By Jon Weisman
OK, brace yourselves, because this post is going to mention that time in the playoffs when J.D. Drew and Jeff Kent … I can barely even say it.
The last year the Dodgers faced the Mets in the playoffs is also the last year the Mets were in the playoffs at all: 2006. Los Angeles was swept in three National League Division Series games by New York, which went on to lose a seven-game series to the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.
Nine years have passed, and of those who played in that NLDS, eight remain in the Major Leagues: Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, David Wright, Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton, Andre Ethier, James Loney and Russell Martin. Ethier and Wright are the only players who are still with the Dodgers and Mets, respectively.
Here’s how it went down …
Two years earlier, Jose Lima pitched Los Angeles to its first victory in a playoff game in 16 years. The next step for the Dodgers was simply to win a playoff series, but they were facing a Mets that won 97 games in 2006, compared with the 88 by the Dodgers. That year, like this year, the Mets beat the Dodgers four times in seven regular-season games.
In the year of the 4+1 game, the Dodgers finished the season with a seven-game win streak and a 41-19 run that tied them with San Diego for the National League West title, but that was still only good enough to be the NL wild card.
We were only in the top of the second inning when the nightmare happened.
Kent and Drew led off the inning with singles against John Maine. On a 2-1 pitch, Martin hit a drive to right field that hit the wall on the fly.
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It doesn’t get any better with time.
The Dodgers would still score that inning, when late-season hero Marlon Anderson doubled in Martin, but they settled for a run instead of what might have been a knockout blow.
Until the last moment, it still seemed like the Dodgers might survive the baserunning disaster. Even after the Derek Lowe gave up pairs of runs in the fourth and sixth innings, the Dodgers tied the game with three runs in the seventh, capped by Nomar Garciaparra’s two-run double. And even after the Mets took a 6-4 lead into the ninth, with Ramon “Lucille II” Martinez doubling in Wilson Betemit. But Billy Wagner struck out Garciaparra, and the Mets had the first game of the series.
This game was historic before it even began, because the Dodgers’ starting pitcher was Hung-Chih Kuo. Now, I don’t value pitcher wins, and you might not value pitcher wins, but still, it was a bit weird for everyone to see the Dodgers start a pitcher who had one win to his name — in his career.
Kuo had overcome two Tommy John surgeries to make his debut with the Dodgers in 2005. He pitched entirely out of the bullpen until September 8, 2006. On that date, he started and threw six shutout innings — at New York — picking up his first MLB win. He made five starts in all that September with a 3.07 ERA.
If you thought the Dodger starting rotation was interesting this year, consider that in 2006, only two pitchers (Lowe and Brad Penny) started more than 16 games for Los Angeles, and Penny had a 6.25 ERA after the All-Star Break. Greg Maddux joined the rotation in August, but Los Angeles saved him to pitch at Dodger Stadium. So the Dodgers turned to Kuo, hoping he could repeat his September Shea Stadium success.
For the most part, it was a moot point, as Tom Glavine shut out the Dodgers for six innings. In the fourth inning, New York scored its first run on a bunt single, wild pitch and two groundouts. In the fifth, the Mets doubled their lead with a sacrifice fly. In the sixth, a throwing error by reliever Brett Tomko opened the door for two unearned runs.
Wilson Betemit homered off Aaron Heilman in the eighth, but that was the only runner the Dodgers got past first base in the final four innings of a 4-1 loss.
Kuo threw 85 pitches in 4 1/3 innings. The Dodgers returned to Los Angeles, one game from elimination.
In a matchup between Greg Maddux and Steve Trachsel, even a 40-year-old Greg Maddux against Steve Trachsel, you might think the Dodgers had the advantage. Eight years from his Hall of Fame enshrinement, Maddux had a 3.30 ERA in 12 Dodger starts, averaging more than six innings per start.
But Maddux was in trouble from the get-go, allowing six consecutive Mets to reach base in the first inning for a 3-0 Dodger deficit that became 4-0 in the third.
Believe it or not, the Dodgers came all the way back. James Loney hit a two-run single in the bottom of the fourth, and though Ethier, batting for Maddux, lined into a bases-loaded double play, the Dodgers had cut the lead in half. In the next inning, Kent (who batted .615 in the NLDS) followed an Anderson single with a home run, and Loney drew a bases-loaded walk in the same inning to give the Dodgers a 5-4 lead.
Garciaparra, ailing with a torn left quadricep, pinch-hit and left the bases loaded. And in a three-run sixth inning, New York retook the lead, extending it to 9-5 in the eighth.
Here’s how I wrote about the final inning at Dodger Thoughts:
… After James Loney singled and as Ramon Martinez worked Mets closer Billy Wagner in a tenacious at-bat, I couldn’t keep myself from believing that a slow miracle might be brewing. Maybe it was that score, 9-5, that was so magical so recently, that was hypnotizing me.
When Martinez lifted the 10th pitch he saw from Wagner and the fly ball found Shawn Green’s glove near the seats in foul territory, I was reassured that I was not alone. The crowd seemed stunned. A contingent of fans had headed for home or the farthest bar when the Mets went up by four in the eighth inning, but most people had stayed, and what was shocking was that in that moment, no one around me bolted for the exits. Some, no doubt, were deflated, or interested in seeing a series-clinching celebration, but I have to think many just couldn’t believe that the season was over — which is saying something. It took a few seconds for it to sink in.
It was a great Dodger Stadium crowd tonight, one of the best I’ve ever been a part of. They cheered from the pregame introductions on, supporting the team universally, pushing aside the opportunity to boo easy targets like Brad Penny or Julio Lugo, realizing that there would be plenty of time for recriminations in the offseason. The Dodgers got down early and still the crowd didn’t boo, unlike regular-season games when it seemed Dodger fans had the same tolerance for things not going their way as a 4-year-old.
And almost every inning — not every batter, but every inning — the crowd would get lively, get on its feet, not because the stadium scoreboard told them to, but just to do it, out of want, out of need. As the Dodgers rallied from their 4-0 deficit, it was electrical overload. It was a good ol’ time, and a whole lot of fun. We saved our best for last.
So the Dodgers knocked out the Mets in 1988. Eighteen years later, the Mets knocked out the Dodgers in 2006. Half of those 18 years later, whose turn will it be in 2015?