Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy Mets Year!

From The Ballclub, a Happy New Year to Mets fans everywhere!

Here's hoping the above scene is one oft-repeated in 2008.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Historical Perspective

I don't write much about Football here, or in general, although I am an avid fan. Perhaps it is because my particular allegiance involves some explanation.

As a child, the first football game I ever watched was Super Bowl XIX, a matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and the Miami Dolphins, a matchup of a pair of legendary Quarterbacks, Joe Montana and Dan Marino.

The 49ers, behind Montana, were able to frustrate Marino and take apart the Dolphins consistently throughout the game, cruising to an easy 38-16 victory.

Despite being a native New Yorker, and never having been to San Francisco, I have been a die hard 49ers fan since that day.

I've remained loyal even though the past few seasons have been alternately trying and embarrassing, but I am able to take solace in five Super Bowl titles in 15 seasons between 1981 and 1994.

But moreso than just the victories, there was always something symphonic about watching the 49ers play in those years. Montana in particular was always a joy to watch, because it all just seemed to come so easy to him. It's easy to become spoiled by this, but with Montana, and later, Steve Young, you never really felt like you were out of a game. Working within offensive systems that played specifically to their strengths, Montana and Young were able to operate with frightening efficiency for several seasons, simply because their skills, and the superior talent around them, were always able to overwhelm the opposition.

The 49ers were 15-1 in the 1984 regular season, and ran the table to that Super Bowl XIX victory. Their only blemish a 20-17 loss to the Steelers in Week 7 of that season. They were the first team to win 15 games in an NFL season since the 16-game schedule was adopted in 1978. Other sterling seasons of 14-2 and 13-3 also led to Championships (1989, 1994), but other seasons in which the team did as well ended with playoff losses (1990, 1992, 1997).

There have been three other occurrences of 15-1 teams in the NFL. The 1985 Chicago Bears lost a notable Monday Night game to the Miami Dolphins after starting out 12-0. They would continue to romp on to a victory in Super Bowl XX.

The 1998 Minnesota Vikings lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers early in the season, but set scoring records and appeared poised to cruise into Super Bowl XXXIII. Until a missed Gary Anderson Field Goal late in the 4th Quarter of the NFC Championship game allowed the upstart Atlanta Falcons to tie, and eventually win in an astounding overtime upset.

The 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers lost their second game of the season to the Baltimore Ravens, and lost their starting Quarterback, Tommy Maddox, in the process. In his stead, Rookie Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to 14 straight victories in the Regular season and another in the Divisional Playoffs. Then, they were promptly buzzsawed by a superior New England Patriots team in the AFC Championship Game.

The point being, Regular Season success is often fleeting. And even the most successful teams can often fall short if the stars align against them.

I'll be rooting for the New England Patriots tomorrow night against the New York Giants to complete their quest for an undefeated regular season, and I'll be rooting for them in the playoffs to run the table straight through to Super Bowl XLII.

Part of my reasoning is simply to be contrary; it seems, especially here in New York, that everyone hates the Patriots, hates Brady, hates Belichick, thinks they cheated, etc, etc. I'm not particularly interested. I've always been a fan of Brady. I don't care about the off-the-field exploits. Hell, he's no more overexposed than Peyton Manning, and he's not half as overbearing. Brady, on the field, has always exuded that killer instinct. That he knows he may not possess the best skills, but he's got the best skills in his system, and he can use that to his advantage. He's always given me the feeling that the Patriots were never out of any game so long as he was on the field.

Sort of like Joe Montana.

Moreover, as I've mentioned, success is often fleeting. And who the hell remembers or even cares about the 2004 Steelers or 1998 Vikings? Who even knows about the one game the 49ers lost in '84 or the Bears in '85?

There has only been one perfect season in NFL History, of course, the 1972 Miami Dolphins. We've got a chance to see History unfold over the next month with the Patriots, in a time when the game is vastly different than it was the last time something like this happened.

The Patriots have already done something nobody's accomplished by winning their first 15 games. From a Historical perspective, I cannot help but root for them to run the table the rest of the way.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

20 Days in October, Part VIII

...Continued from Part VII
Parts I - VII

Monday, October 18
Atlanta would have made the trip regardless.

The Mets are happy to be coming back.

Both teams are headed South, back to Atlanta, for a most improbable 6th game of the NLCS. Somehow, the Mets have pulled together to make this trip necessary. It's hardly been a pleasure cruise for the Mets, between the sniping between players, the injuries and the question of whether or not their manager will even be back after the season.

But then again, this season has gone on a hell of a lot longer than anyone expected. With the Mets coming back from the dead over and over again, the Mets are beginning to garner National attention. They've put all the pressure on Atlanta to finally put them away like they're supposed to. But Valentine believes the pressure still lies with the Mets. Both sides are correct. For the Braves, coming in with Kevin Millwood, who has been simply dominant over the last few months, and who was solid in his Game 2 victory, the edge lies decidedly with them. But for the Mets, they still have to win to stay alive, in a stadium where they haven't been able to. And their starter in Game 6, Al Leiter, who was seen warming up during the 14th inning Sunday night, is now scheduled to take the start on 3 days' rest, something he's not accustomed to doing, but a challenge he'll readily accept.

Meanwhile, questions remain on both sides. Why didn't Cox go to Kevin Millwood in the 15th inning on Sunday? What's the story with Mike Piazza? Is he well enough to go tomorrow? How will Leiter respond to what will certainly be his biggest start as a Met on short rest? Will John Rocker ever keep his mouth shut?

It's mostly lost to me, but in the other league, the Yankees very quickly and very quietly wiped out the Red Sox in 5 games in the ALCS. If there was any more incentive for the Mets make history, here it is. Beat the Braves, come back for a Subway Series.

This series has delivered a lot of different angles, from both sides. So far, the only thing that has been resolved by this series is that the teams continue to speak highly of each other on the surface, but continue to have a mutual underlying dislike.

It's all about to come crashing together once again in a battle for the ages.

Tuesday, October 19
Game 6

Baseball is a game of context. A game of building and then sustained tension. The New York Mets have lived an October on the edge. Four agonizingly close playoff games with the favored Atlanta Braves left them down 3-1 and facing elimination for the second day in a row. In Game 5, after 14 1/2 taut innings, they had again been pushed to the brink.

'Costas: (over shot of the Mets dugout) The Mets are down to what could be their last 3 outs of a memorable season...(Cut to Shawon Dunston) Rolled toward the middle, Base Hit! A trememdous at bat by Shawon Dunston!...(Cut to Todd Pratt) The 3-1...Ball 4! Game Tied!

Morgan: The Mets will not die.

Costas: (Cut to Ventura) Now Ventura, still looking to bust loose in the Playoffs...A drive to right! Back to Georgia! What a scene at Shea!'

The longest Playoff game in Baseball History shortened the distance between the Mets and the most improbable comeback in Baseball History. Game 6, next.

-Bob Costas

After several games where NBC's opening montage slanted decidedly towards the Atlanta Braves, now the Mets were the ones getting all the attention as the series returns to Atlanta. This montage featured clips culled entirely from the bottom of the 15th inning on Sunday night, culminating with Robin Ventura's already legendary Grand Slam Single.

With the series now 3-2 Atlanta, there is more of a sense of urgency. For the first time in the Postseason, Turner Field is sold out. But the crowd of 52,335 is not jammed with Braves fans ready to chop into the night. There are many Mets fans who have made the trip south for this game, including a classmate of mine, who drove overnight from Binghamton to Atlanta.

Turner Field has always been a house of horrors for the Mets, ever since it opened in 1997. It looks dark and forbidding on TV, as Bob Costas and Joe Morgan sign on. After dressing in an odd variety of shirts and jackets, both Costas and Morgan are dressed seriously tonight. No more joking around. This series is for real.

Costas and Morgan go over the pitching matchups. Costas notes that Leiter "has been in a great groove of late." Morgan says that there are two questions concerning Leiter. "Does he have good stuff, and how long can he go?" With the day off on Monday, the Mets bullpen, which was spent by the end of Sunday's game, is somewhat refreshed. They'll also have Masato Yoshii and, once again, Kenny Rogers out there should the game require them.

On the other side, Costas and Morgan go over why Kevin Millwood didn't appear in the 15th inning on Sunday. He could have closed, but then, if he didn't, and had to pitch to the conclusion, he wouldn't be able to pitch tonight, forcing Cox to use Glavine tonight, and potentially Smoltz tomorrow, both on short rest. Plus, with the luxury of being able to give a loss, and with the condition of the field, Cox did not think it prudent to run Millwood out there. So, he gives up Game 5, and focuses on Game 6 tonight, with Millwood on full rest.

Meanwhile, Jim Gray is underneath the Stadium with John Rocker. Rocker crashed his car yesterday. Unfortunately, he's OK. He's still smug as always, and he blamed the other driver involved in the crash. His car is pretty messed up. But he says it looks a lot worse than it actually was. Too bad he didn't break his jaw or something.

Craig Sager is with Mike Piazza on the Mets bench. Piazza still looks like death. He speaks slowly. He has a forearm bruise from his collision with Lockhart on Sunday, among other things. He says "It's still sore. It was sore in BP. It feels good now, and I'm gonna go for it tonight. But if I can't, Todd's done a great job, so we'll be in good hands. I don't like being banged up. I'm gonna go out and do the best I can. I'm not using that as an excuse. I'm just gonna go out and hopefully we can get a timely hit and take it to a seventh game."

Sager asks Mike if he feels cheated because his injuries have not allowed him to perform at his peak in the Playoffs. Mike responds, "I just regret that I came in here running on fumes. I wouldn't give this up for anything."

Costas states that "If the Mets make the World Series, Piazza should get a Ring and a Purple Heart."

Following the interviews, we move quickly to the start. The Mets lineup is largely similar to Game 5. Alfonzo hitting 2nd, Olerud 3rd, Darryl Hamilton starts in CF. Cedeno is back in Right against Kevin Millwood, who pitched well in Game 2, and finished the season red hot. There are loud boos for Rickey as he steps in against Millwood. Costas talks about Rickey's lack of production this series, as Millwood quickly gets ahead. With 2 strikes, Turner Field is loud. Louder than it had been at any point in the first 2 games. But Rickey reaches for one and pokes a single to right, in front of Brian Jordan. Alfonzo bats, and there is an audible "LET'S GO METS!" chant as he steps to the plate. It was Alfonzo's sacrifice in the 15th on Sunday that really set up the inning for the Mets. Costas and Morgan note this, even though the play itself was largely overlooked. Fonzie hits the ball well, but right at Jordan for the first out.

For the Mets, Cookie Rojas is back as the 3rd base coach, following his 5 game suspension after his blowup in the NLDS. This helps, as the Mets are more familiar with Rojas giving signs, as opposed to Bruce Benedict, who had replaced him there. Benedict is back on the bench.

John Olerud is next, and he hits a fly ball to center that dies. The ball carries well down the lines at Turner Field, but not to Center Field. Andruw Jones catches it easily. Piazza follows. Knee, thumb, hand, forearm, concussion, and he's still in the lineup, and batting 4th. Rickey's not running. Millwood has been able to keep him close at 1st, and he has been pitching from a slidestep. Rickey doesn't seem able to time him well. Another "LETS GO METS!" chant breaks out. Piazza looks pained on every swing. Costas says that Piazza will not talk about his condition unless asked. He says he feels a tingling in his hands at times. His bat looks slow and if this were the regular season, he would not be in. Rickey runs on a 1-2 pitch, but Piazza strikes out.

And this would be the last normal moment in the ballgame.

