Entering the season with high expectations, the 2002 Mets under performed for most of the year. Despite inconsistent, mediocre play, the team stayed in Wild Card contention until the defending World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks came to town in early August. During that series, Arizona would sweep a doubleheader for the first time in their franchise’s history.
A Front Row Seat
Thanks to my friend Ant, I can literally say that I had a front row seat to witness the “nail in the coffin” for the ’02 season. I remember working at a clothing retailer on that glorious Saturday afternoon and getting an offer to sit behind the Mets dugout. I left my shift early, picked up Ant – and my cousin – and headed down to Shea Stadium. Finally, my life-long dream of putting my feet on the top of the dugout would be realized.
Since this was in an era before cellphone photos, the only memories of the experience are in my head. I can still vividly see Pedro Astacio – the mule! – spitting tobacco on the field while leaning against the railing. I also remember how eerily quiet the team bench was throughout Game 2.
Those seats also gave me the opportunity to call for a ball, which Mo Vaughn threw my way in between innings. Sadly, I fumbled the ball and all I could do was watch it roll off the top of the dugout and into the team bench. Not my finest moment.
A Game 1 Heartbreak
On our way to Shea, we listened to Game 1 in the car and heard Edgardo Alfonzo hit a go-ahead home run in the eighth. In typical Mets fan fashion, I started to think about winning Game 2 and making a run at the wild card. A few minutes later, Armando Benitez gave up a home run to Craig Counsell and the Mets would lose in the 10th.
I mentioned how eerie it was hearing the silence on the Mets bench during Game 2. What I remember most from this day was how quiet – and empty – Shea Stadium was during the nightcap. Flushing was deflated.
A New M-V-P is Crowned
Recognizing that the Mets season was officially over after the tough loss in Game 1, the few fans in attendance were incredibly vocal in their displeasure of the team throughout the nightcap. I remember being a passive critic because of the location of our seats and my fear of getting into a WWF-style altercation with a player. But, that didn’t stop me from joining in serenading Jeromy Burnitz.
A homegrown Mets player, Burnitz was reacquired in the off-season from Milwaukee, where he had found his highly-touted power hitting stroke. Unfortunately, his second tour with New York was a complete disaster. On this night, he combined to go 0-8 with four Ks in the doubleheader. The Flushing Faithful kept chanting M-V-P with each at-bat, getting louder with each K. I even remember him getting a standing ovation for making a routine catch in the outfield. Burnitz’s batting avg. dropped to .206 that night.
The Bottom Line
The Mets never recovered from this doubleheader sweep by Arizona. Roberto Alomar Jr. left one of the games injured, Mo Vaughn under performed the rest of the way and Tarasco saw the field more than he ever should have. The team also experienced off-the-field issues, mainly attributed to a marijuana scandal involving several players. This season would also mark the end of the Bobby Valentine-era.