Monday, January 14, 2013

The Mets That Got Away: Melvin Mora

Some players aren't pegged to be stars by the teams that employ them, even as they're coming up through their minor league system.  Edgardo Alfonzo was never expected to become the player he turned into as a member of the Mets.  He's now considered to be one of the most underrated and beloved Mets of all-time, as evidenced by his selection as the greatest second baseman in the history of the franchise.

It took Alfonzo a few years to become an All-Star caliber player in the major leagues, but at least the Mets gave him a chance to become that player.  The Mets gave the kid from Venezuela his first shot at the big league level four years after they drafted him in 1991.  One of Alfonzo's fellow countrymen waited a bit longer to make his big league debut with the Mets after toiling in the minor leagues for the better part of a decade.  He was never considered to be a top prospect at any minor league level, but gradually moved up the minor league chain until he made his debut with the Mets in 1999.  One year later, he was gone.

Trying to find a short-term solution, general manager Steve Phillips created a long-term problem when he traded away Melvin Mora to the Baltimore Orioles for fill-in shortstop Mike Bordick.  Although the Mets didn't know it at the time, they were letting go of a player whose offensive numbers would rival and eventually surpass those put up by fellow Venezuelan and former teammate Edgardo Alfonzo.  The trade marked the unofficial beginning of the downfall of Phillips as the team's GM, which was followed soon after by the regression of the team in the NL East standings.

Melvin Mora, before he was a Met that got away.

Melvin Mora was originally drafted as a 19-year-old by the Houston Astros in 1991.  Mora made his professional debut with the Gulf Coast League Astros in 1992, hitting .222 with only three extra-base hits in 144 at-bats.  Mora did not have much power as a young minor leaguer, managing only 23 home runs in six seasons with various Astros' farm teams.  He did, however, possess good speed, stealing 83 bases in 126 attempts from 1992 to 1995.  But in 1996, Mora only stole seven bases in 19 attempts between the Double-A and Triple-A level.  One year later, he once again managed only seven stolen bases, but saw his batting average drop from .284 to .257.  He also saw a drop in what little power he had picked up over the years, falling from eight homers in 1996 to two homers in 1997.

After six years in the Astros' organization (and a stint in the Chinese Professional Baseball League), Mora was granted free agency.  Halfway through the 1998 season, Mora contacted Edgardo Alfonzo's brother, Edgar, who was a coach with the Mets' Class A affiliate in St. Lucie.  Not wanting to go back to Taiwan, Mora accepted a job as a utility player and spent the rest of the year in St. Lucie and AAA-Norfolk.  In 28 games, Mora's numbers resembled the ones he put up during his first professional season in 1992, as he batted .241 with only one extra-base hit in 96 plate appearances.  Once again, Mora was granted free agency, but after receiving no offers from other teams, Mora re-signed with the Mets in February 1999.

Eight years after signing his first professional contract with the Astros, Mora was invited to spring training with the Mets, hoping to make the team.  He responded by putting up fantastic Grapefruit League numbers, batting nearly .400 and providing extra-base hit after extra-base hit.  He also showed off the versatility he acquired at St. Lucie by playing six different defensive positions.  Mora didn't make the team out of spring training, as the final roster spot was given to Mike Kinkade.  Upon hearing the news, a clearly disappointed Mora was quoted as saying "I feel like I want to go to a bridge and jump off."

Mora was sent back to Norfolk, where he performed brilliantly.  While Mora was flourishing at Triple-A, Kinkade was languishing in his role as one of the Mets' top utility players.  Through May 20, Kinkade could only manage a .196 batting average.  He also had three times as many strikeouts as walks and was downright dreadful as a sub, batting .125 in 19 games.  Kinkade's failures as a Met led to his demotion to Norfolk and finally gave Mora the long-awaited break he needed to reach the majors for the first time.

On May 30, 1999, Mora played in his first game with the Mets, starting at shortstop against the Arizona Diamondbacks.  However, he was given the unenviable task of facing perennial All-Star Randy Johnson, who was in the middle of a Cy Young Award-winning campaign.  Naturally, Mora went 0-for-3 against Johnson, but was not one of the Big Unit's ten strikeout victims in the Mets' 10-1 loss to the Diamondbacks.  The loss was the third in a row for the Mets, a skein that reached eight consecutive losses before Phillips cleaned house by firing most of the Mets' coaching staff.  The Mets' bench was now full of new coaches for Mora to learn from.  Mora would get plenty of opportunities to get that education as he didn't start another game for the Mets until July 17.