Back for the bottom of the 1st. The only change in Atlanta's lineup is Brian Hunter starting at first instead of Klesko, against the lefty Leiter. A sign in stands reads "That's Mr. Larry to you!" The signs at Shea were much more imaginative. Nobody in Atlanta seems to have much of a sense of humor. On the mound, Leiter needs to get off to a good start. He relies on his cutter inside, his trademark. The bat breaker. But if the Braves lay off it, he could fall behind hitters and get in trouble. The Braves swung at a lot of bad balls from him in Game 3. He only lost on that damned unearned run, when neither he nor Piazza could make a play in the 1st. Tomahawk chop as Gerald Williams leads off and takes the first pitch inside. On the 1-1 pitch, Williams is hit by the pitch. Great start. It was a breaking ball, it tailed down and in and hit him on the right foot. Williams hops out of the box and walks down to first. Boone follows. He takes the first pitch inside. Atlanta batters are clearly taking all the way against Leiter early. That can't be good. Williams attempts to get Leiter to balk. He dances back and forth at first. Once again, Costas reminds us that Leiter's pickoff move isn't nearly as good as Rogers'. On 2-0, Boone takes a strike. Nobody's swinging here. At all. 2 more balls outside and Boone is on. 8 pitches by Leiter, 0 swings by the Braves. Not good. The crowd is getting louder and here's Larry. Not Hello Larry in Atlanta. Now, it's Chipper the beloved. Valentine won't wait long to go to his bullpen. He can't afford to. The first pitch is low inside, as the runners go. Piazza's throw to 3rd is low and off to the side. It bounces off Ventura's glove, into foul territory, Williams hops up and scores easily. Boone holds second. Just like Game 3. Fucking hell. Another run off an error. The fans are chopping away. It's about to get worse. Next pitch, Larry is hit on the right knee. What the fuck!?! The cutter tailed inside and got him, almost in the same place Williams was hit. This is a debacle already. Someone needs to talk to Leiter or someone has to get up in the bullpen. Finally, Dave Wallace comes out. The entire infield is at the mound. Pat Mahomes is frantically warming up. Costas notes that this isn't like the old days, when pitchers were expected to go on 3 days' rest. 10 pitches by Leiter, 0 swings from the Braves. Jordan up. On the 1-0, Jordan grounds the ball foul. 12 pitches from Leiter before the Braves swung at one. Leiter gets to 1-2 on Jordan, but Jordan then singles under Ventura's glove. Boone scores. 2-0 Braves. Andruw Jones is next. He's taking the first pitch also. He swings wildly on 1-0. If Leiter can make him swing at bad pitches, maybe it'll be OK. He chops the 1-1 pitch back to Leiter. Leiter spins for 2nd, but he throws wide and pulls Alfonzo off the bag. Jordan slides in, but even with a good throw, he would have been safe. Morgan says this was bad communication between Piazza and Leiter. Leiter should have gone to 1st for the sure out. His throw was immediate, but Jordan is already at 2nd, and he slides right into Alfonzo. It's a fielders' choice, no error on Leiter. Still no outs. This is starting out like a more horrible version of Game 3. Now, the bases are loaded, and Eddie Perez is up. He's only hitting .471 in the series. Leiter gets ahead of Perez, but he cannot put him away. Annoyingly, Perez is fouling everything off. Finally on the 8th pitch of the at bat, Perez lines a clean single over Alfonzo's head, into center field. Oh Fucking Shit. Jones and Jordan both score easily. Perez and his fucking hideous mole are on first. The crowd is chopping and cheering and I want to vomit. This inning is now officially a total fucking disaster. Leiter has thrown 25 pitches, gotten 0 outs, given up 2 hits, hit 2 batters, there's 4 runs home, and that is it.

"Pitching on 3 days rest, and now may have all fall and winter to rest," is the only thing Costas can say as Leiter is removed. Leiter slumps off the field and tosses his glove on the bench. Stunning. No team has scored more than 4 runs in a game in this series, and Atlanta has now scored 4 in this inning, with 0 outs, and Andruw on 3rd.

Pat Mahomes takes over and gets Hunter to fly out on the 1st pitch. Hamilton catches it in medium deep CF, but it's easily deep enough to score Jones. 5-0 Atlanta. Oh my God. They're even scoring on outs. They made Leiter work, they took pitches, and they turned this game into a romp. Dammit. Right now, I'm seething. I hate the Braves. Fuck Atlanta. Fuck Larry. Fuck Rocker. I hate all of the South. Jordan, Andruw and Williams are laughing on the bench. Just to turn that knife a little more, Costas reminds us that Millwood hasn't allowed more than 2 runs in a start in over 2 months. Mercifully, Weiss grounds to Alfonzo, and the Mets turn a 4-6-3 DP to end the inning. I don't know if this inning could have possibly gone any worse.

Then again, the Mets haven't rolled over and died yet, and they could have done so very easily on Saturday and Sunday. Can they pull off another comeback? It's a longshot, but there's a lot of game left to be played.

Boy, is there ever a lot of game left.

"What a difference between Robin Ventura's last at bat and this one," says Costas as the top of the 2nd begins. Ventura's last AB, of course, ended the game on Sunday. The Mets do make Millwood work somewhat. Millwood seems to be a little wild, but he's throwing strikes when he needs to. He falls behind Ventura 3-1, but gets him to pop out. In the Mets dugout, Craig Sager has spoken to Leiter. Apparently, Leiter confirmed when he came off the mound that he could not throw any of his pitches for strikes. "He is a tremendous competitor, but tonight is perhaps the greatest disappointment of his career," Costas adds. Witn 1 out, Hamilton singles, but Cedeno and Ordonez both ground out. Still, Millwood doesn't look his sharpest, and perhaps the Mets can wait him out. With 2 outs, Masato Yoshii is warming in the bullpen. Valentine worked his pitchers to the max in Game 5, and he seems prepared to do so again tonight.

Mahomes hums right along in the bottom of the 2nd. He retires Atlanta 1-2-3. But will he stay in the game? According to Sager, Dunston will bat for Mahomes in the 3rd.

Meanwhile, Costas and Morgan give us the following bit of information: In Game 4, Atlanta did not strand any runners on base. In Game 5, they stranded 19. Bobby Cox says this shows you that there are many ways to lose. Mahomes strikes Boone to end the 2nd, and appears to be done for the night.

But it's not Dunston in the top of the 3rd. Mahomes bats for himself. Valentine changed his mind at the last minute. If Mahomes can remain effective, it's not a bad idea. You have to keep the Braves where they are, and chip away. Morgan says that the Mets need to break the game into 3's. 123, 456, 789. Get 1 run here, 1 run there, chip away at the lead, and go from there. Costas says that the Mets came back from 6 runs this season in Philadelphia. That was their largest comeback of the season. On the other side, the Braves blew a 5-0 lead in Philadelphia. Leiter started the game where the Mets came back. Millwood started the game Atlanta blew. Perhaps a coincidence? But the Mets can't get anything going. Mahomes strikes out looking. Henderson grounds out. Alfonzo flies out on a 3-1 pitch.

NBC's cameras show that Brian Jordan has a bloody knee from his slide in the 1st. The trainers can't stop the bleeding. Good for him. Jackass. Larry singles to lead off the last of the 3rd. He's running with Jordan up, but Jordan fouls off some pitches. The Braves, obviously, would like to tack on more runs. The Mets absolutely have to keep Atlanta where they are. Turk Wendell is now warming up for the Mets. On 1-2, Larry runs again, but Jordan protects him and chops the ball to the right side. Ordonez was running to cover 2nd, but when the ball is hit, he cuts in front of Alfonzo on the right side of 2nd base, and throws Jordan out. Andruw follows. On 0-1, Larry breaks for 3rd. Piazza's throw is there, but it's low and in front of the base, and Larry slides in safely. Now, the Mets have to bring the infield in. Piazza looks disgusted. Fortunately, Andruw can only chop to the right side, Alfonzo looks Larry back to 3rd and throws out Andruw. Huge out. Perez grounds out to Ordonez on the next pitch, and the Braves are turned aside.

Meanwhile, the Mets can't do anything against Millwood. In the 4th, Olerud starts off by striking out on 3 pitches. With Piazza coming to the plate, NBC shows a montage of him getting knocked around in the 3 games in New York. Costas jokes that if something happened to Pratt, the Mets would have to re-activate Jesse Gonder and Choo Choo Coleman. Piazza is sawed off and busts his ass to 1st, but is thrown out by Hunter. Ventura flies out on the 1st pitch.

Mahomes walks Hunter to start the last of the 4th. Once again, it's up to Mahomes to stifle a Brave rally. The Mets pitch out on the first pitch to Weiss. Hunter is running, Piazza's throw is good, but Hunter is safe anyway. Ordonez thought he had him. He slaps his glove against his leg and yells to the umpire, Jeff Kellogg. Weiss grounds to Ordonez, behind the 2B bag. Hunter runs on contact and moves to 3rd. Once again, the Mets have to bring the infield in, even with Millwood up. Wallace runs out to the mound, to try to plan for a potential squeeze play. To this point, Mahomes has retired 9 of 11 batters. He's been outstanding. More importantly, he's kept the Braves from extending their lead. And here, he gets Millwood to break his bat and hit a soft liner right back at him. Hunter broke from 3rd on contact, and is easily doubled off 3rd. Once again, the Braves are turned away.

If the Mets get a man on in the 5th, Mahomes' spot would be up, and Valentine would probably have to pinch hit for him here. Mahomes has done his job and then some. Hamilton leads off with a clean single to center on a curveball. It's not a good curve from Millwood. It hung up over the middle of the plate and Hamilton whacked it for his 2nd hit of the night. But Cedeno flies out and Ordonez strikes out. Ordonez has been basically an automatic out in the postseason. He is 1 for 21 in this series, and has failed miserably on several bunt attempts. Bonilla pinch hits for Mahomes, with the hopes that he can get a hold of one and cut into the lead. Wendell is warming up again. Bonilla hits a sharp single to right on the first pitch, and now, finally, a viable threat from the Mets. Now, it's Rickey, with a hit sorely needed. It's gotta be Rickey Henderson time now. But just as he has done throughout the game, Millwood has not looked sharp until he has absolutely had to. After barely missing on 0-2, he comes back on 1-2 and freezes Rickey with a curve to stop the rally. It's a pretty pitch, the exact opposite of the hideous curve he threw Hamilton. Still 5-0.
The Mets are now officially running out of time.

Wendell enters the game in the bottom of the 5th, but let's not forget the outstanding job by Mahomes. He stopped the Braves where they were and has kept the game at 5-0. Much like Hershiser was able to do on Sunday. But the Mets, although outhitting Atlanta 4-3, have not come up with the key hit and have not cut into the Braves lead. Wendell continues the strong bullpen work from the Mets with a 1-2-3 inning.

Smoltz and Maddux are grinning and laughing in the Atlanta bullpen. But it's the Mets who come out firing in the top of the 6th. Alfonzo works Millwood before ripping a long double in the Left Center Field gap on the 6th pitch. That's Fonzie's first good hit since Game 2. Olerud follows by working Millwood as well before bouncing a single just under Weiss' glove, again on the 6th pitch of the AB. Alfonzo moves to 3rd. Now, it's Piazza, in a spot where the Mets desperately need him to bust out. Costas notes that Atlanta was 4 outs from the World Series on Saturday, and 3 on Sunday, and didn't get them. Now, they're 12 outs away. Morgan notes that Piazza is missing pitches that he usually hammers. Valentine says Piazza "has been playing through clenched teeth." Millwood's pitches are flat right now. Piazza puts what looks like his best swing in weeks on an 0-2 pitch and hits it high and deep to left, but playable for Williams. Williams catches it in front of the warning track, but it scores Alfonzo and the Mets are finally on the board. Terry Mulholland is warming for Atlanta. Ventura follows by drilling a shot into the RF corner. Now, the Mets are really getting to Millwood. Piazza would have hit that last pitch to the moon if he were going good. Ventura's double moves Olerud to 3rd. Now, Hamilton's up and Leo Mazzone makes a quick trip to the mound. Costas says the Mets are a single away from getting back into this game, and they get it when Hamilton hits a single right back up the middle on the first pitch, a roller under Boone's glove, scoring Olerud and Ventura to make it 5-3! Now, we're talking! Now, I'm back in the game too. Morgan puts it succinctly: "The Mets will not die. They have showed that they will get up off the carpet as many times as necessary to prolong their season." Hamilton is 3 for 3, the Mets contingent is now up and cheering once again, and Millwood is done. Mulholland is coming in, and Agbayani bats for Cedeno. Once again, the Mets are playing this game in thirds, just like Morgan said they had to. The Mets have managed to cut Atlanta's lead to 5-3. It's drizzling in Atlanta as Benny Agbayani steps in. It looks somewhat like the rain in New York on Sunday. They played through that, and there's no reason why they wouldn't play through this. In the bullpen now for Atlanta are Russ Springer, Mike Remlinger and John Smoltz. They're all throwing. Agbayani battles and battles and draws a walk. The rain picks up, and umbrellas and slickers are now sprouting up out of the crowd. The tying runs are on base, but now it's Ordonez up. Dunston steps on deck. Ordonez is not bunting here. Morgan is baffled as to why he's not bunting. Quickly, Ordonez falls behind 2 strikes. Even worse, on 1-2, he hits a line shot right at Weiss who quickly runs to 2nd base and doubles off Hamilton. Fucking ass hell. That's the best ball he's hit this entire series, and even that screws everything up. Ordonez slams his helmet down and kicks it off. Killed the damn rally.

Still, the Mets chipped away a little. Now, it's up to Wendell to continue to hold Atlanta where they are.

NBC is late coming back from commercial for the bottom of the 6th, and as they return, Brian Jordan is glaring at Turk Wendell after Wendell came inside with a fastball and hit him on the right hand. Jordan slowly walks down to 1st, still glaring at Wendell as Cox and the trainer look at him. This particular wrist has been bothering Jordan all season. Jordan said something to Wendell as he walked up the first base line, but Jerry Crawford, the Home Plate Umpire, walked up the line with him to diffuse any situation. Agbayani has take over in Right Field for the Mets. Andruw Jones is bunting. Cox would really like to get another run here. The rain has stopped in Atlanta. Andruw hits a 20 foot single in front of Wendell. The ball dies on the grass in front of the mound. Wendell slides to get it, but his throw is late to 1st. The fans Chop. Shut up you A-holes. Perez follows with a sacrifice. Costas says that this is the largest crowd ever at Shitforbrains Field, at 52,335. I'd bet that most of the 6,000 empty seats from the first two games were filled up by Mets fans. Brian Hunter is walked intentionally to load the bases with 1 out. Take your chances with Weiss and try to get out of this inning without giving up more runs. Set up the DP. Then again, this has all the makings of another disaster. Fortuitously, Weiss hits the first pitch to Olerud, with the infield in. Olerud comes home for the force, but Jordan cuts out Piazza's legs with his slide before another throw can be made. Piazza goes flying and lands on his backside. He immediately hops up and glares at Jordan. Piazza and Jordan share an icy moment. Morgan says it's a clean play, but Piazza wasn't looking, and Jordan went straight for his legs. Piazza is hurting, he's tired, and now, he's fucking pissed. Lockhart is announced to pinch hit for Mulholland, and here comes Wallace, and here comes Dennis Cook for Wendell. With Cook in the game, Lockhart is pulled back for Jose Hernandez and his copious strikeout ratio. This is a move that Cox seemed to make Valentine do several times in New York. Kenny Rogers is now throwing for the Mets. Hernandez lines the 1-0 pitch through the hole into left, just barely between Ventura and Ordonez. Motherfucker! God-Fucking-Dammit! Jones and Hunter have scored, it's 7-3, and they're chopping again in Atlanta. Go away! Ugh. Ned Yost, Atlanta's 3rd base coach is wearing a microphone, and he's just squealing like a pig on the replay. This is just galling. Cook gets Williams to pop out. The damage has been done. Finally, the Mets get back in the game only to give the runs right back.

