With Strawberry gone, the Mets turned to Hubie Brooks to play right field. Brooks had a good 1990 season with the Dodgers (.266, 20 HR, 91 RBI), but he was already 34 years old when the Mets acquired him from Los Angeles for Bobby Ojeda and Greg Hansell. Asking a 34-year-old to replace a 28-year-old perennial All-Star was a recipe for disaster and sure enough, Brooks had one of his worst seasons in 1991, hitting .238, with 16 HR and 50 RBI.
Just like Hubie failed on the field, the Mets did the same in the standings, finishing in fifth place with their first losing record (77-84) since 1983. However, the 1991 season did have something positive come out of it.
When Darryl Strawberry left New York following the 1990 season, the Mets received a supplemental pick to be used between the first and second rounds of the 1991 amateur draft. That sandwich pick (the 36th overall draft selection) turned out to have a pretty good Mets career in his own right.
Bobby Jones was a right-handed pitcher from Fresno, California. Before the Mets drafted the All-American out of Fresno State University with the 36th pick of the 1991 amateur draft, Jones already had a Mets connection, as he attended the same high school (Fresno High School) as "The Franchise" himself, Tom Seaver.
Bobby Jones (wearing #22 in the back row) was partying like it was 1988 in this photo from his Fresno High School days. (photo courtesy of fresnohighalumni.com)
Like Tom Seaver before him, Bobby Jones' ascent to the major leagues was a quick one. After dominating minor league hitters at three different levels (27-15, 2.71 ERA, 304 Ks, 78 BB), Jones was called up to the major leagues in August of 1993, making his major league debut against the Philadelphia Phillies, the team that went on to win the National League pennant two months later.
Jones held the Phillies lineup in check, allowing one earned run in six innings of work. He gave up seven hits and walked one batter. Although the Mets defense threatened to ruin Jones' debut (their four errors led to four unearned runs), their offense (you may call him Tim Bogar) showed up to preserve his first major league win.
Tim Bogar collected two doubles and two home runs in the 9-5 Mets victory. His three-run homer in the sixth inning turned a one-run game into an 8-4 Mets lead. He then gave the Mets an insurance run in the ninth inning with an inside-the-park home run. However, just like the Mets in 1993, even when something went right, something else would go wrong. During his unnecessary head-first slide into home plate, Bogar tore a ligament in his left hand and would not play again in 1993.
The Mets went on to finish the 1993 season in last place in the NL East, with the expansion Florida Marlins finishing five games ahead of them. Their 59-103 record in 1993 would give us another Tom Seaver-Bobby Jones parallel, as Jones' initial campaign with the Mets was the team's first 100-loss season since 1967, the same year Tom Seaver made his major league debut for New York.
When the 1994 season began, Bobby Jones was firmly entrenched in the Mets' rotation, starting the third game of the season behind Doc Gooden and Pete Smith (feel free to chime in with a "who dat?"). But Jones (along with Bret Saberhagen) soon became one of the go-to guys in the rotation, as Gooden succumbed to his addictions for the final time as a Met. Pete Smith also gave in to his addictions, although his drug of choice was the gopher ball (Smith gave up a league leading 25 HR in 1994).
Despite the poor performances by Gooden (3-4, 6.31 ERA) and Smith (4-10, 5.55 ERA), the Mets flirted with the .500 mark for most of the year, finishing with a 55-58 record when the players' strike ended the 1994 season. Saberhagen's season (14-4, 2.74 ERA, a major league record 11:1 K/BB ratio) was nothing short of brilliant, but that was to be expected from a man who had already won two Cy Young Awards in his career (1985, 1989). It was Bobby Jones' performance in his first full season as a Met that kept the team from falling back to the depths they reached in 1993.
For the season, Jones went 12-7 with a 3.15 ERA, with the Mets winning 15 of his 24 starts. In 14 of those 24 starts, Jones gave up two earned runs or less. He also gave the Mets much-needed durability, especially with the bullpen being overworked due to the inefficiency of the other starters not named Saberhagen. Jones pitched at least six innings in all but four of his starts and made it through the seventh inning more than half the time (14 starts). For his efforts, Jones finished eighth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting, behind future Mets Steve Trachsel and Cliff Floyd.
