Advertisement

Archive for Wednesday, October 18, 2000

Hampton, Piazza spark Mets

Addition of two big names helped carry New York into World Series

October 18, 2000

Advertisement

— Bringing Mike Piazza to New York started the Mets' rise from mediocrity to the World Series. The trade for Mike Hampton accelerated the journey.

So it was only fitting that general manager Steve Phillips' biggest acquisitions played such a major role in the winning the team's first NL pennant since 1986.

Hampton was the MVP of the NL championship series, pitching 16 shutout innings and winning Game 1 and the clincher in Game 5 on Monday night.

"If we hadn't gotten to the World Series we still would have thought that it was the right thing to do," Phillips said Tuesday, one day after the Mets eliminated St. Louis. "But it certainly reinforces our evaluation that this type of frontline pitcher can be a critical factor in this type of series."

Hampton, who made $5.75 million in his final season before free agency, received a $50,000 bonus for winning the NLCS MVP. He figures to get a lot more money this offseason as the Mets bid against Atlanta and other teams to keep their ace.

"I wish I had the money to go ahead and keep him here for the next five years," outfielder Jay Payton said.

The Mets already have committed the money $91 million of it to keep Piazza in New York. The team's rebuilding process accelerated when the All-Star catcher was acquired from Florida in May 1998.

He is the biggest star on the team and his play in the postseason finally reflected that. After struggling in his first three playoff series with the Mets, Piazza batted .412, reached base 12 times, scored seven runs and hit two homers against the Cardinals.

"When we got Piazza, we gained credibility as a team and an organization," Phillips said. "It changed the Mets from being listed on no-trade clauses of every multiyear contract to a place that players thought was a cool place to come play.

"It helped us sign free agents and gave us credibility in the city."

That's a far cry from the early '90s, when the Mets were known as the worst team money could buy, throwing dollars at underachievers and malcontents such as Bobby Bonilla and Vince Coleman

While the Mets' biggest stars have delivered in the playoffs, the team might not have gotten this far without contributions from lesser-known players.

Timo Perez, who played in the Japanese minor leagues last season, has been a sparkplug at the top of the order, scoring an NLCS-record eight runs in the series.

Payton has overcome years of injuries to deliver two game-winning hits in the first two rounds. Benny Agbayani, a former replacement player, hit a game-ending home run to turn the division series against the Giants in the Mets' favor.

Glendon Rusch, picked from the scrap heap in Kansas City last year, was a capable fifth starter all season and provided important relief in the playoffs.

"You know what, this is a team," Piazza said. It's unbelievable how we've come together as a team. Everyone knows what my role is on this team. Everyone knows what Al (Leiter's) role is. Everyone knows what Mike Hampton's role is. To see the way all our guys have come together is what makes this so exciting."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.