Or do the Mets have the Braves exactly where they want them?

John Smoltz is in the game for Atlanta in the 7th, as opposed to a relief pitcher. He looks totally flat. His pitches seem to be weaving in and out and all over the place. Matt Franco leads off hitting for Cook, and on the 2-2 pitch, he drills a double up the gap in right center, well over Andruw's head. Rickey takes a few pitches. Smoltz doesn't look good at all. On 3-1, Rickey hits a shot down the left field line, easily scoring Franco. Here we come again. Alfonzo hits a deep drive to right, but it's caught by Jordan. Rickey moves up to 3rd. Olerud hits a hard single to right, scoring Henderson. 7-5. Now, it's Piazza. Lazarus at the plate, representing the tying run. We don't need to hear about how banged up he is right now. It's been said too many times. Now, he's got to summon up the adrenaline, and the anger, and the fact that that Fucking A-hole Jordan just undercut him. Morgan again talks about how the Mets will not die. And then Smoltz comes in with a meatball on 2-1...

The 2-1 to Piazza...Hit in the air to deep right center! Way back! And...GONE!!! TO TIE THE GAME AT 7!!! Tied at 7, hoping for Game 7!

-Bob Costas
Now, it's fucking on. I'm leaping around the common room. Piazza is stone faced as he rounds the bases, just a ball of intensity. Ventura high fives him and slaps him on the helmet. The ball sailed way over Jordan's head, over the wall, bounced off an aisle and bounced back onto the field. The Mets dugout is out. Leiter kisses Mickey Brantley. The pitch tailed back right over the heart of the plate and Piazza just smoked it. Once again, the heart of this team came out when they needed it most, overcoming the Braves, overcoming the early deficit and evening up the game. Cox immediately removes Smoltz for Remlinger. Smoltz was counted on to eat up a couple of innings and instead incinerated the game. The Atlanta dugout is stunned. The fans are stunned, except for the hordes of Mets fans, who are now screaming and yelling and drowning out everything else.

Remlinger is now in the game. 7-7 in the 7th. Holy Shit. Even Costas and Morgan are dumbfounded. NBC shows a shot of Jerry Seinfeld in the stands, sitting right behind Ted Turner. Jerry's got a smug grin on his face right now. This team just never quit. On 2-2, Ventura drills one deep to right that looks for a second that it could get out, but it drops into Jordan's glove at the wall. Shots in the Mets dugout show them jumping over the dugout railings when Piazza's ball went out, and they jump around again when it looks like Ventura's ball might have a chance. Hamilton grounds out to end the inning, but the damage has been done. No team has come back from 0-3 to get to a Game 7. Because they refused to give up, the Mets now have a chance.

The entire series has played out like a Shakespearian Drama. Now, with the game tied, and left in the hands of two exhausted bullpens, the final act is about to play itself out, dissolving into some sort of horrible Baseball version of an Ali/Frazier fight.

Orel Hershiser takes over for the Mets in the bottom of the 7th. Costas welcomes us back by saying, "In case you're just joining us, where've you been?" Hershiser, after his tremendous outing on Sunday, once again is on to keep the Braves at bay. Morgan says that the Braves need to respond immediately. But Boone grounds out, as the "LETS GO METS!!!" chants have gotten louder and louder. Orel pitches around Larry and falls behind 3-0, but he swings on 3-0 and grounds weakly to Alfonzo. They play the Tomahawk Chop music, but nobody's chanting. Where are your fans, Atlanta? Nobody feels much like chopping right now. Jordan pops out to Agbayani on the first pitch. The Mets charge off the field, raring to take their hacks again.

Rocker tosses in the OF in between innings as we move to the 8th. Remlinger is still on for Atlanta. Another fine job from Hershiser in the 7th. Yet another strong outing for a Mets reliever. Agbayani leads off. On 1-0, he nails a single in front of Jordan, picking right up where the Mets left off. Attack, attack, attack. He has thoughts about second, but thinks better of it. Ordonez squares on the first pitch and Holy Shit! He got the bunt down! It's good and right to Remlinger who tags him out. Agbayani moves to 2nd. If even Ordonez can come through, maybe the Mets really are charmed. Melvin Mora hits for Hershiser. Russ Springer is warming. Mora looks to add to his legend, after already becoming a standout in this series. And damned if he doesn't rip the 1-0 pitch hard into Center Field!

He lines this one hard! The Mets are gonna have the lead! Agbayani being sent home! And Melvin Mora, who only a few years ago was playing in the Chinese Professional League in Taiwan, gives the Mets the lead in Game 6!

-Bob Costas

Agbayani scores easily! Every pinch hitter has delivered for the Mets tonight. Mora pumps his fist as he rounds first. He's done it again! I'm running up and down my hall yelling "MELVIN FUCKING MORA!" The "LETS GO METS!!!" chants are abound again. What a team, what a year. What a game! The Atlanta Bench looks like a morgue right now. Morgan and Costas are running out of ways to describe how this game has played out.

Morgan: "This is a Big League Baseball game. This is really a Big League Baseball game."

Costas: "And what was Sunday night?"

Morgan: "I like this one better because I've seen some line drives, I've seen some guys run around the bases, I've seen some hitters do everything."

Rickey bats next. On 3-2, Rickey calls time just as Remlinger delivers. The pitch was well outside as Mora ran. He breaks his bat on the next pitch and rolls to Weiss. The throw is close, but Mora is just barely out. Remlinger deked Mora with his delivery. Mora broke back to first instead of towards second. Without that, he would likely have beaten the play.

"The Yankees finished off the Red Sox last night. They might have been thinking about packing for Atlanta. Not so fast," says Costas as Alfonzo steps to the plate. On 2-0, Henderson runs and steals 2nd. Perez's throw is low and hits Rickey in the stomach as he slides into 2nd. The ball ends up rolling in between his legs. Remlinger misses on the next two to walk Alfonzo.

Craig Sager reports from the Mets dugout. On the message board in the Mets locker room, Bobby Valentine wrote "Why not?" before the game. Why not the Mets to come back from 0-3 and win? More shots of Mets on the top step of the dugout. A shot of Millwood staring blankly out onto the field. Olerud inside outs one to left, but it hangs up for Williams. But finally, improbably, the Mets have the lead.

Jim Gray chimes in from the Braves dugout at the start of the bottom of the 8th. He says that "The Braves in the dugout are shell shocked. Nobody has said anything to anybody." On the other side, Craig Sager says that "This dugout has been like a pep rally." Hershiser has his arm wrapped around Leiter. Mets fans in the stands, are standing and cheering. One holds up a sign that reads "THE MAGIC IS BACK." I can taste Game 7 right now.

John Franco on the mound now for the Mets, as Agbayani moves to left and Mora takes over in right. Henderson is out. The Mets are 6 outs from Game 7. If you're the Braves, you have to do something quickly. Benitez is warming. Andruw grounds out to Ordonez. Morgan surmises that if Franco can get 1 more out, they will go to Benitez. Atlanta batters are 1 for 30 against Benitez this season. Eddie Perez is the only one with a hit, in the 11th inning on Sunday, and he's hitting right now. He whacks a single to left, in front of Agbayani. The Mets just can't get him out, which is baffling because he's not good. Otis Nixon comes in to run for him. Damn, two games in a row with an Otis Nixon sighting. I guess he really is still alive. Hunter follows. Franco works in and out, but Hunter is nicking the strikes and working the count. Rocker is warming for Atlanta. Howard Battle is on deck. Nixon runs on 2-2. The pitch is inside, Piazza's throw is low and hops into center field. Ugh! Alfonzo can't knock it down, Nixon hops up and moves over to 3rd. Piazza is disgusted. Hunter flares the next pitch into center field for a hit. Nixon claps his hands as he crosses the plate.

"It doesn't get any better than this. Guys coming through and getting the job done this late in the ballgame. This is just beautiful," says Morgan.

Franco made his pitch, it's off the outside corner, but Hunter just goes out and gets it. It's 8-8. The crowd is chopping again. The Braves have come back to life. Weiss bats for himself and Battle remains on deck. Weiss is up there to bunt. Cox's plan is now to move Hunter over and have Battle drive him home, and bring in Rocker with a chance to win it. Weiss does his job, bunting to Franco, who throws to Alfonzo for the sacrifice. But Franco gets Battle swinging to stop the rally and end the inning.

Well, shit. Here we go again. If Sunday didn't kill you, I hope you're ready for another heart attack. At this point, I'm amazed I can form a coherent sentence.

Here's Rocker, in a tie game in the top of the 9th. Greg Myers is in to replace Eddie Perez behind the plate. On the Atlanta bench, Perez is pretty mad. Andres Galarraga calms him down. Nobody wants to come out of this game, but Nixon ran for Perez, stole a base and scored the tying run. Piazza leads off and pops up to Larry just a shade down the 3rd base line on the first pitch. The crowd is standing. Piazza still looks pissed off. But he overextended on that swing. He sits on the bench and rips off his gloves as Costas says of Piazza, "His previous at bat produced a Home Run of Heroic proportions. Not just because it tied the game 7-7 in the 7th. But it was his first extra base hit in a Postseason in which he has been bruised and battered, and if there was not so much at stake, he would have been pulled from the lineup."

Meanwhile, Morgan talks about how Ventura and Olerud have had better at bats against Rocker as this series has progressed. But Ventura still doesn't have a hit off him, and he pops up to Weiss. Hamilton is next. The crowd is trying to outshout each other right now. Mets fans are making noise, and Braves fans are chopping, in an effort to drown them out. Hamilton remains in for his defense, even against the Lefthander. Morgan says that if you are going to go down, you want your best defense out there. If they hit for Hamilton, it would be with Shawon Dunston, who was exposed in Center Field in Game 5. Hamilton lines to left.

Craig Sager comes on as we move to the Bottom of the 9th: "Back in Atlanta where a double switch has been made by the Mets. Mike Piazza is out of the game. Todd Pratt goes into the game. He will bat in the leadoff spot, Rickey Henderson long gone, he is in the clubhouse, Armando Benitez the pitcher will hit in the 4th spot, and Melvin Mora remains in the 9th spot. Mike Piazza, we were told, did not hurt his shoulder, but he is wearing down, and he did come out of the game."

Benitez in, Pratt in. Piazza, on the bench, has not changed the expression on his face in 3 innings, at least. Who knows what's going through his mind at this point? I'm holding my breath now. Any margin for error is gone. But then, this has been the case for 4 days now. Any run eliminates the Mets, but the Braves have not been able to touch Benitez this season. Of course, Benitez immediately goes 3-0 on Williams to start. Williams, though, takes two strikes. On the second one, he takes all the way and thinks it's ball 4. But it is a good fastball that catches the inside corner. He fouls off another pitch before grounding out to Ventura on what would have been Ball 4. Williams almost threw his bat at it. Boone follows. Morgan says that it's not easy to be patient with Benitez, especially with his fastball. His splitter has been sharp too, and Boone appears over matched. Right now, both teams are on the top steps. Fans of both teams continue to stand as well. Boone fouls off pitches on a pair of emergency swings before Benitez strikes him out on a splitter. Boone made a half-wave at the ball and foul tipped it into Pratt's glove. Larry follows, with "Crazy Train" blaring. Pratt goes to the mound. How fucking scary is this? Benitez works him away away, away. Valentine in the dugout has his face buried in his sleeve. Armando will not give in to Larry and walks him on 4 pitches. Chop. Bobby clenches his fists towards Benitez, as if to say go right after Jordan. Go get him. Wallace and Pratt come to the mound. Morgan says Larry will try to steal a base. This conversation is to guard against that. Wallace has his arms on Benitez and Pratt's shoulders. This is no time to fuck around. Costas says as much. "Any pitch could be the last of the Mets season. What they have done in this series and in this game is nothing short of amazing. But they are in a sudden death spot. Any extra base hit would send the Braves to the World Series."

Jordan is up there hacking. He fouls off the first pitch. Larry runs on 0-1. Pratt's throw is high. The pitch is a strike, but Jordan took it and allowed Larry to steal. Now, Jordan is looking for the hit that could win the series. It's the 6th steal in 6 attempts in this game for Atlanta. Jordan whacks a ball deep to right, but foul on 1-2. Armando throws 2 balls before yakking Jordan with another splitter that Jordan waves at. It's in the dirt, but Pratt quickly slaps a tag on Jordan. Armando pumps his fist as he walks off.