More spent the month of June and the first two weeks of July as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch-hitter.  Through his first 19 games in the big leagues, Mora had only collected 13 at-bats and was still looking for his first big league hit.  On July 6, more than five weeks after playing in his first game with the Mets, Mora finally collected his first hit as a major leaguer.  With the Mets already blowing out the Montreal Expos, Mora pinch-hit for third baseman Robin Ventura, delivering a single off future Met pitcher Miguel Batista.

Mora would continue to play sparingly for the Mets after July 6.  Through August 1, Mora had played in 38 games for the Mets, but had only started three of them.  The extended stays on the bench caused Mora's bat to suffer, as he was hitting an anemic .083 (2-for-24) through the first of August.  Mora spent the next month of the season at AAA-Norfolk, where he once again began to pound the baseball.  Combined with the numbers he put up at Norfolk prior to his first call-up to the Mets, Mora hit .303 with 17 doubles, eight home runs and 18 stolen bases for the Tides in only 82 games.  He also reached base at a .393 clip and continued to play various positions while getting the regular playing time he was denied at the major league level.

When the rosters expanded on September 1, Mora was once again promoted to the parent squad to serve as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch-hitter.  Mora only had six official at-bats from September 1 to October 2, collecting two hits during that stretch.  Mora had played in 64 of the team's first 161 games, collecting only four hits and scoring five runs as the forgotten man on the roster.  But when he collected his fifth hit and scored his sixth run, everyone knew who Melvin Mora was.

On October 3, 1999, the Mets went into their 162nd game of the season deadlocked with the Cincinnati Reds in the National League wild card race.  After finding themselves two games off the pace entering their season-ending three-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Mets took the first two games against the Bucs while the Reds dropped their first two games against the Milwaukee Brewers.  The Mets needed to win the series finale to guarantee themselves of at least one more game.  After a relatively easy 7-0 win over the Pirates in the middle game of the series, the Mets found themselves in a taut, tension-filled game in Game No. 162.  Future Met Kris Benson and former Met killer Orel Hershiser were locked up in a pitcher's duel at Shea Stadium, with each pitcher allowing one run.  The game remained tied as the Mets came up with a chance to win it in the bottom of the ninth.

Bobby Bonilla, who had been booed for much of his two stints with the Mets, was greeted with cheers when he was announced as a pinch-hitter for Shane Halter leading off the ninth.  Four pitches later, those rare cheers morphed back into the more customary boos, as Bonilla grounded out to first.

That brought up Melvin Mora, who had entered the game in the seventh inning as a pinch-runner for all-time stolen base king Rickey Henderson.  On a 1-0 pitch, Mora lined an opposite field single to right field off reliever Greg Hansell.  Mora then advanced to third base on a single to right by Edgardo Alfonzo.  After intentionally walking John Olerud to set up a force out at any base, Hansell was relieved by former Met Brad Clontz.  With Mike Piazza now standing at the plate and Mora standing 90 feet away from extending the Mets season, Clontz uncorked a wild pitch that bounced up into the netting behind home plate, allowing Mora to scamper home with the winning run and whipping the Shea Stadium crowd (myself included) into a joyous frenzy.

After defeating Cincinnati in a one-game playoff the following day (Cincinnati had defeated Milwaukee in their 162nd game to force Game No. 163), the Mets advanced to the postseason for the first time in 11 years.  Despite only having a .161 average in 31 big league at-bats, Mora had proven himself to be a valuable commodity to the Mets.  Six months after being the final man cut by the team after spring training, Mora did not find himself on the outside looking in when the postseason rosters were set.  He was joining his teammates in Arizona for their National League Division Series matchup against the Diamondbacks.

Just as he had done in his major league debut in May, Mora's first postseason at-bat came against Randy Johnson.  Mora had been inserted into the lineup via a double switch in the sixth inning by manager Bobby Valentine and came up to the plate to face Johnson in a tie game in the seventh.  Mora did not contribute to a potential go-ahead rally in that at-bat, grounding out to third.  But he was a major contributor to a go-ahead rally the next time he faced Johnson.

