“Mets in Tens” Excerpt: Top Ten Villains
Below is an excerpt of a chapter of my upcoming book, Mets in Tens: Best and Worst of an Amazin’ History, to be released in April 2018. To chime in with your opinion on the list, who you think the top three villains are, and to follow me, you can do so on Twitter (@BrianWright86) and on Instagram.
10. Terry Pendleton/Mike Scioscia
Mention them (or the next on this list) and, somewhere, a Mets fan is wincing.
The progress of 1987 and 1988 seasons were irrevocably damaged because of their respective shots through our hearts. Yet, they are easy scapegoats. In truth, the Mets only have themselves to blame.
Pendleton’s two-run homer off Roger McDowell in a key September 11 contest completed a three-run top of the ninth in which the Cards were down to their last out before mounting their comeback. Had Pendleton been retired, the Mets would have been a half-game behind St. Louis.
Instead, the Cardinals pushed ahead and won in the tenth. New York’s late charge for first in the NL East halted and never regained steam.
A year later, the Mets were the ones being chased.
But it appeared a futile attempt for Los Angeles. The Dodgers were down two-games-to-one in the NLCS and behind by two facing Dwight Gooden in the ninth inning of Game 4. Doc had not allowed a hit since the fourth.
After John Shelby walked, Gooden threw a fastball over the heart of the plate to Scioscia — with three home runs in 408 at-bats during 1988 and an average of four homers in his eight big league seasons.
L.A.’s backstop knocked it into the New York bullpen — the pivot point from which this game (that the Dodgers won in 12 innings) and this series (that the Dodgers won in seven) turned.
9. Yadier Molina
The haunting offcuts of ’87 and ’88 conflated to produce the painful end to 2006.
It was the Cardinals once more ruining dreams of advancement. And in the anticipated and expected progression to the World Series as the far superior team, another powerless catcher — in this instance Molina — slung the dagger.
With a man on and the score knotted in the top of the ninth of the deciding seventh game of the NLCS, Molina — far more noted for his defense than his six homers in ’06 — made Aaron Heilman regret the pitch he just offered. It turned into the deciding margin in a contest that decided the National League title, as St. Louis (and its 82 regular season wins) marched on to ultimate glory.
Molina is a notch above the previous one-shot-through-the-heart wonders by repetitively nabbing brazen stolen base attempters who dared test his arm.
The Redbirds’ longtime backstop’s .321 batting average (at the conclusion of the 2017 season) versus the Mets remains the best among any franchise’s he’s faced greater than 75 times.
8. Pete Rose
New York has been host to many great bouts. But the quarrel between Rose — one of baseball’s fiercest aggressors — and Bud Harrelson — the undersized, yet feisty shortstop — is especially memorable, even if it never measured up in duration and competitive fairness.
An ordinary battle between the Mets and Reds in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series would turn into the undercard in the midst of a top of the fifth inning-ending double play.
Harrelson, the provider of self-deprecating comments aimed at the punchless Cincinnati offense, was greeted at second base by a hard-sliding Rose, who was set to carry out vengeance on behalf of his teammates.
Bud objected. Rose shoved. Harrelson shoved back. The fight was on.
The Mets would go on to an easy 9–2 victory. It almost never got there.
Soon after the on-field madness subsided (and after Pedro Borbon gnawed at a Mets hat), Rose took his position in left field — an easy target. Most fans heaved boos in Rose’s direction. Others threw objects his way.
It took a trio of greats — Rusty Staub, Tom Seaver, and Willie Mays — to keep the carnage from escalating.
The fight had no bearing on the result. However, Rose fed off such resentment. With jeers basically as strong in Game 4, he set out to prevent the Mets from clinching the pennant. With a 12th inning homer against Harry Parker, to cap a 3-for-5 day, that’s exactly what happened.
Of his record 4,256 hits, the Mets were witness to 396.
7. Daniel Murphy
Regret runs rampant when it comes to the 2015 NLCS MVP. With every hit — and way too many at New York’s expense — the lament of not being more proactive in attempting to re-sign Murphy grows louder.
Murphy rejected a qualifying offer worth $15.8 million in November ’15, confirming his venture into free agency.
The Mets could still have retained the second baseman, who holds one of the highest batting averages in club history. But when they traded for Neil Walker — formerly a second baseman of the Pittsburgh Pirates — in early December, the writing was on the wall.
Soon enough, Murphy’s writing would be on a contract with the Nationals.
A three-year deal worth $37.5 million. The Mets could have easily paid that much to a player who did so well through lean years, despite defensive and base path lapses, and carried them to a World Series.