This game is not a war of attrition and a test of wills like Sunday's game was. This is a battle of life and death right now. And once again, this war is extending deeper and deeper into the night, into extra innings.

"Extra innings. We haven't done this in a while," says Costas as we go to the top of the 10th. Costas and Morgan again discuss the pitching situation for both sides. Rocker is still on for the Braves, and Benitez will probably continue for the Mets. How long do you stick with Rocker and Benitez? Cox can still think about a 7th game. Valentine cannot do so. This will likely be the last inning for Rocker. Greg Maddux is walking around in the Atlanta bullpen. They still have Springer and McGlinchy as well. The Mets have Rogers, Yoshii and Dotel, all of whom have started games previously.

Agbayani against Rocker to start off the 10th. Agbayani hangs in against him, and works out a 6 pitch walk, as Rocker begins to miss high and away. Ordonez is next, again up to sacrifice. His first bunt rolls foul. Costas tells us that "Agbayani at first, despite his heft, is not slow. He runs pretty well." Ordonez's second bunt is a liner right to Hunter. Trademark Ordonez bunt. Hunter might have had a play on Agbayani at 1st, but he slips on the infield grass. Benny is able to get back. Mora follows. The upstart. Can he come through again? Mora works the count to 1-2. Agbayani runs, but Rocker has him picked off. Agbayani appears to be dead, but Hunter's throw pegs him right in the back. Hunter did a good job getting in position but his throw was awful. Agbayani is safe at 2nd on the error. Valentine is dancing and juking and flashing signs, and Mora lines the next pitch into center field for another hit! What a job he has done. He takes the fastball off the inside corner and smacks it right through the box. But Agbayani cannot score on the play. He holds third, and Todd Pratt is up. Once again, I'm up on the crack of the bat. The Lets Go Mets chants are loud once again. Valentine is once again making faces and gestures. "You could make a movie just based on Valentine's reactions during an important game," says Costas.

Pratt is up in yet another big spot. Atlanta plays for the DP on the infield. Rocker now is starting to look gassed. He's wild with his slider and he falls behind Pratt. But he comes back with a fastball and Pratt can't catch up. On 2-2, Rocker misses inside. Mora will probably be running, making it difficult to turn a double play. Atlanta's infield pinches in at the corners. Rocker looks in for the sign. He rears back and delivers just as the clock strikes Midnight...

Wednesday, October 20

...and Pratt hits a fly ball to medium center. Agbayani runs back to 3rd to tag up. Andruw Jones makes the catch and fires the ball home. But his throw is up the 3rd base line. Myers cannot handle the throw as Agbayani belly flops across home safely. Mets lead! Mets lead! Agbayani pops up and gives Pratt a giant bear hug as they head back to the dugout. The ball was shallow, but Jones had to throw immediately and his throw was not accurate.

Costas's call: "It's exactly midnight and the 3-2 pitch with the runner going is hit in the air to medium center. Jones with a good arm is charging. Here comes Agbayani, and the throw to the plate us up the line, Myers can't handle it, Agbayani scores!"

On the 0-1 pitch to Alfonzo, Mora breaks for 3rd and Myers cannot handle the pitch. Mora steals without a throw. Morgan is just gushing right now. "How good is this guy Mora? I mean, he is good."

"Who has it been in this inning?" adds Costas, "Agbayani, Mora, Pratt. As unlikely as this whole run in September and October has been for the Mets, some of the names contributing have been just as unlikely."

Alfonzo strikes out. But we are 3 outs away from Game 7.

A shot of Orel Hershiser's grabbing his chest in the dugout as the bottom of the 10th begins. Rocker is fuming in the Atlanta dugout as he talks to Mazzone. Andruw Jones leads off against Benitez. Benitez appears to be working Jones inside. Benitez would like him to chase a bad pitch, but Jones isn't swinging. The count runs full and Jones nails a fastball right back up the middle for a leadoff hit. Here we go again. Rocker was a bit worn out in his second inning, and I wonder if Benitez is as well. In this particular situation, that is a scary thought. He's thrown 30 pitches so far, much more than his usual load. Greg Myers follows, perhaps bunting, or perhaps Jones will steal. But Myers is not bunting. The Mets bullpen is now quiet, a rare sight in this series. Ryan Klesko is in deck to hit for Hunter. On 2-2, Myers hits it off the end of the bat, a fly ball out to left. Agbayani puts it away. Klesko is up. And Klesko has pop. It's another scary, scary moment. Benitez right now isn't popping his fastball in there as well. Instead of 97-98MPH, it's 93-94MPH, and he falls behind Klesko 3-0. Ozzie Guillen is on deck to hit for Weiss, as the moves continue to come fast and furious. Guillen battled Benitez well on Saturday at Shea, almost hitting a Home Run before flying out deep to Right. Benitez walks Klesko on a high 3-1 fastball. Wallace is out as the winning run is now on base. Chop. Benitez is up to 40 pitches and it's going to be up to him to get through this inning, and these have been pressure innings of the highest order. Larry can't watch on the bench. He has his head in his hands. Cox's last man, Jorge Fabregas, moves on deck to hit for Rocker. On 0-1. Guillen steps out as Benitez was winding up. The next pitch is hit just barely past Alfonzo's glove into right field. Another hit. Jones races home with the tying run, and Klesko makes a beeline towards 3rd. But Mora charges the ball and comes up firing towards 3rd, not Home. His throw is a perfect peg and it nails Klesko with ease. Huge. Huge play keeping the winning run off 3rd with less than 1 out. Mora does it again. Now, Fabregas bats with 2 outs and Guillen on 1st. The game is once again tied 9-9. "No end to the heroes in this game," says Morgan. Kenny Rogers is now throwing for the Mets. Russ Springer warms up for Atlanta. Fabregas hits a lazy fly out to Agbayani in left. Fucking A. Benitez threw 45 pitches, and stressful pitches. He can't be blamed for looking gassed in his 2nd inning. Neither can Rocker. Not the way this game has played out.

It's 12:20AM now, and on a school night no less. Russ Springer on for Atlanta, Olerud up for the Mets. 9-9 game in the 11th inning. Greg Maddux continues to walk around in the Atlanta bullpen. Ozzie Guillen remains in at SS for Atlanta, Klesko stays in at 1B. Shawon Dunston, the last man off the bench for the Mets, is on deck to hit for Armando. On 2-1, Olerud flies out to center. Dunston is next, as Costas recaps his incredible 12-pitch at bat in the 15th inning on Sunday. Valentine paces around the Mets dugout with his hat off. Dunston hacks at the 1st pitch and pops out to Klesko. Stark contrast to Sunday. From 12 pitches to 1 pitch. Ventura follows. On 2-2, Ventura is just barely ahead of a high fastball, which he drills deep to right, but foul. On the next pitch, he grounds out to Boone at 2nd.

"How about this as an encore to Sunday," says Costas as the bottom of the 11th begins. After 5 games where neither team scored more than 4 runs in a game, we are 9-9 in the last of the 11th. Kenny Rogers is now pitching for the Mets, after he threw 2 scoreless innings on Sunday. Gerald Williams leads off. Rogers comes right after him with curveballs low and outside. Williams watches one for a strike, and waves at the second. On 0-2, Williams reaches for a curve that hung a little, and pokes it just barely fair down the 3rd base line. Williams digs around first and cruises into 2nd for a double. The pitch hung just a little bit. Rogers left it up. The Braves are now up and alive. Ventura goes in to talk to Rogers. Boone is probably up there to bunt. Dotel is warming for the Mets. No fucking around now. Boone squares and bunts the first pitch right to Olerud on the first place line. His only play is to tag Boone. Now, the winning run on 3rd and 1 out, with Larry and Jordan coming up. Don't think Larry's hitting here, they throw him 4 wide, and probably 4 wide to Jordan as well. The season is now 90 feet away. On the bench, Don Bayor, the Atlanta hitting coach, talks to Andruw. Valentine comes to the mound. You know this situation is pretty fucked up here. My fingernails were gone on Sunday. I now have my face buried in my shirt. The entire infield convenes on the mound. Valentine talks and kicks some grass as he walks back to the dugout. Pratt crouches down and they apparently will pitch to Jordan. First pitch is a pitchout, as if they might squeeze. The second pitch is also a pitchout. Now, Pratt stands and they finish the intentional walk to Jordan.

This isn't good. Costas reminds us that "Rogers is one mistake away from adding another terrible chapter to his already horrid postseason history." NBC has now put their olympic peacock logo on the screen. Ball 1 to Andruw Jones is a curve low. Pratt goes to the mound. The next pitch is a curve in the same place. Low, ball 2. Now, you just have to throw a damn strike. Throw a strike! Rogers does, and Jones taps the 2-0 pitch slowly down the 3rd base line. Fans start to squeal as it rolls, and if it stays fair, the game is over. But it rolls foul. The Mets appear to be playing in on the corners, but medium up the middle, as if to try for the DP on Andruw. The crowd chants "ANDRUW! ANDRUW!" The 2-1 pitch is high outside and the crowd is delirious.

"It's been a 173 game wild ride for Valentine and the Mets," says Costas.

"And Bob, you hate for it to end on a walk," says Morgan.

Rogers fires in strike 2. This game can't end like this. I turn to my roommate and repeat what I said Sunday: "If it has to end here, so be it. It's been one hell of a ride...

...But, man, wouldn't it be sweet if they could get out of this?

Rogers winds back for one more pitch...

* * *
"Oh Dear," is all I can say. I'm basically frozen in my seat. I don't move or speak for some time afterwards.

Someone is hauntingly screaming "Mets suck!" over NBC's feed. It is screamed 13 times over shots of Braves celebrating, and Mets slowly walking around in the dugout.

Bobby Valentine smashed the dugout railing twice, screaming "NO! NO! NO!" Morgan says that "We've finally reached the closing night on the greatest Mets show since 1986. And that's why. (shot of Valentine) He didn't want to lose it that way. And I must admit I hate for the game to end that way."
Edgardo Alfonzo, Rey Ordonez and Melvin Mora remain in the dugout, after much of the team had moved inside. They can only sit and watch. Jay Payton wraps his arms around Benny Agbayani. Valentine continues to pace back and forth.

On the other side, the Braves celebrate. It makes me sick. Both teams expended an incredible amount of energy in this game and this whole series. But when you come out on top, it seems to feel a hell of a lot better, doesn't it. Joe Garagiola said it in 1986, during Game 7 of the World Series. "Losing hurts worse than winning feels good."

The focus is on the Braves. The cameras show them celebrating and spraying champagne on each other. But the Mets cannot be ignored after the fight they put up. Costas acknowledges this: "Seldom has a losing team in a playoff series emerged with such enhanced regard as have the Mets. They have made fans not just in New York, but all over the country, with the wild ride they took us all through in late September and October."

Morgan follows with, "The Mets just would not die. They played a great series, but I think history caught up with them today Bob."

Meanwhile, NBC plays some shots of Yankees/Braves games from the regular season. Costas has no idea what's on the tape. It seems hastily put together. I'm nauseous, and frozen in my seat. I cannot move or speak until this is put up, when I get up and kick over my chair. No way will I come anywhere near that World Series.

Ted Turner accepts the Warren Giles trophy. The trophy that could have been ours. The trophy that will be ours one year later. Bobby Cox interview takes some veiled jabs at Valentine and the Mets, talking about Character. I'm not really interested in anything he has to say. Larry and Rocker get interviewed. Blah blah blah. The sight of them is beginning to make me irrationally angry.

Finally, NBC cuts to Craig Sager outside the Mets clubhouse with Bobby Valentine. Valentine seems surprised that someone is talking to him. Sager asks what Valentine said to his team.

"I said Congratulations. I told the they played like Champions and they should feel like Champions. We don't have a trophy, I know that, but I don't think you can play better than they did right now and for this season, they did everything they had to do. Congratulations to the Braves and Bobby Cox, they did a little more than they were able to muster, but I said Congratulations."

Bobby's voice is cracking and he has to clear his throat. When asked when he will be back, all he can do is smile and say "This is my life."

Brian Jordan is the first Brave to say anything complementary of the Mets. "Those guys never quit, they never died, they never rolled over," he says. Smoltz also talks about how well the Mets played, and how "They're not going to go away, and they're not going to go away next year, either." They look happy now, but the Braves players look pretty damn exhausted too. Once the elation of victory wears off, the exhaustion will come out. Physically and mentally spent following this series, the Braves will barely make a peep against the Yankees in the World Series, getting swept in 4 games.

The Mets are also totally spent. In his press conference, Valentine reiterates himself. "I told my guys it might be a long winter or a short winter, but heck with it. Those guys played like Champions and they should feel like Champions." Shawon Dunston will deliver his famous, "I am so proud to be a Met" speech. Piazza remains slumped in front of his locker, too exhausted to speak. Many Mets follow suit. The ones that do speak can only speak slowly, and with disappointment. They too are hurting, physically, but the emotional pain appears to cut deeper.

