The 2006 New York Mets were a juggernaut. They ran roughshod over the National League with 97 victories, winning the division by 12 games while no other NL team won more than 88 games. The American League was the loaded league in 2006. The Yankees matched the Mets with 97 wins, but there were seven other teams in the AL with at least 86 wins that season.
The Mets that year were confident of ending the Atlanta Braves' run of division titles, and did so easily, winning seven of their first eight games, building a double-digit lead by the end of June, and coasting to a title by September 18.
Juggernauts sometimes lead to dynasties, and then sometimes not.
The 2006 Mets fell short due to untimely injuries and some excruciating circumstances. The 2007 Mets suffered an all-time collapse, blowing a seven-game lead by going 5-12 in their final 17 games, losing to the lowly Marlins on the final day of the season. And the 2008 Mets had a lesser late-season collapse, closing up Shea Stadium by again losing to the Marlins on the season's final day to miss the playoffs by one game for the second straight year.
The Mets would not see the postseason again until their surprising run to the World Series in 2015. But back to the 2006 Mets.
Mike Piazza was gone when the Mets failed to offer him arbitration after he declared free agency. Following a trade with the Marlins, Paul LoDuca was now behind the plate. In another deal with the Marlins, Carlos Delgado's powerful bat was added to the lineup. The popular Mike Cameron was traded to San Diego for Xavier Nady.
Free agent closer Billy Wagner was signed to replace Braden Looper, and Duaner Sanchez, John Maine and Jorge Julio were procured via trades. The Mets also added some key veterans - Julio Franco, Jose Valentin and Endy Chavez - who would all play a huge part in their success.
The Mets went 16-8 during April, splitting six games with the Braves. Nady went 4-for-4 on Opening Day against the Nationals. On the season's fourth day, the Mets were in first place and never relinquished that spot. They also won 16 games in May, but lost 1.5 games of their division lead.
In July, the Mets went 16-9, punctuating the month with a sweep of the Braves in Atlanta. It was the first time a Mets team had swept a series in Atlanta in 21 years (1985).
But some ominous signs began to appear. Pedro Martinez missed the All-Star Game with a sore hip that landed him on the DL. And a day before the trading deadline (July 30) while the Mets were in Florida, setup man Duaner Sanchez was involved in his bizarre pre-dawn taxi accident in which he suffered a separated shoulder.
General manager Omar Minaya had to act fast, so he dealt the X-Man, Nady, to the Pirates for Oliver Perez and Roberto Hernandez. Nady had hit 14 HR with 40 RBI in 75 games for the Mets, and nobody foresaw how big a role Ollie would play for the Mets the rest of the year.
The Mets simply tore it up in August, going 19-9, including five- and seven-game winning streaks. They made a significant August waiver deal, acquiring Shawn Green from Arizona to replace Nady.
But Pedro's breakdown continued. Martinez left a mid-August game with a calf injury and missed a month. He returned on September 15, made three shaky starts, and was eventually diagnosed with not only a torn calf muscle, but worse, a torn rotator cuff. Pedro was done.
Yes, the Mets were back in the playoffs, but the bad news continued.
They faced the Dodgers in the NLDS and Orlando Hernandez, one of the great postseason pitchers (9-3 with a 2.55 ERA) was slated to toe the rubber for the Mets, but El Duque suffered his own calf injury the day before, and was scratched and missed the rest of the playoffs.
Rookie John Maine stepped in and saved the day with 4 1/3 innings of one-run ball, the Mets snapped a 4-all tie in the seventh and hung on for a 6-5 win.
Tom Glavine made it easy in Game 2 with six innings of shutout ball, and the Mets looked for the sweep in LA. They got it by getting to veteran Greg Maddux early, jumping out to a 4-0 lead, then falling behind 5-4 before scoring three in the sixth and two more in the eighth for a 9-5 victory and a ticket to the NLCS against St. Louis.