After being tantalized by his excellent 1994 season, the 1995 and 1996 seasons would have to be considered a slight disappointment for Bobby Jones. Although Jones was rewarded with the Opening Day nod in each season, his performances in the other starts left a lot to be desired.
Jones followed up his 1994 season by going 10-10 in 1995 and 12-8 in 1996. The combined 22-18 record over the two seasons wasn't so bad, especially when the Mets' records during that span (69-75 in 1995, 71-91 in 1996) are taken into consideration. However, opposing batters learned how to hit Jones better during those two seasons than they did in 1994.
In 1994, the National League hit .257 against Jones, who gave up 157 hits in 160 innings. That number rose to .274 in 1995 (209 hits in 195.2 innings) and .288 in 1996 (219 hits in 195.2 innings). As a result, Jones' ERA rose from an exceptional 3.15 in 1994 to a mediocre 4.19 and 4.42 in 1995 and 1996, respectively. Fortunately for Jones, the youth movement known as Generation K (Bill Pulsipher, Paul Wilson, Jason Isringhausen) did not become the second coming of Seaver, Koosman and Matlack, thereby allowing Jones to retain his status at the top of the Mets' rotation. Jones rewarded the Mets for their patience in 1997.
After getting the ball on Opening Day in 1995 and 1996, Bobby Jones did not get that honor for the 1997 opener. Instead, new manager Bobby Valentine (who replaced Dallas Green during the latter part of the 1996 season) chose to bestow the Opening Day honor to veteran Pete Harnisch. Harnisch would pitch into the sixth inning, an inning in which the Mets allowed the San Diego Padres to score 11 runs. Soon after the Opening Day debacle, Harnisch was placed on the disabled list after feeling exhaustion and anxiety. It was later revealed that Harnisch was suffering from depression.
When Harnisch went down in April, it was up to the rest of the staff to step up, especially Bobby Jones, who hadn't lived up to expectations following his rookie season in 1994. Then something special happened. Bobby Jones became an effective pitcher again and for the first time during his tenure as a Met, the team started to win.
In the finale of the season-opening series against the Padres, Jones made his first start of the season, picking up the win by holding San Diego to one run over eight innings. It was the Mets' first victory of the season after losing their first two games. The performance by Jones in his first start would serve as a reminder that 1997 was going to be nothing like the previous two years.
From April 30 to June 9, Jones went on one of the most dominant stretches by any Met (Seaver and Gooden included) in franchise history. In eight starts, Jones allowed only ten earned runs for a 1.45 ERA. Opposing batters hit only .199 against him, and when they did get a hit, more often than not, it was a single (.271 slugging percentage over the eight starts). The most important stat during that stretch of starts was Jones' record, a perfect 8-0. For his efforts, Jones was named the National League's Player of the Month for May.
Before the first official day of summer arrived, Jones had already established himself as one of the best pitchers in the league. After Bobby Jones defeated the Pirates on June 20 by the score of 1-0, his record stood at 12-3. For his strong first half, Jones was rewarded with his first selection to the All-Star Game. He did not disappoint the fans in the Midsummer Classic, striking out sluggers Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mark McGwire (who combined to hit 114 HR in 1997) in succession during his one scoreless inning of work.
After his strong start, Jones came back to Earth, winning only three games after the All-Star Break. However, when the season ended, his overall numbers were still brilliant. For the year, Jones went 15-9, with a 3.63 ERA. After two years of allowing more base hits than innings pitched, Jones held opposing batters to a career-low .242 batting average, allowing 177 hits in 193.1 innings. Bobby Jones' breakout season coincided with the Mets' return to contention, as the team finished with an 88-74 record, their best mark since Darryl Strawberry's final year as a Met in 1990.
The Mets won 88 games again in 1998, but by then, Al Leiter and Rick Reed had already established themselves as the top two pitchers on the staff, winning 33 games between them. Despite another season giving up fewer hits than innings pitched (192 hits in 195.1 innings), Jones was the victim of the dreaded no-decision more times than he would have liked. In 30 starts, Jones was credited with 12 no-decisions. The Mets ended up winning eight of those 12 games. Therefore, despite the fact that the Mets won 17 of his starts, Bobby Jones finished the 1998 season with a career-low nine wins. It was the first time in his career that Jones failed to register double-digit victories over a full season.
