John Franco: Italian/ American - Mets Team Hall of Fame Pitcher (Part Two: 1999 - 2012)

1999 Mets Wild Card Season: As the season began John Franco was the Mets main closer. He started out the month of April with eight saves, he allowed just one earned run in 9.1 innings of work, for an ERA of 0.96.

He continued to pitch well through May as he converted his first 14 straight save opportunities, going into early June with an ERA of 1.74.

It wasn't until June 2nd, when he gave up two runs in the 9th inning to the Cincinnati Reds that he blew his first save.

At the start of July, Franco had 19 saves with just the one blown opp. with an 0-2 record. He then suffered a strain on a tendon on the middle finger of his pitching hand& would miss two months of action. Manager Bobby Valentine gave the closers role to Armando Benitez as the Mets went into the pennant & wild card race. 

When Franco returned, he found himself in a new role & had to adjust his mind set as the teams set up man. He went out accepted his new role & advised Benitez in his new role as well. 

The Mets ended of the season tied for the wild card with Franco's old team the Cincinnati Reds. The two squared off in a one game playoff in Cincinnati to determine the winner. Al Leiter pitched a complete game victory as the Mets went on to the NLDS, it was Franco's first post season appearance.

Franco finished the 1999 season at 0-2 with 19 saves & a 2.88 ERA, making 46 appearances. Franco struck out 41 batters 40.2 innings of work while walking 19. Armando Benitez saved 22 games.

Post Season- 1999 NLDS: In the 1999 NLDS against the Arizona Diamondbacks Franco made his first appearance finishing out the Mets 7-1 loss at Arizona. He made another appearance pitching a scoreless 8th inning in Game #3, in the Mets 9-2 win at Shea Stadium.

In the final Game #4, he was the winning pitcher as he pitched a perfect 10th inning before Todd Pratt hit his famous walk off Series winning HR in the bottom of the inning. 

1999 NLCS: Franco appeared in three games of the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves, giving up one run in 2.2 innings pitched, with three strike outs.

In the classic 15 inning Game #5 at Shea Stadium, he came in relief of Pat Mahomes with two on & two out in the top of the 8th inning. He got Keith Lockhart to ground out to end the inning. He then pitched a scoreless 9th inning. The Mets won the game on Robin Ventura's walk off grand slam (single).

In Game #6 at Atlanta the Mets came back from seven runs down. In the 7th inning they scored four runs led by a Mike Piazza two run HR off John Smoltz to tie the game. In the 8th hits by Benny Agbayani & Melvin Mora put the Mets ahead. 

But in the bottom of the 8th, Franco gave up a one out single to Eddie Perez, pinch runner Otis Nixon then stole second. Brian Hunter singled & the Braves tied the game up. Franco later said, this was the biggest disappointment of his career.

The Mets regained the lead in the 10th but Armando Benitez then blew it in the 11th, as the Braves tied it again. They won it in the 11th, when Kenny Rogers walked Andru Jones with the bases loaded.

2000 Mets NL Pennant Season:  This year John Franco turned 40 years old, in the twilight of his career. He was in the setup role once again. 

The season opened up with the Mets playing the Cubs in Tokyo, Franco appeared in both games, pitching scoreless innings. 

On April 14th, he pitched two scoreless relief innings at Pittsburgh, earning his first victory of the year. Melvin Mora singled in the 8th, to break a tie game, followed by Mike Piazza's two run HR.

On May 5th, he earned a save in Florida, closing out the 9th inning of a 4-1 Mets win. He got another save at Shea Stadium on May 17th against the Colorado Rockies. On May 30th, he earned a victory at Dodger Stadium, as he retired Shawn Green with two on to end the 8th inning, in relief of Turk Wendell. Todd Zeile's RBI single was the game winner in the 9th.

On May 22nd, he got his first loss, blowing Glendon Rusch's shut out in the 8th inning at San Diego. The Mets were shut out 1-0 by Matt Clement & Trevor Hoffman. 

In June he took a loss at Wrigley Field after allowing two singles & then a Mets infield error forced the unearned winning run to score. Franco took one more loss that month, but then would not have another losing decision until September 6th.

