As a Mets fan, the 2007 season will always give me PTSD. For those who do not know, the Mets had a painful collapse out of the division lead, holding a seven-game edge with 17 to play and going 5-12 down the stretch to fall out of the postseason and begin the Phillies' run of dominance.
This article isn't about that fateful Marlins series or even the Nationals series before that. It's about a game that unfortunately should have been played earlier in the season but was rescheduled.
For some reason, I've always held some disdain for pitcher Joel Piñeiro in my head and I could never remember why. Maybe he made my dad angry at that time and I just followed suit or maybe it was his red glove going out there as he dominated the Mets. I wasn't sure why this happened until I stumbled across a game from 2009 while searching for, you guessed it, Argenis Reyes highlights. Crazy how that works right?
Piñeiro was pitching for the Cardinals, and on that SNY telecast, they showed clips from a game from 2007 where he carried a shutout into the eighth inning, three-hitting the Mets, which was a carbon copy of that game in 2009. Piñeiro had a solid career in the major leagues, pitching to a 4.41 ERA and recording 100 wins, and my random Piñeiro disdain finally had a reason-- he put it all together for one start during a bad season just to stick it to the Mets even more. As much as it pains me to write this, this game deserves a flashback to it.
Before we get into the game, we have to first mention how opposite the seasons were for Joel Piñeiro and the Mets. For starters, Piñeiro wasn't even on the Cardinals at the beginning of the 2007 season and the Mets weren't in this position for the whole season.
Piñeiro began the season with the Boston Red Sox pitching out of the bullpen despite starting for the Seattle Mariners for his entire career up to that point. He pitched to a 2.79 ERA in April before his ERA ballooned to 5.14 at the end of May and was still over five at the end of June and July. The Red Sox had seen enough, dealing him to the St. Louis Cardinals where he joined a staff that needed help.
Piñeiro went from the future World Series Champion to a team with a World Series hangover where he rejoined the starting staff and pitched solidly. Even though the Cardinals had already been eliminated by the time of this game and had seemingly got all its whipping of the Mets out of the way in the postseason the year prior, they still had one trick left up their sleeve in 2007.
The Mets, on the other hand, had a pretty tumultuous 2007 season but were firmly in first in September at least initially. Riding an MVP-caliber season from David Wright and a renaissance at age 40 from Moises Alou, who returned from injury in time for September, the potent offense outweighed the shaky pitching staff, especially a bullpen where no lead could be trusted. By September 27, they had just come off a brutal series sweep to the Nationals where, despite Moises Alou extending his hitting streak to 30 games in the third game, the team allowed nine runs or more in all three games.
This game should have never occurred on this date if not for the weather. Piñeiro wasn't even on the team when the game was originally scheduled. It was supposed to be a matchup between Mike Pelfrey and Adam Wainwright on June 28, but that never happened as rain postponed the game. They decided on a mutual off day in late September, which presumably would have been by the time the Mets already clinched the division.
The Mets and Cardinals had played some truly epic games in the past year or so. I'm thinking about the Beltran walk-off game or any in the 2006 postseason. However, this was not one of those games, at least for the Mets.
Piñeiro took the mound for his final start of the 2007 season for the eliminated St. Louis Cardinals. His rough season hadn't gotten much better with the move, coming off a game where he lost after allowing three runs in 5.2 innings against Houston. While he had picked up four wins, he had just one game above a 70 game score and it was reasonable to say that another mediocre performance was expected from him.
He was opposed by Pedro Martinez, who had missed most of the season due to injury. Martinez, who recorded his 3,000th strikeout earlier in the month against Cincinnati, had pitched solidly in his four prior starts and was poised to finally pitch in the postseason with the Mets after missing it in 2006. A good start here could shelve all injury concerns heading into October.
Skip Schumaker of rally squirrel fame drove in a run with a single in the opening inning, and that proved to be all Piñeiro needed in this game as he pitched his best game of the season to that point.
All the Mets could manage were a pair of singles, a walk and a double as Piñeiro shoved over eight innings and the three runs the Cardinals scored against Pedro Martinez stood as the difference. Piñeiro struck out six, including José Reyes twice and Carlos Delgado once. Weak contact was generated against him all night as the Mets had one player in scoring position the whole game.
Piñeiro's final line: 8 IP, 3 H, 6 K, 1 BB, 0 ER, 93 pitches, 81 Game Score. For him, it was his best game in terms of game score since the 2003 season, so it was a long time coming for a performance like that.
It was an absolute gut-punch of a loss, and as you may know, the Mets never really recovered from that, dropping two of three to the Marlins in a soul-crushing series. The three-run loss of game one and the poor opening inning by Tom Glavine in the third game officially eliminated the Mets from the postseason needing just one more win to clinch the division.
Unfortunately for the Mets, one of Joel Piñeiro's best games just had to come when they were in a free-fall and it further buried them headed into their final series. Two years later, Piñeiro did it again, pitching a shutout on June 23 against the Mets with an 83 Game Score.
What if Mother Nature was kind to the Mets on June 28, 2007? Maybe they get that extra win, get into the postseason and the Joel Piñeiro game never happens. In a cruel twist of fate, we may never know if that was the case.