Monday, March 21, 2016

The Most With The Least: Pat Mahomes (1999)

The long man in the bullpen has rarely gotten the accolades usually reserved for starting pitchers and closers.   In fact, pitchers who can pitch several innings per appearance out of the bullpen have historically been hurlers who weren't good enough to crack the starting rotation or come into high-pressure, late-inning situations.  In addition, an appearance by the long man usually means the starting pitcher got hurt early in the game or was shelled by the opposition.

In other words, no one really wants to see the long man in the game.

But one relief pitcher who got into games early and often ended up becoming a key member of a beloved Mets playoff team.  Unlike other long men before him, his presence on the mound was usually a welcome sight.  In fact, he pitched so effectively in the role that he ended up setting a franchise record that still stands to this day.

Pat Mahomes helped the Mets end an 11-year playoff drought with his arm and his bat.  (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Patrick Lavon Mahomes did not start off his major league career on a high note.  Mahomes's poor start as a big league ballplayer wasn't limited to a few awful appearances or several miserable months.  Unfortunately, Mahomes was lousy for six full seasons.  After being drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the sixth round of the 1988 June amateur draft, Mahomes made his major league debut in 1992, spending time as a starter and reliever with the Twins.  The right-hander was then traded to Boston in 1996 and pitched exclusively as a reliever until the Red Sox released him in June 1997.

In six years with the Twins and Red Sox, Mahomes had an embarrassing 5.88 ERA, 1.63 WHIP and 80 ERA+.  Of all hurlers who pitched in each season from 1992 to 1997, Mahomes had the second-highest ERA, fifth-highest WHIP and fourth-worst ERA+.  As a result, Mahomes did not pitch in the major leagues for a year and a half, having to settle for a contract with the Yokohama Bay Stars in the Japan Central League.  Although a change of hemispheres failed to resuscitate Mahomes's career (he was 0-4 with a 5.98 ERA in eight starts and two relief appearances for Yokohama in 1998), the Mets took a flyer on him for the 1999 season, signing him to a minor league contract and giving him an invitation to spring training.

Mahomes was assigned to AAA-Norfolk to begin the 1999 campaign, but after an impressive start with the Tides (4-1, 3.49 ERA in 38⅔ innings), Mahomes earned a promotion to the majors in mid-May.  Mahomes was used mainly as a long reliever out of the bullpen, making his first appearance for the Mets on May 15.  He did not disappoint, pitching 2⅓ innings of scoreless relief and clubbing a double in his only at-bat, which allowed him to earn the win in a 9-7 slugfest against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Following his victorious debut, Mahomes continued to be one of the few pitchers for the Mets who pitched with any kind of success.  Because of the team's shaky starting rotation (every pitcher who made at least one start for the Mets in 1999 had an ERA north of 4.00), Mahomes was forced into pitching multiple innings of relief a dozen times in his first 26 appearances, including six outings of three innings or more.  By early September, Mahomes had lowered his ERA under 3.00 and had proven himself to be one of the most valuable commodities on the team.  He also continued to rack up victories in impressive fashion, coming through on the mound and at the plate.

One of Mahomes's most memorable appearances came in early August at Wrigley Field.  A day after the Mets lost to the Cubs by a touchdown, 17-10, the two teams with battered bullpens played a four-and-a-half hour, 13-inning marathon.  Mahomes - who didn't pitch in the previous day's shootout - came into the game in the bottom of the 12th inning to face Sammy Sosa with two outs and no one on base.  Rather than intentionally walking Sosa, who had hit his 39th and 40th home runs of the season in the 17-10 affair, Mahomes got Sosa to ground out to end the inning.