The game was still tied at 4 when the Mets came up to bat against Johnson in the top of the ninth.  Robin Ventura led off the inning with only the tenth hit by a left-handed batter off Johnson all year.  Roger Cedeño tried to sacrifice Ventura to second but popped out to Johnson for the first out.  Light-hitting shortstop Rey Ordoñez then pulled a single to left, advancing Ventura to second base.

Up stepped Melvin Mora, who had never struck out against Johnson in four previous at-bats, but had also never reached base against him.  A double play could have gotten Johnson out of the inning.  Instead, Mora drew a walk off the tiring southpaw, loading the bases and sending Johnson to the showers and Bobby Chouinard into the game to face Rickey Henderson.  After Henderson hit into a force play, with Ventura being thrown out at home, Edgardo Alfonzo launched a grand slam down the left field line, scoring Ordoñez, Mora and Henderson to give the Mets an 8-4 lead, a lead they would hold on to for a Game 1 victory.

Mora would not collect an official at-bat for the rest of the series, coming into Games 3 and 4 as a late-inning defensive replacement, but his walk off Randy Johnson in Game 1 helped set up what might have been the turning point of the series.  By winning Game 1, as well as taking Games 3 and 4 at Shea Stadium, the Mets did not have to face Randy Johnson in the series again.  Once Todd Pratt blasted a series-ending home run off closer Matt Mantei, the Mets advanced to face the division rival Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series.  The Mets fell short in their quest to reach the World Series, but Melvin Mora did everything he could to get them as close as possible to the pennant.

Edgardo Alfonzo's grand slam might not have been possible without Melvin Mora's key walk against Randy Johnson.

After playing in three of the four division series games, but collecting only one official at-bat, Mora was given an increased role in the NLCS against the Braves.  But he needed the removal of Rickey Henderson in Game 2 to prove that he could be productive in a role other than designated double switch player.

After Henderson ran gingerly to first base on a groundout in the second inning, he was replaced in the lineup by Mora, who promptly blasted a home run - his first in the majors - in his first at-bat following Henderson's removal.  Mora's homer extended the Mets' lead to 2-0, a lead they held until Kenny Rogers allowed a game-tying two-run homer to Brian Jordan and a go-ahead two-run homer to Eddie Perez in the bottom of the sixth.  Mora did his best to start a rally for the Mets in the eighth inning, reaching base on an error and scoring all the way from first on a double by Edgardo Alfonzo.  Mora's 270-foot-dash cut Atlanta's lead to a single run, but the Mets failed to produce the tying run after Alfonzo's two-bagger and went down in order in the ninth.  The Mets lost the game, 4-3, to fall behind the Braves in the NLCS, two games to none.

Mora got his first postseason start in Game 3 at Shea Stadium and got into the action quickly, although this time it wasn't with his bat.  In the top of the first, the Braves pushed across an unearned run against Mets starter Al Leiter.  After a leadoff walk to Gerald Williams, Leiter allowed Bret Boone to reach on an error.  A second error, this time on a throw by catcher Mike Piazza on an attempted double steal, allowed Williams to score and Boone to move to third base.  But with the Braves threatening to score more, Melvin Mora caught a fly ball by Brian Jordan and threw Boone out at the plate, keeping the score 1-0.

At the plate, Mora also contributed, collecting hits in each of his first two at-bats against Braves starter Tom Glavine.  But Mora's first career multi-hit game was not enough, as Glavine devastated the Mets with seven shutout innings.  The bullpen did the rest, as the lone run scored by the Braves in the first held up.  Atlanta won the game, 1-0, to put the Mets one game away from elimination.  But Mora would not let the Mets go down without a fight.

Rick Reed started Game 4 for the Mets and was absolutely brilliant through seven innings, facing the minimum 21 batters through seven innings.  The only baserunner he allowed - Bret Boone, who singled in the fourth inning - was erased on a failed stolen base attempt.  The Mets had taken a 1-0 lead on a solo homer by John Olerud and were six outs away from ending the Braves' chances of a sweep.  But before you could say Chief Noc-A-Homa, Brian Jordan and Ryan Klesko blasted back-to-back home runs off Reed, quickly turning one of the greatest pitching performances by a Met into a 2-1 deficit.  Melvin Mora got a good view of both home runs, as he had just been inserted into the game as a defensive replacement for Rickey Henderson.  The Braves didn't score again in the inning, but were now in position to close out the series.  All they needed were six outs.

