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The Biggest Save of John Franco’s Career

By Mike Silva ~ January 28th, 2012. Filed under: New York Mets, NY Baseball Memories.

Earlier in the week I talked about why John Franco deserves to be in the Mets Hall of Fame. It wouldn’t be complete unless we remember what Franco called the “biggest save of his career.”

Franco was a huge part of the 2000 team that won the National League pennant. If not for Franco’s 10th inning work in Game 2 of the NLDS, the Mets don’t get out of the first round; much less make it to the World Series.

The Mets lost Game 1 to Livan Hernandez, 5-1, and were in a “must win” Game 2 at Pac Bell Park. They turned to Al Leiter, known for his clutch performances, and entered the ninth inning with a 4-1 lead.

After a Barry Bonds double, Bobby Valentine called on Armando Benitez to finish the job. Unfortunately, Benitez did what he became known for - blowing leads in big games.

Jeff Kent single and J.T. Snow home run later, the game was tied and the Mets were reeling. Pac Bell was/is a difficult place to play, as the Mets were swept in a 4-game series earlier that season.

So the Mets were on a 5-game losing streak in San Francisco and just had blown what appeared to be a safe lead. Most fans were ready to close up shop on the 2000 season, but this is where the fun began.

Darryl Hamilton doubled with two outs in the top of the tenth, which set up one of the all-time clutch hits in franchise history when Jay Payton singled Hamilton home.

This is the Mets, so to quote the late Bob Murphy, “fasten your seatbelts, we are going to the bottom of the tenth.”

Benitez was allowed to start the inning, but was quickly pulled by Valentine after Armando Rios  led off with a single- enter Franco.

Dusty Baker gave him a gift by bunting Rios to second. The next play set up the epic showdown with Bonds, when Rios tried to cross over to third on a groundball to short; Bordick promptly threw him out and there were two outs with a runner on first. That base running blunder might have lost the Giants the series. Who knows how Franco pitches to Bonds with a runner in scoring position. Would Valentine have walked Bonds to pitch to Kent? It was the ultimate “pick your poison” as Kent was the MVP that season and equally, if not more dangerous than Bonds.

Bonds as the winning run is not a comfortable thought, however he had a legacy of postseason failure up to that point. We didn’t know it at the time, but he was also “enhanced” and a year away from setting the all-time record for home runs. This situation clearly was more dangerous than we even knew at the time.

With the count 3-2, Franco threw a pitch on the inside corner that home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom called strike three. Bonds always seemed to get those kinds of calls, so it might have been a sign this Mets team was headed for something special.

Three days later they would see dramatic performances by Benny Agbayani and Bobby Jones to send them to the NLCS.

If not for John Franco cleaning up the mess in Game 2 of the NLDS, we probably never get those classic moments in Mets history.

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