In the latter part of the 1980s, the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals were archrivals in the NL East. The realignment of 1994 put the Cardinals into the NL Central, but the rivalry was renewed in the 2000 National League Championship Series. New York was looking for its first pennant since 1986, St. Louis since 1987. It was the Mets that came out on top.
The links below describe the paths each team took to reach the playoffs, their key players, and how they won the Division Series. This article will focus squarely on the games of the 2000 NLCS.
The series opened on a Wednesday night in St. Louis, with the Mets sending Mike Hampton to the mound to face the Cardinals’ Daryl Kile. The top of the first set the tone for what would be a pattern of fast offensive starts. Timo Perez lined a double to right to open the game and took third on a wild pitch. After a walk, Mike Piazza doubled to left to score one run and set up runners on second and third. A sac fly from Robin Ventura gave New York a 2-0 lead.
St. Louis threatened to strike back right away, loading the bases with two outs, before Hampton got out of it. Both starting pitchers settled in, and that 2-0 score held until the top of the fifth. Then Hampton got something going with his bat—or, more accurately, his legs. He beat out an infield hit. After moving up to second on a groundball out, Hampton scored on a single by Edgardo Alfonzo.
The Cardinals threatened again in the seventh, getting two shots with the tying run at the plate. Hampton got Edgar Renteria and Jim Edmonds to fly out and the shutout remained in place. In the top of the ninth, a leadoff home run by Todd Zeile gave New York some cushion. Jay Payton hit a two-run blast to blow it open. Even though St. Louis got a couple runs in the bottom of the ninth against the Mets’ bullpen, New York had a 6-2 road win.
Rick Ankiel had been wild in his Division Series start, and the Cardinal starter got off to a rough beginning in Game 2 of this NLCS. Alfonzo worked a one-out walk in the top of the first. Ankiel threw a wild pitch. Piazza walked—on a wild pitch, which moved Alfonzo to third. Zeile’s sac fly scored the game’s first run. An RBI double from Benny Agbayani made it 2-0, and Ankiel got a quick hook. Britt Reames came out of the bullpen and ended the inning, but the home team was in another early hole.
St. Louis got a one-out double from Shawon Dunston in the bottom of the second. A Ray Lankford single set up runners on the corners against New York lefty Al Leiter. A groundball out picked up one run and the Cardinals cut the lead in half. But Piazza immediately answered with a solo blast in the top of the third to make it 3-1.
After both teams blew good scoring chances in the fourth, the Cards got another rally going in the home half of the fifth. With one out, Fernando Vina dropped down a bunt, beat it out, and then scored on a double from Renteria. A steal of third base moved Renteria 90 feet from tying the game. Edmonds missed a chance to pick him up, but Fernando Tatis Sr. did not—a two-out double that made it 3-3.
We had a ballgame on our hands. New York wasted a leadoff double from Zeile in the seventh. In the top of the eighth, the Mets had two outs and no one aboard. Then Perez singled. Alfonzo singled. And a hustling Perez came all the way around with the go-ahead run. Alfonzo moved up to second on the throw, setting him up to score on a base hit from Zeile. It was 5-3 and New York looked firmly in control.
But the Cardinals, desperate to avoid losing both games at home, fought back against Mets’ reliever John Franco. Carlos Hernandez drew a one-out walk. Will Clark singled. A wild pitch scored a run to make it 5-4. Turk Wendell came out of the New York bullpen, but it didn’t work. J.D. Drew doubled to tie the game 5-all.
Mike Timlin was on for St. Louis in the ninth. Clark, so clutch with his bat throughout his career, failed with his glove. An error put a man aboard for the Mets. After a sacrifice bunt, Payton delivered the go-ahead run with an RBI single. This time, it stood up. New York closer Armando Benitez closed out the 6-5 win. The Mets were going home in firm control of this series.
On a late Saturday afternoon in Shea Stadium, the series resumed with the Mets’ Rick Reed facing the Cardinals’ Andy Benes. St. Louis, with its back to the wall, wasted no time in going to work on Reed. Vina led the game off with a single. Ventura flubbed the ensuing sacrifice bunt and there were two runners aboard. Edmonds doubled in both runs.
Clark followed with a single to right that put runners on first and third with no outs. Reed bore down and struck out three batters in succession, but for the third straight game, the road team had a quick 2-zip lead.
And the pattern of a home team quickly rallying also continued. New York got one back in their own half of the first. Singles from Perez and Alfonzo started the game. With runners on the corners, Piazza grounded into a double play that scored the run. It was 2-1, although both teams left some meat on the bone in that first inning.
St. Louis got back on the attack in the top of the third. Renteria hit a leadoff single and Clark drew a one-out walk Lankford’s single scored a run and moved Clark to third, where he scored on a sac fly. 4-1 Cardinals.