Roger Cedeño led off the bottom of the eighth with a single, but was still standing on first after Rey Ordoñez popped up a bunt attempt and Benny Agbayani struck out.  Up stepped Melvin Mora, who needed to get on base to continue the rally.  After a stolen base by Cedeño, Mora worked out a walk to bring up John Olerud.  Braves manager Bobby Cox replaced reliever Mike Remlinger with Public Enemy No. 1, John Rocker, who watched helplessly as Cedeño and Mora pulled off a daring double steal.  Olerud followed the timely steals with a two-run single, plating Cedeño and Mora to give the Mets a 3-2 lead.

Roger Cedeño and Melvin Mora celebrate at the plate, allowing John Rocker to ponder what time the next 7 train arrives.

The Mets held on to the lead in the ninth and avoided the sweep, needing to win one more game to send the series back to Atlanta.  They would get that win in Game 5, and once again, Melvin Mora was an unlikely contributor.

Game 5 of the 1999 National League Championship Series was an all-time classic.  Both teams scored early, with Olerud providing a two-run homer off Greg Maddux to give the Mets a first inning lead, only to have Masato Yoshii give it back in the fourth on an RBI double by Chipper Jones and a run-scoring single by Brian Jordan.  The game was still tied, 2-2, when the Braves came up to bat in the top of the thirteenth inning.

After using eight pitchers through the first twelve innings, the Mets were down to their final relief pitcher to start the 13th.  Rookie Octavio Dotel was the only non-starter left for the Mets and was sent to the mound to face the Braves.  Dotel had made only one appearance for the Mets in the postseason and fared miserably in Game 2 of the NLDS, allowing a double, two walks and a hit batsman in one-third of an inning against Arizona.  Now he was being called upon to save the Mets season after not having pitched in 11 days.  He might not have been able to do so without the help of Melvin Mora.

Dotel retired the first two batters he faced in the 13th inning, striking out pinch-hitter Jorge Fabregas and retiring Gerald Williams on a grounder to short.  If he could retire Keith Lockhart, he would avoid facing eventual league MVP Chipper Jones with the go-ahead run on base.  But Dotel couldn't retire the side in order, allowing Lockhart to reach him for a single.  Up stepped the man who was constantly reminded of his given first name by Mets fans at Shea Stadium.  But this time, the name on everyone's mind would be Melvin Mora.  Jones laced a double down the right field line, which was picked up by a hustling Mora near the right field corner.  Mora threw the ball to cut-off man Edgardo Alfonzo, who fired a quick throw to catcher Mike Piazza, nailing Lockhart at the plate by about 20 feet.  Mora's defensive effort took Dotel off the hook and sent the game on into the rain-soaked night.

The Mets did not score in their half of the 13th and neither team scored in the 14th inning.  Dotel was still on the hill in the 15th, facing the light-hitting part of the Braves' lineup.  But Walt Weiss led off the inning with a single and then surprised everyone by stealing second.  (Weiss stole only seven bases during the regular season and was never a big base-stealer during his 14-year major league career.)  Weiss was still on second base when Dotel retired Gerald Williams on a fly ball to left.  But Keith Lockhart, who was denied the opportunity to score the go-ahead run two innings earlier, delivered an RBI triple, scoring Weiss to give the Braves a 4-3 lead.

In the bottom of the 15th, the Mets refused to give in to exhaustion.  They rallied against Kevin McGlinchy, tying the game on a single and stolen base by Shawon Dunston, a walk to Matt Franco, a sacrifice by Edgardo Alfonzo, an intentional walk to John Olerud and an unintentional walk to Todd Pratt.  With Melvin Mora waiting on deck and pinch-runner Roger Cedeño standing 90 feet away from a hard-fought Mets victory, Robin Ventura delivered the now-famous Grand Slam Single, giving the Mets their second consecutive victory in their final turn at bat.

Although Mora went 1-for-6 in the 15-inning thriller, his defensive play in the 13th inning kept the season alive for the Mets and allowed Ventura to come through with his titanic blast two innings later.  The series moved on to Atlanta for Game 6.  Mora did not start the game, but provided a spark off the bench, and it almost led to another thrilling Mets victory.

