The 2000 National League Championship Series (NLCS), to determine the champion of Major League Baseball's National League, was played between the Central Division champion St. Louis Cardinals and the wild card New York Mets. The Mets and Cards used as a rally cry the 2000 hit song "Who Let The Dogs Out?" by the Baha Men.
This series pitted a pair of teams that were former division rivals. In the mid-1980s, the Mets and Cardinals fought it out for supremacy in the National League East over four seasons, with each team alternating division championships between 1985 and 1988 (the Cardinals in their pennant seasons of 1985 and 1987, the Mets in their championship season of 1986 and 1988; however, the Cardinals weren't serious contenders in both of those years).
The Cardinals, led by manager Tony La Russa, had played through the 2000 season in relatively businesslike fashion. They had won the National League Central division, and swept the Mets' fiercest rival, Atlanta Braves, in three games in the NL Division Series, making the Mets' run to the World Series much easier. However, they were struck with several injuries to key players as the playoffs began, including slugger Mark McGwire, catcher Mike Matheny, and the sudden, unexplained wildness of rookie pitcher Rick Ankiel.
The Mets, on the other hand, engaged in battle with the Braves for much of the season, eventually falling one game short of a division title. They matched up with the San Francisco Giants in the Division Series. After dropping the first game, they would rebound to win the following three games in heart-stopping fashion, including a thirteenth inning walk off home run from Benny Agbayani to win Game 3 and an improbable one-hit shutout by Bobby Jones to win the clinching Game 4. As noted above, the Mets thanked the Cardinals for making their run to the World Series much easier.
It was the first NLCS since 1990 not to feature the Braves.
New York won the series, 4–1.
Wednesday, October 11, 2000 at Busch Stadium (II) in St. Louis, Missouri
The Mets jumped on Cardinals starter Darryl Kile right from the outset. Rookie Timo Pérez led off the game with a double into the right field corner, and following a walk to Edgardo Alfonzo, scored on a double by Mike Piazza. A Robin Ventura sacrifice fly would plate Alfonzo, and the Mets were off and running.
Piazza's double resulted in one of the more memorable moments of the series. Mets coach John Stearns was wearing a microphone for Fox Sports during the games, and his screams of "THE MONSTER IS OUT OF THE CAGE!!" were broadcast to a national audience. "The Monster is out of the cage" would become a rallying cry for the Mets and Piazza throughout the series.
Mets starter Mike Hampton was sharp. Over seven innings, he limited the Cardinals to six hits and no runs. At the plate, Hampton helped his own cause by singling and scoring the Mets' third run in the fifth inning.
The Mets would effectively put the game away in the ninth inning on home runs by Todd Zeile and Jay Payton. The Cardinals would plate two runs in their half of the ninth, but it would not be enough, and the Mets came away with the victory in the series opener.
Thursday, October 12, 2000 at Busch Stadium (II) in St. Louis, Missouri
The Mets would once again jump out to an early lead, this time thanks to the wildness of Cardinals starter Rick Ankiel. Ankiel failed to get out of the first inning, walking two batters, throwing two official wild pitches (although several other pitches sailed to the backstop), and allowing two runs before being removed from the game in favor of plucky reliever Britt Reames.
The Cardinals would trim the Mets lead to 2–1 in the second inning against Mets starter Al Leiter. A run-scoring ground out by Eli Marrero would plate Shawon Dunston. The Mets would get that run back in their half of the third when Mike Piazza hit his first home run of the series off Reames. The Cardinals would knot the game at 3–3 in the fifth inning on run-scoring doubles by Edgar Rentería and Fernando Tatís.
With the score still tied and two out in the top of the eighth, the Mets would put together a rally to take a 5–3 lead. A long single by Alfonzo would score Timo Pérez, and following an intentional walk to Piazza, Zeile would single home Alfonzo. However, John Franco and Turk Wendell failed to hold the lead in the bottom of the eighth, and the Cardinals would again tie the game at 5–5.
