Aug 23, 2013

2000 N.L. Champion Mets Pinch Hitter / Role Player: Matt Franco (1996-2000)

Matthew Neil Franco was born August 19, 1969 in Santa Monica, California. He is the cousin of actor Kurt Russell, and his uncle is actor, minor league player / owner Bing Russell.

Franco was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the seventh round of the 1987 draft. He spent eight years in the minor leagues, taking six years just to get to the AAA level. The six foot two left hand hitting Franco, came up briefly with the Chicago Cubs in September 1995 hitting .294 (5-17).

He was traded to the New York Mets at the start of the 1996 season for Chris Dewitt. He hit .321 at AAA Norfolk with 8 HRs & 81 RBIs, getting him a September call up.

He made his Mets debut on September 8th in Atlanta, playing third base going 0-4. He played at third base & was used as a pinch hitter that month batting only .194 (6-31). He would see action in over 100 games in five straight years while in a Mets uniform, becoming a favorite weapon of Bobby Valentine. Franco would excel in the role of pinch hitter for the Mets through the Bobby Valentine era.

On Opening Day of 1998 he got two at bats in the 14th inning 1-0 Mets win getting one hit against the Phillies. On May 3rd as the Mets went ahead of the Rockies 3-1 with two 9th inning runs, Franco then came up & doubled off Dave Veres, driving in two more runs leading to a 5-2 Mets win.

After gathering two pinch hit RBI doubles in the next two months, he had a game winner on July 23rd. Franco came to bat in the 9th inning of a 5-5 tie in Milwaukee's County Stadium as a pinch hitter. He singled off Chad Fox to put the Mets ahead of the Brewers 6-5, in what was the game winning run. 

A little more than a week later, on August 1st he hit a pinch hit HR in the bottom of the 9th inning off the L.A. Dodgers’ Jeff Shaw to tie the game; that the Mets would win later in the inning. Two weeks later he tied a game in Arizona, with a 7th inning pinch hit single off Bobby Chouinard, in another game the Mets would go on to win. In September he was 3-12 as a pinch hitter. He finished the year batting .276 with 5 HRs 5 doubles 21 RBIs & .330 on base %.

In 1999 Franco helped the Mets get to a wild card berth, by setting an MLB record with 20 pinch hit walks in a single season. On April 17th he got an outfield start & drove in two of the three Met runs with a 3rd inning double off the Montreal Expos Carl Pavano.

On May 25th he hit an 8th inning pinch hit HR against the Pittsburgh Pirates,in a 8-3 Mets victory. A week later on June 2nd in a home game against the Cincinnati Reds, he drove in two runs on a 7th inning pinch hit single bringing the Mets within one run. Unfortunately Armando Benitez would blow the game in the end losing 8-7.

Later in the month he hit a two run HR in Cincinnati while starting a game in the outfield. One of Franco’s biggest Met moments came in a July 1999 interleague Subway Series game at Shea Stadium. In the bottom of the 9th inning with two outs & two strikes Franco drilled a base hit off Mariano Rivera, scoring the tying & winning runs for the walk off 9-8 victory. In August he had more heroics; first in a game against the St Louis Cardinals he walked in the bottom of the 9th inning then scored the winning run on Edgardo Alfonzo’s walk off game winning base hit.

Two days later he kept the Mets on pace, a half a game out of first place, with a walk off pinch hit single at Shea Stadium in a game against the Houston Astros. Franco would finish the year with 15 pinch hits, batting well over .300 in that role.

 In the Mets wild card winning year, Franco hit .235 with 4 HRs 5 doubles 21 RBIs 28 walks & a .366 on base % in 132 at bats in 122 games played. The versatile Franco even pitched in two games, making his first appearance on the mound since the minor leagues. He posted an ERA of over thirteen but did strikeout two batters in 1.1 inning pitched.

Post Season: In the 1999 NLDS against the Arizona Diamondbacks he went 0-1 as a pinch hitter. In the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves he went 1 for 2. In Game #6 at Turner Field, Franco hit a pinch hit double leading off he 7th inning against John Smoltz. He would score on Rickey Henderson's double in the next at bat.

In 2000 Franco continued his pinch hit success driving in runs five different times as a pinch hitter. On April 24th he came to bat as a pinch hitter in the 9th inning, of a scoreless game at Shea Stadium against the Los Angeles Dodgers. With two men on he singled to left field, thrilling the Mets fans with a game winning walk off hit. He struggled early on not hitting over .100 until May 3rd. In May he went 3-10 as a pinch hitter, & by June 3rd was batting over .200.

On July 28th he gave the Mets the go ahead winning run over the Expos, with an 8th inning single off Montreal’s Steve Kline. He was sent down to AAA Norfolk after an injury in August returning for the pennant stretch in September. On September 6th he got a rare start & hit a first inning three run HR against the Reds at Cinergy Field. Five days later he hit another HR in another start against Milwaukee at Shea Stadium.

Overall he saw action 101 games batting .239 with two HRs four doubles 21 walks a .340 on base % & 14 RBIs. He went hitless in the 2000 post season going 0-4 as a pinch hitter.

After being granted free agency in December 2000 he went to play in Japan for the 2001 season. In November 2001 he signed with Atlanta Braves for the 2002 season. There he hit .317 in 81 games. He finished up his career in Atlanta in 2003 after playing in 112 games hitting .246 with 3 HRs & 15 RBIs.



In his eight year MLB career, Franco batted .267 life time with 261 hits 22 HRs 43 doubles 4 triples 117 RBIs & a .395 on base % , with 977 career at bats in 661 games.

Retirement: He went back to Japan playing for Bobby Valentine, on the Chiba Lotte Marines from 2004-2006. In 2007 his name was mentioned for steroid use in the Mitchell Report.

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