This is Part 2 of 6. If you want to read Part 1 (the 2010s) click here.
I see a lot of Top 5 and Top 10 lists these days, but those always feel rather limiting to me. I like something more comprehensive.
So I’m listing the best pitching performances in Mets history. And this list numbers … a lot.
A reminder: This is a list, not a ranking. Ranking all these games is too hard!
* Starting pitching dominates the list but relief appearances are included too. I call this “The Sid Fernandez Game 7 Rule.”
* I could have easily put 15 Tom Seaver starts, 10 Dwight Gooden starts, and 10 Jacob DeGrom starts on here. But in the interests of inclusivity, I chose to limit their presence at least a little bit. I wanted representation from the Grover Powell’s and the Tom Gorman’s too.
You’ll still get plenty of the Big 3 – they combine for 21 appearances, or more than 1/4 of the list.
The way to look at this in totality is simply: If you were telling the history of the Mets, what games would be included in your story of exemplary pitching performances.
I welcome your praise, gripes, memories, and personal statements.
In the end, If you don’t like what I’ve done, make your own list 🙂
Thanks to the newspaper reporters who covered these games and captured the quotes and descriptions used throughout these pieces.
Line: 1 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 1 K, 0 BB (Mets 5, Giants 4)
Opponent: 97-65, 3rd among NL teams in runs scored
They Said It: “I hate the Mets. I hate Mike Piazza, and I especially hate John Franco.” — Giants fan Jake Smith who wore a t-shirt to the game that read “John Franco is a Communist” (per the San Francisco Examiner)
Summary: I very clearly remember my first thought upon realizing that Armando Benítez was now the Mets closer and John Franco was relegated to set-up work.
“John, at some point, the Mets are going to need you to get a really big out. We don’t know when and we don’t know how. But we know they are going to need you.”
That time was in the 10th inning of Game 2 of the NLCS and it wasn’t one out but three outs, although all anyone remembers from this one is Franco freezing Bonds with strike three to end the game. In fairness, it came on a pitch in which most of the credit for getting the strike should go to Hall-of-Framer Mike Piazza.
Franco’s inning also featured a sacrifice and a ground out, on which the Mets got Armando Rios trying to cross over from second to third. But those take a back seat to the game’s grand finale confrontation.
“I’ve been making a living for 17 years getting people out with my changeup,” Franco said. “What better time to throw it than at that time. Fortunately, I got it right where I wanted it and the umpire called it.”
You’ll see relief pitcher appearances scattered throughout these lists. This is the shortest among them. But I have no problem stating its value.. I’m someone who puts a premium on pitchers who can get the last out of a game under great duress. John Franco did it for a save 424 times in the regular season and once in the postseason. That one is definitely one to remember.
Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 5 K, 2 BB (Mets 4, Giants 0)
Opponent: 97-65, 3rd among 16 NL teams in runs scored
They Said It: “They cheered Bobby Jones of Fresno like he had never been cheered in his life. Cheered him like he was Seaver.” – Mike Lupica, New York Daily News
Summary: When you think about improbabilities within games in Mets history, certainly winning Game 6 of the World Series on a ball rolling through someone’s legs is No. 1. But Bobby Jones pitching a one-hitter to clinch an NLDS makes for a solid No. 2.
I remember watching Jones’ warmups from the upper deck that night and thinking that he looked locked in on his target. As I would eventually learn from talking to him, Bobby Jones is a pretty even-tempered guy. Not much fazes him.
Perhaps that’s why his wife Kristi told Bobby Valentine that her husband would throw the best game of his life.
ESPN broadcaster Joe Morgan said it was one of the best games he’d ever seen pitched, other than a perfect game. Jones retired the first 12, gave up a double to Jeff Kent that was almost caught in the fifth inning, then walked two. But then he retired the last 13 hitters.
This was only the second start all season in which Jones allowed no runs. Remember too that on Jun 10, Jones had a 10.19 ERA through 10 starts. He seemed more likely to be left in the minors than he did to pitch a series-clinching shutout. But go figure.
“Anything can happen. That’s why this game is so great.”
Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 8 K, 1 BB (Mets 7, Cardinals 0)
Opponent: 95-67, 4th among 16 NL teams in runs scored
They Said It: “Mike Hampton is going to pitch the game of his life,” – my dad to me while walking down the tunnel after Game 4 of the 2000 NLCS.
Summary: This is the only sporting event I’ve ever been to that felt like a party from start to finish. The Cardinals had one moment of hope – a leadoff single in the top of the first inning, but that was followed by three outs on 11 pitches. The Mets led 1-0 two batters into the game and 3-0 five batters into the game.
The next eight innings were just random yells of celebration, things like “I hope you’re enjoying this, Chipper,” (my dad) and the feeling of the stadium bouncing after Todd Zeile’s quake-inducing three-run double in the fifth inning.
Looking back, I don’t remember Hampton as being dominant. But he was very, very good and on cruise control by the finish, setting down the last 11 Cardinals hitters in a row. The Cardinals didn’t put a runner in scoring position the entire game.