However, as was typical of many Mets victories in the 2000 season, the Mets proved their ability to bounce back after coughing up a lead and would regain the lead in the ninth inning. After Robin Ventura reached on a Will Clark error, and was pinch run for by Joe McEwing, Rookie Jay Payton came through with his second game-winning hit of the postseason, nailing a single up the middle to score McEwing, as Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds allowed the ball to hop off the heel of his glove and roll behind him.
Armando Benítez allowed a two-out walk to Jim Edmonds in the last of the ninth, but that was all the Cardinals were able to muster as the Mets took Game 2, 6–5, to take a 2–0 series lead.
Saturday, October 14, 2000 at Shea Stadium in Queens, New York
The Cardinals would mark their first, and only, victory of the NLCS with an easy 8–2 victory. Jim Edmonds hit a two-run double in the top of the first inning off Mets starter Rick Reed, and the Cardinals never looked back. The Cardinals would tack on two more runs in the third and another in the fourth before putting the game away with three runs in the fifth.
Cardinals starter Andy Benes pitched eight solid innings, holding the Mets to two runs and six hits, while notching five strikeouts. More importantly, he was able to give the Cardinals' weary bullpen a bit of rest and put them back in the series.
Sunday, October 15, 2000 at Shea Stadium in Queens, New York
Both teams would come out with their hitting shoes on in this game. The Cardinals would jump out to a 2–0 lead in the top of the first inning, as Jim Edmonds hit a two-run home run off Mets Starter Bobby Jones. The lead, however, would be short-lived as the Mets would flex their offensive muscle against Darryl Kile in a record-setting display.
Timo Pérez, as he had done all postseason, sparked the rally with a leadoff ground rule double in the bottom of the first. Edgardo Alfonzo followed with a double of his own, down the right field line, scoring Perez. Mike Piazza followed with a third double for the Mets, a long one-hop drive off the wall in right center. Holding on the fly, Alfonzo only made it to third, but Robin Ventura followed by ripping the Mets' fourth consecutive double, which would score both Alfonzo and Piazza, and put the Mets ahead 3–2. One out later, Benny Agbayani launched a long double off the wall in left center to score Ventura. This was the Mets' fifth double of the inning, which set a new League Championship Series record.
The Mets would continue to bombard Kile and the Cardinals in the second inning. With two outs and the bases loaded, Todd Zeile would hit yet another double for the Mets, scoring two more runs. Agbayani would single home a seventh Mets run before the inning was over.
Although LaRussa had counted on Kile to eat up innings and rest his taxed bullpen, he was sorely mistaken. Kile was gone by the fourth inning, and Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan was ejected from the game while removing him. Kile's replacement, Mike James, would not fare much better, as Mike Piazza would launch a long home run, well over the Cardinals' bullpen out in deep left field to give the Mets an 8–3 lead after the fourth.
Bobby Jones, who had thrown a magnificent one-hit shutout against the Giants in the division series, struggled while pitching with a big lead. In the fifth inning, Jones would be knocked from the game after surrendering an RBI double to Eric Davis, and two more runs for which he was responsible would score after he had exited the game. Fortunately for the Mets, Glendon Rusch came out of the bullpen to stop the Cardinals rally, and his three innings of shutout ball were key in the Mets' ability to eventually win the game.
The Mets would put the game away in the sixth, thanks to two errors by Cardinals third baseman Fernando Tatís. Tatis' first error allowed Perez to reach base: despite the fact that Tatis had time, his hasty throw was low and Will Clark was unable to handle it. Tatis' second error, a bobble on a Ventura grounder, would allow Mike Bordick to score.
The Mets received strong bullpen work not only from Rusch, but also from John Franco and Armando Benítez, who threw scoreless innings in the eighth and ninth respectively, to close out the Cardinals and give the Mets a commanding 3–1 lead in the series.
