Monday, March 28, 2016

The Most With The Least: Wayne Garrett (1969-76)

In the early 1980s, James Ingram sang, "I did my best, but I guess my best wasn't good enough."  The opening line from his hit song, "Just Once", referred to a relationship that continued to fail despite the repeated attempts to make it work.  The lyric could also apply to an infielder on the Mets who gave his best effort to the team for nearly eight full seasons, yet could never do enough to satisfy the club.

Although this player was equally adept at three infield positions (second base, shortstop and third base), the Mets already had two middle infielders starting most of their games in Ken Boswell and Bud Harrelson.  The team then acquired three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner Felix Millan to play second, leaving third base as the only position with a vacancy sign on it.

Despite having good pop and a tremendous eye at the plate, the Mets were still reluctant to give this young and talented player a longer look at third base.  As a result, the club made two ill-advised trades to acquire veteran players who were deemed better suited to handle the hot corner.  Neither third baseman panned out in New York, while the players they were traded for went on to become legends for their respective teams.  And while all this was happening, the player who was never trusted to play third base on a regular basis ended up having a solid career of his own - one that could have produced fantastic numbers had the team just had a little more faith in his abilities.

Wayne Garrett could have solved the third base conundrum, if only the Mets had noticed.  (Focus On Sport/Getty Images)

In 1965, Ronald Wayne Garrett, a 17-year-old infielder from Sarasota, Florida, was selected by the Milwaukee Braves in the sixth round of the inaugural June amateur draft.  A year later, the Braves moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta, just as Garrett was moving from one minor league affiliate to another.  Following the 1968 campaign - his fourth in the Braves' system - Garrett was scooped up by the New York Mets in the Rule 5 draft, which required him to stay on the Mets' 25-man roster for the entire 1969 season.

Even before Garrett took the field for the first time as a Met, the team had already set its sights on acquiring a regular third baseman in five-time All-Star Joe Torre.  But Mets general manager Johnny Murphy decided not to complete the deal with the Braves, as Atlanta GM Paul Richards was asking for outfielder Amos Otis and pitcher Nolan Ryan in return - a price Murphy considered too steep.  When their plans to acquire Torre fell through, the Mets decided to go with an assortment of players at third base, hoping to find one player who could stand out above the others.

Although Garrett was in the starting lineup as the Mets' third baseman more than any other player on the roster in 1969, he still only started 63 games at the position, as manager Gil Hodges used Ed Charles at the hot corner 45 times and Bobby Pfeil on 40 occasions.  The three players combined to produce a .222 batting average and .281 slugging percentage.  At a position known for power hitting, Garrett, Charles and Pfeil hit just four home runs between them in 780 at-bats.  But as the sole left-handed hitter among the three third basemen, Garrett got the nod to start at the hot corner in the National League Championship Series against the Braves, who used right-handed starting pitchers in all three games.  The move paid off for the Mets, as Garrett reached base seven times in the series, tying him for the team lead.  Garrett didn't just reach base often; he also reached base during key moments of the series.

In Game One, the Mets trailed the Braves, 5-4, as the teams moved to the eighth inning.  Garrett began the frame with a double off starting pitcher and future Hall of Famer Phil Niekro.  He then scored the tying run on a single by Cleon Jones.  Garrett's hit kicked off a five-run rally by the Mets, giving them a 9-5 lead, which became the final score an inning later.

Garrett contributed in several ways in Game Two, coaxing a walk from pitcher Ron Reed in the first inning, then participating in a double steal with Jones, which eventually led to the game's first run.  Two innings later, Garrett delivered an RBI single off reliever Paul Doyle to give the Mets a 6-0 lead.  In his next at-bat, Garrett doubled and scored to increase the lead to 9-1.  The extra runs were crucial, as the Braves rallied for five runs in the fifth inning to cut the lead to 9-6.  But the bullpen combo of Ron Taylor and Tug McGraw kept Atlanta off the scoreboard the rest of the way to seal the victory for the Mets.

The third game saw the series go back to New York, and Garrett saved his most clutch at-bat for the Shea faithful.  Trailing 4-3 in the fifth inning after Orlando Cepeda took Nolan Ryan deep for a two-run homer, Garrett returned the favor, blasting a go-ahead two-run shot of his own off Braves starter Pat Jarvis.  The Mets then tacked on two more runs to win the game and the series, with Garrett fielding a Tony Gonzalez grounder and throwing to first baseman Ed Kranepool for the pennant-clinching out.

Garrett's star turn in the NLCS didn't lead to many at-bats in the World Series, as the American League champion Orioles used left-handed starting pitchers in four of the five games.  But Garrett still reached base twice in four plate appearances in the Fall Classic to give him an impressive .357/.500/.714 slash line in the 1969 postseason.

This was one of Wayne Garrett's few at-bats in the 1969 World Series.  (Focus On Sport/Getty Images)

Despite Garrett's heroics in October, the Mets did not trust him to be the team's starting third baseman in 1970.  A year after not wanting to trade Amos Otis to the Braves for Joe Torre, general manager Johnny Murphy parted ways with the outfield prospect, sending Otis to the Kansas City Royals for third baseman Joe Foy.  Within six weeks of the deal, Murphy suffered two massive heart attacks and died.  The Mets' dreams of repeating as world champions, along with Foy's career, died as well in 1970.

Foy, who was never comfortable defensively at third base, committed 18 errors in 94 starts at the position for the Mets in 1970.  He also underachieved as a hitter, batting .236 with 12 doubles, six homers and 37 RBI in his one season in New York, after averaging 20 doubles, 13 homers, 61 RBI and a .250 batting average in his first four major league seasons.

