Mike Piazza is in the Baseball Hall of Fame! The former Mets All-Star catcher, one of the greatest to play the position, was finally selected by the Baseball Writers of America to enter the hallowed halls of Cooperstown after four previous attempts.
Though starting his career with National League rival Los Angeles Dodgers in 1992, where he won the Rookie of the Year Award, Piazza was traded to the Amazin’s in 1998, and defined his career in the signature orange-and-blue of Shea Stadium. The fan-favorite goateed Met filled season after season with great moments. Here are our picks for his most significant:
May 22, 1998—It was an inauspicious beginning on the Saturday afternoon before Memorial Day, when Piazza began his career as a Met behind the plate and hitting third in the lineup. The eventual 12-time all-star ground out and struck out in his first two at-bats. But in the bottom of the fifth, Piazza smacked what would prove to be the game-winning hit, an RBI double to right-center off Brewers’ Jeff Juden to give the Mets a 2-0 lead. Despite the shutout performance by pitcher Al Leiter, it was the Met behind the plate for which the fans cheered.
July 10, 1999—There are some who say the home run the Mets sluggers hit off Yankees Ramiro Mendoza continues to travel out into space. With the Orange-and-Blue trailing 6-4 in the bottom of the seventh, Piazza walloped this three-run shot off a 2-1 fastball over the left field picnic area of Shea Stadium, an estimated 482 feet and one of the most memorable of Piazza’s career.
October 19-22, 1999—Often overshadowed by Piazza’s power at the plate is his toughness behind it, best exemplified by a 72-hour, two-game span in the ’99 post-season against rival Atlanta Braves. In Game 4, with the Mets down 3 games to 0 in the series, during which Piazza suffered a brutal collision with Brave Gregg Lockhart while guarding the plate and preventing Atlanta from scoring the go-ahead run. The Mets would win Games 4 and 5 at Shea, then head back to Atlanta for Game 6. With the Mets trailing 7-5 in the seventh and facing ace Mike Smoltz, brought in as relief to seal the win for the Braves, Piazza smoked a 2-1 into right-center to tie the score. Piazza’s heroics, however, could not stop the Braves from prevailing in extra innings.
June 30, 2000—With the Amazin’s trailing 8-1 entering the bottom of the eighth against the perennial thorn-in-the-side Braves, the Mets showed how they earned their nickname, scoring 10 times in the inning. Piazza capped off the rally with a line drive, three-run home run that left Shea Stadium in a heartbeat, sending the hometown crowd into a frenzy.
October 20, 2000—The roots of this moment hearken back to a June 9 game at Yankee Stadium earlier in the season, during which Piazza humiliated superstar ace Roger Clemens with a grand slam, leading The Mets to a 12-2 win. The next time Piazza faces The Rocket on July 8 at the House that Ruth Built, Piazza takes a heater to the head at the top of the second, leading to an after game interview, during which the Mets slugger says he no longer respects Clemens. The feud culminates three months later during the first inning of Game 2 of the Subway Series. Facing Clemens, Piazza breaks his bat on a single to first, a large shard of which propels toward the mound. The Yankees ace catches the piece on a bounce and immediately hurls it towards Piazza, who is racing down the first-base line. The dangerous move empties both dugouts and solidified its places in the annals of Met lore under “infamous.”
September 21, 2001—Ten days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, the Mets faced the arch-rival Braves. Following the seventh-inning stretch, during which Liza Minelli performed “The Theme from ‘New York, New York’” and led an impromptu kick line of New York firefighters and police officers, the Braves took a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth. Piazza came to the plate in the bottom of the inning and crushed a towering homer to center field to give the Mets a 3-2 lead they never relinquished. The crowd responded with cheers of “USA! USA! USA!” and Piazza’s swing uplifted, if just for a moment, a grieving city.
September 28, 2008/April 13, 2009—During Shea’s closing ceremony, the now-retired Piazza returned to the stadium, where he received the honorary final pitch of the venue’s history from Hall of Famer and former Met Pitcher, Tom Seaver. The pair were afforded the further honor of opening Citi Field the following season, with the legendary Mets catcher once again on the receiving end of a pitch from Seaver before the opening game against the San Diego Padres.
Piazza returned last October to throw the ceremonial first pitch of World Series Game 3.
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