The teams traded single runs in the fourth. The Cardinal run sent Reed to the showers. The Mets’ run came at a big cost—another double play ground ball this time with the bases loaded and none out.
With the score 5-2, the Cardinals blew it open in the top of the fifth. A leadoff double from Tatis was followed by base hits from Drew and Carlos Hernandez. It was 6-2, runners on first and second and none out. Benes got his bunt down to move the runners up and both eventually scored.
In the meantime, Benes was settled in. He delivered eight strong innings. We had another road winner, St. Louis taking it 8-2.
On Sunday night, Mets fans were coming off watching the Jets beat up on the Patriots in the late afternoon pro football window. Now, the fans hoped their baseball team could re-take control of this NLCS in prime-time.
But Vina started the game with a double. Edmonds homered. For the fourth straight game, the road team had scored exactly two runs in the top of the first. With the road team having also won each game, it wasn’t a comforting trend in New York.
This time though, when the Mets struck back, they did it with force. Their own half of the first inning began with consecutive doubles by Perez, Alfonzo, Piazza, and Ventura off of Kile. After one out, Agbayani resumed the double-fest—another two-bagger gave New York a 4-2 lead.
And the Mets kept coming in the bottom of the second. Perez singled with one out and stole second. With two outs, there were two consecutive walks, the first one intentional to Piazza. Zeile ripped a double that made it 6-2. Agbayani singled home another run. Even though Zeile was thrown out at the plate, New York had a 7-2 lead.
Clark and Piazza traded solo blasts in the fourth. Trailing 8-3, St. Louis put together another rally in the fifth off of Mets’ starter Bobby Jones. Drew and Hernandez hit consecutive singles. Eric Davis doubled. It was 8-4, there were runners on second and third and still no one out. Glendon Rusch came out of the New York bullpen, but he couldn’t stop the rally. A sac fly from Renteria and a base hit by Edmonds picked up both runs. The Cardinals were back in it at 8-6.
In a suddenly tight game, Bordick drew a one-out walk in New York’s half of the sixth inning. Rusch stayed in the game and got a bunt down. Then the Cardinals started making mistakes. Two errors by Tatis at third surrounding a hit batsman brought in one run. A Ventura sac fly picked up another.
The lead back out to 10-6, the Mets’ bullpen took over. Rusch settled down through the seventh, Franco and Benitez cleaned up the final two frames and that was it.
New York could clinch the pennant at home on Monday night, and they entrusted Hampton with the ball. St. Louis put its fate in the hands of Pat Hentgen.
When Vina began the game with a single, the pattern of the first four games was beginning. But this time, it’s where the pattern ended. Hampton finished off the top of the first without allowing any runs.
Hentgen would not be as fortunate. Perez hit a leadoff single, stole second, and took third when the throw went astray. Alfonzo’s single gave the Mets a quick run, and they weren’t finished. Piazza walked. Ventura singled. Now there were men on first and third, and the score was 2-0. A Zeile groundball out scored another run. New York reloaded the bases with one out before Hentgen got Bordick to pop out, and then struck out Hampton. But the Mets’ ace already had more than enough runs for this night.
The St. Louis offense was doing nothing against Hampton, and New York went for the kill shot in the bottom of the fourth. Perez singled with one out. With two outs, Piazza doubled, and Ventura walked. The bases were loaded. Zeile came to the plate. He crushed a double to center. All three runners scored. And this 2000 NLCS was effectively over.
New York added another run in the seventh to make it 7-0. In the meantime, Hampton kept rolling. He pitched a three-hitter and he went the distance. When he got Rick Wilkins to fly out to Perez in center, the party could start in Queens.
Hampton was an easy choice as the 2000 NLCS MVP. Wining two games with 16 shutout innings will do that in most any circumstance. Even more so in a series where both teams otherwise hit pretty well.
New York also got notable performances from Alfonzo, who had eight hits and four RBIs. Piazza drove in four runs behind his seven hits and five walks. Perez and Zeile had seven hits apiece over the five games. Zeile drove in eight runs, including the death blow double in Game 5. For St. Louis, Clark (7-for-17) and Renteria (6-for-20) swung the bat well. And even though Vina went a modest 6-for-23, his hits were often early rally-starters.
St. Louis wasn’t going anywhere. They returned to the playoffs a year later and began a strong run of contending teams that would continue under Tony LaRussa. They won the National League pennant in 2004 and brought home World Series titles in both 2006 and 2011.
The fall of 2000 was a great time to be a sports fan in New York. The Yankees would join the Mets in the World Series. The Mets lost that Subway Series in five closely contested games, but there was still plenty of reason for optimism in the future. The disappointment comes less from the Subway Series loss and more from the fact that optimism proved unfounded. The Mets slipped in 2001, did not return to postseason play until 2006, didn’t make it back to the Fall Classic until 2015 and are still seeking their first championship since 1986.