The Mets fell behind early to the Braves as Al Leiter allowed five runs in the first inning without retiring a single batter.  Despite the quick punch to the gut, the Mets did not stop fighting.  First, they cut the Braves' lead to 5-3.  Then, after the Braves added two insurance runs in the sixth, the Mets tied the game at 7-7 in the seventh, using a home run by Mike Piazza to knot the score.  One inning later, Benny Agbayani led off with a single off reliever Mike Remlinger.  After Agbayani advanced to second on a sacrfice bunt by Rey Ordoñez, Melvin Mora was called upon to pinch-hit for pitcher Orel Hershiser.  Just three games earlier, Mora drew a crucial walk off Remlinger in the eighth inning to set up the go-ahead run.  This time, Mora took it upon himself to supply the go-ahead run in the eighth off Remlinger, delivering an RBI single to give the Mets an 8-7 lead.  Unfortunately, that lead was short-lived, as John Franco allowed the Braves to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth.  The game went on to extra innings, where once again Mora was in the middle of a run-scoring rally.

With John Rocker entering his second inning of work after a 1-2-3 ninth, the Mets pounced on the reliever.  Benny Agbayani drew a leadoff walk to get things started in the tenth.  Two batters later, Rocker attempted to pick off Agbayani and would have been successful had it not been for a miscue by first baseman Brian Hunter.  (Ironically, it was Hunter who had tied the game two innings earlier with an RBI single off John Franco.)  With the Mets getting unexpected help on Hunter's error, Mora came up and delivered a single that moved Agbayani to third.  Agbayani came around to score on Todd Pratt's sacrifice fly to give the Mets a 9-8 lead.  Mora then stole third, but was stranded there when Edgardo Alfonzo went down on a rare strikeout.  Mora's insurance run would have been the difference had he scored, especially after the Braves tied the game on an RBI single by Ozzie Guillen in the bottom of the tenth.  Unfortunately, Mora never got a chance to play postseason hero again, as the Mets walked off a loser when Kenny Rogers threw ball four to Andruw Jones in the 11th.

Although the Mets lost the NLCS to the Braves in six games, Melvin Mora did everything he could to extend the series.  After collecting just five hits in 66 regular season games, Mora picked up six hits in the NLCS, batting .429 with a home run, two runs batted in, three runs scored and two stolen bases.  He reached base in half of his 16 plate appearances and also began two plays in the outfield that resulted in runners being thrown out at the plate.  Despite the sad ending to the 1999 campaign, the future looked bright for Mora and the Mets.  But little did Mora know how short that Mets future would be.

Melvin Mora glided his way into Mets fans hearts in 1999, but he was skating on thin ice in the summer of 2000.

For the first time since signing his first professional contract in 1991, Melvin Mora began a season on a major league roster, accompanying the Mets on their season-opening trip to Tokyo to face the Chicago Cubs.  Mora still didn't have a regular defensive position, but was getting more at-bats than he did in 1999.  Mora played in 31 of the team's first 37 games, starting ten of them.  But he was only batting .245 with four extra-base hits in those 31 games, although one of those extra-base hits was a walk-off home run off Milwaukee's Curt Leskanic on April 20 - the first regular season home run of Mora's career.  After a 1-for-3 performance against the Marlins on May 12, Mora was sent back to AAA-Norfolk to get some regular at-bats.  Less than three weeks later, he would be getting regular at-bats at the major league level, but at the expense of a key member of the team.

On May 29, three-time Gold Glove winner Rey Ordoñez fractured his left forearm while attempting to tag the Dodgers' F.P. Santangelo.  Ordoñez would be lost for the season.  The Mets immediately recalled Mora from Norfolk and inserted him into the lineup the next day.  Mora reached base four times against the Dodgers on May 30, scoring three times and driving in a run.  Over the next month, Mora was unstoppable at the plate, batting .338 with seven doubles, three homers, 12 RBIs, 20 runs scored and five stolen bases.

By late June, Mora had taken over the everyday job at shortstop, even though general manager Steve Phillips was still looking for a veteran with better defensive skills to play the position.  Phillips was considering Rich Aurilia and Mike Bordick in a potential trade, as well as perennial All-Star and former NL MVP Barry Larkin.  But with Mora hitting and the Mets winning, it appeared as if Mora would be able to keep the job in Ordoñez's absence.  But everything changed once the Mets stopped winning.