Thru the summer he earned wins against Pittsburgh, Toronto & Montreal, while not allowing an earned run from all of July & August (19 appearances).

On the year Franco went 5-4 with three saves and twenty holds credited to his record. He appeared in 62 games, the most in his Mets career, finishing off 14 games. He posted a 3.40 ERA striking out 56 batters in 55 innings making him one of the league's best set up men.

Post Season 2000- NLDS: In the 2000 NLDS against the Giants, Franco came in the 10th inning of Game #2 in San Francisco, after Armando Benitez had given up a leadoff single. 

In the top of the inning, Jay Payton had singled home the Mets go ahead run. 

Franco retired the side in order including getting slugger Barry Bonds to go down looking at a third strike. The Mets won the game & evened the series at one game apiece. 

He made one more appearance in the extra inning Mets win in game #3 at Shea Stadium. Once again, he struck out Barry Bonds this time to end the top of the 9th inning. The Mets won it on Agbayani's walk off HR, centerfieldmaz was in attendance for that one.

2000 NLCS: In the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals he made his first appearance in the 8th inning of Game #1 in relief of Mike Hampton.

 Franco got credit for a hold as the Mets won 6-2. 

In Game #2 he gave up two runs in 2/3 of an inning at Shea Stadium. After putting two runners on he allowed a wild pitch & then an RBI double to JD Drew.

He made one more appearance pitching a scoreless 8th inning, in the Mets 10-6 Game #4 win at Shea. 

Overall Franco appeared in three NLCS games allowing two runs on three hits while striking out three in 2.2 innings pitched.

2000 Subway World Series: In the 2000 World Series he made his first World Series appearance in Game #1 pitching a scoreless 8th inning. 

In Game #3 at Shea Stadium, he pitched a scoreless top of the 8th inning leaving the mound with in a 2-2 tie.  In the bottom of the inning Benny Agbayani doubled to score Todd Zeile breaking the tie, putting the Mets ahead. Next Bubba Trammell added an RBI sac fly for a Mets insurance run. The Mets went on to a 4-2 win as John Franco earned his only World Series victory.

He appeared in the next two games as well, finishing off the Game #5 loss at Shea.

Overall Franco appeared in four Series games, allowing no runs on three hits in 3.1 innings of work, getting the win in the only Mets victory. He finished his post season career at 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA appearing in 15 games striking out 10 batters with three walks in 14 innings pitched. 

After the Pennant: In 2001 Franco was named the Captain of the Mets team. He was just the second Mets player to ever be labeled Captain, with Keith Hernandez being the first in 1989.

911: After the 911 tragedies he helped in the relief efforts at Shea Stadium with loading trucks with supplies and reaching out into the community. That year he earned the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award for his volunteer efforts.

The events really hit home for the New Yorker, beyond his own personal ties to the city. His father was a New York Sanitation worker & his uncle was a NY Firefighter. Franco became a high profiled Mets figure once again in helping relief efforts.

The Mets players chose to wear caps donning various New York City agencies, NYPD-FDNY in honor of the fallen & the rescue efforts, when play resumed. At first the league was against it, but the team refused to back down & got their way.

In the first game played after the September 11th tragedies, Franco was the winning pitcher at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. In the top of the 9th inning Rey Ordonez singled in a run & Mark Johnson drove in two more runs with a double. 

Piazza 911 HR Game: On September 21st, in the first game played back in New York City after 911, Franco came in the 8th inning against the Atlanta Braves. 

He got the first two outs but then surrendered a walk to Julio Franco & a hit to Chipper Jones. Bobby Valentine came to the mound & relieved Franco with Armando Benitez. Benitez allowed a double to Brian Jordan, breaking the tie, putting Atlanta ahead. 

But in the bottom of the inning, Mike Piazza blasted one the most exciting HRs in New York history, putting the Mets ahead for the emotional win.

On the season, he recorded a 4.05 ERA going 6-2 and with two saves. He pitched 53 innings in 58 appearances striking out 50 batters although he walked 19 & gave up 55 hits. 