While Foy was flushing away his career in Flushing, Garrett was continuing his development as a fine major league player.  Garrett started 67 games at third base and 34 games at second.  Despite collecting only 366 at-bats (just 44 more than Foy had in 1970), Garrett was third on the team in homers (12), second in runs scored (74), second in walks (81), fourth in slugging percentage (.421), third in OPS (.811) and he led the Mets with a .390 on-base percentage.  With the Mets losing Foy to the Washington Senators in the 1970 Rule 5 draft, Garrett's road to the starting third base position appeared to be free of obstacles.  That is, until the United States military came a-callin'.

Because of the ongoing conflict in Vietnam, Garrett was required to spend the first half of 1971 on active duty.  Once he completed his service, the Mets sent him to AAA-Tidewater, where he hit three home runs in 11 games.  With Garrett away, the Mets handed over the third base job to veteran Bob Aspromonte, who was the last member of the Brooklyn Dodgers to play in the majors (he had one at-bat for Brooklyn in 1956).  The 33-year-old Aspromonte - who was nearly ten years Garrett's senior - hadn't started more than 74 games at the hot corner in any season since 1967, but Hodges inserted him in the starting lineup at third base in 73 of the Mets' first 95 games.  Aspromonte was a disappointment as Garrett's fill-in, batting .244 with a .298 on-base percentage and grounding into as many double plays (12) as he had doubles (7) and homers (5) combined.  Just as disappointing was Wayne Garrett, who returned from Tidewater in late July to bat just .213 with one homer and 11 RBI in 235 plate appearances.

General manager Bob Scheffing, who took over for Johnny Murphy after his untimely passing, had grown impatient with the lack of production at third base.  Garrett's poor production despite having been away from baseball for several months while serving his country led Scheffing to make what many still consider to be the worst trade in franchise history, as he sent Nolan Ryan and three other players to the California Angels for shortstop Jim Fregosi, who had never played a single inning at third base in his 11 seasons with the Angels.  Scheffing assumed Fregosi could make a smooth transition from one infield position to another, yet failed to consider that Fregosi's offensive production in 1971 (.233, 5 HR, 33 RBI in 107 games) was eerily similar to what the Mets got from Aspromonte in the same campaign (.225, 5 HR, 33 RBI in 104 games).  Needless to say, Fregosi was a bust as a Met, while Ryan embarked on a Hall of Fame career as an Angel.

(Focus On Sport/Getty Images)
Garrett did not perform particularly well as the understudy to Fregosi in 1972, batting .232 with two homers and 29 RBI in 298 at-bats, but despite the low batting average, he still managed to lead the team with a .374 on-base percentage (Fregosi reached base at a relatively unimpressive .311 clip).  In doing so, Garrett accomplished something no other Met - past or present - has been able to match.  During the 1972 campaign, Garrett collected 69 hits and walked 70 times in 114 games, making him the only Mets player who played in at least 100 games to have more walks than hits.  The only players to come close to matching Garrett were Bud Harrelson in 1974 (75 hits, 71 walks in 106 games) and Ike Davis in 2013 (65 hits, 57 walks in 103 games).

When the 1973 season started, the Mets were four years removed from their world championship season and had yet to win more than 83 games or finish higher than third place in the division in any subsequent season.  Once again, the Mets turned to Fregosi at third base, with the veteran starting seven of the team's first eight games.  But by early May, Fregosi's batting average had dipped below .200, he had yet to produce a home run and he had driven in just three runs, all while striking out once every four at-bats.  Meanwhile, Wayne Garrett was off to a fantastic start, posting a .268/.388/.439 slash line in his first 99 plate appearances through the middle of May.  In early June, shortstop Bud Harrelson was placed on the disabled list with a fractured wrist, moving Fregosi to his natural position and allowing Garrett to become the team's everyday third baseman for the first time in his five-year career.  By late June, Fregosi was still not producing at the plate, causing the Mets to cut ties with the six-time All-Star by selling his contract to the Texas Rangers.

With Garrett finally entrenched as the team's starting third baseman, the 25-year-old produced his best season in the majors.  In July, Garrett reached base 50 times (31 hits, 19 walks) in 128 plate appearances and he also scored 19 runs while driving in a dozen.  Even though Garrett was finally enjoying personal success, the team was not, as the Mets found themselves in last place with a 58-70 record on August 26.  But on August 27, in the Mets' 6-5 victory over the San Diego Padres, Garrett reached base four times as the team's leadoff hitter and scored the run that gave the Mets a lead they never relinquished.  That win began a season-ending stretch in which the Mets went 24-9, overtaking every team in the N.L. East to win their second division title in five years.  A key reason for New York's surge from worst to first was the play of Wayne Garrett.

Beginning with his effort on August 27, Garrett started 30 of the Mets' final 33 games, producing an impressive .328/.415/.603 slash line.  Garrett collected 16 extra-base hits (seven doubles, two triples, seven homers) and scored 26 times during the five-week stretch.  He also drove in 18 runs - a phenomenal total for a leadoff hitter in such a short period of time.  On the defensive side, Garrett played a key role in the memorable "Ball On The Wall" play, which took place on September 20 against the first place Pittsburgh Pirates.  In the top of the 13rd inning, Bucs outfielder Dave Augustine hit a long fly ball that bounced off the top of the left field fence, staying in the park before it settled into the glove of left fielder Cleon Jones.  Jones then fired the ball to cutoff man Garrett, who had replaced Bud Harrelson at shortstop three innings earlier, and Garrett threw a perfect strike to catcher Ron Hodges to nail Richie Zisk at the plate.  The Mets won the game in the bottom of the 13th on an RBI single by Hodges and moved into first place the following night.  Less than two weeks later, they were crowned champions of the National League East.

Looking back at the pivotal play that helped propel the Mets into first place, Jones admitted that he knew the ball was not going to clear the left field fence, and credited Garrett's positioning as the cutoff man as the main reason why the Mets were able to retire Zisk at the plate.

"Luckily, Garrett was at short," said Jones.  "If Harrelson had been there, he would have taken the relay much further in the outfield and we would never have gotten Zisk."

