The Cubs and Mets made baseball history in March of 2000 playing a two-game series in Tokyo, Japan. It marked the first time major league baseball opened the season outside of North America.
It was a homecoming of sorts for Mets manager Bobby Valentine, who had previously skippered the Chiba Lotte Marines in 1995 (he would later return to manage the Marines from 2004-2009).
Mike Piazza was the other star attraction for the Mets, but both Metropolitans paled in comparison to the excitement surrounding the arrival of Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa.
Sosa, like Valentine, was also making a return visit to Japan. He had previously headlined an MLB All-Star cast that toured Japan following the 1998 season–when Sosa was fresh off his thrilling home run chase with Mark McGwire.
Sosa’s glowing smile was plastered on posters that covered Tokyo hyping the series on subway signs and store front windows.
After an 18-hour flight from spring training in Mesa, Arizona, the Cubs settled in for two exhibition games against the Tokyo Giants and Seibu Lions. Then it was time to face the Mets on March 29.
Game 1 | March 29, 2000
The Cubs played Game 1 as the visiting team in front of a capacity crowd of 55,000 at the Tokyo Dome.
Manager Don Baylor, in his first season in Chicago, tabbed Jon Lieber as the opening starter against Mets ace Mike Hampton.
Hampton, a 27-year-old left-hander, was one of the major’s top starting pitchers. Following a brilliant (22-4) season with Houston in 1999, he was traded to the Mets in December with Derek Bell for Kyle Kessel and Tim Spooneybarger.
But it was Lieber who stole the show tossing seven innings of one-run baseball while Hampton lasted just five innings allowing two-runs.
Chicago drew first blood in the first inning. Leadoff hitter Eric Young walked and scored two batters later on Damon Buford’s single to right field.
The Mets tied the score 1-1 in the bottom of the third on Darryl Hamilton’s sacrifice fly scoring Rey Ordonez.
Two innings later it was the Cubs turn again. Third baseman Shane Andrews drew a bases loaded walk giving the Cubs a 2-1 lead.
As Lieber held the Mets at bay through seven innings, Andrews struck again delivering a two-run homer off Dennis Cook scoring Sosa, who singled leading off the inning, pushing the Cubs lead to 4-1.
It quickly became 5-1 an inning later when Mark Grace lined a home run off Rich Rodriguez.
But the Mets countered again in the bottom half of the eighth. Brian Williams, on in relief of Lieber, walked Edgardo Alfonzo before serving up a two-run bomb to Piazza cutting the Cubs lead to 5-3.
Williams escaped the inning without further damaged as Baylor turned to closer Rick Aguilera in the ninth.
Jon Nunnally singled with one out bringing the tying run to the plate, but Aguliera posted consecutive strikeouts against Rickey Henderson & Matt Franco to preserve a 5-3 win for Chicago.
Game 2 | March 30, 2000
Chicago became the home team for Game 2 with a young Kyle Farnsworth starting against New York’s seasoned veteran Rick Reed.
The Mets scratched across the game’s first run in the fifth inning on a sac fly by Rickey Henderson scoring Todd Zeile.
The Cubs responded in the bottom half with an unearned run on Eric Young’s double play grounder to score Joe Girardi.
That’s where the score remained through nine innings, tied 1-1.
Chicago, however, appeared poised for the win as the game entered the bottom of the tenth.
Pinch-hitter Jeff Reed open the inning with a walk against Turk Wendell. Young followed with a sac bunt advancing Reed to second base.
Damon Buford, however, pop-out behind home plate for the second out, but the Cubs still had the winning run in scoring position.
On in relief of Wendall came Dennis Cook. He intentionally walked the dangerous Sosa, but then unintentionally walked Mark Grace to load the bases.
Catcher Henry Rodriguez stepped to the plate with the chance to be the hero–but turned into the goat taking a called third strike to end the threat and the inning.
New York capitalized on the Cubs misfortune in their next at-bat.
Cubs reliever Danny Young got the first two outs in the top of the eleventh, but the Mets managed to load the bases against him thanks to Zeile’s singled to center field and consecutive walks to Ordonez & Melvin Mora.
With the pitcher’s spot due up next Bobby Valentine went to his bench for pinch-hitter Benny Agbayani.
The pudgy Hawaiian delivered a lethal blow creaming Young’s 1-0 offering over the fence for a grand slam. Mets 5, Cubs 1.
Flame-throwing closer Armando Benitez set the Cubs down 1-2-3 in the bottom half of the inning giving New York a spit of the two game series.
Back In The States
Despite a close series in Japan, the Cubs and Mets headed in vastly different direction after returning stateside.
New York won 88-games and advanced to the World Series before eventually falling against the rival Yankees four games to one.
Chicago, meanwhile, lost five of its first six games back in the States and slumped through a 9-16 record in April.
The Cubs losing ways mercifully ended following an embarrassing 6-22 record in September. Chicago sank to a 65-97 mark to finish the season–30-games behind first place St. Louis.
Outside the history making series in Japan, the rest of the campaign was far from memorable for Cubs fans, including the offseason departures of free agent Mark Grace to Arizona and the trade of pitching prospect Dontrelle Willis to Florida.