This game would turn controversial for LaRussa, who had been bringing injured slugger Mark McGwire off the bench to pinch hit in key situations. Afforded several opportunities with the tying runs in place, LaRussa never sent McGwire up to hit in this game, and eventually he would run out of opportunities to do so.
Monday, October 16, 2000 at Shea Stadium in Queens, New York
Needing a victory to close out the series at home and avoid a trip back to St. Louis, the Mets, behind Mike Hampton, cruised to a 7–0 victory and their first National League pennant since their championship season of 1986.
The Mets would once again stake themselves to an early lead, jumping on Cardinals starter Pat Hentgen in the first inning. Again it was Timo Pérez sparking the Mets, singling under the glove of Edgar Rentería, stealing second base and moving to third when catcher Carlos Hernández's throw went into center field. Edgardo Alfonzo would single home Perez. Following a walk to Mike Piazza, Robin Ventura would single home Alfonzo for the Mets' second run. The Mets would add a third run on a fielder's choice by Todd Zeile.
The Mets would effectively put the game away in the fourth inning, when with two outs and the bases loaded (a situation in which Zeile found himself the previous night), Todd Zeile hit a long double off the wall in right center field, scoring three runs, giving the Mets a 6–0 lead, and resulting in raucous Mets fans making Shea Stadium literally shake.
The Mets would add a final run off a Rick Ankiel wild pitch in the seventh inning. In yet another controversial move from Tony La Russa, Ankiel was inserted into the game in the bottom of the seventh. After walking Mike Bordick to start the inning, retired Hampton and Perez, before uncorking a pair of wild pitches with Edgardo Alfonzo at the plate, allowing Bordick to score the seventh and final run of the game. Ankiel would depart after walking Alfonzo.
An ugly incident was averted in the bottom of the eighth inning, where with two outs and Benny Agbayani on first base, Jay Payton was hit near his left eye by a fastball from Cardinals pitcher Dave Veres. Payton immediately leapt up and charged Veres, and both benches and bullpens cleared, although Payton would be restrained by Agbayani and Bobby Valentine before the incident could escalate. Mets pitcher John Franco mugged for the fans to settle down following the incident; the crowd responded by chanting "NA NA, HEY HEY, GOODBYE!" at the Cardinals, and booed them off the field at the conclusion of the inning.
Saying before the game that "I was looking to pitch the game of my life", Mike Hampton was nothing short of superb. In pitching a complete game shutout, Hampton allowed only three hits and one walk, and struck out eight. His efforts in this game, and in Game 1 would result in his being named MVP of the NLCS.
Hampton closed out the game by getting pinch-hitter Rick Wilkins to fly out to center field. Mets center fielder Timo Pérez jumped up and down three times before making the catch, Robin Ventura hoisted Hampton in the air and a wild celebration was touched off, culminating in Mike Piazza leading the entire Mets team in a victory lap around Shea Stadium.
2000 NLCS (4–1): New York Mets over St. Louis Cardinals
The Mets would advance to the 2000 World Series, their first appearance in the World Series since their championship season of 1986. They would meet their crosstown rivals, the New York Yankees in the first Subway Series to take place since 1956. In five games that were as nip-and-tuck as baseball can be, the Yankees would come out on top, winning their third consecutive World Championship. The Mets would then muddle through several unsuccessful seasons, and would not return to the Postseason until 2006.
Series MVP Mike Hampton would leave via free agency following the season, signing with the Colorado Rockies. Hampton's departure from New York was not well-received, as he made comments about the city's school system, and was routinely booed upon his reappearances at Shea Stadium.
The Cardinals would return to the National League Championship Series in 2002, losing to the San Francisco Giants. They would return to the World Series for the first time since 1987 when they defeated the Houston Astros in the NLCS in 2004. The Cardinals would face the Mets again in the 2006 National League Championship Series, the Redbirds defeating the Mets this time in an epic and dramatic series that ended in seven games. The only player remaining on either roster from the series in 2000 was Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds. There were no 2006 Mets left on the team that played in 2000.