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On This Date in Sports March 29, 2000: Kon'nichiwa Baseball

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Major League Baseball comes to Japan for the first time, as the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs open the season with a two-game series at the Tokyo Dome.  Following a trip to the NLCS, the Mets have their big off-season pick up Mike Hampton on the mound for the opener. Hampton struggles to find the plate walking nine as the Cubs win 5-3 with Jon Lieber on the mound. 

As the new millennium began, MLB looked to expand sport around the world. After previously playing games in Mexico, they decided to open the 2000 season in Tokyo. The teams sent to Japan would be the New York Mets managed by Bobby Valentine following a trip to the NLCS in 1999 and the Chicago Cubs with slugger Sammy Sosa, with their new manager Don Baylor. The Mets were designated the home game for the opener, which for fans back in New York began at 5:30 AM. 

The Cubs got a first-inning run against Mike Hampton, as Eric Young, who walked to lead off the game, stole second and scored on a single by Damon Bufford. The Mets would tie the game in the third inning, as Rey Ordonez scored on a sacrifice fly by Darryl Hamilton. Hampton struggled to find the plate all night as he walked nine in five innings, including three in a row a free pass to Shane Andrews gave Chicago the lead. Mike Hampton would end the inning by getting Jose Nieves to hit into a double play, in what would be his final pitch. 

The Cubs extended the lead to 4-1 in the seventh as Shane Andrews hit a two-run home run off Dennis Cook. In the eighth inning, Mark Grace made 5-1 with a home run off Rich Rodriguez. Jon Lieber got the win for the Cubs, allowing one run on five hits in seven innings. The Mets would draw closer, as Mike Piazza hit a two-run shot off Brian Williams. However, Rick Aguilera closed the door, earning the save as Matt Franco struck out to end the game. 

The Cubs were the designated home team in the second game, as Rick Reed made the start for the Mets, and Kyle Farnsworth started for the Cubs. Neither team was able to score in the first four innings, in the fifth inning the Mets scratched across a run as Todd Zeile, who led off the inning with a walk, scored on a sac-fly by Rickey Henderson. Ziele’s error in the bottom of the inning would lead to the game being tied, as Joe Girardi scored when Eric Young hit into a double, after moving on third following a throwing error on a bunt by Farnsworth.  

The game remained tied until extra innings. The Cubs had their chances to win the game as they stranded two runners in the ninth when John Franco struck out Cole Liniak and got Joe Girardi to ground to Zeile. In the tenth inning, Turk Wendell struggled as Dennis Cook came on with the bases loaded, saving the day again by freezing Henry Rodriguez. In the 11th inning, Todd Zeile started a two-out rally with a single off Danny Young. Young would walk Rey Ordonez and Melvin Mora, as Benny Agbayani pinch hit for Cook with the bases loaded. Agbayani would proceed to hit a grand slam, giving the Mets a 5-1 lead. Armando Benitez would come on in the bottom of the inning and pitched a 1-2-3 inning, striking out two, including Girardi, to end the game as the Mets split the series with a 5-1 win. 

It would be a rough season for the Cubs, as they finished in last place in the Central Division with a record of 65-97. The Mets meanwhile posted a record of 94-68 and went to the World Series, losing to the New York Yankees in five games.