He was released by the Pirates prior to the 1992 season after pitching in only 31 games (18 starts) for Pittsburgh, signing a day later with the Kansas City Royals. After appearing in 20 games with the Royals (18 starts), he was signed by the Texas Rangers in 1993. But in parts of two seasons with Texas, he only started three games and relieved in three others. He was then selected off waivers by the Cincinnati Reds in 1994, hoping to make the team as a replacement player during the players' strike. Replacement players were never needed during the 1995 regular season, but he eventually made the Reds, appearing in four games (three starts) that year.
After the 1995 season, the Mets took a chance on the journeyman pitcher and he spent the 1996 season at AAA-Norfolk. He made the team in 1997 and became a key contributor to the Mets as they contended for the National League wild card until the final week of the season. After winning ten games in the major leagues from 1988-1995, he surpassed that total in 1997 alone, going 13-9 in 31 starts for the Mets. It was then that Rick Reed stopped being a journeyman pitcher and became of the most dependable pitchers in Mets history.
After pitching well for the Mets during Spring Training in 1997, Rick Reed won the fifth starter's job. But despite the fact that Reed was ecstatic to make the team out of Spring Training, the joy wasn't reciprocated by the veterans on the team. Players like John Franco were not fond of having a former replacement player as a teammate. If Reed was going to win over his teammates, he was going to have to perform at his best on the field. That's exactly what he did, and it took him very little time to establish himself as one of the best pitchers on the team.
In his first start as a Met, Reed pitched seven shutout innings, holding the San Francisco Giants to three hits. Unfortunately, the Mets were also putting up zeroes on the board, and Reed received a no-decision for his efforts. Four days after his first start, Reed's next appearance came in relief against the Los Angeles Dodgers. If his start against the Giants was an appetizer, his outing against the Dodgers was the main course. Reed pitched five innings against LA, facing the minimum 15 batters (Reed gave up one baserunner, but he was erased on a double play), and striking out seven. The Mets went on to lose the game in the 14th inning, and yet again, Reed was not involved in the decision. However, with 12 shutout innings (allowing only four hits) to kick off his Mets career, Rick Reed had proven that he was going to be a pitcher to be reckoned with in the National League.
On June 1st, Reed's 1.81 ERA put him among the league leaders. However, he wasn't piling up the wins as his low ERA would suggest. In his first 12 appearances (10 starts), Reed was only credited with four wins. This was mainly due to the team's lack of hitting in his starts, as Reed left three of those ten starts with the game tied. Had the Mets scored one extra run in each of those games, perhaps Reed would have made the All-Star team, especially since he would have been among the league leaders in wins and ERA.
Despite the poor run support, Reed still managed the best year of his career by far, finishing with a 13-9 record and a 2.89 ERA, which was the sixth lowest ERA in the National League for the 1997 season.
In 1998, Rick Reed and Al Leiter were part of a formidable one-two punch at the top of the Mets' rotation. Together, they won 33 games, with Leiter winning 17 games (which to this day is the highest total by any Met since 1990) and Reed winning 16. Reed also continued to display the impeccable control that he displayed in 1997, as he walked fewer than one batter per start in 1998 (31 starts, 29 walks allowed). For his efforts, Reed was selected to his first All-Star team (he didn't get to pitch in the game).
Alas, the Mets lost their final five games of the 1998 season to fall one win short of ending a decade-long playoff drought. Although Reed had been in the major leagues since 1988 (the last time the Mets crashed the postseason party), he had never taken part in a champagne celebration. That would change in 1999, and Reed would be a major part of that change.
Despite being placed on the disabled list twice during the 1999 season, first with a tear in his left calf in April, followed by a month-long stay on the DL in August with a strained ligament on the middle finger of his pitching hand, Rick Reed was still able to make 26 starts. The 1999 Mets were the highest scoring team in franchise history, crossing the plate 853 times, so despite Reed's 4.58 ERA, he still managed to finish the year with an 11-5 record. Perhaps the biggest of those 11 victories came in his final start of the regular season.
The Mets were once considered a lock for the postseason in 1999. After defeating the Phillies on September 19, the Mets were comfortably ahead in the wild card race and only one game behind the Braves for the NL East lead. But then the Mets lost their next seven games, with four of those losses coming to Atlanta. The Mets had fallen out of the race for the division title and were now in danger of missing the playoffs altogether. Going into their final series of the season, the Mets were two games out of the wild card lead with three games to play. They were able to get one game closer to the wild card lead with a thrilling extra-inning victory over the Pirates in the first game of the series. Rick Reed was set to start the second game of the series, with the season hanging in the balance. What he gave was his finest effort in a Mets uniform.