John Franco: "We had a good feeling about everything. We just didn't get it done. It's a shame that it had to end that way. But I think everyone in this room should be proud of the way we played the last 2 1/2 weeks. we came through like champs. But we didn't get the job done tonight. "

Darryl Hamilton: "We played as hard as we could...Never give up. Never give up. This is just one of those things that ran out a little bit, but New York should be very proud right now. It's tough, but I'll wake up tomorrow morning, and we'll go back to New York, and we'll be back. We'll be back."

Valentine: "We left it all out on the field and gave everything we had. It wasn't enough to get us to another game or get us to play the Yankees, and it's a damn shame."

Kenny Rogers: "I had to get the ball over to Andruw and I didn't. You just have to deal with it. You can't reverse it. I can't go back out there. It just didn't happen. I couldn't get the ball to go where I wanted it to."

Al Leiter: "I'm harder on myself than I should be because I didn't do my job as the starter of this game. But my teammates have supported me...I believe that we feel that we're as good as that team that's going to the World Series."

Todd Pratt: "A lot of teams would have packed it in, especially against Kevin Millwood, but every time they come to the bench, the bench players try to pick them up, let's get some hits, walks, and try to get a big hit and pull it together. We battled. We had some real clutch hitting today. I'm not disappointed at all. We played our hearts out. I'm sure there are some players here that are sad, but I always believe that if you give it your best, you can always look at yourself in the mirror."

As they prepare to sign off, Morgan tries to sum it all up. He says, "I don't think any series has been more exciting than this."

Costas and Morgan plug the World Series. It's their World Series. We're not going, and I'm not watching. The pride comes later. Right now, it's too painful. But the hurt of this loss will fade over time. The memory will not. And what remains is tremendous pride for the way the Mets hung in there and never, ever quit until the final pitch was thrown. But for the past 20 days, the Mets have taken myself, and every Mets fan on a wild, unforgettable ride. When any other team might have folded up their tents, the Mets got off the mat and battled and battled and damn near accomplished the impossible. There's a lot of sadness and disappointment now. But I have never been more proud to be a Mets fan.

Final Score
Braves - 10

Mets - 9
(11 Innings)
Braves Win Series, 4-2

To Be Continued...
Part IX - Postscript

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Battle of the Pastrami Sandwich

Apropos of nothing, unless you're one of the good people at Curbed or The Gothamist, was the re-opening of the 2nd Avenue Deli last week at its new location at the vortex of the Universe, 33rd Street and 3rd Avenue (I refuse to pronounce it in Bugs Bunny dialect) in Manhattan's Murray Hill.

As a native of Murray Hill (and someone who is much more likely to refer to it as Midtown rather than Murray Hill), I had to stop by, not so much to get something to eat as much as to pick up a menu and see what was what. I work nearby the former location of the 2nd Avenue Deli at 10th Street and 2nd Avenue (now one of the Chase Manhattan Bank locations more appropriate for the universe created in Woody Allen's "Sleeper," than Manhattan, 2007), and for what it's worth, I was never impressed. I rarely, if ever, ate there. I was never particularly fond of the food, and it was incredibly overpriced, at $13.25 for a Pastrami Sandwich, among other things.

When the 2nd Avenue Deli closed at its original location, there was, of course, a great uproar within the neighborhood. How could an iconic place like this close down? I figured it might have had something to do with the $14 sandwiches, but I kept my mouth shut, lest risk being beaten down by rabid foodies. But, few short months later, it was announced that the 2nd Avenue would be re-opening in my backyard, just down the street from another iconic New York Deli, Sarge's. Now, I happened to grow up directly across the street from Sarge's. I broke a salt shaker in there as a small child and was afraid to go back for several years. But eventually, I would return. Their prices increased over the years as well, although they currently get $10.95 for a Pastrami Sandwich. My father mused that a price war would occur between the new rivals. Who would win the battle of charging the most for a Corned Beef Sandwich?

So, the 2nd Avenue returned on 33rd Street. Not much has changed at the new location, opened up in the storefront of a building owned by a relative of the late Abe Lebewohl. I was there with my father at around 11pm on the day it opened, just to pick up a menu. The restaurant itself was packed. Lord only knows what people were picking up, but it was still packed late on a Monday night. The 2nd Avenue plans to operate 24/7, just as Sarge's does, but at what cost? Combing the menu, I found the going rate for sandwiches to be downright alarming:

Corned Beef - $12.75
Pastrami - $13.75
Tongue - $20.75

$20.75 for a damn Tongue sandwich? I work with a big Tongue fan. When I mentioned this to him, he started yelling about taking out a loan so he could go have lunch.

This is what it's come to.

The iconic New York Deli is a dying breed. There are only a few left, scattered in pockets around the city. The Carnegie is probably the most hyped, although it's also probably the worst out there. The Stage is still around too, although it's seen better days. Wolf's was probably the best, but when it closed its original location at 57th and 6th in 1997, a small piece of me died with it. A relocation was short lived. My personal preference has always been Katz's, on Houston and Ludlow, where it's been forever, even as the gentrification in the neighborhood seems to make it more and more endangered with each passing day. There's always been something oddly charming about the way Katz has operated, with the walk up counter, the miles of Hot Dogs grilling away, and the old-fashioned Water stand in the back. It's always an event for me to go there. It has been a long standing aspiration of mine to someday take a date to Katz's and get her to fake an orgasm over a sandwich of her liking.

But not when that sandwich is over $15.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

20 Days in October, Part VII

...Continued from Part VI
Parts I - VI

Sunday, October 17
Game 5

The Mets would begin this day in a foul mood. Fortunate enough to have won last night, they are suffering from a battery of physical ailments, and seem more intent on grousing at each other than focusing on the next game.

You know, the game that could very well be their last if they don't win it.

It's a stormy start to the day, where this team that has battled this far seems ready to rip each other apart. Players are unhappy. Valentine is being questioned. Dischord is abound.

None of them have any idea that the game they will play this afternoon will erase any ill will.

Nobody has any idea that this will turn out to be the test of all tests, the war of all wars, and by the end of the day, a game that will emphasize a full team effort in absolutely every way possible.

As the game begins, the talk is focused on Rickey Henderson. Rickey was removed from last night's game at the beginning of top of the 8th inning. He had gone out to his position before Valentine called him back and replaced him with Melvin Mora. Insulted, Rickey stormed into the clubhouse, right past Valentine, who had attempted to apologize.

Following the game, Valentine again apologized to Rickey. Again, Rickey did not accept. Turk Wendell fired back at Rickey. "This is a real team effort except for one guy who quit," is his quote in the papers. This did not sit well with Rickey. In an interview before the game with Craig Sager, Rickey is in classic form. He is speaking so quickly, one is barely able to understand what he's saying. He talks about how Wendell doesn't really know him if he's calling him a quitter. He says, "I've played this game too long to be a quitter."

But the interview takes an even stranger turn when Sager poses the following to Rickey:

Sager: The Playoffs are usually Rickey Henderson Time. But you've been struggling.

Rickey: It's Rickey Henderson time. We had a wonderful series in Arizona, but Atlanta's been tough on us all year round. It's just not Rickey Henderson's whole ballclub trying to get hits and score runs. Each day you go out there and try to do your best.

Me, I've been out most of the afternoon. I return home, shortly after 4. Actually, I thought the game was at 4:30. I immediately rush into my apartment and stick a tape in the VCR. It's got Game 3 and Game 4 on it. I figure today's game will finish up this tape, and I've got the end of another tape I can use when this tape runs out.

Little do I know how much tape I'll need today.

On the Atlanta side, things are still fairly relaxed. Bobby Cox talks with Jim Gray and is his usual diplomatic self. He credits the Mets and their ability to come back, and when asked about being 4 outs from the Pennant, he replies, "Sometimes they're a tough 4 outs to get. We can't hold them down forever. We've been fortunate to be up 3-1. It comes down to a pitch here and a play there."

It's fairly overcast at Shea as the Mets take the field. It's daylight out, but the clouds are moving in, and rain is predicted later on. Masato Yoshii takes the start for the Mets. After suffering a mildly sprained ankle in Game 1, Yoshii was pronounced good enough to go. All, however, is not well with the Mets on the injury front. In the 9th inning, Roger Cedeno reached and twisted around for an Ozzie Guillen line drive, and twisted his back. He woke up with severe back spasms, and was basically debilitated. Great. The one guy who seemed to be hitting the ball well for the Mets, and he wasn't available. Hamilton makes the start in Center, and Melvin Mora is in Right. For Mora, it's his second start of the series, after it seemed like a surprise that he would be playing at all. But he has made the most of his opportunities, with key hits and clutch defense.
As Gerald Williams steps in against Yoshii, Costas again talks about how neither team has hit much, if at all. Neither team has scored more than 4 runs in any one game, and in the two games at Shea, the Braves are batting .107 as a team. It's not totally full at Shea, as revealed from the blimp, but it will be pretty soon, Yoshii starts off blazing. As the crowd chants "YOSHII! YOSHII!" Masato zips strike after strike, striking out both Williams and Boone. And Hello, Larry follows. The venom directed at Larry has not died down one bit. He rips a shot towards the middle, but Alfonzo is able to dive to his right to knock it down and throw Larry out at first. "That's that Met defense!" says Costas.

In the bottom of the 1st, Rickey comes up, 1 for 13 in the series. It definitely has not been Rickey Henderson Time. Turk Wendell is sitting in the Mets dugout, and although he has tried to clear the air with Rickey, Rickey doesn't seem interested in clearing the air with Wendell. But when Rickey hits a chopper against Greg Maddux, and beats the throw from Weiss at short, Wendell is clapping and pumping his fist. Alfonzo is next. Back in the 2 hole after two games hitting 3rd. The strategy did not serve the Mets well at all. Although Olerud had a good game on Saturday, Alfonzo went 0-8 with 6 Ks in the 2 games. Maddux is paying attention to Rickey at 1st, but his pickoff throws seem halfhearted. On 1-2, Rickey runs, but the pitch is high and inside to Alfonzo, and when he attempts to back away, the ball glances off his bat foul. On the next pitch, Rickey runs again, and Alfonzo drives the ball in the gap in left center. It appears to be flying towards the wall, but for Andruw Jones running it down to make the catch, then gunning the ball back in, just slightly late to get Rickey going back to 1st. With Olerud up, Rickey needs to regroup before he can run again. Joe Morgan notes that Rickey really busted it going down to 2nd on Alfonzo's drive, and at age 40, it's tough to get the energy up to run like that. But on a 2-1 pitch, Olerud assures he can trot. His drive into Right-Center sails over the Gap ad on the outfield fence. Brian Jordan smacks the wall in disgust. Valentine's reaction is nonplussed, similar to his reaction to Olerud's HR last night. Costas's call: "And the 2-1 pitch is hit deep to Right Center Field. Jordan back. To the track. Gone!"

Costas and Morgan credit Rickey with an assist for the HR. Maddux had made several throws to first, and his attention was focused too much on Rickey than on Olerud, and Olerud burned him. Rickey's trot is slow, and he arrives at Home just barely in front of Olerud. Olerud has driven in the last 5 Met runs, or, more properly, every run the Mets have scored at Shea in this series. Piazza follows with a line drive single to left. The crowd is roaring. But the rally is diffused when Ventura pops out to Larry, who ignores the catcalls, and Mora flies out to Jordan in right. But the Mets have struck first, something they haven't done much of lately. But can they make it stand up?

Meanwhile, Costas says of Olerud. "The possibility of a subway series is still alive, thanks in large part to John Olerud, one of the few NY ballplayers who at least occasionally rides the subway to the ballpark. Some guys pull up in a limo, he's been known to pull out a token and ride the subway, get off that #7 train here at Shea."

Another shot from the blimp as we open the 2nd. I'm still not used to seeing Shea from the blimp. It looks odd, even by day. In the game, Yoshii continues to hum along, setting down the Braves in order. In the Mets half of the inning, Hamilton drills the ball deep in the gap in Left-Center. Gerald Williams makes a dive to try to catch the ball, but he can't get it. The ball hops over the fence, and Williams nearly decapitates himself crashing into the wall. Ordonez follows, and he makes a rare productive out, grounding to 2nd to move Hamilton over to 3rd. But it is at 3rd he will stay as Yoshii strikes out and Rickey grounds out.

In the 3rd, the Braves begin to mount a threat. Eddie Perez, the only Brave who is hitting at all, drills a pitch deep to left, just foul. He follows by driving one fair, just inside the right field line. Perez is slow, and watching him chug around the bases is riotous. He appears as though he just might keel over before he makes it to 2nd, but he gets there. But much like the Mets couldn't get Hamilton in, Atlanta can't get Perez past 2nd. Weiss lines out to Hamilton, Maddux strikes out and Williams grounds out to 3rd.

