Friday, April 27, 2012

Rocky Mountain High (And Lows)

Tonight, the Mets play their first series outside the Eastern Time Zone, taking on the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.  Since the Rockies came into the league in 1993, they haven't had much of a rivalry with the Mets, but that doesn't mean their history against each other isn't filled with memorable moments and moments we'd like to forget.

Let's go back through time and dig out those moments.  Perhaps after this weekend's three-game series in Colorado, the Mets and Rockies might have added some new moments to this list.

In 1993, the Rockies played their first ever regular season game against the Mets at Shea Stadium.  Dwight Gooden started for the Mets and pitched a complete game shutout, blanking the Rockies, 3-0.  It was his 23rd career shutout as a Met.  Gooden would go on to pitch only two more shutouts over the next seven seasons.  One came against the Rockies' Class of '93 expansion mates, the Florida Marlins on May 7, 1993.  The other came three years later as a member of the Yankees.  Yeah.  You guessed it.  It was his no-hitter.  Sigh.

Speaking of the Rockies' inaugural series at Shea Stadium, Colorado didn't score their first run until the seventh inning of their second game, a game won by the Mets, 6-1.  The only thing that kept them from a second straight shutout was a home run by Dante Bichette off Bret Saberhagen.  This is the same Dante Bichette who provided the fireworks for the Rockies in another inaugural game against the Mets...

Bichette did indeed happen against the Mets on April 26, 1995.

On April 26, 1995, the Mets and the rest of Major League Baseball returned from the longest work stoppage in the sport's history, a labor disagreement that wiped out the 1994 World Series and 18 regular season games from the 1995 schedule.  The Mets and Rockies opened the season and the new Coors Field in a game that was quite the opposite from their first matchup in 1993.

In the Rockies' inaugural series at Shea Stadium, they only scored one run in the entire two-game set.  It took them only three batters to surpass that run total at Coors Field, as Walt Weiss, Joe Girardi (yes, that Joe Girardi) and Larry Walker led off the game with hits to give the Rockies a 2-0 first-inning lead.  The Mets would eventually take the lead, but soon found themselves at the mercy of the new ballpark.  With one-run leads in the ninth, thirteenth and fourteenth innings, the Mets failed to put the Rockies away.  After Tim Bogar made a costly error on what could have been a game-ending double play, Dante Bichette crushed a three-run homer off reliever Mike Remlinger to give the Rockies an 11-9, 14-inning victory.  Crushed was also how the team felt about Remlinger, as the reliever would only make four more appearances for the Mets before being traded to Cincinnati two weeks after serving up Bichette's meatball dinner.  To this day, the Mets have yet to win an extra-inning game at Coors Field, losing all four overtime affairs there.

Five years after the Mets played their first game at Coors Field, they were involved in one of the wildest games in team history.  The game on April 30, 2000 started out as a regular baseball game, with the Mets taking a 1-0 lead after three innings, but once the fourth inning began, it turned into an arena baseball game.  Over the final six innings, the only half-innings in which a zero was put up on the scoreboard were the top of the fifth for the Mets and the bottom of the sixth for the Rockies, as shown by the linescore below.

                1  2  3   4  5  6   7  8  9    R  H  E
                -  -  -   -  -  -   -  -  -    -  -  -
Mets            0  1  0   4  0  1   3  2  3   14 15  2
Rockies         0  0  0   1  1  0   1  6  2   11 10  1

With the Mets seemingly in control, holding a 9-2 lead at the seventh-inning stretch, Al Leiter ran out of gas in the thin Denver air, as did relievers Turk Wendell, Dennis Cook and Armando Benitez.  Over the final three innings, the Rockies sent 20 batters to the plate, with more than half of them (11) reaching base.  A total of nine runs scored on only five hits against the Mets' pitching quartet.  In the eighth inning alone, the Rockies scored six runs with the benefit of only two hits.  Of course, one of the hits was a grand slam by Tom Goodwin, the same Tom Goodwin who only hit 24 home runs over a 14-year major league career and who is now currently the Mets' first base coach.  Fortunately for the Mets, their offense didn't take a break over the final two innings, as they banged out six hits and scored five runs in the eighth and ninth frames to eke out a 14-11 victory over the Rockies.