Not known for being a strikeout pitcher, Rick Reed had not fanned more than six batters in any of his first 25 starts in 1999. However, against the team for which he made his major league debut in 1988 (which coincidentally was a 1-0 victory against the Mets on 8/8/88), Reed became Nolan Ryan for the night. The 35-year-old righty struck out a dozen Pirates and walked no one, allowing only three hits in the 7-0 complete game win. The victory, coupled with a loss by the Reds earlier in the day, put the Mets in a tie for the wild card lead. The Mets would go on to win the National League wild card berth two days later, with a 5-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. Rick Reed, the former journeyman pitcher, was now making his first journey into the postseason, and he would make it memorable for the Mets and their fans.
After splitting the first two games of the NLDS in Arizona, the Mets returned to Shea Stadium for their first postseason game since Game 5 of the 1988 NLCS. It was up to Rick Reed to break the tie and leave the Mets a win away from the 1999 NLCS. Just like he did against the Pirates a week earlier, Reed was in full command of his repertoire. He allowed two runs on four hits in six innings of work, as the Mets cruised to a 9-2 victory. The Mets would go on to win Game 4 on Todd Pratt's walk-off home run off Matt Mantei and advance to the NLCS, where Reed continued to show that his replacement player days were far behind him.
By the time Rick Reed took the mound in Game 4 against the Braves, the Mets had already lost the first three games of the series. It was not the first time the Mets had their backs against the wall for a Rick Reed start in 1999. They had been there two weeks earlier, when Reed came through with his complete game shutout of the Pirates. This time was different, as Reed wasn't going up against Francisco Cordova. Rather, he was facing John Smoltz, the pitcher with the best postseason record (12-3) of all-time.
Reed was dominant over the first seven innings, facing the minimum 21 batters and allowing only one of them to reach base (Bret Boone, who was immediately caught stealing after singling in the fourth inning). But with the Mets holding on to a precarious 1-0 lead, Reed allowed back-to-back home runs to Brian Jordan and Ryan Klesko. Fortunately, the Mets were able to score two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to re-take the lead. After Armando Benitez pitched a 1-2-3 inning in the ninth, the Mets had staved off elimination on the night when the team was celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Miracle Mets' 1969 World Series championship.
Reed would not pitch again in 1999, as the Mets went on to lose the NLCS to the Braves in six games, but in 2000, Reed and the Mets were able to go where no Mets team had gone since 1986.
Although Rick Reed finished with his second consecutive 11-5 season in 2000, he was victimized by a lack of run support, which explained his team-leading 14 no-decisions. However, the Mets won 10 of Reed's 14 no-decisions, going 21-9 overall in his 30 starts.
Reed struggled early on, winning only four games through July 17. However, in his final 14 starts, the Mets were witnesses to the vintage Rick Reed. In those starts, Reed went 7-3 (the Mets won 10 of those 14 starts) with a 3.26 ERA. He gave up two earned runs or less in eight of the 14 starts, allowing the Mets to cruise to their second consecutive wild card berth, finishing only one game behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East.
Given another chance to shine on the postseason stage, Reed put his game face on and accepted the challenge. Just like the year before, Rick Reed started Game 3 of the NLDS at Shea Stadium after the Mets had split the first two games on the road. Similar to his 1999 NLDS start against Arizona, Reed pitched effectively, giving up two runs in six innings against the Giants. However, this time the Mets' bats did not provide him with any runs to work with, as Reed left the game with the Mets trailing 2-0. Fortunately, the Mets were able to win the game when Benny Agbayani let the dogs out with his 13th inning walk-off blast off Giants' reliever Aaron Fultz. The Mets won the following night on Bobby Jones' one-hit masterpiece and advanced to their second consecutive NLCS, this time against the St. Louis Cardinals.
After three successful postseason starts, Reed suffered a setback in Game 3 of the 2000 NLCS, allowing five runs (four earned) in 3⅓ innings. Reed took the loss for the Mets, but that would be the only game the Mets would lose to St. Louis, as the Mets won their fourth National League pennant by defeating the Cardinals in Game 5 three days later. It would also be the only time the Mets lost a postseason game started by Rick Reed, who after more than a decade in the major leagues, was finally going to his first World Series.
From a replacement player looking for a job in 1995 to Game 3 starter in the 2000 World Series, Rick Reed personified the rags to riches story that Mets fans love to root for.
Making his first World Series appearance, Reed pitched like a veteran in Game 3. It was Reed's fifth career postseason start (all at Shea), and would be the fourth time Reed would give up two runs or less. In six innings against the crosstown Yankees, Reed allowed two runs (that seems like a pattern for him in the postseason - two runs in six innings) on six hits and struck out eight. Although Reed would not figure in the decision (why does that not seem unusual?), the Mets would go to win the game when they scored two runs in the eighth inning off losing pitcher Orlando "The Dookie" Hernandez. It was the first time in 11 postseason starts that The Dookie was charged with a loss.
