Best Mets Pitching Performances: 1990s

Alrighty, so here’s Part 3 of my 6-part series on the best pitching performances in Mets history.

Part 1 was on the 2010s (click here). Part II remembered the glorious 2000s (click here).

Here we cover games from the 1990s – the decade with the fewest games on my list.

This isn’t a Top 5 or Top 10 list. Try The Best 80 … ish (I’m still deciding on some games from other decades)

And we’re not doing rankings. They’re too hard and I don’t feel like quibbling over whether Shawn Estes or Al Jackson threw a better one-hitter. The point here is that these games belong on a list of the best they’ve ever had not where they rank.

With that in mind, a few caveats:

* Starting pitching dominates the list but relief appearances are included too. I call this “The Sid Fernandez Game 7 Rule.” (we’re almost at that one).

* 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.

* I’ve included strength of opponent stats to add a little extra context.

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.

September 10, 1991 – Pete Schourek vs Expos

Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 7 K, 2 BB

Opponent: 71-90, Last in NL in Runs Scored

They Wrote It: “Pete Schourek knows management’s eyes are upon him as never before, that opportunity on this ravaged Met pitching staff is virtually knocking down his door. You may think the lefthander’s one-hit complete-game shutout over the Expos yesterday afternoon doesn’t mean much in this September, but don’t tell him that.” – Howard Blatt, New York Daily News.

The shame of this game, the fourth start of Schourek’s MLB career, was that fewer than 10,000 people were there to see it, and the other times Mets fans saw Schourek, he couldn’t live up to this. In 350 innings with the Mets, he pitched to a 4.65 ERA.

But for single-game performances, this one deserves prominent mention. The only hit came in the fifth inning, by now-White Sox president Ken Williams and Schourek admitted afterwards that he was thinking about a no-hitter that early in the game.

It wouldn’t be him. The Mets still had a ways to wait.

September 20, 1991 – David Cone  vs Cardinals

Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 11 K, 1 BB (Mets 1, Cardinals 0)

Opponent: 84-78, 6th among 12 NL teams in runs scored

They Wrote It: “In this Mets season fraught with unhappy endings, Cone should have anticipated his sorry fate.” – Howard Blatt, New York Daily News

Summary: David Cone allowed one hit in seven innings against the Cardinals on September 14. He went two innings better and nearly threw a no-hitter against the same Cardinals team his next time out.

The only blip was Félix José’s ground-rule double leading off the eighth inning.

Cone’s pitch variety was what was most impressive in this game. Todd Zeile noted that what made Cone so good was that his fastball and slider looked alike most of the way to the plate.

“You don’t know what to look for,” said Cardinals outfielder Milt Thompson, via the Post-Dispatch. “He throws so many pitches – fastball, curveball, forkball, slider. He gets them all over.”

The previous seven seasons at this time of year, Shea Stadium played host to large crowds. But on this Friday night after a debacle of a second half of a season, there were only 15,683 listed on hand.

“It would have been nice for me to treat the true fans, who are still coming out, to one,” Cone said.

October 6, 1991 – David Cone vs Phillies

Line:  9 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 19 K, 1 BB

Opponent: 78-84, 10th among 12 NL teams in runs scored

They Said It: “I don’t see how he lost 14 games.” – Phillies first baseman Ricky Jordan.

Summary: So there’s an off-field issue to acknowledge with this one, and I’ll just stick to what was publicly acknowledged. Cone was told before the game that he was being investigated for rape. Police dropped their investigation three days later deeming it an unfounded accusation. Cone acknowledged searching the stands for police as he pitched, thinking he would be arrested after the game.

As for the game, Cone tied the then-NL strikeout mark with a 141-pitch effort on the season’s final day, concluding what was a miserable finish to the season for the Mets.

It was a highly impressive outing, though Charlie O’Brien, who also caught Cone’s one-hitter against the Cardinals, said Cone had better stuff in that game.

Cone had two chances to record a 20th strikeout but gave up a double to Wes Chamberlain and got Dale Murphy to ground out to end the game. 

June 16, 1997 – Dave Mlicki vs Yankees

Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 9 H, 8 K, 2 BB (Mets 6, Yankees 0)

Opponent: 96-66, 2nd among 14 AL teams in runs scored

They Said It: “I felt I could throw any pitch I wanted at any time.” – Dave Mlicki.

