Chavez Steals Show
FLUSHING – After crushing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round of the 2006 playoffs, the heavily favored New York Mets were poised to plow into the 2006 World Series. On that road, they faced the same team they beat in the 2000 NLCS in 5 games, the St. Louis Cardinals. Though St. Louis barely made the playoffs with a record of 83-78, they would play competitive ball with New York throughout. Each game, both sides would shine, with brilliant pitching by Tom Glavine and Jeff Weaver, as well as potent offense by Carlos Beltran and Albert Pujols; however, no team was able to catch enough momentum to win consecutive games after the third contest. The result was a Game 7 in which a trip to the Fall Classic hung in the balance. There, the Mets found themselves in a position they had been in only once before at Shea Stadium – their series clinching game against the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series.
With a hungry, energized Flushing crowd, the Mets struck first, with David Wright hitting a bloop single in the opening inning to drive in Carlos Beltran for a 1-0 lead. The next frame would see the Cardinals tie the game with Jim Edmonds coming home on a sacrifice bunt by Ronnie Belliard. The score remained deadlocked into the sixth. With one out and trouble brewing on base, Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen came up to bat against Oliver Perez. Jim Edmonds had walked during the last at bat, which prompted Mets Manager Willie Randolph to approach the mound to talk things over with his starter. Though right-hander Chad Bradford started to warm up in the bullpen, Randolph stayed with Perez in the hopes that his high fastball would prove to be too much for Rolen. It seemed like a foolish move when the third baseman lifted a ball into leftfield that seemed destined to clear the fence, and give the Cardinals a 3-1 lead.
It was then that leftfielder Endy Chavez, who until Game 1 of the series had ridden the bench in the playoffs, feverishly ran to the warning track. Leaping from his right foot and raising his glove over the fence, he was able to snag Rolen’s drive as it cleared the barrier on the way down, pulling it back to earth from the tips of his glove for the second out. The catch brought back memories of 1969, during which the Mets outfielders Tommie Agee and Ron Swoboda turned in diving plays to stymie the hopes of the Baltimore Orioles. Or, going back even further, one could think of Dodger Sandy Amoros in the 1955 World Series, plucking Yogi Berra’s sure-fire double from the corner in leftfield at Yankee Stadium, then doubling off Gil McDougald at first base moments later. Like Amoros, Chavez fired a rocket to his shortstop, Jose Reyes, whose relay to Delgado doubled up Edmonds to end the inning. For the aforementioned Dodger leftfielder, the catch proved to be the play of the 1955 series. It seemed as if at that moment, the cheers of 50,000 Yankee fans were stuffed back into their throats, and the old adage of ‘Wait ‘Til Next Year’ would finally give way to bedlam in the borough of Brooklyn. Three innings later, the Dodgers had their moment.
Though history seemed ready to repeat itself more than half a century later, the auspicious play of Chavez would not end up favoring the Metropolitans in the end. With the score deadlocked into the top of the ninth, Cardinal catcher Yadier Molina hit a two run homerun off of Aaron Heilman into the leftfield stands – not far from where Chavez had turned the play of the series a couple of innings prior. With a 3-1 deficit, the Mets were able to load the bases in their half of the inning, and with Cardinal killer Carlos Beltran up to bat, it seemed that hope could ignite the flame from which the magic of Endy’s play had sparked. Unfortunately, armed with a blazing fastball and devastating 12 to 6 curve, Cardinal rookie reliever Adam Wainright caught Beltran looking at a called third strike, thus, ending the game, as well the Mets improbable season. It was most certainly the Team, but for the Mets and their woe begotten fans, it would not be The Time. And though there were seasons that ended better than 2006, few could say that there were any more enjoyable than that magical baseball year. Fans could only hope that there were even better times ahead. For a team overflowing with such talent and ambition, their Time will surely come soon.