That would have been so much simpler than the figurative amount Murphy is making them pay now.
Seven of his 25 homers in 2016 came against the Mets. So did 21 of his 104 RBIs. He played in all 29 games versus New York and hit safely in each one. The Nats won 12 of those and took the division by eight.
Murphy took it easier on his old ‘mates in 2017 — only hitting .354 with 14 RBIs.
6. Mike Scott
Had Game 7 of the 1986 NLCS occurred, it’s probable — if not certain — the Houston Astros would have displaced the Mets as World Series representative.
Scott, sweetening the revenge on the team that dismissed him, would have been the reason. The series MVP displayed pitching mastery contrary to what he showed in New York.
With an ERA of 4.64 and 3.7 strikeouts per nine innings while as a Met from 1979–82, Scott grappled with dependability and got traded to Houston.
Receiving guidance from Roger Craig, he added a split-fingered fastball to his repertoire. In 1986, he found it: 306 strikeouts, 2.22 ERA, and a no-hitter to clinch the NL West.
Baseball’s hottest pitcher still sizzled when encountering the favored Mets — the immovable object in the way of New York’s irresistible force.
Scott followed up his 14-K Game 1 virtuosity by holding the Mets to a mere two singles in Game 4 — frustrating them to the point of speculation.
Several Mets felt the sharp, downward movement on his splitter was aided by a bit more than just good dexterity. When a foul ball from a Scott offering ventured into the dugout, scuff marks on the rawhide gave them more reason for grievance.
Whether it was sour grapes or a legitimate gripe, nobody was going to stop it. Only the Mets could by winning the next two and avoiding a third Scott start in a deciding Astrodome affair. By seizing Game 5 and persevering through 16 pain-staking Game 6 innings, they did.
5. Jimmy Rollins
Painfully prophetic. That’s the simplest way to describe Rollins in 2007. Part and parcel to Phillie fortunes as a top-of-the-order hitter and infield leader, the star shortstop captained a late charge towards New York.
Philadelphia spent most of the year peering behind the Mets before catching and nipping them at the wire, affirming the statement Rollins made at season’s start — that the Phils were, in fact, “the team to beat.”
The swagger inflamed a rivalry that wasn’t burning so hot, as the Mets cruised to the NL East title by 12 games in 2006 and it appeared to be idle spring training chatter when New York held a 7 ½-game margin with seemingly too little time left for any comebacks.
However, Rollins and the Phillies were already tipping the scales in their favor before September. Philadelphia won its last eight against the Mets — five of them decided by two runs or less.
Rollins’ performance against New York in ’07 included hitting .346 with six homers, 15 RBIs, and eight stolen bases. In carrying the Phils to the division title, he was named NL MVP.
As the old saying goes, it aint bragging if you can back it up.
There wasn’t a need for posturing before 2008. The Phillies flourished as the Mets wilted, surging past New York on their way to the World Series title.
As Philadelphia continued to have its way with New York into the next decade, Rollins did too. The Mets were witness to fourteen percent of his career home run total (33) and 13 percent of his RBI production (122).
4. Roger Clemens
Among the hoopla surrounding the preamble to the 2000 World Series, the conflict between “The Rocket” and the Mets’ top hitter stayed a salacious sidebar.
It stemmed from a Clemens pitch in July that struck Piazza on the brim of his helmet and left him concussed — to which Mike claimed there was intent.
When Game 2 began, with Clemens pitching and Piazza batting third, it was a main topic. And when the top of the first ended, it was all anyone could talk about.
Clemens flung the meat part of Piazza’s broken bat in № 31’s direction as he casually jogged towards first on a foul ball — causing a bench clearing and a standoff of the two combatants.
Roger claimed he confused the bat — an elongated, jagged piece of wood — for the ball — a round piece of rawhide with stitching.
Spoken like a guy who testified to Congress that he never took steroids.
The Mets evened the score to some degree at Shea in June 2002 by knocking Clemens around, even if Shawn Estes failed to plunk him.
Clemens could have very well been a classic Met killer had circumstances altered. He no-hit New York through three innings in Game 6 of the World Series and maintaining a 3–2 lead after seven.
If his departure was due to a blister on his pitching hand or Boston manager John McNamara simply removing his young horse, the Mets are glad it happened.
They soon jumped on Calvin Schiraldi to tie it. Clemens was relegated to watching the victory — both for himself and his team — disappear while gazing through the visiting bullpen window.
All of this, and he could’ve been a Met from the beginning. In 1981, they drafted Clemens in the 12th round. But after low-balling the contract offer, he optioned to attend the University of Texas.