After defeating the Braves on July 1, the Mets were tied with the Braves in the loss column.  But the Mets then lost 12 of their next 19 games, and after dropping two out of three in Atlanta from July 21-23, found themselves six games out of first.  Part of the problem was Melvin Mora, who hit .194 over the 19-game stretch and reached base at a .243 clip.  Mora would go on to play two more games with the Mets before Phillips had seen enough.  The slump in the win column, as well as Mora's slump at the plate, caused Phillips to pull the trigger on a deal with the Orioles, sending Mora to Baltimore for All-Star shortstop Mike Bordick.  (The Mets also sent Pat Gorman, Leslie Brea and Mike Kinkade to Baltimore in the deal - the same Mike Kinkade who almost caused Mora to jump off a bridge in 1999 after he made the team out of spring training and Mora didn't.)

Things were looking up for the Mets after the Mike Bordick trade.  No, wait.  That was just Mike Bordick looking up.  My bad.

At the time of the trade, Bordick was three weeks removed from playing in his first All-Star Game.  He had also already established a career high with 16 HR and was on his way to a career high in RBIs.   Mora, on the other hand, was hitting .260 with six HR and 30 RBI in 215 at-bats with the Mets.  On paper, it appeared to be a good deal.  After one at-bat, it looked even better, as Bordick hit a home run to endear himself to the fans for all of one game.  Bordick went 2-for-3 in his Mets debut and continued to do fairly well over the next three weeks, batting .311 with four homers.  But over his final 37 games, Bordick turned into Rey Ordoñez but without the flashy defense.  From August 18 till season's end, Bordick hit .229 with no homers and 12 RBIs.  The Mets would have loved to receive that production in the playoffs.

Bordick hit .167 (2-for-12) in the four-game NLDS against the Giants, then hit .077 (1-for-13) in the NLCS against the Cardinals, a series in which five of the other seven regulars hit over .300.  Bordick continued his cold hitting in the World Series against the Yankees, batting .125 (2-for-16) over the first four games before being benched so that Kurt Abbott could start at shortstop in Game 5.  In 14 postseason games, Bordick combined to hit .121 (4-for-33) with no extra-base hits and eight strikeouts.  For his efforts, or lack of them, Bordick was not offered a contract to play for the Mets in 2001, instead choosing to return to Baltimore as a free agent.

As fate would have it, Bordick would only play 58 games for the Orioles in 2001, suffering a season-ending injury against the Mets on June 13.  He played one more year in Baltimore in 2002, before finishing his career as a member of the Blue Jays in 2003.  While Bordick's career was coming to a close, Mora's career was just taking off.

Mora's first full season in Baltimore had plenty of ups and downs.  Mora finished the season with a .250 average, 28 doubles, 7 HR, 48 RBI, 11 SB and 5 NB (newborn babies), as his wife, Gisel, gave birth to quintuplets on July 28, 2001.  He celebrated in 2002 by starting more games than he ever had in the past (145), albeit at five different positions.  Mora started 63 games in left field, 36 games at shortstop, 31 games in center field, nine games at second base and three games in right field.  He also started three games as Baltimore's designated hitter.  Mora only hit .233 in 2002, but set career highs in hits (130), doubles (30), home runs (19), RBI (64), runs scored (86) and stolen bases (16).

Although Mora was limited to 96 games in 2003, he showed great improvement at the plate and was rewarded for his efforts by being selected to his first All-Star team.  In his third full season as an Oriole, Mora hit .317 and reached base at a .418 clip, a figure that would have ranked third in the AL had he compiled enough at-bats.  Compiling the necessary number of at-bats was not a problem for Mora in 2004.

Photo by Brad Mangin
In 2004, Mora took his game to a level no one could ever have expected.  Mora finally had a position he could call his own, taking over as the Orioles' full-time third baseman after Tony Batista - an All-Star at the position for Baltimore in 2002 - left the Orioles to sign a free agent contract with the Montreal Expos.  In 140 games as the team's new third baseman, Mora batted .340, finishing second to Ichiro Suzuki in the batting race (Ichiro set a major league record with 262 base hits in 2004).  Mora did lead the league with his .419 on-base percentage and finished among the league leaders in hits (187), doubles (41), home runs (27), runs scored (111), RBI (104) and slugging percentage (.562).  Mora's spectacular season earned him his first Silver Slugger Award and MVP consideration.