Cut to the 4th, where Atlanta finally breaks through against Yoshii. Boone hits a drive to left that appears to be misjudged by Rickey. It sails over his head for a leadoff double. The ball is really carrying in the gaps today, especially to left. And Hello, Larry once again. Larry continues to be greeted with groans and boos, and the occasional chants of "LARRY SUCKS!" Yoshii is baffling him with his splitter, but on 1-2, he goes to his fastball, and Larry tucks it just inside the 3rd base line, past Ventura, to score Boone. Now, all of a sudden, the tying run is on 2nd, and the crowd is beginning to get nervous. Orel Hershiser begins warming up in earnest in the bullpen. Brian Jordan follows with a soft liner to left that falls in front of Henderson. Larry was running on contact, and he is able to score easily. The game is suddenly tied, and panic is beginning to set in for the Mets. A sick silence has set over Shea. For the first time, the Braves are stringing hits together. "This is what the Braves were looking for. Base hits to score runs instead of Home Runs," Morgan says. With Klesko up and the count 3-1, Jordan runs. Klesko fouls the ball off, and his long backswing nails Piazza on his left wrist. It's almost as if Piazza has become a punching bag in this series. Yoshii walks Klesko on the next pitch. Dave Wallace is out of the dugout, and after a lengthy discussion, he removes Yoshii and brings in Hershiser. It was already apparent that the Mets were ready to go to their bullpen as often as they had to today; even Kenny Rogers is available today. Hershiser comes in and immediately stops the rally. Using a baffling assortment of off-speed pitches, he strikes out Andruw and Perez, and gets Weiss on a groundout.

As the game continues, fans who couldn't get in have begun to crowd up on the 7 Train overpass, looking in from the Right Field corner. The Mets can't manage anything more than a 2 out single from Darryl Hamilton in the 4th. In the 5th, the Braves threaten yet again. With one out, Williams doubles to center. But Hershiser proves he is worthy of his nickname Bulldog. After getting Boone to ground to Ventura, it's Hello, Larry once again. But Hershiser gives Larry the intentional pass and goes after Jordan. Hershiser takes his sweet time on the mound working to Jordan, and it appears to frustrate him. He steps off several times, before getting Jordan to chase a fastball well off the outside corner for strike 3. Exhale once again. Orel pumps his fist as he walks off the mound.

Meanwhile, the Mets offense has stopped completely, except for a series of meaningless 2-out singles. In the 5th, it's Alfonzo with the irrelevant hit that goes nowhere.

The sun is beginning to set in New York, and the lights are on at Shea. Costas reports that it is sprinkling in Manhattan, but it's still dry at Shea, for the moment. Atlanta continues to mount threat after threat, but cannot get the key hit to push across the lead run. In the 6th, this trend continues. Leading off, Klesko grounds hard to first. Olerud knocks it down but can't field it. Alfonzo picks it up, but his toss to Hershiser at the bag is too late. Klesko is safe on Olerud's error. Andruw follows by sacrificing Klesko to 2nd. Now, it's Valentine who comes out to talk to Hershiser. Wallace is usually the one who comes out. When Valentine comes out, you know it's important. But at the moment, the Mets bullpen is quiet. It is a rare sight in this game. Hershiser walks Perez intentionally, and why not, he's the only player really hitting on the Braves side. But then, Hershiser can't throw a strike to Weiss, and walks him on 4 pitches. I've gone from cigarettes to fingernails and back again. Now,the bases are loaded for Maddux. The crowd is nauseous. Valentine is pacing and spitting. Wendell is now throwing in the bullpen, as the rain begins to fall, however lightly, at 6:01. Maddux falls behind 0-2, but hangs tough, fouling off 4 pitches before the squeeze is put on. Maddux bunts through the pitch for strike 3, and Klesko is hung up. He breaks back towards third as Piazza throws to Ventura. Klesko turns back towards home. Hershiser is there, screaming for Ventura to throw him the ball before Klesko flattens him. Ventura throws, and just as Klesko is about to steamroll Hershiser, Orel makes the catch, sidesteps Klesko and tags him out. Another disaster averted. Jesus. Orel is growling in the dugout.

Meanwhile, in the bottom of the 6th, it's the Mets who put a little rally together, at the expense of some porous Atlanta defense. The rain has picked up in intensity a bit, and perhaps this is beginning to play havoc with the fielders. Piazza leads off and grounds to Larry. Larry fields it cleanly, but his throw is low, and Klesko cannot scoop it up. Piazza lunges for the bag and barely beats the play, tripping over Klesko's back foot and tumbling to the dirt in the process. Well, why not another ding? Piazza is immediately up, a small miracle in and of itself. The error is on Klesko. Ventura follows. He's banged up as well, although not quite as in spectacular a fashion as Piazza, but he's struggling. He hasn't had a hit all series. And he watches strike 3 here. Mora follows. With the crowd now chanting "MELVIN MORA!" as they have all weekend, Mora responds by singling through the right side, moving Piazza to 2nd. Hamilton follows by hitting a shot right to Klesko, who spins and throws to 2nd, but his throw is awful. It's way wide, and Weiss has to lunge to simply make the catch and prevent the ball from sailing into the outfield. Klesko appeared to step towards first before deciding to throw. Cox throws his hat in the Atlanta dugout. It's a golden opportunity for the Mets...Until Ordonez slaps the first pitch directly to Weiss, who steps on 2nd and tosses to 1st for the easy DP. So much for that.

I'm watching the clock, as my tape appears ready to run out as the 7th begins. I've got the next tape ready for the next commercial. Hershiser is back out there for the 7th. With 1 out, he hits Boone on the elbow. Boone really made no effort to move, and Valentine, Hershiser and Piazza argue this point. The ball barely grazed him. Boone is run for by Otis Nixon. Otis Nixon? He's still alive? Who the hell even knew he was on the Braves roster!? With Atlanta carrying only 9 pitchers, they can afford to have a deep back end of the bench, but it's full of guys who never play. Ever. Except in situations like this. Meanwhile, Wallace is back out, and he removes Hershiser in favor of Wendell. Hershiser is given a nice hand as he departs. Although, by day's end, Hershiser's role in this game will be lost in the shuffle, it cannot be overlooked. He was able to stop the Braves offense for 3 innings, and prevent them from scoring any runs. Even more key considering the Mets inability to generate much offense of their own. NBC goes to commercial, and I change the tape.

Turk Wendell comes into the game, slams the rosin bag down, and Hello, Larry. Dennis Cook is now throwing for the Mets. Wendell is trying to keep Nixon close. Nixon is only in there to steal a base and everyone knows this. On 0-1, Wendell very nearly picks Nixon off. On 0-2, Larry checks his swing, but is called out, as Nixon steals second. Cox is stewing and shaking his head. Jordan follows. On 2-0, Piazza goes to the mound to talk to Wendell. When he goes back to the plate, Wallace comes out and brings in Cook. Cook then throws intentional ball 3 and 4 to Jordan, and then prepares to face Klesko. But Klesko is called back for Brian Hunter. Valentine comes out to talk to the home plate umpire. Now, not only is there tension, there's confusion as well. Is it possible that Valentine has had Cook has come in only to throw two intentional balls? The walk is charged to Wendell, and Cook hasn't officially faced a batter, but Wallace comes out and removes him for Pat Mahomes. Essentially, Cook has been wasted with these machinations. Go figure. This is the kind of series it's been. Now it's Mahomes pitching to Hunter. And Mahomes walks Hunter on 4 pitches. Once again, Atlanta has the bases loaded, and without the benefit of a hit. Once again, it's gut-check time for everyone in the ballpark. Now it's Andruw. On 2-2, Jones hits it deep to left, but not deep enough, and Henderson is able to make the catch in front of the track. Exhale. Mahomes holds his fist up and pumps it as Rickey catches the ball. 10 LOB for Atlanta through 7 innings. No sanity left for Mets fans.

I'm exhausted. My roommate is exhausted, and he's not even a Mets fan. But what's really scary is that this game isn't even halfway done. They're just getting warmed up.

The chess match continues after the 7th inning stretch. Hunter is still in at 1st. Keith Lockhart replaces Boone at 2nd. Mahomes leads off for the Mets. Mahomes hit .313 for the Mets in the regular season, including some clutch hits. But not here. He works the count before striking out. Neither Rickey or Alfonzo can do anything afterwards.

The 8th begins with shots of the Birthday Boy, John Rocker, stretching out in the bullpen. Cox says he's good for an inning, if the Braves take the lead. There may be a mystery guest in the pen too, perhaps Kevin Millwood could make an appearance before this game is over. John Franco is up for the Mets. Ventura makes a great diving stop on a grounder by Perez. Weiss follows with a double in the Left Center Field gap. Gee, another threat by the Braves? Jose Hernandez follows, Pinch Hitting for Maddux as Terry Mulholland is warming for Atlanta. Hernandez attempts to fool the umpire by dropping his bat on a check swing. Nobody is fooled. Hernandez is notorious for his high strikeout numbers, and he doesn't disappoint here. Williams is walked intentionally. And here comes Dave Wallace once again. Wallace is probably wearing out a path from the dugout to the mound. Here, he pulls Mahomes for Franco to face the lefty Lockhart. As NBC returns from commercial, more plugs for the Bud One Airship, as the rain continues to fall, however lightly. There are a few umbrellas up. Franco is the last lefty reliever for the Mets, although Rogers is available. Mercifully, Franco gets Lockhart to dribble the first pitch to Olerud for the easy out. Franco pumps his fist as he walks off.

Terry Mulholland probably warmed up in every game in this series. But this is the first time he's gotten into the game. He's the 2nd pitcher for Atlanta. The Mets have used 6. Olerud starts off with a single to left. Heaven forbid, a leadoff hit for the Mets! Piazza follows, and he clearly looks like a corpse. He's able to work the count, but he eventually strikes out, just as my second tape runs out. Damn. I knew this game was slow, but this is ridiculous! I scramble to my room for a fresh tape, and pop it in as Ventura grounds softly into a 4-6-3 DP to end the inning. He's 0-16 for the series. Some boos are heard. Don't know if they're for Ventura, or for the Braves. Who cares, at this point?

As the 9th inning begins, Costas tells us that the Mets have used 5 pitchers to face the last 10 Atlanta batters, only one of whom has gotten a hit. I don't know if that means that they've done a good job, or if Valentine has just lost his mind. I'm pretty sure I'm about to lose mine at this point. Hello, Larry. The crowd may be too tense to jeer him too much, considering the situation. But they're all up when he looks at strike 3 from Franco. Jordan taps one towards 3rd. Ventura charges the ball, but loses it on the transfer. Infield hit. Franco is able to get Hunter to pop out. Armando Benitez is warming, Valentine is pacing in the dugout. Franco strikes out Jones and exults as he strides off the mound. A chance to win it for the Mets, if they can get that elusive key hit in their half.

The rain begins to pick up in intensity as the bottom of the 9th begins. Benny Agbayani is on deck to hit for Hamilton, as Mora is batting. I guess the plan here is to sacrifice some defense for some hopefully immediate offense. Or maybe the righty/lefty thing with Mulholland in the game. Russ Springer and Rocker are in the bullpen, warming up for Atlanta. "A lot of wet uniforms out there, but also a lot of dry throats. Especially for the Mets, with their entire season on the line," Costas says.

With the crowd behind him, mustering all their energy to try to will him on base, Mora battles, but strikes out on the 9th pitch. Agbayani grounds out. Bobby Bonilla is on deck if Ordonez can get on. But Ordonez, a paltry 1 for 17 in the series, grounds out to Weiss. 1 for 18, and this game, already intense, is now going into extra innings. I think I'm about to pass out. Pass the bong, please.

It's Benitez in for the 10th, with the Braves 0-26 against him this season. Agbayani takes over in RF, Mora moves to CF. Meanwhile, Perez breaks up Armando's "perfect game" with a flare single in front of Rickey. Perez is run for by another one of Atlanta's mystery men, Howard Battle. Howard Battle? They've got guys I've never even heard of! Weiss attempts to bunt, but cannot get one down, and strikes out. Cox is frustrated. Ozzie Guillen is next, Pinch Hitting for Mulholland. It's getting down to the back ends of both benches, but the Mets appear to have more viable pieces left for them. At least that's what I'd like to think at this point. Guillen pops the ball high in the air foul, behind the plate. Piazza goes back, and looking up, all he can see is blowing raindrops. He staggers for a bit, and collapses to his knees before catching the ball near the Mets dugout. Everyone can see that Piazza is suffering out there. Costas says that "Whenever this season ends for the Mets, and wherever Mike Piazza has a vacation retreat, he should go there immediately."

With Gerald Williams batting, and the count 1-0, Battle runs. Piazza's throw is to the 3rd base side of 2nd. Battle lumbers, and slides late, but he's safe. Meanwhile, in the Atlanta bullpen, Rocker continues to toss, along with Mike Remlinger, both lefties. It messes up the Mets bench. Most of their best hitters off the bench are lefties. Has this been said before? Yes. Costas reminded us of this in Game 1, Game 3 and probably last night as well. Williams grounds out. I think I've forgotten that that was the final out. Maybe I'm just too tense to move from my chair in the common room. The game had started out with just my roommate and I watching, but the crowd has grown as the game has progressed. There are now 7 people milling around my apartment in Binghamton, all of them now glued to the game, many of whom I didn't even know were Mets fans.

Bottom of the 10th. Shawon Dunston hits for Benitez, as Remlinger comes in to pitch. Perez is out of the game for Atlanta, Greg Myers has come in to catch. With the Mets out of true relief pitchers, Kenny Rogers is warming up in the bullpen. The carousel continues to spin. But the Mets can't get anything going. This game has simply become a war of attrition. The Mets, now down to only starting pitchers, will likely have to go with one pitcher until the game is won or lost. With 2 out, Alfonzo bats. Costas recaps Fonzie's heroics against Cincinnati and Arizona. Even clips of Alfonzo's big HRs can't snap him out of his funk.

