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Braves–Mets rivalry

The Braves–Mets rivalry is a rivalry between two teams in Major League Baseball's National League East, featuring the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets, that was particularly fierce during the late 1990s and early 2000s.[1]

Background

The Mets joined the National League in 1962 as an expansion team, before the leagues were split into divisions, and when the Braves were still in Milwaukee. Due to Major League Baseball wishing to keep the Cardinals and Cubs together in the same division when each league was split into divisions in 1969, Atlanta was forced to join the National League West and were led by Hank Aaron. In 1966, pitching prospect Tom Seaver signed a contract with the Braves when they drafted him in the first round of the secondary June draft (20th overall). But the contract was voided by Baseball Commissioner William Eckert because Seaver's college team had played two exhibition games already that year, despite the fact that Seaver himself did not play in the games. Seaver intended, then, to finish the college season, but because he had signed a pro contract, the NCAA ruled him ineligible. After Seaver's father complained to Eckert about the unfairness of the situation and threatened with a lawsuit, Eckert ruled that other teams could match the Braves' offer. The Mets were subsequently awarded his signing rights in a lottery drawing among the three teams (the Philadelphia Phillies and Cleveland Indians being the two others) that were willing to match the Braves' terms. Seaver went on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Mets and currently is the only player (the other two being managers) to have had his jersey retired by the organization.

1969 NLCS

Seaver's impact was heavy as he led a staff that boasted excellent pitching, including then prospect Nolan Ryan in 1969. Perennial losers, the Mets came back to win the division and face off against the Braves in the NLCS. The "Miracle Mets" swept the Braves in the series, en route to their first World Series championship against the Baltimore Orioles in the 1969 World Series. The series against the Braves was the first playoff appearance and series win by an expansion team and their World Series win by extension was the first won by an expansion team.

Despite the early confrontation, the rivalry did not become especially heated until the 1990s, when division realignment put the Mets and Braves in the same division.[2][3] During this time period, the Braves became one of the most dominant baseball teams in professional baseball. The rivalry came to a visible head with the John Rocker controversy, where Atlanta pitcher Rocker made a number of derogatory comments about residents of New York City in 1999.[4] This led to incidents of items such as full cups of beverages, and even batteries being thrown at Braves players, namely Rocker, when visiting the Mets.[5] With the end of the Braves' fourteen-season National League East winning streak in 2006, when the Mets won their first division title since 1988,[6] the rivalry hit a cooling period.[7][8]

Division Realignment: Rivalry established

The main cause of the rivalry was division realignment. With the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins entering play as expansion teams in the National League in 1993, MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent ordered realignment of the league,[9] ordering the Braves and the Cincinnati Reds moved to the NL East, and the Chicago Cubs and rival St. Louis Cardinals to the NL West to rectify the geographical anomaly MLB created when realigning in 1969.[9][10][11] However, the Mets and the Cubs voted against the plan.[9][11]

Although Vincent's vision never really came into fruition, as he resigned shortly after announcing plans to realign the NL,[12] MLB did in fact realign in 1994, albeit in the form of three divisions in each league, and the addition of an expanded playoff format.[13] When agreeing on the realignment, the Pittsburgh Pirates switched to the newly created Central Division and gave up their spot in the NL East to the Braves.[2][3]

The Braves had already established themselves as one of the dominant teams in baseball prior to realignment with appearances in two World Series prior to the move. The Mets had a reverse of fortune from their dominance in the late 1980s to one of the worst teams in baseball during the early 1990s.

1995: Atlanta's First Championship

In 1995, the Braves won the National League East by 21 games,[14] and were the only team in the division to post a winning record.[14] However, the Mets were the only team in the league to post a winning record against the eventual champions, posting an 8-5 record with a 5-1 mark at Shea Stadium,[15] propelled by a sweep on the final weekend of the season, helping the Mets finish the season tied for second with the Philadelphia Phillies (Mets won the tie-breaker, having won the season series against the Phillies.[15]).[16][17]

Just a year after realignment the Braves won their first championship in Atlanta by defeating the Cleveland Indians in the 1995 World Series. It was the franchise's first World Series victory in Atlanta and allowed the franchise to become the first ever to win a World Series in three different cities. The Braves' dominance over the National League would continue as they would go on to win the pennant again in 1996 behind the pitching of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.

1996–2000: The rivalry intensifies

With the exception of 1996, when the Mets were near the bottom of the National League East, both franchises fielded contenders until deep into each season during this period. In 1997, the Mets overcame a shaky start to the season and were a wild card contender until the final week of the season.[18] Ultimately, though, they finished third place in the NL East and thirteen games back of Atlanta.[19] From 1998 to 2000, the Mets finished second in the standings to the Braves,[20] eighteen,[21] six and a half,[22] and one game behind in those respective seasons.[20][23] With the St. Louis Cardinals sweeping the Braves in the NLDS, it made the Mets run to their first World Series appearance since their championship season of 1986 much easier.[20][24] The Braves had eliminated the Mets from wild-card contention on the final day of the 1998 season and in six games in the 1999 NLCS.[20]

1999 NLCS

The NLCS was along the backdrop of Atlanta power hitter Chipper Jones cementing his MVP award that year by crushing Mets pitching for 4 home runs in three games, and 5 walks in the last days of the regular season the Braves swept the series and moved 4 games ahead of the Mets with 9 games to play to their eventual division crown. Thinking that the Braves had eliminated the Mets from playoff contention as they had the year before, Chipper Jones infamously remarked: "now all the Mets fans can go home and put their Yankee stuff on."[25] Despite the setback, the Mets made the playoffs for the first time since 1988. Both had moved forward in the NLDS to see each other for the first time in post-season history since division realignment and the first time since their initial post-season meeting during the 1969 NLCS and the "Miracle Mets."