YouTube video courtesy of Warren Zvon

In 1973, Garrett started 118 games at third base - the first time he started more than 70 games at the position.  Garrett produced career highs across the board, finishing the regular season with 20 doubles, 16 homers, 58 RBI and 74 runs scored.  He was either first, second or third on the team in almost every offensive category and finished fourth in the National League in assists by a third baseman (280) and second in double plays turned (36) despite not starting at the hot corner in 43 of the team's 161 games played.

Garrett's second trip to the postseason wasn't as productive as his first, as he reached base just twice in 24 plate appearances against the Cincinnati Reds.  But he made up for it in the World Series, reaching base ten times in the seven-game loss to the Oakland A's.  Garrett homered off Vida Blue in Game Two and led off Game Three with a home run against future Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter.  But he also made the final out of the Fall Classic, popping out to shortstop Bert Campaneris with two runners on base when a third home run of the series would have tied the game.

After a disappointing end to the 1973 season, Garrett went into the 1974 campaign knowing he was the everyday third baseman for the first time in his career.  Garrett started a career-high 136 games at third in 1974, but the team suffered through its first losing season since 1968 - when Garrett was still bouncing around in the Braves' organization.  Garrett continued to be one of the Mets' more productive players at the plate (13 HR, 53 RBI, 89 walks), but his teammates were not as successful with a bat in their hands, as the Mets finished the season at or near the bottom of the league in many offensive categories.

Although Garrett had proven himself to be a capable third baseman and one of the better offensive players on the team in 1973 and 1974, the front office felt the Mets needed to upgrade their offense, acquiring power-hitting Dave Kingman to play left field and 15-year veteran Joe Torre to play third base - the same Joe Torre who could have been a Met six years earlier had the Mets wanted to part ways with Amos Otis and Nolan Ryan.

Once again, Garrett stood to lose playing time to a more experienced player and once again, Garrett's replacement did not perform well.  Just four years removed from his MVP season in which he led the league in batting average (.363) and RBI (137), Torre had the worst full season of his career, batting a career-low .247.  Torre's six home runs ended a streak of 12 consecutive seasons in which he reached double digits in homers.  He also managed just 35 RBI in 400 plate appearances, or more than 100 fewer than he had during his MVP campaign.

What made Torre's acquisition seem like more of a bust was that Garrett - who was never a high-average hitter - produced a higher batting average (.266) than Torre.  Garrett also matched Torre in homers and finished just one RBI short of Torre's total, even though Garrett had nearly 100 fewer at-bats than Torre did in 1975.  And for the third time in his seven seasons with the team, Garrett led the Mets in on-base percentage, this time with a robust .379 mark.

Wayne Garrett poses with The Coop and Joey Beartran in 2011.  (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

In 1976, the Mets posted the second-highest win total in franchise history, going 86-76 under new manager Joe Frazier.  But Garrett was long gone before the team got to celebrate its successful season.  After starting 58 of the team's first 90 games at third base, Garrett was traded to the Montreal Expos, ending his long career with the Mets.  At the time of the trade, Garrett was among the team leaders in runs scored and walks, but he was only hitting .223 and had produced just four homers - his lowest total in four years.  Although Garrett did not believe the Mets would trade him, he knew his lack of production wasn't doing him any favors.

"I am surprised, certainly, but it hasn't been a good year for me," said Garrett.  "I guess that was the reason (for the trade)."

Garrett played nearly eight seasons with the Mets, reaching the postseason twice.  His three postseason homers have been surpassed by just seven Mets players (through 2015) and only eight Mets have walked more times in the playoffs than Garrett, who drew nine bases on balls in 17 career postseason games.  When he played his final game for the Mets in 1976, Garrett ranked among the team's all-time leaders in several offensive categories, despite starting more than 70 games at his familiar third base position in just two of his eight seasons with the team.  Garrett was fifth in hits (667), eighth in doubles (93), tied for fourth in triples (20), ninth in homers (55), sixth in RBI (295), fourth in runs scored (389), fourth in stolen bases (33) and second in walks (482).  Through the 2015 season, Garrett still ranks in the team's all-time top thirty in hits, triples, RBI and runs scored.  He's also in the top twenty in games played (883; 16th), on-base percentage (.348; 19th) and WAR (13.9; 19th).  And only David Wright, Darryl Strawberry, Bud Harrelson and Howard Johnson drew more walks in their Mets careers than Garrett.

Despite the Mets' best efforts to replace him at third base with players such as Joe Foy, Jim Fregosi and Joe Torre, Garrett ended up playing 711 games at the position for the Mets, while Foy, Fregosi and Torre combined to play just 287 games at the hot corner.  To this day, only David Wright and Howard Johnson have played more games at third than Garrett.

Wayne Garrett probably would have liked to play more for the Mets, but the team always felt there was someone better suited to play third base.  After not wanting to part ways with Amos Otis and Nolan Ryan for third baseman Joe Torre in 1969, the Mets eventually did trade away both players in separate deals for two third basemen who both flopped in Flushing.  Otis went on to become a five-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner and had four top-ten finishes in the MVP vote, while Ryan became the greatest strikeout pitcher and no-hit artist of all-time, eventually being inducted in the Hall of Fame and having his number retired by every team he played for after he left the Mets.

In Matthew Silverman's book, "Swinging '73: Baseball's Wildest Season", Garrett explained how he never changed his approach to playing the game even as the Mets were constantly trying to change the identity of their starting third baseman.

Image courtesy of Topps

"I would just go out and play.  I'd play every game the same, as hard as I could. ... I can't go out and make demands.  They're the ones that make the choices as to who plays and who doesn't play.  I'd just do the best that I could and if they wanted to play me at third base, then I'd play third base."

For nearly eight full seasons, Wayne Garrett did his best for a team that always seemed ready to replace him.  But the Mets constantly wanted the next best thing at third base instead of using a player they already had.  And through it all, Garrett just kept on chugging, making his way up the Mets' all-time leader board even as the team kept sitting him on the bench more often than he probably deserved.

