By Rich Coutinho
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As we head into Round 2 of the 2012 Subway Series, I am often asked what is the best game in this series I have ever seen since I have been at all of these encounters. It would have to be a game where both teams played well, the outcome was tightly contested, and there was a dramatic conclusion. Some of the games I most fondly remember include the return of Doc Gooden to Shea as a Yankee, the 2006 walk off win by David Wright over Mariano Rivera, and Dave Mlicki’s shutout in the opening act of this series that is now over 15 years old.
There were also moments I do not remember so fondly like the beaning of Mike Piazza or the Luis Castillo dropped pop up. Plenty of stars have excelled in these games including Derek Jeter, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Al Leiter, Andy Pettitte, and of course Mariano Rivera. But the game that stands out above all others is “The Matt Franco Game.” I remember it like it was yesterday.
It was 1999 and the Mets had never won a series from the Yankees as the Bronx Bombers had taken both the series in both 1997 and 1998 as well as the series in the Bronx earlier that year (1999 was the first year the teams began played two series each year). The previous night Al Leiter outdueled Roger Clemens helped by a Mike Piazza home run and some stellar relief work from Armando Benitez.
We knew very early on this would be a hitter’s day as Paul O’Neill smacked the first of 6 Yankee home runs to take a first inning 2-0 lead which would be erased by a Piazza RBI double and a Rey Ordonez sac fly to knot the game at 2. The Mets took a 4-2 lead when Jorge Posada failed to block the plate on a sliding Robin Ventura whose speed was non-existent at best.
But the Yankees’ long ball theatrics continued as Ricky Ledee and Posada hit back-to-back homers (I am sure John Sterling used the term belly to belly). Paul O’Neill followed with his second homer of the day in the sixth inning while Chuck Knoblauch left the yard in the seventh to give the Yankees a 6-4 lead. The Mets refused to go quietly getting a bloop double from Ricky Henderson followed by a John Olerud walk setting the stage for another Piazza blast — this one off Ramiro Mendoza. All I remember about this homer is it landed over a canopy the Mets had constructed deep past the bullpen “back wall” and it was a “no doubt about it” as soon as it left Piazza’s bat. So,the Mets now led 7-6 but this game was far from over.
The Yankees responded in the 8th inning by hitting their 6th homer of the day–this one a 2-run bomb by Jorge Posada off Dennis Cook to give them an 8-7 lead. It remained that way as the Yankees took the field in the bottom of the ninth inning with Mariano Rivera on the mound which is as close you can get to a sure thing in the sport of baseball. Rickey Hendersen drew a one-out walk and Bernie Williams played a fly ball into a double putting runners on second and third with one out. John Olerud then grounded out to first with the runners holding and after an intentional walk to Mike Piazza, Matt Franco stepped to the plate pinch-hitting for Melvin Mora.
After falling behind 0-2, Rivera threw a pitch which could have easily been called a strike. Getting a second life, Franco laced a single to right scoring Hendersen and Alfonzo despite a pretty good throw from Paul O’Neill to the plate as once again Jorge Posada failed the protect the third-base side of dish making it easy for Fonzie giving the Mets a 9-8 win. To me, this was the most memorable games because both teams were excellent, the concept was still relatively fresh, and on this Saturday afternoon in Queens, these two teams slugged it out like Ali/Frazier.
All these years later I remember it like it was yesterday and I am sure both Mets and Yankees fans have clear images about how they spent the rest of that summer day. One side lamenting a non-strike call to Franco and the other side owning New York at least for a day.
Have a favorite Subway Series game or moment? Leave it in the comments below.