To this observer, the image from the 2000 World Series that’s likely to last the longest is the path of the ball of that last pitch thrown in Game 5 by the exhausted but still battling Al Leiter. There’s Leiter throwing it to Luis Sojo, trying so hard to get something—anything—on the ball that his follow-through sends him sprawling off the mound toward third base, and thus out of position and unable to snare the ball as it bounces through the middle of the infield. It keeps bouncing along—now it’s just out of the reach of shortstop Kurt Abbott—and there’s Jay Payton racing in, scooping the ball up, and veritably flying through the air as, surgically repaired right arm and all, he fires home to Piazza to try and nail base runner Jorge Posada. Payton does, of course, but literally rather than figuratively. And as the ball makes its final bounce, off Posada’s leg and into the Mets’ dugout, all one could think of was . . . well, that’s baseball. You do the best you can and just hope the ball bounces your way more than it does the other guy’s.
In the current jargon of the trade, ballplayers call it “leaving everything on the field”—that is, giving it all you’ve got. And, in spite of the final tally of the 2000 World Series, the New York Mets finished their roller-coaster season secure in the knowledge that, as a team, they’d left it all on the field. Still, it is instructive to note that the Met players who seemed the most comfortable throughout all the media hype/insanity surrounding the Subway Series were indeed the ones who performed the best: Todd Zeile, who talked the talk all year about “accountability” in regard to playing in New York, and then walked the walk by leading the team in hitting; Benny Agbayani, who started the season on the team’s roster bubble and finished it as one of its most dramatic contributors; John Franco, who was so energized by the experience of playing in his first World Series in a 17-year career that he probably could have pitched two innings in every game (and maybe should have); and ever-excitable boy Leiter, who, regardless of his stuff on any given outing, pitches with the same dependable heart, guts, and spirit.
Significantly, not a single Met in their subdued, but not somber, clubhouse thought that Leiter shouldn’t have been on the mound to either win or lose the last game of this truly Fall Classic. They were disappointed, to be sure, but justifiably proud of their effort. “The Yankees as a team are just a little better than we are; that’s the reality of it,” said manager Bobby Valentine, who by the time you read this will hopefully have signed the new long-term contract he richly deserves for his own sizable effort in helping to make the Mets’ half-stake in the Subway Series a reality. Given how close their championship dream came to coming true, Agbayani was asked, would it be a long winter until next season? “Are you kidding?” said Benny. “It’s gonna be like the blink of an eye.”