The team lost so much when it traded away Amos Otis and Nolan Ryan.  Imagine what the Mets could have gained had they just noticed that the solution to their third base conundrum was wearing No. 11 the whole time.

Note:  The Most With The Least was a thirteen-part weekly series (that's "was" - as in the past tense of "is" - because you just read the final installment) 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
March 21, 2016: Pat Mahomes

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

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Milestones Within Reach For Members of the 2016 Mets

The Mets reached a meaningful milestone as a team in 2015, making the playoffs for the eighth time in the 54-year history of the club.  They won their sixth division title and fifth National League pennant before losing to the Kansas City Royals - who had won just their fourth American League pennant - in five games in the World Series.

A return to the playoffs in 2016, especially as a division champion, would give the Mets back-to-back postseason appearances for only the second time in franchise history and would also mark the first time the team reported for duty in October as winners of consecutive division titles.

But what about the individual players and the manager reaching milestones?  When put together as a cohesive unit in 2015, they achieved incredible things.  But as individuals, they could produce some wonderful moments of their own in 2016.  And because they're still the Mets, they could also reach milestones that they would rather sweep under Bartolo Colón's dinner table since no one ever looks there.  (What's on top of the table is the only thing of interest.)

So before you try to hatch a plan to see what's under the portly pitcher's table linens, please take time out to read the annual list of individual milestones (and some things that aren't really milestones) that are well within the reach of your favorite Mets.

Attainable Individual Milestones (Position Players)

Yoenis Céspedes should give a big hand to the team's offense in 2016.  (Maxx Wolfson/Getty Images)

David Wright:

  • Needs 69 runs and 44 RBI to reach 1,000 in both categories for his career.
  • Needs 17 homers to tie Darryl Strawberry for the all-time team lead.
  • Needs 18 doubles to have 400 in his career.
  • Needs seven stolen bases for 200 lifetime steals.
  • Needs to reach all these milestones to give Mets fans faith in their captain.

Lucas Duda:

  • Needs 17 homers to tie Ed Kranepool for 10th place in team history.
  • Needs 18 homers to have more long balls than any lefty-swinging Mets hitter not named Darryl Strawberry.
  • Needs 124 strikeouts to have more whiffs than all but three Mets (Wright, Strawberry, Howard Johnson).
  • Needs to drop a bunt every now and then when opposing teams employ the shift.

Curtis Granderson:

  • Needs 49 runs to reach 1,000 for his career.
  • Needs 65 hits to be halfway to 3,000.
  • Needs nine games in right field to become the first man since Strawberry to play 300 games in right for the Mets.
  • Needs to repeat his 2015 campaign in 2016.

Yoenis Céspedes:

  • Needs a 100-RBI campaign to become the first Met to do so since Wright in 2010.  (Céspedes had 105 RBI between Detroit and New York.)
  • Needs a 100-run campaign to become the first Met to do so since Jose Reyes in 2011.  (Céspedes scored 101 runs between Detroit and New York.)
  • Needs to do both (and play an adequate center field) to make Mets fans believe last year was not a flash in the pan.

Michael Conforto:

  • Just keep that sweet swing.  That's all we need.

Attainable Individual Milestones (Pitchers)

Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom can never lop off their luscious locks.  (Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports)

Bartolo Colón:

  • Needs 19⅓ innings pitched for 3,000 in his career.
  • Needs 12 wins to have the third-most victories for a Latin-American pitcher.  (He would only be surpassed by Dennis Martínez (245) and Juan Marichal (243).)
  • Needs 40 strikeouts to enter baseball's all-time top 50 in the category.  (Needs 57 Ks to pass Dwight Gooden.)
  • Needs to win the Silver Slugger Award to make Mets fans and his wallet happy.

Matt Harvey:

  • Needs 51 strikeouts for 500.
  • Needs 151 strikeouts to become the 14th Met to reach 600 Ks.
  • Needs 30 starts to achieve the first 30-start season of his career.
  • Needs to jump in a DeLorean and erase the ninth inning of World Series Game Five from the current timeline.

Jacob deGrom:

  • Needs 200 strikeouts to become the fourth Met with multiple 200-K seasons (joining Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone).
  • Needs two postseason wins to become the team's all-time leader in that category (passing Jerry Koosman, who won four playoff games).
  • Needs to put a restraining order on scissors, making sure they're never within 100 feet of his hair.
  • Needs to convince Noah Syndergaard to go with him the day he gets that restraining order.

Jeurys Familia:

  • Needs nine saves to finally knock Braden Looper out of the team's all-time top ten.  (Seriously, Looper has been 10th in saves for over a decade.)
  • Needs 38 saves to crack the team's all-time top five (behind only John Franco, Armando Benítez, Jesse Orosco and Billy Wagner).
  • Needs to put those three blown saves in the World Series behind him.  (Let's just choose to remember the 0.61 ERA and 0.48 WHIP he had in the postseason instead.)

Attainable Individual Milestones (The Manager)

"I don't need to stinkin' comment on any stinkin' milestones.  I'm Terry Stinkin' Collins!"  (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

Terry Collins:

  • Needs six wins for 400 as Mets skipper.
  • Needs a 92-win season to finally reach a .500 winning percentage as Mets manager.  (Barring any postponements, he'd be 486-486 if the team goes 92-70 in 2016.) 
  • Needs 52 losses to have the most defeats by a manager in team history.  (Not exactly a milestone to shoot for.) 
  • Needs to lead the team back to the World Series to become the only manager in franchise history to win multiple pennants.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Most With The Least: Jose Valentin (2006)

Before anyone had ever heard of Bernard Madoff and Ponzi schemes, the Mets were a free-spending team.  Under general manager Omar Minaya, the team gave Carlos Beltran a seven-year, $119 million contract, then topped that three years later when Johan Santana signed a six-year deal for $137.5 million to pitch for the Mets.

