Nothing but zeros
Hampton named MVP after tossing 16 scoreless innings
Updated: Wednesday January 24, 2001 8:36 PM
Hampton was imported from Houston to head the Mets' pitching staff and accepted the role with zest. He started the season's opener. He started the opener of the division playoffs. And he started the opener of the National League Championship Series.
And on Monday night, he pitched the Mets into the World Series, beating St. Louis for the second time. Hampton shut out the Cardinals for seven innings, allowing six hits in the opener and then came back in Game 5 with the same kind of performance. He allowed three singles, walked one and struck out eight to earn the series MVP award.
Before Game 5, Hampton said he was set to pitch the game of his life, and that's what he did.
"I really didn't see that as bold," he said, wiping champagne off his face. "I don't say things unless I feel them.
"I want to come out and pitch the big game. I want the team behind me to have an easy time."
That's how it worked against St. Louis. Hampton was never in trouble and got comfortable early, staked to a quick three-run lead in the first inning.
"That settled me down," he said. "My emotions were running high. I was really pumped up for this."
It was that kind of competitive edge that convinced the Mets to give up two prize prospects to get Hampton, trading outfielder Roger Cedeno and pitcher Octavio Dotel to the Astros for the left-hander and outfielder Derek Bell. Hampton was the main man in the trade, coming off a 22-4 season when he was runnerup for the Cy Young Award.
There was a gamble involved because Hampton is unsigned after this season and could explore the free agent market. But the Mets were willing to take the risk after doing the same thing with catcher Mike Piazza two years ago.
Like Piazza, Hampton struggled at the start with New York. He walked nine batters opening day against Chicago in a game played in Japan. One month into the season, he was 2-4 and looking like anything but an ace.
The lefty does not handle failure very well. He is an intense competitor who punched out a water cooler in Colorado and was so enraged over a bad start in San Francisco that he walked from the ballpark back to the team hotel, about a mile, clearing his mind.
"I got back to basics," he said. "I had to trust my stuff and not try to do too much. I was pitching to impress people that those 22 wins were not a fluke. Once I got over that, I started to pitch my game."
Hampton's season turned around after that.
His approach changed, but not his attitude, and not his intensity.
"Second place is first loser," he said. "That's how I was brought up. My father played ball, played to win, played hard until the last out. That's how I was taught.
"I expect a lot of myself."
Hampton recovered from the rocky start to go 15-10 with a 3.14 ERA that was fourth best in the National League. He flourished at Shea Stadium, posting an 11-4 record and 2.05 ERA.
He threw three complete games and allowed just 10 home runs, lowest among Mets starters. In his last seven starts, he had a 2.36 ERA as the Mets closed in on the National League wild-card playoff berth.
As the Mets poured champagne on each other, Hampton glowed.
Was this moment the payoff, the reason he came to New York?
"I'm close," he said. "The way I see it, we still have four to win to fulfill that fantasy. We're content, but we're still four away."
That road starts Saturday in Game 1 of the World Series. Hampton expects to start.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.