The 2002 Mets: Train Wreck Baseball
More than one commentator in the last week has likened watching the 2002 Mets to a bad traffic accident on an interstate highway – it’s an awful sight to see, but for some reason, some just can’t turn away.
You could call it train-wreck baseball at its worst, and it was never more evident than during New York’s winless homestand last week at Shea Stadium.
Over the course of six miserable days, the $102 million wonders of Flushing rolled over and screamed uncle to the Padres and Dodgers. The week unanimously left a bad taste in the mouths of thousands of paying customers who might not mind waiting the long winter to see their team take the field again.
The Mets are on the road this week and aren’t scheduled to play another game at home until August 30, which is set as the Players Association’s strike date if a labor agreement can’t be hammered out. That’s probably just as well for this team, which has lost 11 straight on their home turf and is in imminent danger of equaling the club record of 13, set under Joe Torre’s watch in September 1979.
It’s hard to fathom how a star-studded team that was favored by some to finally strip the National League East from the Atlanta Braves could have performed so terribly that they could be in this situation, gasping for air while lodged firmly in the cellar of the division.
It’s ancient history now, but it didn’t all start this way for Bobby Valentine’s club. New York steamrolled out of the gate with a record of 18-11 through May 3 and held the top spot in their division as late as May 31, but since then, it’s been a total and complete free-fall.
"I’ve never seen anything like this," Mo Vaughn said after Los Angeles completed their series sweep of New York on Sunday. Mike Piazza would add that this was "the most disappointed" he’s ever been in his major league career. We won’t even get into Valentine’s thoughts on the situation – for now.
How could it have possibly come to this? Let’s take a brief stroll down memory lane into the Mets’ homestand from hell, a terrific synopsis of this disappointing season.
Tuesday, August 13: Padres 7, Mets 2. The Mets open their six-game homestand meriting some consideration in the wild card race, having lost two in a row but peering up at the top of the ladder from 7-1/2 games behind.
21-year-old rookie Jake Peavy makes short work of the Mets, holding them to just one run through eight innings and falling two outs shy of his first complete game. Steve Trachsel is hit hard, literally, having been drilled in the chest by Ryan Klesko’s line drive in the fourth.
Trachsel, who allows six runs on nine hits in three-plus innings, admits that the hard smash into his ribcage wasn’t a factor when Valentine chose to remove him from the game. "They took me out because I stunk," he says. The Mets get five hits in the game, which is only two more than Peavy had for San Diego.
Wednesday, August 14: Padres 6, Mets 2. Bubba Trammell’s two-run homer in the sixth sinks Al Leiter, coming on a pitch the Padres outfielder never should have seen.
While with the Mets in 2000, Trammell would brag to teammates that he loved to face the Yankees because he could feast on Andy Pettitte’s cutter. Catcher Vance Wilson admitted that he "vapor-locked" behind the plate and sent out the signal for Leiter to throw the signature pitch, which Trammell promptly deposits into the left field seats.
Thursday, August 15: Padres 5, Mets 3. The Mets commit three errors in a hellacious fifth inning, a situation that’s only exacerbated when third baseman Ty Wigginton loses a pop fly in the sun. It all amounts to a four-run inning and a series sweep at the hands of the last-place Padres, the NL’s worst road team coming into this series.
John Thomson fails to make it out of the fifth inning, allowing five runs in 4-2/3 innings, but it’s Shawn Estes who takes the fall – dealt to the Cincinnati Reds after the game for a package of four players. The move signals GM Steve Phillips’ raising of the white flag on this season, but maybe he does Estes a favor by trading him to the Reds, a team with some glimmer of playoff hope.
Friday, August 16: Dodgers 3, Mets 2. Taking Estes’ place in the rotation, rookie Mike Bacsik pitches well in an audition for next year, holding the Wild Card-leading Dodgers to one run through six innings.
The wheels come off the wagon, as they were always sure to, when usually reliable reliever Mark Guthrie serves up a two-run blast to Marquis Grissom in the eighth. It’s just the third home run allowed all season by Guthrie, but the second in his last five games.
Saturday, August 17: Dodgers 10, Mets 4. The Mets try to divert attention from their putrid present to their past by announcing their All-Amazin’ Team before the game, but all memories are quickly jogged when Pedro Astacio turns in the worst start of his career.
Shawn Green crushes a three-run homer to cap an eight-run outburst against the righthander, who lasts just three-plus innings and leaves the field to vociferous boos. The mood at Shea is quickly summed as fans spontaneously urge the Mets to cut their losses early by chanting, "Go on strike! Go on strike!"
The only interesting quality of the game is lost when Dodgers righty Odalis Perez loses his perfect game with one out in the seventh, walking Rey Ordonez on a questionable 3-2 pitch. As Ordonez trots to first, the fans boo yet again, and in the Mets dugout, Valentine buries his head in his hands.
"It's killing me. Do you want to check my blood pressure?" Valentine asks reporters after the game. "It's killing my family. It's killing my dogs. Our fans are upset and I can understand it."
Sunday, August 18: Dodgers 2, Mets 1. Having displayed their ability to spontaneously come up with witty chants the night before, fans urge a painfully slow-working Trachsel to "Throw the ball! Throw the ball!"
The goat award belongs on this day to Vaughn, who misses a swipe pickoff tag on Dave Roberts at first base in the first inning and is nabbed off of third base on a phantom tag by Adrian Beltre an inning later to cost New York a run.
After the game, Valentine repeatedly and intentionally sticks himself in the leg with a steel letter opener while conducting a press conference, seemingly in an attempt to replicate the pain he has felt for the entire week.
But things were summed up best by Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Bob Murphy, who was irked by Trachsel’s snail-like pace and exclaimed, "Oh my, it continues!" when Trachsel walked a batter. For the Mets, that could certainly apply to their season as well.
Bryan Hoch covers the New York Mets for FOXSports.com and appears weekly in the Wave. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.