The Mets have had a hot and cold history with elimination games. Going into tonight’s showdown with the San Diego Padres, for what it’s worth, they actually have just a slightly better than a .500 mark with elimination games, five up and four down in their 60-year history and ten trips to the postseason.
In 1969, when the Mets won their first World Championship, they did so without experiencing any elimination games. They swept the Atlanta Braves in a best three-of five – first ever – NL Division Series, when the Braves occupied the Western Division.
In that World Series, where they shocked the baseball world – let alone the entire country – by besting the highly favored Baltimore Orioles, they did so by taking four of five in a more atypical seven-game series.
When they returned to the postseason in 1973, they won their first appearance in an elimination game when they conquered the Cincinnati Reds in Game 5 of that NLDS, 7-2, a team laden with three future Hall of Famers – Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez, plus baseball’s all-time hit king, Pete Rose.
In the Fall Classic, with a club now managed by Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, the Mets went into Oakland leading the series three games to two. Berra thought he could close it out using his best starter, greatest Met and future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, in Game 6, on short rest. But Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson knocked in a couple of runs on two doubles off Seaver, and the Mets bats were quieted by two A’s hurlers who would also eventually get plaques in Cooperstown, Catfish Hunter, and Rollie Fingers, plus Darold Knowles. Final score, Oakland 3, New York 1.
That placed the Mets in their first Game 7 to win it all, and Berra gave the ball to Game 1 starter Jon Matlack, who yielded two home runs, one to Bert Campaneris and another to “Reggie Bar” (remember those?) Jackson. Again, Mets bats were held at bay, and Oakland won, 5-2.
The Mets didn’t see the postseason again until 1986, when they won the NLDS over Houston – the Astros were still National Leaguers then – in that legendary Game 6, 16-inning extravaganza with a 7-6 victory. They avoided what could have been a more disconcerting Game 7 elimination game with Astros Ace Mike Scott lurking in the wings for that face-off.
And all Mets fans of a certain age still remember every pitch of that exciting seven-game World Series against the Red Sox, when the Mets won two elimination games.
First, there was that historic comeback in Game 6, and then they won their second golden trophy with a Game 7 win after falling behind early, 3-0. Eight runs over the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings led to the champagne party with an 8-5 victory.
In 1988, the Mets lost their Game 7 NLCS elimination game against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, 6-0.
It was just over another decade before the Mets felt the pressure of October baseball once more when Bobby Valentine’s troops faced the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 1999 NLDS. The Mets never needed Game 5, as Todd Pratt won the series with a home run off Arizona’s Matt Mantei in the bottom of the tenth in Game 4.
And although the Mets lost to the Braves in the NLCS, there was no elimination game as the Bravos bested the New Yorkers in six games.
But let us not forget what was truly an elimination event to get to the postseason in 1999. The Mets and Reds tied season records at 96-66, which necessitated a one-game playoff to get to the October tournament. Before MLB came up with their one-game Wild Card concept in recent years, this Game 163 might have been the inspiration for that concept.
Thanks to Al Leiter, who shutout the Reds on two hits, with seven strikeouts, the Mets were able to taste a couple of sips of champagne before that ill-fated journey to Atlanta. Mets won that one, 5-0.
In 2000, on their way to the Fall Classic, the Mets avoided elimination games while taking the NLDS over San Francisco in four games and the NLCS over St. Louis in five games.
As for that Subway Series against the Yankees, the Mets certainly wished they lasted as long as an elimination game, and maybe those circumstances might have been different, but they lost to the Yanks in five games.
Six years later, the Mets swept the Dodgers out of the NLDS in three games, but lost an elimination game to the Cardinals in the NLCS after Carlos Beltran glued his bat to his shoulder while facing Adam Wainwright.
Their next and most recent appearance in baseball’s signature event came in 2015, when the Mets won an elimination game against the Dodgers in the NLDS, 3-2. It was the Year of Daniel Murphy, who was bestowed with the series MVP and who banged in two runs with a double and homer that night.
The Mets swept the Cubs in the NLCS, four games to zip, but then lost to the Royals in five games in the World Series.
That leaves that one game Wild Card showdown with the Giants in ’16. But it was one and done for the Mets when Madison Bumgarner shut them out at Citi Field, 3-0.
So what does alllllll of this mean when the Mets faced the Padres in Game 3 in the rubber game of their Wild Card Series? Nothing. Not a darn thing.
The players are different. The pitchers are certainly different. Management is different. The ballparks are sometimes different. And even the fans, for the most part, are different.
But it’s a funny thing about baseball. More so than any other sport, the game is measured by what happens today combined with everything that happened in the past.
It’s just perspective. Fascinating tidbits to ponder.
Ponder away. And enjoy the games.