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On This Date in Sports October 4, 1999: Mojo Risin'

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The New York Mets beat the Cincinnati Reds 5-0 in a one-game playoff at Cinergy Field for the National League’s Wild Card. The Mets were led by Al Leiter, who pitches a complete game two-hitter and Edgardo Alfonso, who hit a two-run home run in the first. The Mets would go on to beat the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS before losing to the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS.

The 1999 season was a wild roller coaster ride of emotion for the New York Mets managed by Bobby Valentine. The Mets had high expectations as the season began as they resigned Mike Piazza and added Robin Ventura. After playing well early, the Mets went into a prolonged slump at the end of May and dropped below .500 at 27-28 on June 5th. With several coaches being fired, the Mets quickly turned things around, as the Bobby Valentine mustache move served as a galvanizing moment. The Mets would battle the Atlanta Braves all season for first place in the East, but hit another slump in September, losing eight-of-nine, including six against the Braves. This put their playoff hopes in peril, as they entered the final weekend needing a miracle to make the playoffs at 93-66.

The Cincinnati Reds managed were baseball’s surprise team in 1999, as they fought it out with the Houston Astros for supremacy in the Central while battling the Mets for the Wild Card spot. Greg Vaughn, who hit 50 with San Diego in 1998, again had a monster season with 45 in his only season with the Reds. As the Mets slumped in September, the Reds surged, winning six straight to take a one-game lead with four games left. After the Astros won the finale of a series at the Astrodome, the Reds went into the final weekend, holding all the cards. Tied with Houston for the division lead at 95-64, the Reds just needed to win a series in Milwaukee to assure at least the Wild Card. Indeed the Mojo was Risin’.

Shea Stadium was glum as the final weekend began with the Mets hosting the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates at 78-80 still had hope of finishing .500 as they had a chance to throw the last bit of dirt on what had been a promising season for the Mets. The Mets kept hope alive with a 3-2 walk-off win on Friday Night in Flushing in 11 innings. Robin Ventura played the role of hero with a single driving home Shawon Dunston, as Pat Mahomes improved to 8-0 with the win in relief. At the same time, the Astros lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1, while the Reds lost in ten innings to the Brewers 4-3 on a walk-off from Ronnie Belliard. This tightened up to three teams for two spots separated by one game, with two games remaining.

Before the Mets even played their next game, the situation improved, as the Reds were bashed by the Brewers 10-6 in a day game in Milwaukee, while the Astros clinched at least a tie for the division with a 3-0 win over the Dodgers. Houston would clinch the division in Game 162, beating the Dodgers 9-4. Meanwhile, the Mets got a complete-game three-hitter from Rick Reed on Saturday Night. With the 7-0 win, the Mets found themselves tied with the Reds entering the final game of the regular season.

The Mets needing a win to at least end the season with a tie, fell behind early as Kevin Young had an RBI single in the first inning off Orel Hershiser. Kris Benson meanwhile kept the Mets off balance for three innings before allowing an unearned run in the fourth, as Darryl Hamilton had a two-out double to score John Olerud. That is where the game stood heading into the late innings. Turk Wendell would retire the first eight batters he faced before giving up a single to Young in the ninth. The Mets than called in closer Armando Benitez, who issued an intentional pass to Warren Morris before striking out Aramis Ramirez to keep the game tied 1-1. In the bottom of the ninth, the Mets got a one-out rally against Greg Hansell. Melvin Mora singled and advanced to third with the winning run on a hit by Edgardo Alfonso. John Olerud was intentionally walked to load the bases, setting the stage for Mike Piazza. The Pirates called upon side-arming Brad Clontz, hoping to get Piazza to hit into a double play. Piazza, who was 0-for-4, that game never had a shot to be the hero, as Clontz’s first pitched bounced away, allowing Mora to score the winning run.

While the drama was building at Shea Stadium, things were at a standstill in Milwaukee. The rain had put a damper on the final day of the season as the Brewers hosted the Reds at County Stadium. The game was planned to be the last game at the old stadium in Milwaukee, but a construction accident at Miller Park would see the Brewers need to spend one more season in the elements before their retractable roof stadium opened. With the Mets watching, the game was finally played, with Cincinnati winning 7-1. As both teams finished at 96-66, a one-game playoff was needed for the Wild Card spot.

The Wild Card Game would take place at Cinergy Field in Cincinnati. The Mets had Al Leiter, their top starter ready to go, while the Reds turned to Steve Parris, who had a career year at 10-3. The Mets got started quickly as Rickey Henderson led off with a single. The next batter Edgardo Alfonso delivered the biggest hit of the game, a two-run home run to give New York a 2-0 lead before anyone had a chance to settle in their seats. While Leiter was clearly in the groove early, Parris was not and loaded the bases in the third, leading to another Mets run as Denny Neagle walked Robin Ventura to make it 3-0. In the fifth, the Mets continued to add to their lead as Henderson homered.

Meanwhile, Leiter had only allowed single to Jeffrey Hammonds in the second. In the sixth, Alfonso drove home Rey Ordonez with a double to make it 5-0 in favor of the Mets. With Al Leiter dominating the crowd in Cincinnati was silenced. In the ninth, Leiter took the mound having allowed just one hit, when Pokey Reese hit a leadoff double. He quickly retired the next two hitters, before issuing a walk to the dangerous Greg Vaughn. Next up was Dimitri Young, who lined out to Alfonso at second to end the game.

The Mets were on their way to Arizona and at the NLDS, with their first playoff appearance since 1988. Al Leiter and Edgardo Alfonso were the stars of the game, with Leiter allowing just two hits, while striking out seven and Alfonso going 2-for-4 with three RBI.

After beating the Reds, the Mets had little time to rejoice as they had to play the Arizona Diamondbacks with Randy Johnson on the mound in the NLDS. This meant the Mets played three straight games in three different time zones. Once again, Edgardo Alfonso played hero for the Mets, hitting a home run in the first and grand slam in the ninth as the Mets handed Johnson and the D-Backs, an 8-4 loss. Arizona would bounce back to win Game 2, beating Kenny Rodgers 7-1.

Coming home for Game 3, the Mets would be without Mike Piazza, who injured his thumb in Game 2. With Rick Reed on the mound, the Mets won 9-2, blowing the game open with six runs in the sixth inning. In Game 4, Piazza was out again as Al Leiter tried to get the Mets to the NLCS. The game would go back and forth and was tied 3-3 after nine innings. In the tenth inning, the Mets would get a 4-3 win as Todd Pratt, Piazza’s backup hit a walk-off home run that just cleared the centerfield fence and Steve Finley’s glove.

The Mets would face their nemesis the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS and found themselves down 3-0 after the first three games. The Mets would avoid the sweep, with a 3-2 win in Game 4 on John Olerud’s eighth-inning single off John Rocker. There would be more drama in Game 5, as the game went to 15th inning as the rain began to fall at Shea Stadium. Down 3-2 in the 15th, the Mets rallied again, this time winning when Robin Ventura hit what would be the Grand Slam Single, as an enthusiastic Todd Pratt stopped Ventura at second base. Since the winning run crossed the plate, only one run would count as the Mets won 4-3. It was the first time in MLB history a team down 0-3 came back to win two games. Sadly there comebacks fell short in Gam6 down in Atlanta, as Kenny Rogers walked in the series-winning in a tough 10-9 loss in 11 innings.