In 2001, Rick Reed was having another tremendous regular season. He won seven of his first nine decisions and was among the league leaders in ERA. In addition, Reed was walking even fewer batters than his usual microscopic rate, having walked a total of five batters through June 4. In July, Reed was named to his second All-Star team, but again was not used in the game (perhaps it was because Mets manager Bobby Valentine was the skipper of the NL All-Stars). In his first start after the All-Star Game, Reed defeated the Toronto Blue Jays in an interleague matchup, giving up two runs on six hits in seven innings of work. He walked no one and struck out eight. Unfortunately, it would turn out to be Reed's final victory as a New York Met, as he was traded to the Minnesota Twins at the trade deadline for outfielder Matt Lawton.
Reed was devastated by the trade, especially after signing a three-year, $21.75 million contract with the Mets prior to the 2001 season. After the trade was consummated, Reed discussed the deal, explaining why he hadn't asked for a no-trade clause when he signed the contract:
"I assumed I'd be here three or four years and then that'd be it. I'm a little numb, to be honest with you. What do you do? Life goes on. I enjoyed my time here."
As shocking as it was to see the Mets trade away their All-Star pitcher, the team did not appear to be going anywhere in 2001. At the time of the trade, the Mets had a 49-57 record and were 11½ games behind the first place Atlanta Braves. Of course, once Reed was traded, the Mets embarked on a six-week long hot streak, winning 25 of 31 games from mid-August to late September. Although the Mets finished with their fifth consecutive winning season (82-80), they failed to make the playoffs for the first time in three years. Meanwhile, Rick Reed continued to make regular trips to the postseason, appearing in the playoffs in 2002 and 2003 for the Minnesota Twins.
Rick Reed was never the ace of the staff, but he was still one of the most dependable pitchers to ever put on a Mets uniform. In 1999, Reed walked 47 batters in 26 starts. Although those 1.8 walks per start might be considered great for most pitchers, it was an aberration for Rick Reed. In fact, in his other 112 starts for the Mets, Reed only walked 111 batters. That's less than one walk per start over 3½ seasons! Compare that to one of the other successful right-handed pitchers in Mets history, Ron Darling, whose 114 walks during his 16-win 1985 season were three more than Reed surrendered in 3½ years!
Over his 4½ year career with the Mets, Rick Reed won 59 games and lost only 36. His .621 winning percentage as a Met is second only to Dwight Gooden's .649, and he is one of only five pitchers in franchise history to win more than 60% of his decisions (the others are Gooden, Tom Seaver, Johan Santana and David Cone). Reed also ranks in the club's top ten in WHIP (1.15, 4th all-time), fewest walks per nine innings (1.6, 2nd all-time) and strikeout to walk ratio (3.7, 2nd all-time). Even sabermetricians would be happy to know that Rick Reed is 9th on the Mets' all-time list with a 14.8 WAR for pitchers.
Rick Reed bounced around from team to team for almost a decade before latching on to the Mets as a 32-year-old in 1997. At the time, few people gave Reed a chance to have any type of impact on the Mets. After all, how many pitchers become successful after winning only ten games before their 32nd birthday? But Reed defied the odds and became not only one of the best pitchers in Mets history, but one of the few pitchers who stepped it up when the games meant the most.
For all the regular season success Dwight Gooden had during his storied 11-year tenure with the team, he never won a postseason game for the Mets in seven career playoff starts. Other than his one start against the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2000 National League Championship Series, Rick Reed pitched exceptionally well in all of his other postseason appearances for the Mets, compiling a 2.88 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP in those four starts (all four of those games were won by the Mets). Yet despite his great success, both during the regular season and in the postseason, Reed never quite got the respect he deserved from his teammates, mainly because of the replacement player tag that followed him around like an albatross long after the 1994-95 strike was over.
He might have been disrespected by his own teammates, but the fans know a good pitcher when they see one. Rick Reed was underrated from the first time he put on a Mets uniform to the day he was traded in 2001. It's been a decade since Reed threw his last pitch as a Met, but the memories of one of the most underrated pitchers in franchise history will last far longer than that.
Note: M.U.M.'s The Word is a thirteen-part weekly series spotlighting some of the best Mets players of all-time who never got the recognition they deserved because they weren't the biggest names on the teams they played for. For previous installments, please click on the players' names below:
January 3, 2011: John Olerud
January 10, 2011: Sid Fernandez
January 17, 2011: Jon Matlack
January 24, 2011: Kevin McReynolds
January 31, 2011: Bobby Jones
February 7, 2011: John Stearns
February 14, 2011: David Cone
February 21, 2011: Rusty Staub