The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony" is playing as Kenny Rogers warms up for the 11th inning. Benny Agbayani is now in left, Dunston is in Center, and Mora is back in Right. Got that? Good, because I don't think I do. Costas tells us that Kenny Rogers hasn't relieved since 1991 with the Rangers, when his manager was Bobby Valentine. Meanwhile, Valentine is talking to the umpire, and then talks to a fan as he walks back to the dugout. He takes off his cap, smiles and shakes his head as if to say whatever happens, happens. This is what we got, and this is what we're going with. And with Rogers in, this almost certainly means that if the Mets can win this game, Leiter is going to start Game 6. Lockhart leads off, and Rogers fools him badly with a curve for strike 3. Hello, Larry. Even in this tense game stretching deeper into a wet evening, the fans are still all over Larry. But Larry singles to center on the first pitch with Dunston playing deep. Jordan is next, and grounds to Ventura, who makes a nice pickup before throwing to second to get Larry. The Rain picks up again with Hunter at the plate. And on 1-0, Hunter drives one to deep right center. A heart attack ball. But Mora is on his horse, and he runs the ball down on the warning track for the final out of the inning. Phew. 7:58pm and the game began at 4:09. This game isn't getting any easier to watch.

It's still raining as we go to the bottom of the 11th. Costas says that It would have to be a torrential downpour for them to stop the game. Olerud leads off, and he drills one to deep right against Remlinger. Off the bat, it looks like it might have enough to get out. It heads down towards the right field corner, but the pitch was in on his hands, and the ball does not carry deep enough. Jordan catches it. The Mets dugout is all out as it leaves the bat, but disappointed as the ball is caught. Piazza is right on a pitch as well, but he lines right at Williams. Ventura follows by finally nailing his first hit, a hard single in front of Jordan, not surprisingly, a 2 out single. Mora grounds out on the first pitch. Larry makes a fine stab of a hard liner. On we go.

Moving to the 12th, a caption tells us that Atlanta has left 15 men on base, as opposed to only 7 for the Mets. This is followed by a recap of some of Atlanta's futility, specifically in the 6th, 7th, 10th and 11th innings. It's still raining hard. There are umbrellas, more than before, but very few fans have left, and it doesn't appear that many have moved inside, either. Meanwhile, in the Atlanta dugout, Jim Gray tells us that Remlinger is finished for the game. John Smoltz is hovering around the bat rack, and is ready to pinch hit if the pitcher's spot comes up. This is because the only position player left for Atlanta is their 3rd catcher, Jorge Fabregas. On the other side, The Mets have Matt Franco, Pratt and Bonilla. There's also Cedeno, but he is probably unavailable. Atlanta has more pitchers left, though, with Russ Springer, Rocker and Kevin McGlinchy out in the bullpen. On the field, Rogers is weaving in and out of trouble yet again. He walks Myers with 1 out. A shot of the Atlanta bullpen reveals that all 3 remaining relievers are warming up at once. With Weiss batting, a shot of Smoltz in the on-deck circle. Meanwhile, the ticker at the bottom of the screen reminds us that the Boston/Yankees game has started and is 0-0 in the 2nd. Weiss grounds to Ventura who turns a fine 5-4-3 DP. Cox is disgusted.

Bottom of the 12th. Atlanta has brought Russ Springer in to pitch. Agbayani leads off and draws the walk. The crowd, which seems to have risen and fallen with each pitch, each swing, is up once again. A Sign in the stands reads: "Ya Gotta Believe. Mets in 7." Ordonez follows, ad squares to bunt. Shockingly, he pops the bunt up. The crowd Boos. He can't get a hit, and he can't lay a bunt down to save his life right now. Dunston is also hacking at the 1st pitch, and he pops up to Larry. The crowd isn't as loud now as he tries to catch it. I would guess that they are exhausted at this point. Bonilla hits for Rogers. He is greeted with loud cheers. Once again, I state, after everything that's gone down with Bobby, if he could deliver the big hit here to win the game, perhaps all would be forgiven. Octavio Dotel is warming for the Mets. He's truly the last guy out there. Bonilla hangs in there, but strikes out on the 8th pitch. I can only shake my head. This game is going to come down to whoever can take a chance and somehow catch a break to push a run across.

"We've gone through 12 innings to resolve nothing so far," is the quote from Costas as the 13th inning begins. He recaps the scoring, showing highlights of Olerud's HR, Larry's double and Jordan's single. Not much to recap, really, although it was daylight when the last run was scored. Another way to look at it would be to say that the Mets haven't scored in over 4 hours. That's a comforting thought. Jorge Fabregas, the last man on the bench for Atlanta, pinch hits for Springer. Octavio Dotel, who hasn't pitched since Game 2 of the Division Series, is in the game for the Mets. Fabregas, who is awful at best, somehow hangs in. He fouls one pitch off Piazza. I think it hit him. Maybe Piazza is just flinching now, after all the jabs and dings. Fabregas strikes out on the 7th pitch. A shot in the Atlanta dugout shows that Cox is drinking coffee or whiskey or something. It's a brownish liquid, which he sips and sips and then dumps on the field. Gerald Williams bats next, and as he steps into the box, Costas reminds us that Williams is the 100th batter in this game. Jesus, these guys aren't fucking around now. Williams grounds to short. Rocker and McGlinchy are warming in the Atlanta bullpen. 2 outs, and Lockhart flares a single into CF, to the left and in front of Dunston. Hello, Larry, once again. The signs are still up, and the crowd is still jeering, however muted it seems. Everyone's a little too tense, and maybe a little too cold at this point. The OF is very deep. On 0-1, Lockhart runs and Larry drills it down the RF line into the corner. The first words out of my mouth are "Oh, Fuck!" It's hit hard and down towards the corner. But Mora is quick to the ball, which may have been slowed by the wet grass. Still, Lockhart is racing around the bases, and Ned Yost, the Atlanta 3rd base coach is waving him home. If the ball can just get by Mora and go to the wall, Lockhart scores for sure. But here's Mora flying over and cutting the ball off! He turns and whips the ball in to Alfonzo, who turns and fires a low throw towards Piazza at Home. The ball shorthops Piazza, but Mike is able to look the bounce right into his glove. He's got the plate totally blocked. Lockhart is dead.
Costas's Call: "There goes Lockhart. (Groans) And Jones raps it down the Right Field line! Racing over is Mora, he cuts it off. They're gonna wave him home! They're gonna try to score Lockhart! And Piazza's got it! (Cheers) Takes the collision and tags him out! A big play by Mora to prevent the ball from going to the wall!"
Lockhart is out by 20 feet. He crashes into Piazza, somehow trying to knock the ball out. He lowers his helmet into Piazza's left forearm, and appears to try to grab and twist his arm as well. Piazza hops up and immediately lowers his head in pain. Meanwhile, a heroes welcome for Mora, who is grinning and high-fiving fans down the right field line as he runs in to the dugout, where he is greeted by his teammates. Ned Yost sends Lockhart, knowing that a good throw will get him, but you have to make the Mets make the play. Cox kicks the dugout steps. It's the right call by Yost, especially the way this game has gone, but Mora came up with a throw as clutch as can be, a play equal to the magnitude of the game itself. When the tag is made, everyone in the room is up and screaming. It's as if we were suddenly energized by Melvin Mora.
Meanwhile, NBC does not break for commercial. Mora's throw and the tag are replayed several times. The look from different angles show Lockhart really driving his tiny head into Piazza's arm. As Costas and Morgan are talking, Boos are audible as Rocker charges in. Here it is, his 25th Birthday, and Rocker is pitching in the 13th inning of a game in the city where he is hated more than anywhere else. Cox says Rocker can give an inning. But this is extra innings. If he gives one, can he give more? Costas wonders this aloud. The boos are even louder as Rocker is announced. But the boos immediately turn to cheers as Alfonzo is announced as the leadoff hitter for the Mets. Costas tells us that Rocker said before the game, "These fans think they've gotten in my head. They're wrong. I'm in their heads." The Mets are all on the top step of the dugout. Nobody is sitting. Alfonzo strikes out on 3 pitches. With Olerud batting, Rocker steps off. Boos. The fans boo his every move. Costas and Morgan recap the pitching situation. All Atlanta has left in the bullpen is McGlinchy. All Valentine has left altogether are Leiter and Reed. Olerud flies to medium left. Williams makes the easy play. Piazza is next. Craig Sager reports that Piazza came into the dugout after the collision with Lockhart and told the trainer that he's OK, he just wants to end it right here. He's got a chance to. But he looks totally bombed right now. Piazza is clearly swinging for the downs. His swings are massive. Rocker's grunts are again audible. This game is 4:37 old. You can't really tell if it's Rocker grunting as he throws, or Piazza grunting as he swings. Mike swings through a high fastball for strike 3. Rocker bounds off the mound, scowling, with his chest pumped out. Piazza drops his bat and slumps off, as if every bit of energy has left his body.

Coming back from commercial, a shot of Rocker walking off the mound. Costas says, "You can read John Rocker's lips. The fans taunting him, as they have all weekend, and he yells back, 'I just struck out your best hitter,' meaning Piazza, 'what are you yelping about?'" In the dugout, Rocker is yukking it up. Meanwhile, it's a different story on the Mets side, as Craig Sager tells us:

"Well, Mike Piazza has a strained right forearm. I don't know if it happened on that swing, where he took a hard cut at the first fastball, or if it was in the collision, but he told the trainer Fred Hina before that he was all right, he just wanted to end it right there, and when he wasn't able to in the Bottom of the 13th, he could no longer continue, he is coming out of the game."

And no sooner are the words out of Sager's mouth than the cameras cut immediately to Todd Pratt behind the plate. On the other side, Rocker was grilled by Cox and Mazzone, and he will continue. For the Mets, Al Leiter has gone down to the bullpen. Brian Jordan strikes out leading off. Costas and Morgan continue to discuss the Mets situation. Morgan says "If you have to use Leiter, you use him. You can't worry about Game 6 right now." It's true. Right now, the Mets just have to worry about getting to the next game before they worry about who can pitch. Brian Hunter loses his bat and nearly kills Eddie Perez as it flies into the dugout. He flies out to Mora. NBC runs an ad for Game 6, on Tuesday, if necessary. Andruw Jones walks with 2 out. Every time an Atlanta runner reaches base, it's tense. At this point, every pitch is tense. Costas tells us that the Longest LCS game is 4:51, a game between Cleveland and Baltimore 1997. This game is at 4:49. The longest LCS game by innings was Game 6 of the Mets/Astros series in 1986. With Myers up, Dotel appears to be getting a little wild. Dave Wallace, who, after running out every other batter earlier in the game, appears to have not been seen in ages, but he runs out to talk to Dotel here. Whatever he said must have worked. Dotel comes back and fires 3 quick strikes to get Myers. Dotel pumps his fists as he walks off. Both managers are getting a little fidgety now. They're both running out of players and some serious decisions are going to have to be made now.

It's time for the 14th inning stretch! Shots of the crowd reveal that very few fans have left, impressive considering the length of the game, considering it's Sunday night, and considering the rain. Rocker remains in the game for Atlanta. Ventura leads off. It's also 2-2 in the Red Sox/Yankees game. But they've gotten there in only 3 innings. It's the 14th here. With the tension and the drama reaching unbearable heights, Costas is in rare form. "If anyone thought the Mets would roll over after being down 0-3, they thought wrong. They came back to win last night, and they've battled to the 14th inning here, where any misstep could spell the end of their season," he says, as the crowd chants "ROCKER SUCKS!" Ventura at least puts his bat on the ball and flies out to center. The crowd cheers, and Rocker mocks them, waving his hands and giving a fake scream. Cox comes to remove Rocker. Rocker stomps off the mound defiantly once again. The crowd boos, and he boos them back. He yells, boos them some more and storms into the dugout. One final look at this vile and evil presence, this scourge who has talked his shit and for the most part backed it up. It's now Kevin McGlinchy for the Braves. McGlinchy, a rookie, is the last reliever in the Atlanta bullpen. McGlinchy comes out throwing darts. He strikes out Mora quickly. Costas chimes in once again, "If you're just joining us, and you're a little bit confused, with the postseason television schedule, which game is on which network and so forth, this was a day game, originally. We're in the 14th."

If you're just joining us, well, where the hell have you been, would have been more appropriate. I've stopped biting my nails. Now I'm eating my shirt.

Agbayani draws a 4 pitch walk, just after Morgan states that the Braves have only allowed one walk through 13 innings. This game has gone from a war of attrition to simply a battle of wills, a contest to see who will blink first. Matt Franco is the only position player on either side who has not been used. The only pitchers to not be used are all starters. Now, it's Ordonez up for the Mets. Great. On 1-1, Agbayani steals! McGlinchy has a high leg kick, and there was no chance to throw him out. Maybe a chance for the Mets, even as Al Leiter begins to throw in the bullpen. But Ordonez slaps it to Lockhart. And so we continue. Have I said that before? At this point, I have no idea.