(Jonathan Daniel/Allsport)
In the top of the 13th, manager Bobby Valentine allowed Mahomes to hit for himself after Cubs manager Jim Riggleman had reliever Scott Sanders issue a two-out free pass to Benny Agbayani.  In his previous outing two days earlier, Mahomes produced an RBI double against the Cubs that was crucial in the Mets' 10-9 victory.  Just 48 hours later, Mahomes made the Cubs pay again, lacing a single that scored Roger Cedeño from second base (Cedeño had led off the inning with a double).  Now armed with a one-run lead, Mahomes went back to the mound in the bottom of the 13th and kept the Cubs off the scoreboard, ending the game on a strikeout of catcher Jeff Reed.

After the game, Mahomes discussed his game-winning hit, showing a confidence in his hitting abilities that was normally reserved for everyday players.

"I've always been able to hit pretty well," Mahomes said.  "I knew I wasn't going to strike out."

Mahomes earned his fifth victory against no losses in the 5-4, 13-inning victory over the Cubs.  He went on to finish the regular season with a perfect 8-0 record, earning his eighth win by pitching two scoreless innings in the opener of the Mets' season-ending series against the Pittsburgh Pirates - a series that began with the Mets two games out in the wild card race with three games to play.

In addition to his 8-0 mark - the most wins in a single season without a defeat by a pitcher in Mets history - Mahomes posted a 3.68 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and an impressive 121 ERA+, all of which were career-bests.  After allowing 428 hits in 389 innings from 1992 to 1997, Mahomes gave up just 44 hits in 63⅔ innings for the Mets in 1999, holding opposing hitters to a .198 batting average.  And Mahomes didn't just succeed on the mound.  He was also excellent at the plate, batting .313 with three doubles and three RBI in 16 at-bats, which allowed him to post an un-pitcher-like .500 slugging percentage, despite having never come to the plate prior to his time in New York.

With the help of Mahomes, the Mets advanced to the playoffs for the first time in 11 years.  Mahomes pitched once in the division series against the Arizona Diamondbacks and also appeared in Game One of the National League Championship Series versus the Atlanta Braves - both losses by the Mets.  With the Mets facing elimination in Game Five, Mahomes pitched a shaky, but scoreless frame, keeping the game tied in the seventh and eighth innings.  Seven innings later, the Mets forced a sixth game on the strength of Robin Ventura's walk-off Grand Slam Single.

Although the Mets lost a classic Game Six to the Braves, allowing Atlanta to win the National League pennant, the team battled into extra innings, extending their season as far as they could.  But the game might never have gone into overtime had it not been for Pat Mahomes and his incredible work in relief of an awful Al Leiter.

Leiter faced six batters and allowed all of them to reach base.  Five of them scored, giving Atlanta an early 5-0 lead.  Even though Mahomes had become used to pitching early in games by doing so often during the regular season, he had never come into a game for the Mets in the first inning.  But with Leiter clearly not at his best, Valentine called upon Mahomes to stop the bleeding.  Mahomes turned in a yeoman-like effort, holding the Braves to one hit and one walk in four scoreless innings.  The right-hander's clutch performance kept the game from becoming a blowout, and after he was removed from the contest for a pinch-hitter, the Mets began to chip away at the Braves' lead, ultimately taking the lead in the eighth inning and once again in the tenth.  But Atlanta was simply better than the Mets in Game Six, and won the pennant in the 11th inning on a bases-loaded walk to Andruw Jones issued by Kenny Rogers.

The Mets came up short in their quest to reach the World Series, but the 1999 season was still a campaign to be proud of, according to manager Bobby Valentine.

''I told my guys after the game that it might be a shorter winter or a longer winter for them but I think they played like champions," said Valentine.  "They should feel like champions.  It's very difficult to come back from five runs and have a couple of leads.  It's difficult to give it up, but we gave everything we had.''

Sadly, Mahomes could not replicate his 1999 performance the following season, as his 5.46 ERA and 1.72 WHIP in 53 appearances (5 starts) for the 2000 Mets was more in line with his numbers as an American League pitcher from 1992 to 1997.  After not pitching for the Mets in the playoffs during their run to the World Series in 2000, Mahomes became a free agent.  The 30-year-old then embarked on a Tour de Majors, as he was signed and/or released by the Rangers, Cubs, Pirates, Expos, Marlins, Dodgers, Royals and Blue Jays.  He was even property of the Mets once again in 2005, even though it was only for about 15 minutes, give or take a few days.