By the way, what’s funny about my dad’s prediction was that it not only channeled a similar one that Bobby Jones’ wife made prior to his one-hitter, it matched what Hampton told his team he would do that night.
“I felt it and I don’t say things unless I mean it,” Hampton said.
Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 8 K, 1 BB
Opponent: 56-106, last in NL in runs scored
They Said It: “Isn’t that a jinx?” – Estes’ response to the 5th-inning scoreboard fun fact noting he’d pitched 4 no-hitters in high school
Summary: It was only 53 degrees at game time but Shawn Estes was just getting warmed up.
Estes was the picture of cool with a one-hour, 53-minute(!) one-hitter in which the only blemish was Eric Young’s single in the seventh inning.
This was the first in a group of every-so-often starts that Estes made in which you’d thing he was capable of winning the Cy Young Award. This one rated just a little bit ahead of the famous game against the Yankees in which he struck out 11 in seven innings and hit a home run, but all anyone wanted to talk about was how he missed plunking Roger Clemens.
The newspapers said Estes had a good curveball and a great changeup to go with his fastball. The three-pitch tandem set him up for significant success.
“When I woke up in the morning, I said to myself ‘I’ve got a no-hitter going’,” Estes told reporters after the game. And when he left the ballpark that night, he’d come pretty darn close.
Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 3 K, 0 BB (Mets 8, Rockies 0)
Opponent: 74-88, 3rd in NL in runs scored
They Said It: “Todd Helton came over to me and said ‘You know you’re throwing a no-no, don’t you?’ I said don’t worry, there’s a curse here. It’s not going to ever happen, so don’t worry about it.” – Steve Trachsel
Summary: Of all the “Who had the only hit in this Mets’ no-hitter?” hitters, Chin-hui Tsao is arguably the most bizarre. For one thing, he was the opposing pitcher. For another, he totaled three career hits. For a final, what the heck was he doing allowed to bat with two outs in the sixth inning of a game his team trailed 4-0???
Yes, I get to that before I get to Steve Trachsel, who was one of the toughest pitchers to like in Mets history because of the deliberate nature in which he pitched and the manner in which his career ended in the 2006 NLCS.
But this was one of his most likeable days, one in which everything went right but for Tsao’s double over the glove of Timo Pérez (delighting a few hundred fans at Shea who were there to cheer MLB’s first Taiwanese pitcher). To his credit, Tsao was a good hitter – he went 7-for-25 in his pro career. The shame of it all was that came one pitch after Trachsel made a very good defensive play to thwart a Tony Womack bunt attempt.
This might be the least dominant of the games on this list. Trachsel struck out only three and said afterwards “They hit a lot of at ‘em balls”. But he walked none and got it all done in 103 pitches. The game was played in 2 hours and 28 minutes. No complaints about this one. Other than Chin-Hui Tsao.
Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 8 K, 1 BB (Mets 4, Rockies 0)
Opponent: 68-94, 4th among 16 NL teams in runs scored
They Said It: “I’ve got a better chance at going 4-for-4 than pitching a no-hitter.” – Tom Glavine.
Summary: Tom Glavine’s disappointed but not devastated comments of a few years in the future would have played a lot better after this game, when he took a no-hit bid 7 2/3 innings deep.
The Glavine of early 2004 looked a lot like the pitcher the Mets expected to get when they signed him and not the one whose 4.52 ERA in 2003 was a debacle.
This was the best of that Glavine, the only blip being Kit Pellow’s eighth-inning double. Otherwise it was an array of first-pitch strikes and quick outs circa Glavine’s Braves past.
“I’ve proved to people I have a whole lot left in the tank,” Glavine told reporters afterwards.
Line: 9 IP, 1 R, 2 H, 9 K, 1 BB (Mets, 6, Braves 1)
Opponent: 90-72, 4th among 16 NL teams in runs scored
They Said It: “Sometimes Pedro’s stuff will be suspect, but never his heart.” – New York Daily News writer Lisa Olson.
Summary: This was one of the most memorable pitcher’s duels in Mets history with future Hall-of-Famers Pedro Martínez and John Smoltz going head-to-head in the Mets’ quest for Willie Randolph’s first managerial win in six tries.
Martinez allowed a triple by Andruw Jones in the second inning and a double by Johnny Estrada in the fourth inning, but nothing else. Still he trailed 1-0 because of Smoltz’s 15 strikeouts through seven innings.
Carlos Beltrán got the big plaudits for his two-run go-ahead home run in the eighth inning and Martinez made it stick with two more scoreless innings. In all, he retired the last 16 batters he faced.
“There was no way I was thinking of coming out, regardless of what the situation was,” Martinez told reporters. “I was going to go out there and sacrifice myself as much as I could to actually finish the game.”
No wonder Mets fans liked him so much.
Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 7 K, 3 BB (Mets 4, Marlins 0)
Opponent: 83-79, 8th among 16 NL teams in runs scored
They Wrote It: “Josh Beckett and Aaron Heilman are first-round picks with drastically different resumes – the Marlin already a World Series MVP, the Met shopped to teams with no takers.” – Adam Rubin, New York Daily News
Summary: Aaron Heilman entered this start with a career ERA of 6.50 in just under 100 innings. That’s why he was a fill-in for Kris Benson rather than the scheduled starter. He was booed during the Mets home opener earlier in the week. Expectations were low.
