since mentor Howard Johnson, and batted .325 with 107 RBI en route to a sparkling season for the young star with the shiny grin. Chants of “MVP!” began erupting from the Shea Stadium stands during his at-bats in late July, and the praise was well-deserved.
Wright turned it on in the final stretch, rising to the occasion during their deepest despair. While the rest of the team stumbled, Wright hit .394 in August and .352 in September, literally carrying the Mets on his shoulders. Although big-mouth Jimmy Rollins won the award, David Wright finished in a respectable fourth in the MVP voting, tallying 182 points.
There you have it — the top ten highlights of the Mets’ 2007 season, presented in order according to date. No doubt I’ve missed some of the high notes, so please post what YOU thought were the best performances of an otherwise disappointing season. With a New Year upon us, and spring training nearing, now’s the time to talk about the positives, to help raise our optimism for the 2008 season.