Thanks to for this detailed road map of the career of Pat Mahomes.

Pat Mahomes didn't have a particularly good career.  In 11 seasons as a journeyman pitcher, he had a 5.47 ERA, 1.59 WHIP and an 84 ERA+.  But he did have one outstanding season on a Mets team that is loved by its fans as if they had actually won the pennant.

Although he didn't get the attention (or money) usually reserved for starting pitchers or late-inning relievers, Mahomes earned every penny of his $310,000 salary in 1999.  Here are just some of the lesser-known facts about Mahomes, proving that not every team MVP has to be a power hitter, defensive star, or stud pitcher.

  • In 23 of his 39 appearances, Mahomes came into the game with the Mets trailing the opposition.  They came back to win five of those games, with Mahomes allowing just one run in 11⅔ innings in those five comeback victories.  And on a team that needed a 163rd regular season game to decide the wild card winner, each of those five comeback wins with the tremendous Mahomes pitching performances contributed greatly in the Mets' successful quest to end their 11-year playoff drought.
  • Many relievers with high win totals are said to have "vultured" their victories, meaning they only earned a win because they either happened to be on the mound as their team took the lead or they allowed the tying run to score immediately before their team re-took the lead, making them the pitchers of record on the winning side.  In 1999, Mahomes certainly did not vulture his wins, as he gave up no runs in seven of the eight games he won.  In the one game he did allow a tally, he pitched 4⅔ innings and allowed just a single run.  Mahomes had a phenomenal 0.45 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in games in which he was credited with a win, allowing opposing batters to hit just .138 against him in 20 innings pitched, and he had twice as many strikeouts in those eight games (18) as hits allowed (9).  In other words, Mahomes earned each and every one of his wins, feasting on his opponents like - for lack of a better term - a vulture.
  • Mahomes was also no slouch with a bat in his hands.  Whereas most relief pitchers rarely get a turn at bat, Mahomes is one of just three pitchers in franchise history who pitched exclusively in relief in a single season (no games started) and collected five or more hits in that campaign, joining Skip Lockwood (1976) and Roger McDowell (1986).  Mahomes also joined McDowell as the only relief pitchers in franchise history to produce a trio of doubles in a single season.  (McDowell's three-double campaign came in 1988.)

Pat Mahomes made the most out of the chance given to him by the Mets in 1999.  It proved to be his only successful season in the big leagues.  His perfect 8-0 season and near-perfect relief effort in Game Six of the NLCS almost propelled the Mets to the World Series.  In the end, the Mets fell short of their goal, but without Mahomes coming out of the pen to give them as many solid efforts as he did throughout the 1999 campaign in relief of a suspect starting rotation, the Mets might never have qualified for the postseason.

Long relief is a thankless job.  Tell that to someone other than Pat Mahomes.  He knows just how important he was when he filled that role for the Mets during their unforgettable 1999 season.

(NY Daily News Archives/Getty Images)

"I worked so hard to get back, and it seems like it's all paying off.  The (perfect) record and the hitting, all that's a plus."

--Pat Mahomes, August 1999, as told to the NY Times.

Note:  The Most With The Least is a thirteen-part weekly series spotlighting those Mets players who performed at a high level without receiving the accolades or playing time their more established teammates got, due to injuries, executive decisions or other factors.  For previous installments, please click on the players' names below:

January 4, 2016: Benny Agbayani
January 11, 2016: Donn Clendenon
January 18, 2016: Tim Teufel
January 25, 2016: Hisanori Takahashi
February 1, 2016: Chris Jones
February 8, 2016: Claudell Washington
February 15, 2016: Moises Alou
February 22, 2016: Pat Zachry
February 29, 2016: Art Shamsky
March 7, 2016: Mark Carreon
March 14, 2016: Jose Valentin

No comments: