A Look to the Past: 1999 NLCS


Every week, I look through the weekly match-ups and find one that is a postseason rematch. This week the Braves and Mets renew their rivalry that boiled over in 1999.

1999 National League Championship Series
Atlanta Braves 4, New York Mets 2

The New York Mets had just missed out on the National League Wild Card in 1998 in a terrific race with the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs. They were in the thick of things again in 1999. However, they were left for dead by the who Atlanta Braves swept them in late September. In that series, Chipper Jones torched Mets pitching with four homers to cement his MVP bid.

In what would become a trend, the Mets picked themselves up by winning five of their last six games including a playoff game against the Cincinnati Reds to vault themselves into the postseason. They matched up with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Mets led 2-1 in the series but their superstar catcher Mike Piazza was sidelined with an injury. No matter. Backup catcher Todd Pratt sent the Mets into the NLCS by hitting a walk-off homer. The Braves dusted off the Houston Astros to qualify for the NLCS as well.

The series couldn’t have started any worse for the Mets. They lost the first two in Atlanta but both games were close, as the superior Atlanta pitching persevered 4-2 and 4-3. When the series moved to New York, the Braves took a 3-0 series lead by winning a 1-0 classic as Tom Glavine outdueled Al Leiter. The lone run scored in the first when Piazza, who playing despite being still hurt, threw the ball away trying to catch a runner stealing.

The Mets had been in a do or die situation for a while and their resiliency was admirable. Facing elimination in Game Four, the Mets came back from a 2-1 deficit in the eighth inning when John Olerud singled home two runs to give the Mets a 3-2 win.

The next two games are, in my opinion, among the greatest in Major League History. They have been reduced to short descriptions: “Grand Slam Single”, “Kenny Rogers Ball Four” but that hardly tells the story.

In Game Five, John Olerud gave the Mets a 2-0 lead with a homer in the first inning off of Greg Maddux. The Braves answered with two in the fourth on RBI hits by Chipper Jones and Brian Jordan. As you may have noticed, runs were hard to come by all series and this game was no exception. The two teams played deadlocked for the next ten innings. The Braves certainly had their chances. They loaded the bases in the seventh and had runners on first and second in the eighth. They had a runner thrown out at home in the 13th in a collision that knocked the already battered catcher Piazza woozy. The Braves finally scored a run in the fifteenth when Keith Lockhart tripled home Gerald Williams. With the Braves finally having a lead and having a chance to put the series away, manager Bobby Cox had a decision to make: whether to send rookie pitcher Kevin McGlinchy back out for the fifteenth or use his starter Kevin Millwood to close out the game. Cox chose McGlinchy who experienced some rookie wildness. Shawon Dunston led off  and battled McGlinchy before finally singling. McGlinchy then walked the bases loaded. With no margin for error, he walked in the tying run. Robin Ventura came up next and slammed a 2-1 pitch over the right field wall. Ventura, who was mobbed by his teammate half way between first and second, never made it to home, hence the grand slam “single”.

In Game Six, Mets manager Bobby Valentine elected to start Al Leiter on three days rest instead of using Kenny Rogers. Leiter had nothing and was rocked for five runs in the first inning thanks to two hit batters, a walk and two singles. Fortunately for the Mets, Kevin Millwood wasn’t on his game either. The Mets chipped away with three runs in the sixth to close the game to 5-3. When the Braves scored twice in the bottom half of the sixth, Bobby Cox called on starting pitcher John Smoltz to slam the door. Instead, Smoltz opened the door wide open as the Mets scored four quick runs to tie the game. Piazza capped the comeback with a flat-footed homer to right.

Twice after that, the Mets took a one run lead (in the eighth and tenth) just to see the Braves come right back and tie it. Finally, Gerald Williams of the Braves led off the eleventh with a double. He moved to third on a sacrifice. Two intentional walks later and the the bases were loaded for Andruw Jones. Kenny Rogers couldn’t find the plate, however, and walked in the winning run in what culminated one of the best postseason series of the past 20 years.

The Braves went on to get swept by the Yankees in the World Series. The Mets meanwhile made it to the World Series in 2000. This time, they avoided the Braves in the postseason when they were swept in the Division Series. When the announcement that the Braves were eliminated was made at Shea Stadium, there was a loud cheer from the crowd.

MVP: Eddie Perez. The Braves catcher hit .500 (10 for 20) with two homers and five runs batted in.