To this point, the Braves have left 17 men on base. This is officially a Postseason record. Walt Weiss leads off the 15th. It's still raining and wind is blowing everything around. The field looks mucky. Valentine and Cox continue to pace. In between innings, I have taken walks around my building just to stretch myself out and diffuse some of the tension. Other people in the room are transfixed to their seats. Costas continues to hyperbolize about Dotel and if Leiter will come in. Leiter is now sitting in the bullpen, out there by himself. Weiss lines one in front of Agbayani for a single. Valentine, Wallace and Leiter discussed the options and have decided that they'll piece together Game 6 if they have to use Leiter tonight in order to get there. McGlinchy is next, and you can bet the farm that he's bunting, and Dotel is throwing high fastballs at him. But Dotel misses a few too many times and runs the count full. NBC shows shots of the crowd, which has thinned progressively more and more as the game continues. The crowd was announced at 55,723. Perhaps about 35-40,000 remain. On 3-2, McGlinchy bunts through strike 3, as Weiss runs. Pratt's throw is good, but it's too late and Weiss has stolen 2nd. Williams flies out to left, and it looks like Dotel may get out of it. Wallace goes to the mound to talk to Dotel about Lockhart. You have to be careful with Lockhart, a good fastball hitter, but you also can't just walk him and face Larry, even with first base open. At least this is what I surmise Wallace is telling Dotel. Dotel seems to be too busy knocking mud out of his cleats, just to give you an idea of how messy things have gotten with all the rain. Lockhart is next, and he swings at the first pitch and hits a drive similar to the hit he got in the 13th. But Dunston was shaded deep in Left Center. He races over as fast as he possibly can, but he can't get it. Once again, Holy Fucking Shit. Dunston overruns the ball as Weiss scores easily. Mora picks it up and fires back in, but Lockhart has made it all the way to 3rd. Oh My God, the Braves scored. Someone actually scored! Now it's deathly quiet, both in my apartment, and at Shea.

Costas's Call: "And a line drive towards the gap in Right Center Field! Sprinting over is Dunston, he can't get to it! It goes by him as Weiss scores the go ahead run! Lockhart around second, digging for third. And his triple has given Atlanta the lead in the 15th!"

Atlanta's dugout is out and all of a sudden alive. There is cheering and clapping and high-fives all around. Hello Larry? The fans can't get it up now. Larry is intentionally walked. Costas questions whether Hamilton might have been able to get the ball. In reality, it was probably hit too far in the gap. Dunston was shaded towards left. He had such a long way to run that it was likely impossible for him to get there in time. In the Mets dugout, Valentine continues to pace. Dotel strikes out Jordan and pumps his fists. The crowd comes to its feet to salute the Mets as they come off the field. In the room, I say to nobody in particular, "Well, they've come this far, and if it has to end here, so be it."

Coming out of commercial for the bottom of the 15th, NBC shows the long line score for the game. Costas says that "The Mets have operated on the edge for about two weeks now. Now they're down to what could be their last 3 outs of a memorable season." The crowd is still stunned. But if the situation might appear that all hope is completely gone, this is lost on the Mets. From one end of the dugout to the other, they believe. They believe they're going to win. And Shawon Dunston steps to the plate knowing that he's going to get that hit, especially after it was his questionable play that allowed the lead run to score. Dunston's up and immediately hacking. But on 1-1, he takes a strike. Costas wonders "What's he thinking about?" Matt Franco is on deck for the Mets. But will he bat if Dunston gets on? Will they send up Dotel to bunt? Can Dotel bunt? These are the questions being asked by Costas and Morgan, as Dunston fouls off a couple of pitches. On the mound, McGlinchy is just firing the ball up there. He looks wide eyed, and his mouth is agape. Dunston works the count full, and continues to foul off pitches.

A shot of the Mets dugout. Still, very few are seated. Piazza is one. Piazza, on the bench, is glassy eyed and looking down. Meanwhile, Rick Reed is warming up in the bullpen in earnest. If the Mets should tie it, Reed threw 7+ innings last night, but only 73 pitches.

As Dunston fouls off yet another pitch, Costas begins to let the schmaltz get the better of him. "Baseball, especially Postseason Baseball, can be a game of building tension. Sustained and building tension. And that's what Dunston and McGlinchy are giving us here. 6 foul balls after the count went full."

Finally, after 6 fouls, and on the 12th pitch of the at bat, Dunston gets his pitch and pings it right back up the middle, into center field. When the Mets need it the most, Dunston comes through with the leadoff single. Costas's call: "Rolled toward the middle, base hit! An incredible at bat for Shawon Dunston!"

Matt Franco is announced as the pinch hitter, but then is suddenly called back, and Dotel is sent up to the plate. The Crowd reacts with bewilderment. Costas and Morgan do as well. Dotel would bunt, but he only had one sacrifice all season. There's no guarantee that he can lay one down. McGlinchy makes a throw to first. And then, as if Valentine just changed his mind back, Franco is back at the plate, and Dotel is walking off. Morgan notes that Valentine's mind has been churning for 5 hours and 40 minutes. He might be excused for being indecisive at this particular point. Morgan thinks this is the right move. On the Atlanta side, Leo Mazzone comes out to talk to McGlinchy. It's only 9:46 in a game that started at 4:09. The crowd boos loudly. Every Met is on the top step of the dugout. Every fan is standing. Now, they're waiting for Dunston to steal, or Franco to get the big pinch-hit that he's come up with all year long. On 2-1, Dunston breaks, but Franco fouls the ball off. Dunston had it stolen easily. McGlinchy's delivery is long, with a high leg kick. They talked about it in the 14th.

As Dunston heads back to 1st, more from Costas. His delivery is quick, as if he had rehearsed it. "Here's the difference between Baseball and any other sport. When it comes down to crunch time in Football, you're gonna try to throw it to your best receiver or give it to your best back. In Basketball, you're gonna try to put it in your best scorer's hands. But sometimes in Baseball, it's a journeyman like Franco off the bench and a rookie like McGlinchy on the mound with the whole season on the line. Baseball history is dotted with the names of people like Al Weis and Brian Doyle. People who have come out of the shadows and into prominence, because it's just their time."

On the next pitch, Dunston runs again. The pitch is well outside for Ball 3. Myers makes a desperate throw, but it's well to the right of 2nd base, and not close. Dunston ran on a curveball, and had the base stolen easily. McGlinchy is clearly rattled now, and his next pitch is inside for ball 4. Franco tosses his bat away and walks to first.

Alfonzo is next, and before Costas can even ask, Morgan states that now, you have to bunt with Alfonzo, who can bunt, and if he can't get one down, you still have a good hitter up with 2 strikes. And Alfonzo does just that. He selflessly lays down a picture perfect sacrifice bunt on the 1-0, right in front of the mound, moving up the runners. In the Mets dugout, Todd Pratt stands next to Valentine and laughs. Alfonzo moves the runners up, leaving first base open. The Braves will inevitably walk Olerud intentionally, and it's going to be left up to Todd Pratt once again. Pratt loves it. As soon as Fonzie's bunt is laid down, Cox waves 4 fingers. Olerud is thrown 4 quick balls, as Costas brings us up to speed on Pratt:

"That would leave it up to Todd Pratt, a 32 year old who, to call him a journeyman would be kind. At least prior to the last few weeks. He spent a full year out of Baseball. He worked at a pizza franchise, for a while he taught at Bucky Dent's Baseball school in Florida. He was up and down between the Minors and Majors 3 times in another season. You don't get all that much time playing behind Mike Piazza, but when Piazza's aching thumb forced him out, it was Pratt who came on in the Division Series and hit an Extra Inning Home Run over the center field wall 8 days ago in this ballpark, that finished off the Diamondbacks and sent the Mets to this NLCS against the Braves."

As Pratt strides to the plate, looking calm and confident, Valentine waves for time. Of all people, Roger Cedeno is running out of the dugout. Cedeno had been unavailable with back spasms. But with the length of the game, he obviously healed up enough to pinch run here, and he's in for Franco. It's Cedeno, truly the last man off the bench, representing the winning run for the Mets. But it's up to Pratt first. A hit would surely win it. But a ground ball right at someone would be instant disaster. McGlinchy's first pitch is inside. Darryl Hamilton is on the bench praying. The next pitch is Ball 2 outside. The crowd is up and roaring with every pitch. McGlinchy looks about ready to shit himself. Ball 3 is high. Pratt is laughing and smiling. He's totally in the driver's seat now. John Franco gestures to the fans to get up. On the next pitch, Pratt leans forward and waggles his bat in front of the plate to try to distract McGlinchy, who throws a strike. Now, Pratt has to be careful that McGlinchy doesn't make him a good pitch. But the next pitch is Ball 4 outside. Pratt flings his bat away and runs to first, as Dunston trots home, and the entire Mets dugout is out as "Don't Stop Believing" is blasting. I'm high-fiving everyone in the room, running up and down the hall like a drill sergeant.

Joe Morgan puts it succinctly: "The Mets will not die."

Now, the Braves bring the infield and outfield in for Ventura. But Ventura, like Pratt before him is in the drivers seat. True, a hard ground ball and the Braves can get out of the inning. But that doesn't appear likely. McGlinchy just looks petrified now. The crowd is roaring. McGlinchy throws Ball 1 low and inside. Ventura swings at the next pitch and fouls it straight back. Cedeno is dancing up and down the line on 3rd, and he distracts McGlinchy, whose next pitch almost sails to the backstop. It takes a great stop from Myers to prevent that. It's 2-1. Ventura gets into his stance. McGlinchy gets his sign, and rears back for the 482nd pitch of this Marathon of Marathons.


-Gary Cohen

"A drive to right! Back to Georgia! Gone! A Grand slam!
(L.A. Woman plays)

What a scene at Shea!"

-Bob Costas

Ventura's drive is smoked. Deep and high and over the 371 sign on the Right-Center field wall. Brian Jordan just runs in, as do the rest of the Braves. But rather than rounding the bases, Todd Pratt turns around and tackles Ventura between first and second, lifting him up in the air and putting him down as the entire Mets team comes racing out of the dugout, out to the middle of the infield to mob Ventura. Cedeno scored, yes, but nobody else did. The umpires all ran off. The Mets and their fans celebrate. Those who have stayed, stuck it out after 15 innings, 5 hours and 46 minutes of tension, were treated to an ending like no other, and now, they refuse to leave. NBC shows the final score as 7-3 Mets. But there's some debate as to whether or not that's really the case.
Costas describes the scene as "A 5 hour and 47 minute trip to Bedlam!"

Costas says Valentine is saying "Thank You, New York." He's really saying "Thank You Lord." I'm ready to thank the Lord after a game like this. On the replays, Ventura appears to wave Pratt on as he comes around first. It's possible Ventura was the only Mets player who saw the ball go out of the park. Everyone leaps out of the dugout as soon as the ball is hit. Pratt tackles him between first and second and everyone else piles on from there. Costas and Morgan are deliberating as to what the final score actually is. Music is blasting, and fans are dancing at Shea. Nobody is leaving, even as the rain continues to pour.

"I'll tell you, these Mets are Rasputin-like. You cannot put them away. They will not die! Whatever the official score is, the Mets have won it. After falling behind 3-2 in the top of the 15th, they rally to win it and force Game 6," Costas says.

In the stands, Sign Man is holding up his "ACE VENTURA" sign. Ace Ventura, indeed. The scoreboard reads "GOOD LUCK IN ATLANTA, NEW YORK METS! YA GOTTA BELIEVE!"

If you don't believe in this team after watching a game like this, then you probably never will. A friend comes charging into my apartment looking for me. I leap into his arms, similar to Ventura and Pratt. We're screaming and yelling at the replays, and laughing at McGlinchy.
In the Mets clubhouse, Jim Gray is with Bobby Valentine. Gray says that Valentine told him not to ask about the game, because he can't remember it. But Gray asks him about the end of the game.

"I remember that because Robin Ventura played on one leg this whole game. There were about 5 times I thought about taking him out and he said no, he could go, no, he could stay in and it's poetic justice, justice indeed for him to get the big hit. God, what a great player, what a great team," is Valentine's response.

On the field, Ventura is the lone Met remaining. The field is flooded with reporters standing in the rain. Ventura is clearly exhausted. Craig Sager pulls him aside for an interview. Ventura looks like he is about to punch Sager in the face and tell him to get the fuck out of here so he can go inside and sit down. Sager asks him some puffy questions and Ventura responds. Sager then attempts to wave Ventura around the bases so his Grand Slam will count. This as the grounds crew has pulled up the bases. Ventura glares at Sager before saying, "No thanks, I've had enough."

Finally, after everyone is somewhat able to catch their breath, Costas and Morgan try to sum this game up. But how can you sum up a game like this, with so much riding on every pitch, with the chess match moves, the plays and the nuances of a game where neither team could blink until the very end. Morgan talks about the Mets situation and says, "They couldn't see beating the Braves 4 in a row, but I think they can see beating them two in a row now. They've taken it one game at a time until they got to the point where they can see the end of the goal now and I think they have a chance of winning two ballgames in a row."

As NBC signs off, Costas lets us know that Red Foley, official scorer has deemed the final score 4-3. It is a Grand Slam Single for Ventura, a manic coda to a bizarre, frenetic, ridiculously extended ballgame. Just like you imagined.

How did we get here? How the hell are we still alive?

Final Score
Mets - 4

Braves - 3

(15 Innings)

Braves Lead Series 3-2

To Be Continued...
Part VIII - The War of The Worlds