Along the way, Minaya doled out four-year contracts to a quartet of thirty-somethings when he recruited Pedro Martinez, Billy Wagner, Luis Castillo and Jason Bay to play for the team.  The foursome went on to spend as much time on the disabled list or in the doghouse as they did on the field.

Omar Minaya loved to make a splash with lucrative free agent signings, even if they ended up hurting the team in hindsight.  But one acquisition that cost the team less than $1 million ended up paying unexpected dividends for the Mets on the way to their sole postseason appearance in the Minaya era.  Minaya signed many former All-Stars near the end of their careers.  But this player never made an All-Star team, nor did he ever win a Gold Glove or Silver Slugger award in his 16-year career.  He did, however, play a key role in the Mets' push toward the playoffs, surprising everyone who thought he would be nothing more than a bench player.

Jose Valentin went from bench player to everyday middle infielder on a division-winning team.  (Al Pereira/Getty Images)

Jose Antonio Valentin was signed as an amateur free agent by the San Diego Padres on his 17th birthday in 1986.  Twenty years after signing his first professional contract, he became a member of the New York Mets, inking a one-year deal worth $912,500.  Valentin had just come off an injury-plagued season with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2005, batting .170 with two home runs in 56 games.  But Minaya was confident in Valentin's versatility and ability to produce off the bench in the late innings, citing those attributes as reasons for the signing of the 14-year veteran.

"(Valentin) can play anywhere," said Minaya.  "He can hit the fastball at the end of the game.  He's got power."

Valentin did hit a career-high 30 home runs in 2004 as a member of the Chicago White Sox, which was also his fifth consecutive season of 25 or more homers.  (Valentin was one of 18 players to hit 25+ HR in each season from 2000 to 2004.)  However, the version of Valentin being acquired by the Mets was 36 years old, battling injuries and coming off the worst season of his career.  At best, he was expected to be the team's top pinch-hitter, occasionally getting a start in left field for the injury-prone Cliff Floyd or allowing one of the infielders to get a day off here and there.  And that's exactly what Valentin did during the first month and a half of the season, although he didn't do it very well.

Through May 12, Valentin appeared as a pinch-hitter in 23 of the team's first 35 games.  He also appeared in three other games as a left fielder and once as a first baseman.  Valentin batted a mere .167 in those 27 games with no extra-base hits and just two RBI.  But in a rare start against one of his former teams in Milwaukee (Valentin spent the first eight seasons of his major league career with the Brewers), Valentin produced a two-run single and a two-run homer to help the Mets to a wild, 9-8 victory.  The following afternoon, Valentin delivered four hits and drove in two more runs in the Mets' 6-5, extra-inning loss to the Brewers.  Four days later, manager Willie Randolph gave Valentin a start at second base for the first time as a Met.  Although Valentin had started just nine games at the position prior to 2006, Randolph's decision ended up being one of the most important choices he made all year.

Although the Mets lost on May 18 to the St. Louis Cardinals, Valentin homered and scored two runs in the 6-3 defeat.  He also played flawless defense at second base, handling seven chances (five assists, two putouts) without an error.  Even before Valentin's first start at the position, the Mets' incumbent second baseman, Kaz Matsui, had fallen out of favor with the team and its fans.  Matsui was struggling to keep his batting average above .200 and as a result, was being constantly booed at Shea Stadium.  Following Valentin's impressive debut at second, Matsui continued to start at the position.  However, Matsui put up a horrendous .129/.182/.161 slash line over the next eight games, causing Randolph to give Valentin another start at second base on May 28.  Valentin rewarded his manager by driving in two runs in the Mets' 7-3 victory over the Florida Marlins.

Jose Valentin points at all the Kaz Matsui haters.  That's a lot of people he's pointing at.  (NY Daily News/Getty Images)

Valentin's performance against the Marlins earned him another start at second base the following night against the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Trailing 1-0 in the second inning, Valentin delivered a two-run single to give the Mets an early lead.  Four innings later, Valentin homered to give the Mets a much-needed insurance run in a game eventually won by New York, 8-7.

After the game, Randolph insisted that Valentin had not supplanted Matsui as the team's everyday second baseman, despite Valentin's resurgence at the plate after his slow start.

"I have a feeling (Matsui will) be making more starts," said Randolph.  "He's not totally out of the picture.  Everyone thinks he's lost his job, but that's not the case.  He's struggling a little bit, and we want to get him going again."

One day after Randolph claimed Matsui hadn't lost his job, Valentin homered again as the team's starting second baseman.  Ten days after that, the Mets sent Matsui - and $4.5 million in cash - to the Colorado Rockies for utility player Eli Marrero.  Second base now belonged to Jose Valentin for the remainder of the season, and Valentin made sure that no one would take the position from him.

From May 28 to June 21, Valentin batted .364 with a 1.060 OPS, producing 14 extra-base hits and 13 RBI in 19 starts to raise his batting average for the season above .300 for the first time.  Six of Valentin's 14 extra-base hits came during the Mets' season-changing ten-game road trip in Los Angeles, Arizona and Philadelphia.  New York began the long trip with a 4½-game lead over Philadelphia and a six-game advantage over Atlanta.  After winning nine of ten games away from Shea, including a three-game sweep in the city of Brotherly Love, the Mets' first-place lead had ballooned to 9½ games over the Phillies and a whopping 13 games over the Braves.

By the time July rolled around, the Mets' lead in the division had grown to a dozen games and top pitching prospect Mike Pelfrey had been called up to temporarily fill a spot in the rotation.  Pelfrey won his major league debut against the Marlins at Shea Stadium on July 8, but much of the credit for the victory belonged to Jose Valentin, who hit a grand slam in the first inning and nearly hit another one in the second, settling for a three-run triple off the base of the right field wall.  Valentin became just the second player in Mets history to drive in seven runs in the first two innings of a game, joining Gary Carter, who accomplished the feat on July 11, 1986.  

