Let’s take a step back in time, to 2004 -- during the Braves’ dynastic reign over the National League East. The Braves won 14 consecutive division titles from 1991-2005, the longest such streak in the four major North American sports. The 2004 squad would win the division yet again, the 13th in a row, but fell to the Astros in five games in the NL Division Series.
The rival Mets, who won the division in 2006 to halt Atlanta’s streak, were in the midst of a slightly different run. They’d been in the 2000 World Series, as a Wild Card, but had finished above .500 just five times since the Braves’ streak began. The 2004 season would be another one below .500, as the Mets finished 71-91 (.438).
But early on in any season, it feels like anything is possible. Entering April 7, 2004, both the Mets and Braves had played just one game -- against each other, on Opening Day, when the Mets won, 7-2, behind a solid outing from former Atlanta ace Tom Glavine.
Game 2 of 162 that year pitted Steve Trachsel for the Mets against Mike Hampton for the Braves. Hampton, of course, had been a Met in 2000 before leaving in free agency for the Rockies, who eventually traded him to the Marlins, who sent him to Atlanta before the 2003 season. Pitching wouldn’t be the story, though, as the game would feature an 11-run fourth inning rally by the Braves in a come-from-behind 18-10 win.
Those 11 runs were two shy of tying the Braves' record for runs in an inning. The Braves haven't even had a double-digit-run inning since. There's a lot to dig into here. Let’s take a look at today’s box score of the day:
Player of the game: Mike Piazza, C, Mets
His team didn’t win the game, but Mike Piazza had the best offensive effort of any individual player. He was 5-for-5 with a double, two homers and four RBIs. It was one of two five-hit games in his career, and the only one where he was 5-for-5 or better -- he’d gone 5-for-7 on April 14, 2000, against the Pirates. It was one of 12 games in Piazza’s career where he had at least three extra-base hits. Of those, 11 came while playing catcher, tied for the second-most such games by any player as catcher on record.
His homer in the first inning staked the Mets to a 2-0 lead, which would grow to 3-0 when the next batter, Mike Cameron, hit a home run. In the top of the second, Piazza’s RBI single gave the Mets a 5-0 cushion. His second homer came in the seventh, but that merely narrowed the Braves’ lead from 14-6 to 14-7.
2004 would end up being the second-to-last year of Piazza’s Mets career and fourth-to-last year of his career overall. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016 wearing a Mets cap on his plaque.
Remember him? Julio Franco, PH, Braves
Julio Franco’s career was quite memorable, beginning in 1982 at 23 years old and ending in 2007, at the ripe age of 49. Along the way, Franco set numerous records for players of an advanced age -- including being the oldest player with a pinch-hit home run, multi-homer game, and simply to homer in a Major League game at all. Thus, it should come as little surprise that in 2004, as a 45-year-old on the Braves, he was not done yet.
He pinch-hit for Hampton in the big fourth inning, getting two singles and knocking in three of the 11 runs. Franco went on to play 125 games in 2004 and 108 in ’05, then spent ’06 and part of ’07 with the Mets. When the Mets released him in July 2007, Atlanta signed Franco three days later, and that’s where he finished his career.
He wore THAT uniform? J.D. Drew, RF, Braves
Many people associate J.D. Drew with the Red Sox, the team with which he signed a $70 million contract. Others might remember him for his tenure with the Cardinals, the team that selected him fifth overall in the 1998 MLB Draft. There are memories of his time with the Dodgers, too, the team he played for in the two seasons prior to earning his big contract with Boston.
But he also played a season for the Braves, in 2004. The Cardinals traded him there in December 2003, in a five-player deal that sent Adam Wainwright to St. Louis -- bringing in a pitcher who’s become a franchise staple.
Drew’s season in Atlanta was the only time in his career that he received MVP Award votes, finishing sixth in a season where he put up 8.3 WAR ... and Barry Bonds had 10.6. That WAR total was actually the highest of Drew’s career -- his next-best was 5.5 WAR in 2001 for the Cardinals.
Before he was big: Adam LaRoche, 1B, Braves
Adam LaRoche made his Major League debut in this game, as a 24-year-old rookie. It was certainly a debut worth remembering. In the Braves’ pivotal fourth inning, LaRoche notched not just his first Major League hit, but his second, too. As the second batter in the inning, he hit a single to keep the inning going with none out against Trachsel. Later in the inning, he came up with runners on first and second against Grant Roberts and knocked a two-run double.
LaRoche is one of eight players to debut in the Expansion Era (since 1961) to get his first two hits in the same inning of the same game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Two players have done it since LaRoche -- Aramis Garcia for the Giants on Aug. 31, 2018, and Derek Fisher for the Astros, on June 14, 2017.
LaRoche went on to have a 12-year career for the Braves, Pirates, Red Sox, D-backs, Nationals and White Sox, amassing 255 homers in 1,605 games.
Last call: John Franco, RP, Mets
John Franco pitched a scoreless sixth for the Mets when it was already 14-6, facing four batters. The 2004 season would end up being the second-to-last of his career for the left-hander, with his final game coming on July 1, 2005, at 44 years old.
Franco first rose to prominence in the mid-1980s with the Reds, making the All-Star team for the first time in 1986. The Reds traded him to the Mets in December 1989 in a deal for Kip Gross and Randy Myers, and a hometown hero’s legend gained a chapter. Franco grew up in Brooklyn and played college baseball at St. John’s in Queens. He’d go on to rack up 276 saves for the Mets, by far the most in club history.
Franco’s 424 career saves ranked second in history since saves became an official stat in 1969 at the time of his final Major League game, and now rank fifth.