The Braves took an early series lead of 3 games to 0, and looked poised to sweep the Mets out of the playoffs. However, the Mets rallied late in Game 4 off Braves' closer and perpetual Mets' nemesis John Rocker to win Game 4. The drama of the series was intensified in Game 5 when Robin Ventura hit a walk-off Grand Slam Single to win the game. The Grand Slam Single was ranked the third Greatest Moment in Mets history, behind only the team's two World Series Championships, which included Game 6 in 1986.[26] The Braves, however, would go on to win the series from the Mets to win their 5th National League pennant of the decade. At the end of the 1999 NLCS, Bob Costas closed out his NBC telecast by saying, "It was closing night for the greatest Mets show since (their championship season of) 1986." Despite their hard fought win against the Mets, the Braves would go on to get swept by the Mets' cross-town rivals, the New York Yankees, who had beaten their biggest nemesis, Boston Red Sox, in the ALCS, in the 1999 World Series. With the exception of Game 1, all the games were decided by 1 run. Game 1 was decided by 2 runs.

2000

John Rocker controversy

For a story published in the January 2000 issue of Sports Illustrated, Braves' closer John Rocker made a number of allegations stemming from his experiences in New York City and answering a question about whether he would ever play for the New York Yankees or the New York Mets. Rocker's response was considered racist, homophobic, and sexist:

During the interview, he also spoke of his opinion of the New York Mets and their fans:

The interview was conducted while driving to a speaking engagement in Atlanta. The reporter wrote that during the interview session, Rocker spat on a Georgia 400 toll machine and mocked Asian women. Also, he supposedly referred to black teammate Randall Simon as a "fat monkey". Although Rocker later apologized after speaking with Braves legend and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron and former Atlanta mayor and congressman Andrew Young, he continued to make controversial remarks.[27] For his comments, he was suspended without pay for the remainder of spring training and the first 28 games of the 2000 season, which on appeal was reduced to 14 games (without a spring-training suspension).

Mets win NL pennant

In June 2000, the Mets achieved a 10 run comeback,[28] In 2000, both the Mets and the Braves defeated each other at Shea Stadium to clinch playoff spots in successive days. First, the Braves won the NL East, defeating the Mets.[5] The next day, the Mets beat the Braves to win the wild card, eliminating the Los Angeles Dodgers.[29] While both the Mets and the Braves were favorites to face each other in the National League Championship Series for a second straight year, the Braves ended up losing to the Cardinals in the 2000 NLDS. On October 7 during game 3 of NLDS at Shea Stadium, Met fans cheered as the scoreboard showed the Braves loss and elimination at the hands of the Cardinals. This assured Met fans their biggest and toughest rival would not impede their playoff run that year. The Mets easily defeated the Giants to move on to the 2000 National League Championship Series, where they defeated the Cardinals to move on to the World Series. In defeating the Cardinals, the Mets clinched their first pennant since winning the 1986 World Series. The Mets would go on to lose the 2000 World Series to the Yankees in the first ever post-season Subway Series since the 1956 World Series.

2001 to Present: The rivalry cools

Twice during the 2001 season, the rivalry saw peace. The Mets opened the 2001 season playing the Braves at Turner Field. When the Mets walked into their clubhouse prior to their workout before opening day, officials at the stadium greeted them by writing on the clubhouse message board: "Welcome to the National League champion New York Mets."[8] A week later, the Mets hosted the Braves at Shea Stadium when they raised their 2000 National League Champions banner.[30] During pre-game festivities on September 21, 2001 at Shea Stadium, both the Braves and Mets paused to remember the victims of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington ten days before.[31] This was the first professional sporting event held in New York since the attacks.[31] With the Mets down 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Piazza hit a two-run home run to help the Mets win. The significance of his spirit-lifting home run has been cited as one of the greatest moments in Major League Baseball history.[32]


In 2003, the Mets signed legendary Braves pitcher Tom Glavine for four years, $42.5 million. Glavine had poor success in his first year with the team, but did help the Mets reach the 2006 NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals where they fell in the 7th game. Towards the end of his tenure with the Mets, Glavine started to make grumblings about signing with them and not staying in Atlanta. In his final appearance as a Met on the last day of the 2007 New York Mets season, Glavine would give up 7 runs in the first inning of a loss to the Florida Marlins. This would cause the Mets to lose the game and the division to the Philadelphia Phillies, forcing them to miss a playoff spot despite being in first place by 7 games as late as September. Glavine would leave the Mets following that season back for the Braves. The Braves collapsed in a similar way in 2011, for the National League Wild Card, blowing a 8 12 lead for the National League Wild Card in September and losing the wild card by one game to the eventual champion St. Louis Cardinals.[33]

In 2004, Chipper Jones named his child "Shea" after the Mets' home Shea Stadium, citing his great success and memories of playing there.[34]

See also

  • Major League Baseball rivalries

References

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