The 1999 season was a memorable one for the Mets but a difficult one for Bobby Jones. For the first time in his career, the injury bug latched itself onto Jones, limiting him to 12 mostly unsuccessful starts. For the season, Jones finished with a 3-3 record and a career-worst 5.61 ERA. Because the Mets had depth in their rotation, Jones was left off the postseason roster. After experiencing hard times with the Mets early on in his career, Jones was now the odd man out when the team finally reached the playoffs. The postseason snub should have motivated Jones to have a strong 2000 season, but that was not the case during the early part of the year.
The Mets were on a mission in 2000. After losing their final five games of the 1998 season to narrowly miss out on the playoffs and falling two wins short of the World Series in 1999, the Mets were not going to settle for anything less than an appearance in the Fall Classic in 2000. For Bobby Jones, he had an additional goal on his mind. He wanted to make sure he wouldn't be an afterthought if the Mets reached the playoffs again. But after three poor starts to begin the season, Jones was placed on the disabled list with a strained right calf. After a one-month stay on the DL, Jones picked up right where he left off, giving the Mets less than they expected from a man who had been an All-Star just three years before. After a June 10 loss to the Yankees, Jones' ERA stood at 10.19. It was then that the Mets made the not-so-difficult decision to send Jones to the minor leagues.
Perhaps it was the embarrassment of being sent down to the minors for two weeks, but once Jones returned to the Mets, he was a completely different pitcher. In his first start with the Mets after being recalled from AAA-Norfolk, Jones pitched eight strong innings, holding the Pirates to one run and five hits, while striking out eight. The start against Pittsburgh was a sign of things to come.
Beginning with his June 23 start against the Pirates, Jones pitched as well as he had in 1997. After his short stint in the minor leagues, Jones went 10-3 with a 3.69 ERA. He saved his best for last, winning seven of his final eight decisions, as the Mets repeated as the National League's Wild Card winner. This time around, Bobby Jones would not be on the outside looking in, as his strong finish helped him earn a spot on the postseason roster. The longest tenured starting pitcher on the Mets was finally going to get his chance to shine in the playoffs.
From 1993-2000, Bobby Jones won 74 games in the regular season. But it was his 75th win that became the most memorable victory of his career.
After losing Game 1 to the NL West champion San Francisco Giants, the Mets pulled out two hard-fought extra-inning victories in Games 2 and 3. Benny Agbayani was the man who let the dogs out at Shea Stadium in Game 3 with his game-ending 13th inning homer off Aaron Fultz. The thrilling victory gave the Mets a 2-1 series lead, meaning that the clinching could come at Shea Stadium if the Mets won Game 4. Bobby Valentine gave the ball and his trust to Bobby Jones to pitch the Mets into the NLCS. The manager would not be disappointed.
Of course the Mets are ecstatic. After all, they had finally cracked the mystery that was on everyone's minds in the year 2000, for it was Benny Agbayani who was guilty of letting the dogs out.
Bobby Jones was making his first postseason start in Game 4 of the 2000 NLDS. Whereas most pitchers admit being nervous before their first playoff start, Jones pitched with ice water in his veins. He retired the first 12 Giants to face him, taking a 2-0 lead into the fifth inning, courtesy of a first-inning two-run homer by Robin Ventura. Then he ran into trouble in the fifth inning, allowing his first baserunner of the game when former Met (and 2000 NL MVP) Jeff Kent doubled down the left field line. Kent took third base when Ellis Burks flied out to rightfielder Timo Perez. J.T. Snow then walked, putting the tying runs on base for shortstop Rich Aurilia. Bobby Valentine could have taken Jones out of the game. Instead, he stayed with his veteran pitcher, allowing him to face Aurilia. Jones induced a short fly ball to left, keeping Kent at third base and Snow at first. After walking catcher Doug Mirabelli to load the bases, Jones retired opposing pitcher Mark Gardner on a pop-up to second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo, ending the Giants' threat. It would be the only time the Giants came close to scoring.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Mets added two runs to their lead, with Bobby Jones starting the rally. After Mike Bordick grounded out weakly to start the inning, Jones struck out. However, the alert veteran reached first base safely when Mark Gardner's pitch could not be handled by Doug Mirabelli. Timo Perez then sent Jones to third base with a double, which was followed by a two-run double by Alfonzo. The Mets now had a 4-0 lead and Bobby Jones, fresh off an inning where he escaped a bases-loaded jam, had all the extra run support he needed.