Video courtesy of's YouTube channel

Less than two weeks after Valentin cleared the bases twice against the Marlins, he continued to mash in bases-loaded situations when the Mets took on the Houston Astros on July 21, as he broke a scoreless tie with a grand slam against Astros starter Taylor Buchholz.  This time, Valentin's blast helped John Maine earn his first win as a Met, as Maine completed a four-hit shutout in the 7-0 victory over the Astros.  Five days later, Valentin played the hero once again, delivering a walk-off single against Cubs reliever (and former Met) Glendon Rusch with two outs in the tenth inning to plate the game's only run.

Valentin continued to produce in August and September, coming through in a memorable way on September 18.  Valentin homered in his first two at-bats, leading the Mets to a 4-0 victory over the Marlins that clinched the National League East division title for New York - the team's first division crown since 1988.  Although Valentin had only 384 at-bats in his first season in Flushing, he still produced 24 doubles, three triples, 18 homers and 62 RBI.  Valentin also had an impressive .490 slugging percentage and .820 OPS.  And on a team filled with All-Stars, his 3.6 WAR ranked fourth behind Carlos Beltran (8.2), Jose Reyes (5.8) and David Wright (4.1).

Prior to his comeback campaign in 2006, the only second basemen in Mets history to hit more home runs than Valentin in a single season were Jeff Kent (1993, 1995) and Edgardo Alfonzo (1999, 2000).  In addition, the only second sacker in club annals to boast a higher slugging percentage than Valentin's .490 mark in 2006 was Alfonzo.

After the Mets swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the division series (Valentin took an oh-fer in the three games), Valentin finished second on the team in RBI in the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.  The second baseman drove in five runs in the series, which was only surpassed by Carlos Delgado's nine runs batted in.  But much like Carlos Beltran was unjustly vilified for striking out with the bases loaded in the ninth inning to end the series, Valentin is remembered negatively by some fans for fanning with the bases loaded in the sixth inning, just minutes after Endy Chavez's leaping catch had apparently shifted the momentum of the game in the Mets' favor.  However, it was Valentin who started the failed ninth inning rally against Cardinals closer Adam Wainwright by delivering a single on a 3-2 pitch.

Just three weeks after Beltran took strike three from Wainwright, the Mets re-signed Valentin for one year and $3.8 million - approximately four times as much money as he earned in 2006.  Unfortunately, the injury bug that stayed away from Valentin during his first season with the Mets found him repeatedly in his second.  In spring training, Valentin missed some time because of a sleeping injury; he claimed to have slept incorrectly on the team bus.  Valentin then missed the entire month of May with a knee injury. 

Valentin's season came to an end shortly after the All-Star Break in a bizarre series of events.  First, he punched a wall in Puerto Rico out of frustration during the mid-season hiatus following an argument that took place while he was attempting to sell the local baseball team he owned.  A week later, a foul ball broke his leg, causing his season to come to an abrupt end.  Valentin re-signed with the Mets in 2008, but never played for the team and was released in June.  The team then gave him one last shot in 2009, signing the 39-year-old Valentin to a minor league contract, but released him before the end of spring training.  Valentin then retired to become a baseball instructor in his native Puerto Rico.  He returned to the majors as a first base coach for the Padres in 2014 and 2015, but he still holds out hope for a managerial position in the near future.

Photo by Doug DuKane/Getty Images

"I think I can be a good manager.  I would like to take my chances and see if I can be one of those Puerto Ricans that are managing in the big leagues.  Or a coach.  I would do it; start in the minor leagues.  I'd do it as a coach or as an instructor.  That's my goal - to make it to the big leagues again."

Jose Valentin had a solid 16-year career in the major leagues.  Although he hit over 300 doubles and nearly 250 homers, he never made an All-Star team or played in a World Series.  The closest he ever got to the Fall Classic was in 2006, when he had his final hurrah as a productive big league ballplayer - a last go-round that might never had happened had Omar Minaya not signed him for under a million dollars.

Valentin had one of the finest offensive seasons ever produced by a second baseman in Mets history and did all he could to help the Mets win the pennant, including leading off the ninth inning of Game Seven with a base hit.  But in the end, all he could do was watch the Cardinals celebrating their National League crown from third base, where he was left stranded along with the dreams of his teammates and the club's fans.

The 2006 season is bittersweet for anyone associated with the Mets, as the team had one of the most successful regular seasons in franchise history, only to be followed up by a disappointing postseason.  But for Jose Valentin, the 2006 campaign marked his final moment in the sun.  And no one will ever be able to take that season away from him.

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 

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Most With The Least: Mark Carreon (1989-91)

Throughout history, baseball players have begun their careers expecting to excel in one role before their managers found them to be better suited to play another role.  Players such as Rick Ankiel and all-time legend Babe Ruth famously began their careers as pitchers before shifting to the outfield.  Of course, Ankiel made the move to the outfield because he couldn't control where his pitches were going and Ruth made his transition because opposing pitchers couldn't keep his batted balls in the park.

Whereas players such as Ankiel and Ruth made position changes so they could help their teams by appearing more often at the plate, some players have been more useful to their teams by making fewer appearances in the batter's box.  Take, for example, a former Met who was a contact hitter and stolen base threat as an everyday player in the minor leagues before specializing in timely power hitting off the bench at the major league level.

For seven years in the Mets' minor league system, this player dreamed of becoming a major leaguer who would line drive an opposing pitcher to death, then frustrate the pitcher's battery mate by swiping a bag or two.  He didn't do much of that once he got called up to the Mets.  Nor did he find himself on the field all that often.  But he did find a way into the Mets' record books using a skill he never thought he'd use.