To put Mora's 2004 campaign into perspective, consider this.  The Orioles franchise has been around since 1901, when they were playing as the Milwaukee Brewers.  After one season in Milwaukee, they moved to St. Louis to become the Browns, where they played for 52 seasons.  Since 1954, they have called Baltimore home.  In over a century of existence, no player had ever had a season for the Orioles in which he hit at least .320, with 40 doubles, 25 HR, 100 RBI and 100 runs scored.  Not Frank Robinson.  Not Eddie Murray.  Not even Cal Ripken.  The only player to accomplish all of those numbers in the same season is Melvin Mora, the same man Steve Phillips traded away because he wanted to rent Mike Bordick for half a season.  You're welcome, Baltimore.

Mora followed up his record-breaking season with another fine year in 2005, batting .283 with 30 doubles, 27 HR and 88 RBI.  Although the numbers were a slight dropoff from his 2004 form, he still managed to secure his second All-Star selection in 2005, after being snubbed for the team during his historic 2004 campaign.  Mora had two similar seasons in 2006 (.274, 25 doubles, 16 HR, 83 RBI, 96 runs scored, 11 SB) and 2007 (.274, 23 doubles, 14 HR, 58 RBI, 67 runs, 9 SB) before rebounding to give the Orioles one more great season in 2008 (.285, 29 doubles, 23 HR, 104 RBI, 77 runs scored) despite missing 27 games.

For the first time in nearly a decade with the Orioles, Mora had a subpar season in 2009, batting .260 with only eight home runs and 48 RBI in 125 games.  Mora was granted free agency following the 2009 season, finishing out his career in 2010 with the Colorado Rockies and 2011 with the Arizona Diamondbacks.  But before saying his final goodbyes to the big leagues, he gave the Mets one final reminder of what might have been on August 11, 2010, hitting a grand slam off Manny Acosta at Citi Field to turn a one-run Mets lead into a three-run deficit in the eighth inning.

"Oh, snap!  Did I just give up a grand slam to Melvin Mora?"

Although no one would ever confuse Melvin Mora with the great hitters in Orioles history, Mora compares favorably with those greats on the team's all-time leaderboard.  Since the team moved to Baltimore in 1954, Mora ranks in the team's top ten in games played (1,256; 10th in Orioles history), runs scored (709; 9th), hits (1,323; 10th), doubles (252; 8th), home runs (158; 9th), RBIs (662; 8th), walks (465; 10th) and total bases (2,073; 8th).  Had Mora compiled those numbers as a Met, he'd be fourth in games played, third in runs scored, third in hits, second in doubles, fifth in home runs, third in RBIs, seventh in walks and second in total bases.  In other words, he'd be one of the best Mets hitters of all-time.

In 1971, the Mets needed help in the infield and traded a player that was incomplete in their minds, along with three other players, for an All-Star shortstop.  That incomplete player was Nolan Ryan and the All-Star shortstop was Jim Fregosi.  Ryan went on to become a Hall of Famer and Fregosi went on to become the answer to a trivia question that Mets fans would rather not answer.  Almost three decades later, the Mets once again needed help in the infield and traded away a player that had not performed well, along with three other players, for an All-Star shortstop.  This time, it was Melvin Mora who became an All-Star on his new team, while the player the Mets got in return (Mike Bordick) did almost nothing before going back to his old team the following season.

Melvin Mora has no business being mentioned in the same sentence as Nolan Ryan.  But like Ryan three decades before him, Mora is one of those Mets who never should have gotten away, but did.  The Mets thought they were helping their team by trading away these raw, but talented players.  They were wrong both times.  And the record books for several other teams serve as a constant reminder of what the Mets could have had.

Note:  The Mets That Got Away is a thirteen-part weekly series that spotlights those Mets players who established themselves as major leaguers in New York, only to become stars after leaving town.  For previous installments, please click on the players' names below:

January 7, 2013: Nolan Ryan


Anonymous said...

Do you think anyone read this. It is too long? FREDTERP

Anonymous said...

Do you think anyone read this. It is too long? FREDTERP