: In the 
off-season Franco had surgery to remove calcium deposits on his elbow.  He suffered a series of setbacks & then it seemed his career was over when he had to get Tommy John surgery. He missed the entire season but was determined to come back & not end his career in injury.

2003: On May 30th, 2003, at age 42, John Franco returned to the mound at Shea Stadium pitching one inning relief against the Atlanta Braves. 

He blew a save in the June subway series giving up a HR to Hideaki Matsui. He earned two losses in mid-July, before getting a winning or save decision. Then on July 21st, he earned a save at Philadelphia pitching a scoreless 9th against the Phillies. He would earn one more save on August 24th & get credit for four holds in the Mets dismal fourth place finish.

He made 38 appearances on the year, posting a 2.62 ERA while going 0-3 with a 2.62 ERA.

2004: Franco hung on as long as he could pitching his final season with Mets in 2004. After falling to 0-3 he was credited a win against the Reds at Shea on June 22nd. 

He earned his last Mets win in the July 3rd subway series game at Shea Stadium. He came on with two outs of a tied game in the 9th inning. Although he loaded the bases, he struck out Jorge Posada looking for the final out. The Mets Shane Spencer drove in the winning run on a fielder’s choice scoring Kaz Matsui in the bottom of the 9th. 

From there he dropped his last three decisions & only appeared in seven games over the final two months of the season. He pitched the 8th inning on the final day of the regular season. In 2004 Franco went 2-7 with 11 holds on the year, posting a 5.28 ERA in 56 appearances for the fourth place team.

Mets Career Stats: His 15-year Mets career ended on November 1st, 2004 when he was granted free agency. Franco is the clubs' all-time saves leader with 276. He is first in Mets pitching appearances (695) & 18th on the Mets all-time list with 48 wins.

Franco pitched 702 innings, going 48-56 record, with 592 strikeouts. He posted a 3.10 Mets career ERA. He posted ERAs under two twice with the Mets (1992 & 1996) & ERAs under three, nine different times. 

Post Mets Career: In 2005 he signed with the Houston Astros appearing in in 31 games, retiring at the end of the season at age 45.

Career Stats: John Franco is the all-time left-handed MLB save leader (424) & is fifth all time overall. His is first among National League pitchers all time in appearances (1119) & is third in the majors all time behind former Mets Jesse Orosco & Mike Stanton.

In his 21-year career Franco went 90-87 with 975 strikeouts & 495 walks in 1245 innings pitched finishing off 774 games (4th all time) posting an overall 2.89 ERA.

Honors: On June 12th, 2012, he was inducted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame at Citi Field. In attendance was his family, friends & many old pals from his St. John's days. Former Mets players included Al Leiter who did the introduction, Frank Viola, Daryl Strawberry & Dwight Gooden.

Quotes- John Franco: “For those 14 years that I played here, I gave it my best, it wasn’t always easy, and I’m sure I kept a lot of you on the edge of your seats. But I had it under control all the time.” 

Franco is a member of the Italian American Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the St. Johns University Athletics Hall of Fame & the Staten Island Hall of Fame. He was pitching coach for Team Italia in the 2006 WBC.

John was on hand for Bob Murphy Night, Ralph Kiner Night & Mike Piazza Night at Shea Stadium. He attended the closing ceremonies of Shea Stadium in 2008 as well.

In March of 2009 he had the honor of throwing out the first pitch at the first game ever played at the new Citi Field. 
It was a college game between his old St. Johns school & Georgetown University. 

Franco was on hand for festivities around the 2013 All Star Game held at Citi Field. 

Franco is still involved in many New York areas charities & appears at many Mets celebrity functions. He has served as a Mets Ambassador, as well as having done some TV & radio work for the team. He is also involved in various youth baseball leagues & events.

Family: Franco has been married to his high school sweetheart Rose for many years. They have known each other since they were 17 years old. They have three children, daughters Ella & Nicole & a son J.J.

His son J.J. Franco attended Brown University where he was an infielder. He was also drafted by the New York Mets out of high school.

Cooperstown: For some reason he has not been inducted for the Baseball Hall of Fame.


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