The performance of catcher Mike Piazza against the Cardinals in the 2000 postseason led to his only World Series appearance in a 16-year major-league playing career. It also may help his case in eventually getting elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Piazza, on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2013, enhanced his credentials with a standout National League Championship Series for the Mets against the Cardinals. By hitting .412 (7-for-17) with two home runs, three doubles, five walks, four RBI and seven runs scored in the five-game series versus St. Louis, Piazza carried the Mets to their first pennant in 14 years. They haven’t won one since.
[If Piazza is elected to the Hall of Fame, former Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons deserves to be, too. Simmons had more hits (2,472) and more RBI (1,389) than Piazza (2,127 hits; 1,335 RBI). Although Simmons had 1,769 more at-bats than Piazza, the point is Simmons is in the same class as Piazza as an overall hitter among catchers. Plus, Piazza wasn’t as good as Simmons on defense. For example, Piazza allowed the most stolen bases of any National League catcher in a season 10 times during his career.]
Piazza, who played for the Dodgers, Marlins, Mets, Padres and Athletics, hit .331 (112-for-338) with 24 home runs and 65 RBI in 97 regular-season games against the Cardinals in his career.
Cardinals pitching was just the tonic he needed entering the 2000 National League Championship Series. Although he had hit well overall during the 2000 regular season (.324 batting average, 38 home runs, 113 RBI), Piazza had slumped throughout September. His regular-season batting average was .218 after Aug. 27. In the National League Division Series against the Giants, he hit .214.
[Piazza hit .348 (8-for-23) against the Cardinals during the 2000 regular season. On May 27, 2000, in a 12-8 Mets victory at St. Louis, Piazza reached bases in all six of his plate appearances on a home run, single and four walks. Boxscore]
In the first inning of the first game of the National League Championship Series, Piazza established the tone for the Mets. He laced a double down the third-base line off a Darryl Kile curve, driving in the first run and moving Edgardo Alfonzo to third. Alfonzo then scored on a Robin Ventura sacrifice fly, giving the Mets a 2-0 lead on their way to a 6-2 victory at St. Louis.
A headline in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the next morning read, “Piazza’s MVP Effort Gets Mets Off To Fast Start.”
“We’re a pretty good team,” said Mets manager Bobby Valentine. “And when Mike’s hitting we’re a real good team.”
Said Piazza: “We were able to take the crowd out of the game early, which is big. They’ve got an electric crowd.” Boxscore
In Game 2, a 6-5 Mets victory, Piazza homered off reliever Britt Reames (after nearly being called out on a too-close-to-take 0-and-2 pitch), walked three times and scored twice. Boxscore
Piazza was a central figure in the Cardinals’ lone win of the series, an 8-2 victory in Game 3 at New York. After St. Louis scored twice in the top of the first, Cardinals starter Andy Benes yielded singles to the first two Mets batters in the bottom half of the inning, bringing Piazza to the plate with runners on first and third and no out.
To the Cardinals’ great relief, Piazza hit a weak grounder that third baseman Fernando Tatis scooped on a short hop and turned into a double play. Though a run scored, the Cardinals had gained the momentum by surviving the threat.
“That was key for all of us,” Cardinals catcher Carlos Hernandez said to the Post-Dispatch. “Everybody knows Piazza. He’s a real good hitter. When he got that groundball, I thought it was over. Everybody, when Piazza gets to bat, expects him to hit the ball out of the park.”
Said Piazza: “It was a tough, two-strike pitch, tough to lay off of it.” Boxscore
Piazza battered the Cardinals in Game 4 (home run, double, two RBI, three runs and a walk) and in Game 5 (two runs, double and a walk). In the locker room, celebrating the only pennant clinching he’d experience, Piazza told the Post-Dispatch, “It’s like a dream. I hope nobody pinches me. I don’t want to wake up from this.”
Six years later, the Cardinals gained a measure of revenge against both Piazza and the Mets. In 2006, Piazza was with the Padres, who were overwhelming favorites against the Cardinals in the National League Division Series. This time, Piazza hit .100 (1-for-10) in four games against the Cardinals. (Batting against St. Louis for the final time in his career, Piazza, pinch-hitting for Russell Branyan in the eighth inning of Game 4, grounded into a double play against reliever Josh Kinney. Boxscore)
After eliminating the Padres, the Cardinals beat the Mets in a seven-game National League Championship Series before winning the World Series title against the Tigers.