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On This Date in Sports June 9, 1999: The Man with the Mustache

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The New York Mets beat the Toronto Blues 4-3 in 14 innings in a wild game at Shea Stadium. Just after a few days after three coaches were fired, Bobby Valentine, clearly on the hot seat, created some levity when he returned to the dugout wearing a false mustache after being ejected in the 12th inning. Valentine would get a two-game suspension for his antics.

Big things were expected for the New York Mets as they entered the 1999 season. After narrowly missing the playoffs in 1998, they had a big off-season securing Mike Piazza with a long-term contract and added Robin Ventura. After a solid April, the Mets scuffled as May turned into June as they were swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds heading into the first of two three-game series with the crosstown New York Yankees. After losing the first two games in the Bronx, the Mets found themselves under .500 at 27-28. This led Mets General Manager Steve Phillips to shake up the coaching staff, as pitching coach Bob Apodaca, Bullpen Coach Randy Niemann and Hitting Coach Tom Robson were fired.

The three coaches being fired were a clear message to Bobby Valentine and the rest of the team, telling them to shape up or ship out. The Mets actually had accountability 20 years ago, believe it or not. With Dave Wallace taking over as pitching coach, Al Jackson as bullpen coach, and Mickey Brantley as the new hitting coach, the Mets responded salvaging the Sunday Night game against the Yankees by beating Roger Clemens 7-2. The Mets returned to Shea Stadium and had continued success in interleague play, beating the Toronto Blue Jays 8-2 and 11-3 to get back over .500 at 30-28.

Looking for the sweep, the Mets had Rick Reed on the mound, while the Blue Jays struggling at 27-34 under Manager Jim Fregosi had David Wells getting the start. After a scoreless first inning, Darrin Fletcher homered to give Toronto a 1-0 lead in the second. In the third inning, Carlos Delgado doubled home Craig Grebeck to make it 2-0. The Jays continued to build a fence in the fourth, as Jose Cruz Jr. hit a home run. Reed would settle down and finished six innings, trailing 3-0. Wells meanwhile had the Mets tied up in knots all night. After perfect relief from Turk Wendell and Dennis Cook, the Mets faced their last chance as Wells, the former Yankees hefty left, went to the mound looking to pitch a complete game.

Things looked bleak for the Mets as Rickey Henderson grounded to third to start the ninth. Edgardo Alfonso followed with a single, but New York was down to their last out as John Olerud grounded back to the pitcher as he barely beat out a game-ending double play thanks partly to a poor throw to second from Wells. Mike Piazza followed with a single and later stole second base. As Robin Ventura drove home Olerud and Piazza with a single, this would prove key, as David Wells was sent to the showers. Luis Lopez came on to pinch run for Ventura and scored the tying run as Brian McRae doubled off Jays' closer Billy Koch. After Roger Cedeno was walked, Koch got a grounder from Rey Ordonez to end the inning.

Dennis Cook retired Toronto in order in the tenth, while John Franco pitched around a Jose Cruz Jr. single in the 11th. Koch allowed hits in the tenth and 11th but kept the Mets from winning the game. In the 12th inning, Pat Mahomes came in to pitch for the Mets in the 12th and retired Dave Hollins to start his night. Shannon Stewart followed with a single. Next up, Craig Grebeck reached base when Mike Piazza was called for catcher’s interference. An incensed Bobby Valentine was thrown out arguing the call by home plate umpire Randy Marsh. Mahomes would buckle down as Jacob Bumfeld popped up Matt Franco, who came in to play first base after a double switch. Delgado would strikeout to end the threat. As Grahame Lloyd came on to pitch for Toronto, a strange man with a t-shirt, sunglasses, and a mustache was spotted in the Mets dugout. On close examination, it was Valentine using eye black decals as a fake mustache.

Lloyd would shut down the Mets in the 12th and 13th, while Mahomes shut down the Blues in the 13th and 14th. As the night dragged on, Tom Davey pitched for Toronto and could not find the strike zone, as Luis Lopez and Brian McRae each walked. Dan Pleasac came in to try to stop the Mets from winning the game. Roger Cedeno laid down a perfect sac bunt to put the winning run on third base. Rey Ordonez followed and ended the night with a single to score Lopez with the winning run.

The mustache incident seemed to loosen things up around the Mets as they began to play their best baseball of the year, winning 14 of 18 games. They would claim the National League Wild Card with a record of 97-66 after rebating the Reds in a one-game playoff. They would beat the Diamondbacks in the NLDS but lost the NLCS to the Atlanta Braves, as fans' hopes of a Subway Series fell short.