No one produced long balls in a pinch better than Mark Carreon.  (B. Bennett/Getty Images)

Mark Steven Carreon was the Mets' eighth round pick in the 1981 June amateur draft, taken five rounds ahead of Lenny Dykstra and four rounds before the Mets selected a skinny pitcher named Roger Clemens, who spurned the team to pitch against collegians in Texas.  While in the minors, Carreon saw players drafted in future years rocket past him to join the Mets, including 1982 draftees Dwight Gooden and Roger McDowell, who helped the team win a championship just four years after they were drafted.  Meanwhile, Carreon spent seven long years in the minors, excelling as a contact hitter with a tremendous eye at the plate (.308 batting average, 389 walks, 240 strikeouts in 3,517 plate appearances).  Carreon was also a speedster, producing three seasons of 30+ steals on his way to a seven-year total of 159 stolen bases in 201 attempts.  One thing he didn't do very well was hit for power, as evidenced by his 32 homers in over 3,500 plate appearances.

In his first seven minor league seasons, Carreon had proven that he could be a successful player at the next level.  But as an outfielder, Carreon's road to everyday success with the Mets was blocked by Kevin McReynolds, Darryl Strawberry, Mookie Wilson and fellow '81 draftee Lenny Dykstra, who were all established major leaguers by the late '80s.  Although Carreon finally made it to the majors as a late-season call-up in 1987, he was once again stuck at AAA-Tidewater for his eighth minor league season in 1988.

Carreon did finally show some power as a member of the Tides in 1988, blasting 14 homers in 102 games, but the extra power came at a cost, as he batted a career-low .263 and had more strikeouts (53) than walks (40).  Carreon was called up twice to the Mets in 1988, but only managed to get into seven games.

The 1989 season - Carreon's ninth in professional baseball - began with Carreon at Tidewater again.  Carreon had been a member of the Tides since late 1985 and was desperate for a break to finally latch on to a spot on the Mets' big league roster, especially with McReynolds, Strawberry, Wilson and Dykstra still manning the outfield at Shea Stadium.  But it wasn't an injury to an outfielder that got Carreon his much-deserved opportunity.  Rather, it was a trip to the disabled list by Mets catcher Gary Carter.

Carter, who was batting .114 at the time, was sidelined in mid-May by a swollen right knee.  The Mets were struggling on offense, batting .232 with a .299 on-base percentage through their first 30 games, and needed someone - anyone - who could help the team turn things around at the plate.  Carreon, who had 21 RBI in 32 games with Tidewater before his call-up, continued to hit at the major league level, collecting a run-scoring single as a pinch-hitter in his first at-bat following his promotion to the Mets.  Making the hit more noteworthy was that it came off Padres closer Mark Davis, who went on to win the Cy Young Award that year.

(B. Bennett/Getty Images)
Less than two weeks later, Carreon came up once again in a pinch-hitting role against the Padres.  This time, the Mets and Friars were hooked up in a pitchers' duel, with New York leading San Diego, 1-0, as the game entered the seventh inning.  The starting pitchers for the two teams were Ron Darling and Bruce Hurst, who had last matched up against each other in Game Seven of the 1986 World Series.  In that memorable game, Hurst had to watch from the bench as Ray Knight led off the seventh inning with a home run that swung the momentum of the game in the Mets' favor.  This time, Hurst was still on the mound when the seventh inning started, but the result was the same.  Leading off the seventh as a pinch-hitter for Darling, Carreon took Hurst deep down the left field line to give the Mets a two-run cushion.  The Mets then added another run late in the game to earn a hard-fought, 3-0 victory.

With Strawberry and McReynolds firmly entrenched in the corner outfield positions and with the newly-acquired Juan Samuel trying his best to play center field (Samuel came over from Philadelphia in a much-maligned trade for Dysktra and McDowell in late June), Carreon knew that the only way he'd stick with the Mets would be as a pinch-hitter.  And although he never fully embraced it, he flourished in his new role.

Just eleven days after delivering his first pinch-hit homer, Carreon came through again, although this time, his blast was directly responsible for a Mets victory.  Facing the Pirates' Bob Kipper in a 3-3 tie, Carreon batted for catcher Mackey Sasser in the seventh and homered to break the tie in the Mets' 4-3 victory.  Manager Davey Johnson was rewarded for his faith in the neophyte and lamented that he couldn't find a bigger role for him on the team.

"It's a tough role for a youngster," Johnson said.  "I have confidence in him, and he's had some big hits for us.  I really don't like to sit him."

Carreon started just 13 games for the Mets from the time he was called up in May until the end of August.  Although he didn't fare well as a starting player, he was phenomenal as a pinch-hitter.  On July 26, he hit his third pinch-hit home run of the season off tough Pirates left-hander John Smiley.  Then on September 22, he clubbed his fourth homer as a pinch-hitter, a shot that broke a 2-2 tie against Montreal that gave the Mets a 3-2 victory.  Carreon's deciding blast versus the Expos tied Danny Heep's single-season club record, which Heep set in 1983 when he produced four pinch-hit home runs of his own.  (The record has since been broken by Jordany Valdespin, who hit five home runs as a pinch-hitter in 2012.)

By the start of the 1990 campaign, the Mets had rid themselves of Lenny Dykstra and Mookie Wilson, and had pulled the plug on the Juan Samuel experiment.  Davey Johnson, who had always wanted to give more regular playing time to Carreon finally found a way to get him into the starting lineup by making him a part-time center fielder now that the Mets had put the Dykstra/Wilson/Samuel trio behind them.  Unfortunately, Johnson didn't stick around long enough to find out how Carreon would perform with the added playing time, as he was fired by the team in late May.

New manager Buddy Harrelson did not share Johnson's feelings on Carreon's ability to play regularly at the major league level.  Harrelson wrote Carreon's name in the starting lineup just 27 times after Johnson was fired and Carreon struggled, save for an eight-game stretch in June in which he batted .478 with four homers, which included his fifth career pinch-hit home run that took place during a wind-plagued doubleheader at Wrigley Field on June 13.

A year after batting .308 under Davey Johnson's tutelage in 1989, Carreon finished the 1990 season with a mediocre .250 batting average.  However, he did manage to hit ten home runs in just 188 at-bats.  In doing so, Carreon became the first Mets player to reach double-digit homers during a season in which he failed to collect 200 at-bats.  (Carreon's teammate, Tim Teufel, duplicated the feat, although Carreon reached the ten-homer mark before Teufel did in the 1990 campaign.)

