...Continued from Part VI
Parts I - VI
Sunday, October 17
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.
The crowd is roaring. Ventura is waiting. McGlinchy staring in, has his sign. The 2-1 pitch. And a DRIVE IN THE AIR TO DEEP RIGHT FIELD! THAT BALL IS HEADED TOWARD THE WALL! THAT BALL IS...OUTTA HERE! OUTTA HERE! A GAME WINNING, GRAND SLAM HOME RUN OFF THE BAT OF ROBIN VENTURA! VENTURA WITH A GRAND SLAM! THEY'RE MOBBING HIM BEFORE HE CAN GET TO SECOND BASE! THE METS HAVE WON THE BALLGAME!-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?
Mets - 4
Braves - 3
Braves Lead Series 3-2
To Be Continued...
Part VIII - The War of The Worlds