In 2002, the Mets decided to bring in every available free agent, or so it seemed.  And if the player wasn't a free agent, they'd trade for him.  This is how Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz, Roger Cedeño, Jeff D'Amico and Shawn Estes became Mets.  They also added another pitcher to the starting rotation who had enjoyed a very successful career in Colorado.

Why so glum, Pedro?  Oh, yeah.  There's a Phillie rounding the bases behind you.

Pedro Astacio won 42 games for the Rockies from 1998 to 2000, a number unheard of for a pitcher who made half of his starts at the pinball machine known as Coors Field.  The Mets ignored the fact that Astacio led the league in home runs allowed twice, giving up a whopping 109 home runs from 1998 to 2000.  They figured that once he left the Mile High City, his fly balls would stay in the ballpark.  They were wrong.  Astacio allowed a league-leading 32 home runs for the Mets in 2002, the highest total by a Mets pitcher since Roger Craig gave up 35 gopher balls during the Mets' inaugural campaign forty years earlier.  When Astacio wasn't throwing balls in the hitters' happy zones, he was plunking hitters in their unhappy zones, as he led the league with 16 hit batsmen.  In 2003, Astacio only made seven starts for the Mets due to injuries and was gone the following year as a free agent.

Many people remember the 2007 season as the year in which the Mets blew a seven-game lead with 17 games to play.  But that was just their lead over the Phillies for the division.  Once the Mets failed to win the division, they couldn't even settle for the wild card, as the Rockies zoomed past them.  On September 15, the Mets had already begun their free fall, but they still had an 83-64 record.  At the same time, Colorado was 76-72 and in fourth place in the NL West.  For those counting, the Rockies were 7½ games behind the Mets with only 14 games to play, a larger deficit with fewer games left than the now-infamous "7-games-with-17-left".  Of course, no one on the Mets was looking at the wild card standings, and when the Rockies went on their historic 21-1 run (that included the first seven games of the playoffs), the Mets were left to wonder what went wrong.

In recent years, things have been more tame between the two teams, but other moments, both memorable and not-so-memorable, have occurred when the Mets and Rockies have gotten together.

In 2010, David Wright was felled by a Matt Cain head-seeking missile, forcing him to go on the disabled list for the first time in his career.  When he returned two weeks later, the Mets decided to give him a special batting helmet to wear when he came to the plate.  Wright might not have suffered any additional head injuries while wearing the helmet, but he sure suffered when it came to the baseball fashion police.

Yes, Denver might be one mile above sea level, but it's not so high to necessitate a space helmet.

Finally, in 2011, the Mets and Rockies got together for two series, one at Citi Field and one at Coors Field.  In the first series, a four-game set played at Citi Field, Rockies' shortstop Troy Tulowitzki homered in all four games, all of which were won by Colorado.  To this day, no Met has homered in four consecutive games at Citi Field.  One month later, the two teams got together for a three-game series at Coors Field.  Unfortunately, the teams weren't the only ones getting together, as David Wright (minus the Great Gazoo helmet) and Ike Davis collided while attempting to catch a routine pop-up near the pitcher's mound.  Wright was fine, but Davis was not.  What was originally categorized as a day-to-day injury for Davis became a season-ending injury and the Mets were left scrambling for internal replacements, with Daniel Murphy (46 games), Nick Evans (38 games) and Lucas Duda (37 games) all spending time at first base.

But fear not, Mets fans, because not everything in 2011 went wrong for the Mets against the Rockies.  In their final affair against the Rockies at Coors Field, Carlos Beltran became the eighth Met to hit three home runs in a game, taking Ubaldo Jimenez, Franklin Morales and former Met farmhand Matt Lindstrom deep.

Tonight, the Mets and Rockies rekindle a rivalry that has never been a true rivalry, but has offered some of the most amazing, bizarre and unexpected moments over the past 20 seasons.  Who knows what will happen next?

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