During the 1990-91 off-season, Darryl Strawberry left the Mets to sign a free agent contract with his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers.  Although the Mets found Strawberry's replacement in Hubie Brooks, trading Bob Ojeda and minor league pitcher Greg Hansell to the Dodgers to acquire him, and also signed free agent Vince Coleman to play center field, Harrelson didn't get the best seasons from either player, and as a result, he had to mix and match his outfielders more often than he would have liked.  That allowed Carreon to start 53 games and surpass 200 at-bats for the first time in his career.  But even with the increased playing time, it was clear where Carreon's best role with the team was.

In 1991, Carreon produced a .245/.277/.281 slash line as a starting player, producing just five extra-base hits (four doubles, one home run) in 206 plate appearances.  But as a pinch-hitter, Carreon was otherworldly, putting up a .343/.425/.629 slash line.  He also matched his extra-base hit total as a starter in 166 fewer plate appearances, producing two doubles and three homers in 40 appearances as a pinch-hitter.  When Carreon went deep off Pirates starter Randy Tomlin on April 16, he matched the team record of six career pinch-hit homers, which had been shared by franchise greats Ed Kranepool and Rusty Staub.

On April 28, Carreon accomplished two things no Met had ever done with one swing of the bat.  When Carreon came up as a pinch-hitter against Pirates starter John Smiley in the fifth inning, he swatted his seventh career pinch-hit home run, breaking the franchise record.  He also became the first - and to this day, only - Mets player to ever hit multiple pinch-hit home runs off the same pitcher, having previously homered off Smiley as a pinch-hitter back in 1989.

Six days after his record-breaking homer, Carreon put the icing on his career pinch-hit home run record cake, blasting a game-tying home run off San Francisco Giants closer Jeff Brantley in the bottom of the ninth inning.  Carreon's shot came immediately after Mackey Sasser delivered a pinch-hit homer of his own, marking the first time in team history that the Mets had hit back-to-back pinch-hit home runs.  Sasser and Carreon's blasts sent the game into extra innings, and the Mets won the game in the 12th frame, when Howard Johnson connected on a two-run homer of his own.

Even though Carreon had become the biggest home run threat off the bench in franchise history, he was frustrated that he wasn't being asked to make a steadier contribution to the team, especially since he felt that his talents were being wasted on the bench.

Photo by Barry Colla

"It's unfortunate that my career is at a standstill when I'm 27 years old and at the peak of my abilities.  There is no doubt I want to play and no doubt I would do (just) about anything so that I can play. ... I'm being used for their convenience when I have so much to offer.  It's a dead end street.  I see my career going straight to nowhere."

Without an everyday role on the team, the Mets gave Carreon the opportunity to become a full-time player elsewhere.  On January 22, 1992, the Mets traded Carreon to the Detroit Tigers for left-handed relief pitcher Paul Gibson.  Gibson, who had a 3.88 lifetime ERA before coming to the Mets, was awful during his two-year tour of duty in New York, posting a 5.22 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in 51 appearances.  Through the 2015 season, Gibson's 5.22 ERA is the fifth-highest of any Mets pitcher with at least 50 appearances.  Only Frank Francisco (5.36 ERA, 56 appearances), Craig Anderson (5.56 ERA, 57 appearances), Ryota Igarashi (5.74 ERA, 79 appearances) and Mel Rojas (5.76 ERA, 73 appearances) were worse than Gibson.  Gibson is also one of five Mets pitchers to have a WHIP of at least 1.57 while appearing in 50 or more games for the team, joining Anderson, Igarashi, Paul Siebert and Dwight Bernard.

While Gibson was attracting the boo birds in New York, Carreon was singing a happy tune elsewhere.  Carreon had 300 at-bats for the first time in his career in 1992 as a member of the Tigers, then signed a free agent contract with the San Francisco Giants, for whom he had a banner season in 1995, batting .301 with 24 doubles, 17 homers and 65 RBI in 426 plate appearances during the strike-shortened season.  A year later, Carreon split the season between the Giants and Cleveland Indians, batting .281 and collecting a career-high 34 doubles for the two teams while driving in 65 runs for the second straight season.

Unfortunately, Carreon never played in the majors again after the 1996 season, despite the two fine years as an everyday player in 1995 and 1996.  Carreon played in Japan as a member of the Chiba Lotte Marines in 1997 and 1998, then played in the independent Texas-Louisiana League in 2000, ending his professional baseball career as a .340 hitter for the Jackson Diamond Cats, half a country away from the bright lights of New York City.

Carreon spend the entirety of his Mets career playing a waiting game.  From 1981 to 1988, he waited to get a chance to stick around in the majors.  He had just 21 major league at-bats before he finally got the chance to stay on the roster in May 1989.  Then after establishing himself as the team's top pinch-hitter in 1989, manager Davey Johnson gave Carreon a chance at more playing time as one of the team's center fielders in 1990.  Johnson's firing caused Carreon to wait some more on the bench under new manager Buddy Harrelson.  Finally, in 1991, Carreon seemingly broke just about every career pinch-hitting record he could break.  He broke all these records, yet couldn't get the break he really wanted until he was traded by the team in 1992.

From 1989 to 1991, Carreon batted .302 as a pinch-hitter with a .616 slugging percentage.  In all other situations, those numbers dipped to .262 and .378, respectively.  While in the minors, Carreon was a contact hitter with good speed and little power.  As a major league player with the Mets, he stole just five bases, but set a still-standing franchise record of eight pinch-hit home runs.

Mark Carreon wanted so much more out of his career in New York.  But in the little playing time he did receive, he had more success than anyone could have expected.  Pinch-hitters for the Mets can only dream to have the type of success Carreon had with the team.

Carreon's career didn't go straight to nowhere.  It went straight to the Mets' record books. (Photo by Barry Colla)

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