Mother Nature would play a role in this series with rainouts before both Game 1 and Game 5, but it did not faze Glavine, who was tremendous in the series opener, topping his previous NLDS start with seven shutout innings while Carlos Beltran's two-run home run off Jeff Weaver was all the offense needed in a 2-0 win.
The Mets, however, lost Cliff Floyd that game after he reaggravated his injured Achilles tendon and was replaced in left field by Endy Chavez. (Wonder what might be in store for Chavez later in the series?)
The Cardinals rallied three times to deadlock the series at 1 apiece with a 9-6 victory in Game 2. Delgado homered twice and drove in four runs, but Jim Edmonds blasted a two-run HR and Scott Spiezio tripled, doubled and knocked in three to tie the game, 6-6, after seven innings. So Taguchi then stunned the Mets with a ninth inning leadoff home run off Wagner in a grueling nine-pitch at-bat; the Met closer would then give up two more runs, and it was on to St. Louis.
In Game 3, Spiezio picked up where he left off with a first inning two-run triple — his second in as many games. Jeff Suppan easily outdueled Steve Trachsel, hurling eight shutout innings and homering off Trachsel as well.
The lone bright spot for the Mets was reliever Darren Oliver, who had to rescue Trachsel in the second and threw six scoreless innings, but the Cards cruised to a 5-0 win putting the pressure on New York.
Valentin stayed hot with a two-run double for a 2-0 lead, but Albert Pujols, who was critical and dismissive of Glavine's work after Game 1, homered to make it 2-1. St. Louis then tied it and added single runs the next two innings for a 4-2 win and a 3-2 advantage in the series.
Back at Shea, it was going to be up to Maine and Perez if the Mets were to survive and advance.
Maine delivered with 5 1/3 scoreless innings, working out of several tight jams. Jose Reyes stroked a leadoff homer, Green an RBI single and LoDuca a two-run single. The Mets led 4-0 entering the ninth and, with two outs and two on, it was another Wagner-Taguchi matchup. Taguchi won again, lining a two-run double to cut the lead in half. But Wagner got David Eckstein to ground out to preserve the 4-2 win. On to Game 7.
It was Suppan vs Perez for all the marbles. Wright gave the Mets a quick 1-0 lead in the firstst with an RBI single, but the Cardinals tied it right away on Ronnie Belliard's squeeze that scored Edmonds.
Suppan was terrific again, but so was Perez. With a 6.55 regular season ERA, Ollie qualified statistically as the worst Game 7 starter in playoff history. But he didn't pitch like it. And he had Endy Chavez.
But Suppan bore down and struck him out. Then came Chavez. Had to be, right? Not so, as Endy flied out to shallow center, and on we went.
Still tied at 1 entering the ninth, Aaron Heilman struck out Edmonds for the first out. Rolen then singled, bringing up catcher Yadier Molina. On the first pitch, Molina belted a deep fly to left but, unlike Rolen's, this one was too high and deep for Chavez to reach. A two-run home run, a 3-1 Cardinal lead, and one last chance for New York.
The Mets did not make it easy for St. Louis. Rookie closer Adam Wainwright came on to nail it down. Valentin and Chavez, who both failed in their sixth inning at-bats, made amends by leading off the 9th with back-to-back singles. The tying runs were on base with nobody out. Wainwright then struck out banged up pinch-hitter Floyd and got Reyes to line out to centerfield for the second out. He then walked LoDuca to load the bases for Beltran while Shea was turning into bedlam.
But Wainwright got two quick strikes on Beltran and proceeded to unleash the "curveball from hell." A 12-6 knee-buckling curve that caught the outside corner of the plate. Called strike three. Ball game over. Series over.
The Mets attempts at redemption the following two years would both end in agonizing fashion on the final day of the season. The 2006 season was a wild ride for a great team with much promise. But also a woulda - coulda - shoulda year when reflecting in hindsight.