As such, this game was one of the most unexpected one-hitters in Mets history and also a moment in which Heilman lived up to his first-round pick expectations. He also gets credit for outpitching Josh Beckett, who entered having allowed no runs in 15 innings for the season.
But for a Luis Castillo (grr) infield single in the fourth inning, this would have been a no-hitter. Undaunted, Heilman got Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Delgado and Mike Lowell to escape a first-and-third no-outs jam.
Heilman credited his success to the return to a three-quarter delivery he used at Note Dame.
“He had location and movement. He threw a great game,” said Mets manager Willie Randolph.
I would like to say that it was this start that pole vaulted Heilman to the future success that he had as a reliever. But that’s not exactly the case. He gave up 7 runs in his next start.
Line: 9 IP, 1 R, 2 H, 12 K, 1 BB (Mets 3, Astros 1)
Opponent: 89-73, 11th among 16 NL teams in runs scored
They Wrote It: “Now it was the ninth and the 40,000 sounded like this at Shea: like old times” – Mike Lupica, New York Daily News
Summary: The Mets brought Pedro Martínez to New York understanding that this wasn’t the super-dominant pitcher of 1997 to 2003. But for a few starts in a highly impressive and very well-remembered 2005 season, he was able to dial the time machine back just a little bit.
This was the best of that, a 6 1/3-inning no-hit bid against what was then a sputtering Astros team (and a lineup missing Jeff Bagwell) that went on to win the NL pennant. He ended the game by striking out the side in the ninth inning with the crowd chanting “Pedro, Pedro, Pedro.” Mike Piazza cited how Martínez improv’ed, like an artist. Martínez talked of noticing how the Astros were chasing anything and everything and he took advantage of it.
Lupica, quoted above, compared it to a Dwight Gooden start “when he was young and had the arm.”
Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 6 H, 10 K, 2 BB (Mets 4, Braves 0)
Opponent: 90-72, 4th among 16 NL teams in runs scored
They Said It: “I wanted to change the atmosphere here, give the fans something positive.” — Pedro Martínez.
Summary: This was basically the closing act on a memorable debut season with the Mets for Pedro Martínez. The prime layer of deliciousness is that it came against the Braves, the best team in the NL East, and that the Mets beat John Smoltz.
That Martínez preserved a shutout is impressive. The Braves had first and third with nobody out in the ninth inning, but Pedro struck out both Chipper and Andruw Jones and, after a walk to Adam LaRoche, got Jeff Francoeur to fly out.
“He’s a master out there,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said after the game.
The cool backstory to this one was that Mike Jacobs homered. Remember that it was Pedro who encouraged the Mets to keep Jacobs up after the rookie homered in his MLB debut. Jacobs went to Martinez after this game to thank him. I imagine that typifies how a lot of people feel getting to play behind a Hall of Famer for any length of time.
Line: 7 2/3 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 14 K, 2 BB (Mets 13, Marlins 0)
Opponent: 71-91, 6th among 15 NL teams in runs scored
They Said It: “It allowed the Mets to regain control of their destiny and get a second chance to avoid one of baseball history’s greatest collapses.” – John Delcos, The Journal News.
Summary: Paul Hoover and his stupid 30-foot single. Really?
That, in the eighth inning, was all that the Marlins could muster on the final Saturday of the season, one in which the Mets moved back into a tie with the Phillies for the NL East lead.
I don’t like to talk about this game much because the scars of the next day bleed over onto this one a little bit, but this was a heck of a performance by John Maine under the circumstance of the Mets in total collapse, having blown a 7-game lead with 17 to play.
In particular, Maine’s 14 strikeouts are Amazin’. He made 105 career starts. That was the only one in which he reached double figures in strikeouts. It was the capper on a season in which Maine showed a lot of potential. He allowed one hit in seven innings in his first start of the year against the Cardinals, and had a 1.79 ERA through his first seven appearances.
If only Tom Glavine had done his job on Sunday.
Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 9 K, 3 BB (Mets 2, Marlins 0)
Opponent: 84-77, 5th among 16 NL teams in runs scored
They Said It: “That was some serious gangsta right there,” Mets manager Jerry Manuel
Summary: Much like with the Endy Chávez catch in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, with Johan Santana beating the Marlins on one healthy leg (the other damaged by a torn meniscus), the 2008 Mets deserved a better ending.
But they’ll always have this one, their own version of a Kirk Gibson-like moment that lasted 2 hours and 17 minutes.
Santana gutted it out from first pitch to 117th pitch, getting Cody Ross to fly out to deep left field while representing the tying run to end the game. Santana struck out nine. Bob Klapisch of The Record noted that eight came on the changeup.
Santana’s kick to the finish in 2008 is one of the best in Mets history this side of Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden. In his last 14 starts, Santana was 9-0 with a 2.09 ERA in an average of just over 7 innings per start. He did everything possible to give the Mets a happy ending.
It just wasn’t meant to be.