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On This Date in Sports June 30, 2000: 8th Inning Fireworks at Shea

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The New York Mets rally to beat the Atlanta Braves 11-8 on Fireworks Night at Shea Stadium. Down 8-1 in the eighth inning, the Mets score ten runs capped by a three-run home run by Mike Piazza. The Mets and Braves would battle to the end of the season, with Atlanta winning the division. The Mets would settle for the Wild Card but got the last laugh by representing the National League in the World Series. 

The rivalry between the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves was ignited when the Mets acquired Mike Piazza in 1998. The Braves were in a 15-year run of domination winning the division title in every completed season between 1991-2005. When the Mets acquired Piazza, they became the biggest challenge to Atlanta’s division dominance. In 1999 they battled down to the final weeks of the season, with the Braves winning the East. The Mets got the Wild Card and later played the Braves in the NLCS. The Braves won the series in six games. 

After the 1999 NLCS, Atlanta Braves closer John Rocker threw fuel on the fire by making disparaging, racist comments about Mets fans and riders on the 7-Train. Rocker was suspended for his remarks as extra security was needed when Atlanta made their first trip into Shea Stadium in 2000. The Mets and Braves would have to wait until the end of June to have their first showdown. The Braves managed by Bobby Cox entered the four-game series in first place at 47-30, while the Mets managed by Bobby Valentine held a record 44-31. 

With extra security surrounding the Braves bullpen, Atlanta won the opener 6-4. Game 2 on Friday night was fireworks night at She Stadium. The Mets had Mike Hampton on the mound while Kevin Millwood toed the rubber for the Braves, as a sellout crowd of 52,831 were on hand. The game started poorly for the Mets, as Hampton walked in a run in the first. However, he escaped further damage as former Met Bobby Bonilla amid a chorus of boos hit into a double play. The Mets had released Bonilla after the 1999 season, buying his contract with annual payments that began in 2011. 

While Kevin Millwood silenced Mets bats, the Braves extended their lead to 4-0 in the third inning. Loading the bases, the Braves scored three runs when Javy Lopez singled, and Mike Piazza had an error on a throw home, allowing a third run to score. The Mets would not get their first hit until the fourth inning when Derek Bell had a leadoff double but was stranded at second. In the seventh inning, Millwood aided his own cause with an RBI grounder in the seventh to extend the lead to 5-0.  

The Mets finally broke through in the bottom of the seventh as Matt Franco pinch-hitting for Mike Hampton singled home Todd Zeile with two outs. Eric Cammack came into pitch for the Mets in the eighth inning, after allowing two walks gave up a three-run homer to Brian Jordan, who extended the Braves lead to 8-1. 

Down 8-1, it seemed that all Mets fan had to look forward to was the postgame fireworks as the Braves looked to be moving toward an easy win. After Kevin Millwood was lifted for a pinch hitter, Don Wengert came on to pitch. Derek Bell led off the eight with a single after Edgardo Alfonso field out to center; Mike Piazza singled advancing to second on an error. Bell scored on a grounder by Robin Ventura, but with two outs and down 8-2, it appeared as if there was no spark left in the Mets rally. The next eight Mets would reach base as the fireworks show began early for the Mets and their fans. Todd Zeile singled in Piazza to make it 8-3. Next up was Jay Payton, who also singled to chase Wengert from the game. Kerry Lightenberg walked Benny Agbayani to load the bases. Lightenberg also walked pinch and Melvin Mora to force in two runs to cut the deficit to 8-5. After three walks, and two runs, Lightenberg was replaced on the mound by Terry Mulholland. Mullholland walked in a third run as Shea Stadium turned from a morgue to a madhouse. With the bases loaded and the Mets back in the game, Edgardo Alfonso notched a two-run single to tie game 8-8. With Shea Stadium shaking, Mike Piazza came up for the second time in the inning and ripped the ball over the left-field fence to give the Mets an 11-8 lead. 

After Robin Ventura made the final out with a grounder to third, Armando Benitez came on close the game for the Mets. Naturally, it was not easy as two runners reached base. However, he got Wally Joyner to fly out to end the game. The official scorer at his discretion gave Benitez the win instead of Cammack, who allowed three runs in his one inning of work. In eight career appearances, Eric Cammack never earned a decision in the majors. 

The Mets took the momentum of their Friday comeback and pounded Greg Maddux 9-1 on Saturday. However, with a chance to move into a tie for first place, the Mets suffered a letdown on Sunday, losing 10-2.