Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Fans recall Niese-like efforts
By Mark Simon
In looking back on Jonathon Niese's one-baserunner shutout last Thursday night, we thought it would be appropriate to survey those who follow the Mets most, and ask them "What is your all-time favorite Mets pitching performance?"
As you'll see below, one or two tend to stand out more than the rest. Feel free to share your thoughts in the conversation section.
Gary Cohen, Mets broadcaster, SNY: I have witnessed countless outstanding pitching performances for and against the Mets, some resulting in Mets' wins, many others not. (See: Darryl Kile, 1993). I have seen a 15-strikeout game from Al Leiter, a 16-strikeout game from Sid Fernandez (a loss), Ron Darling's uber-clutch 1985 performance in St. Louis, and innumerable Dwight Gooden gems.
But considering the majesty of the moment, all others pale before Bobby Jones' one-hit, complete game, series clinching victory over the Giants in 2000. Left Dusty (Baker) in the dust.
John Coppinger, AKA: Metstradamus: Bobby Jones' one-hitter from the 2000 playoffs against the Giants. Jones had been sent down to the minors earlier in the season to get his act together, and that October he pitches the best game of his life in as big a stage as you get. And the one hit was by Jeff Kent, so it gives me a valid reason to despise Jeff Kent (not that he cares).
Mark Kelly, Hope Is The Best of Things: The most dominating performance I ever saw a Mets pitcher give was Bobby Jones in Game 4 of the 2000 NLDS. He breezed through the first 4 innings allowing no runners to reach base, though I was too busy worrying that the Mets would hold on to their 2-0 lead to grasp that.
I remember Bobby Valentine warming up pitchers, but Jones kept cruising. What made this game so memorable was the setting. Anytime a pitcher gives that kind of performance in the postseason, it's big.
Tim O'Shaughnessy, ESPN (Tim designs the funky graphics you see on shows like SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight): In recent memory, John Maine's 14-strikeout, one-hit bid in Game 161 in 2007. It left us with pride, hope and relief by almost extinguishing fear of an actual collapse. It was also the last hopeful moment before we constantly started questioning our faith in the team. That start temporarily masked what we were becoming.
Matt Silverman, Mets historian and author: Tom Seaver's 10-straight strikeouts in 1970. Though I was in kindergarten and probably didn't know about the game for five or seven years after it happened, Seaver's 2-1 gem was like an encore for his glorious '69 season.
He'd fanned nine through 5 2/3 innings, then fanned the last 10 Padres -- starting and ending with Al Ferrera, who'd homered off him in the second inning. Jerry Grote said he stopped putting down signs.
Seaver's 19 K's broke the club record of 15 ... set by Nolan Ryan five days earlier. In the 40 years since, despite the overall increase in strikeouts, no pitcher has matched Seaver's 10 straight K's.
Less than 15,000 saw it on a Wednesday April afternoon at Shea against a putrid Padres club, but it's the game I think of when I think of dominance on the mound by a Met.
Greg Prince, Faith and Fear in Flushing: Tom Seaver hadn’t given up a hit through two outs in the bottom of the ninth at Wrigley Field, September 24, 1975. Could this be it? It couldn’t be because it was nothing-nothing, the Mets, per usual, not scoring for the best pitcher in the world.
Bob Murphy seemed almost apologetic on the radio that nine no-hit innings in a scoreless game couldn’t technically qualify as the first no-hitter in Mets history, even if Seaver could retire the next batter. And of course the next batter, a Jimmy Qualls stand-in named Joe Wallis, singled. And of course the Mets lost in extra innings. But two out in the ninth and Tom Seaver not having allowed a hit? I can’t imagine a better place to be in any baseball game.
Shannon Shark, AKA Metspolice : I will always admire and respect the way Johan Santana "manned up" in the next-to-last game of the 2008 season. Short rest off a high pitch count he decided "I can't trust you clowns. Give me the damn ball. I got this." and he did.
But my favorite pitching performance was Opening Day 1983. The Franchise, Tom Seaver, was back and after a memorable stroll down the right field line and six shutout innings, all was going to be OK in Flushing again.
Jason Fry, Faith and Fear in Flushing: Johan Santana, Sept. 27, 2008 against the Marlins, a 2-0 win. A three-hit shutout in a do-or-die game. He threw 117 pitches, on three days rest, after throwing a career high of 125 in his last start. I was in the park (the last time I ever saw Shea) and didn't leave my seat for nine innings. We knew what Santana had done, what he was trying to do, and what it meant for the Mets if he couldn't do it.
Come the sixth inning or so, mindful of that pitch count, I was watching the bullpen door, willing it to stay closed. The entire crowd spent the ninth on its feet, roaring Santana's name, trying to shove him across the finish line.
But he didn't need our help -- we needed his. He threw an entire team, organization and terrified fan base on his back and kept us alive for one more game. We knew it, and it was amazing.
But we didn't know just how amazing -- we had no idea he'd pitched all of September with a torn meniscus in his left knee. He did the impossible, on one leg, when it mattered most.
Niese's effort didn't make anyone's list, but maybe it will someday. Two final notes from that contest:
1. The folks at Baseball Info Solutions calculate "expected hits" for selected pitching performances.
Expected hits are figured by taking each ball hit during a game, and calculating how often a ball hit of that type (fly ball, ground ball, line drive) at that speed, to that spot, is a base hit. Niese's game checked in at 3.2 expected hits.
For comparitive purposes, that ranked below Roy Halladay's perfect game (2.2 expected hits), but right in line with Dallas Braden's perfect (3.0 expected hits) and Ubaldo Jimenez's no-hitter (3.0 expected hits).
2. With Niese having had one baserunner shutout, the inevitable question would be. Is this something that could happen again?
It's not likely.
Since the Mets' inception in 1962, four pitchers have thrown a pair of shutouts (nine innings or more) in which they allowed no baserunners, or one baserunner.
The prestigious group, found via help from Baseball-Reference.com features: Sandy Koufax, John Smiley, Mike Mussina, and Mark Buehrle.
Mark Simon is a researcher for Baseball Tonight. Follow him on Twitter at @msimonespn or e-mail him at email@example.com.