Summary: In Dave Mlicki’s first 29 starts of 1997, he allowed at least one run in 28 of them. Entering this game, he had won only two of his previous 17 starts. This was a pretty good day to put up a zero – against the defending World Series champs. It was as impressive as it was unexpected.

Mlicki was helped by the Mets scoring three runs before he even took the mound in the first inning. He has said he had a great curveball that day. Newspaper accounts back that up. It wasn’t necessarily the best of games, given that he had to hold the Yankees to 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position to complete it. But this one scores about as high as a non no-hitter, non-September/October game can muster on the memorable scale given that it was the first game that counted in the Mets-Yankees rivalry. 

June 8, 1998 – Rick Reed vs Rays

Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 10 K, 1 BB (Mets 3, Devil Rays 0)

Opponent: 63-99, last in AL in runs scored

They Said It: “I knew Boggs was in the lineup, i.e., he’s not going to throw the no-hitter.” – Bobby Valentine

Summary: The best details from Ralph Vacchiano’s story in the New York Daily News were saved for last. New Met Mike Piazza didn’t know the history of the Mets no-hit drought.

“You shouldn’t have told me that,” Pizza told reporters after Rick Reed’s bid for not just a no-hitter but a perfect game was broken up by a Wade Boggs double with two outs in the seventh inning. That ruined Piazza’s day, albeit a pretty good one – he went 3-for-3 with his first home run for the Mets at Shea Stadium.

I know that we often cite Reed’s gem vs the Pirates in 1999 Game 161 as the standard-setter among his starts but this one was outstanding too. And though the Rays were a terrible offensive team, Reed still had to get through a 3-4-5 of Boggs, Fred McGriff, and Paul Sorrento.

Alas, it was a day in which the Rays could Reed it and Weep (sorry, I like wordplay).

October 2, 1999 – Rick Reed vs Pirates

Line: 9 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 12 K, 0 BB (Mets 7, Pirates 0)

Opponent: 78-83, 12th among 16 NL teams in runs scored

They Wrote It: “The Mets have fate in their calloused hands.” – Ian O’Connor, The Journal News

Summary: Rick Reed was a terrific pitcher for his five seasons with the Mets, pitcher being the operative word. Reed was more a thinker than a thrower, which makes sense given that he was a Met in his mid-30s. But on this evening, one in which the Mets moved into a tie for the NL Wild Card heading into the final scheduled game of the season, he channeled his inner dominant ace.

“That’s as good a game as I’ve pitched in my life,” he told reporters afterwards.

And yes, it was against a Pirates team playing for nothing, but given the level of frustration the Mets had experienced in recent games, putting up zero after zero and not letting 12 hitters make contact was a necessity for baseball survival. Reed’s career had been about survival, having only been a rotation regular in one season from 1988 to 1996. He was the right man for the job on this day.

October 4, 1999 – Al Leiter vs Reds

Line:  9 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 7 K, 4 BB (Mets 5, Reds 0)

Opponent: 96-67, 4th among 16 NL teams in runs scored

They Wrote It: “Al Leiter would not qualify as a great pitcher, but at the top of his game, he’s the Empire State Building.” – Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan

Summary: When Aaron Boone worked on Baseball Tonight, we talked about this game at length, since he started at third base. He said he never heard a stadium quite as loud as that one was when the Reds took the field in the top of the first inning.

And then it got really quiet, really quickly.

It’s reminiscent of Game 3 of the 1986 World Series, except in this case the second batter of the game (Edgardo Alfonzo) silenced the crowd with a home run instead of leadoff man Len Dykstra.

And then it was Al Leiter’s turn to go to work. Surely a lead helped.

“When his mind is right, his game is right,” said Bobby Valentine.

Leiter had been so uneven that season, and boy that first inning was a bit shaky, with a leadoff walk and then two more 3-2 counts. But Leiter got through it and kept getting through innings as the lead built. Leiter wasn’t great for all 135 pitches, but he was good when he needed to be. He allowed only one hit in the first eight innings and retired 13 straight hitters in one stretch.

“With a guy like that, when he’s on, you feel like you’re at his mercy,” said Sean Casey afterwards.

He was clearly zonked by game’s end, needing 25 pitches to get through the ninth inning, but he still found his way across the finish line.

“I wanted to be one of the nine players on the field when the celebration began,” Leiter said.

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