The Giants were retired in order in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. When Bobby Jones came out to the mound for the ninth inning, the Shea Stadium crowd gave him a rousing ovation. This was a man who was there when the Mets were the laughingstock of the National League. Now all he was hearing were cheers from the Shea faithful. The Mets were three outs away from a return trip to the NLCS, and Bobby Jones was three outs away from finishing up the best start in Mets postseason history.
Jones had already thrown 109 pitches through eight innings. The Giants may have known that Jones' pitch count was already in triple digits, but you wouldn't have known it by the way they approached the ninth inning. After retiring Marvin Benard to start the inning, Bill Mueller grounded out on Jones' first pitch. Up came Barry Bonds*, one of the most patient hitters in the National League. Bonds* had already ended Game 2 of the NLDS by looking at strike three on a pitch by John Franco. He was not going to go down with the bat on his shoulders this time. On Jones' first pitch, Bonds* took a mighty cut and lined out to centerfielder Jay Payton. The man who was left off the postseason roster in 1999 had just pitched a complete game, one-hit shutout to catapult the Mets into their second consecutive NLCS. Bobby Jones went from a minor league demotion in June to the best postseason start in franchise history in October, the ultimate rags to riches story.
However, his 75th win as a Met was also his last. Jones took the mound for Game 4 of the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals and pitched poorly. Although the Mets staked him to an 8-3 lead, Jones couldn't get out of the fifth inning, allowing six runs in four-plus innings of work. Despite the subpar outing, the Mets won the game 10-6 and then won the pennant the following night.
Jones' final appearance for the Mets came in Game 4 of the 2000 World Series. After losing the first two games at Yankee Stadium, the Mets came back to win Game 3, putting Bobby Jones in position to tie up the Fall Classic with a victory in Game 4. The elation felt by the Mets after their Game 3 victory was short-lived, as Derek Jeter led off Game 4 with a home run. Jones didn't pitch badly in the game, allowing three runs and four hits in his five innings of work, but the Mets never recovered from Jeter's game-opening blast, losing the game 3-2.
The Mets failed to win their third World Championship in 2000, falling to the crosstown Yankees in five games. However, they did enjoy their most successful season in Bobby Jones' eight years in New York. Unfortunately for Jones, 2000 would be his last season as a Met. The Mets did not re-sign the free agent following the 2000 season, allowing him to sign with the San Diego Padres.
His first year in San Diego was terrible, to say the least. Jones allowed a league-leading 37 HR in 2001 and also led the league with his 19 losses. After finishing the 2002 season with a 7-8 record, Jones retired at the young age of 32.
Although he never approached the annual numbers expected of him following his rookie season, Bobby Jones still had quite a career as a Met. His 74 regular season victories are ninth on the team's all-time list and his .569 career winning percentage leaves him just shy of the top ten (Rick Aguilera is 10th with a .578 winning percentage). However, no Mets pitcher appeared on the 1990s leaderboard more than Bobby Jones.
For the decade (1990-1999), Jones finished first in starts, innings pitched and wins. He also finished in the top five in strikeouts, complete games, shutouts and winning percentage.
Sure, there were far better pitchers in Mets history. There were also pitchers who took the mound facing more pressure than Bobby Jones did. But when it comes time to consider the entire Mets résumé of Bobby Jones, no one can deny that he was truly one of the most underrated, if not forgotten, players in the history of the franchise. Anyone who remembers Bobby Jones solely for his one memorable performance in the 2000 NLDS has missed out on what was truly a solid career.