Amazin's hang on in NLDS opener against LA
A picture perfect afternoon for baseball. Unusually warm for October, bright sunshine, and a sellout at Shea. Game One of the National League Division Series was all that it was cracked up to be. A tight game that ended with the good guys up by one.
There's always something special when the Dodgers are in town. Even though they abandoned Brooklyn in 1957, folks still remember it like it was yesterday, even if they weren't born yet. To beat the guys that packed up and went west (the reason why the Mets even exist) is special. It's like the bully who graduated coming back to the schoolyard to wreak havoc only to get flattened by the new kid on the block.
These teams have met in the playoffs before. In 1988, the Mets beat the Dodgers 10 out of 11 games during the regular season. Heavily favorite heading into the National League Championship Series, the Mets ran into a hot team with the best pitcher in baseball. Orel Hershiser dominated all season and into October. He led the Dodgers to a six-game series win, which turned on Mike Scoscia's home run off Dwight Gooden at Shea. The Dodgers' Cinderella run continued when they took care of the big, bad Oakland A's and their Bash Brothers combo, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, in the World Series.
There are some similarities this time around. The '88 Mets were a strong club and an extension of their World Series champion team from two years prior. The Dodgers were an underdog team that included cast-offs such as first baseman Mickey Hatcher. This season, the Mets have been by far the best team in the National League and the Dodgers came out of nowhere in August to capture the Wild Card. They actually finished the regular season tied with the San Diego Padres for the top record in the division, but finished in second place due to the Padres' 13-5 record in the season series.
Could it happen again? Would the Mets get ousted by a Dodger team that most experts figured to be on their first week of vacation?
The Mets starting pitching has taken its lumps in the past week. Pedro Martinez has been banged up all year with toe, hip and calf injuries. In his last start of the season, he not only injured his left calf, but tore his right rotator cuff, as well. Done for the year, Orlando Hernandez was named to take his spot as the Game One starter in the NLDS.
The day before, El Duque was running during his usual warm-ups and tore a calf muscle, putting his return in doubt for the remainder of the playoffs. Youngster John Maine was tabbed by manager Willie Randolph to replace Hernandez, and he showed enough poise to keep his team in the game.
He departed in the fourth inning after only giving up one run. But he was helped out by an inexcusable base running gaffe. Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew were both thrown out at home plate on the same play. With runners on first and second, Dodger catcher Russell Martin hit one off the right field wall. Mets rightfielder Shawn Green played the carom perfectly and fired the ball to second baseman Jose Valentin, who wheeled and threw a strike to catcher Paul Lo Duca. The slow-footed Kent was easily thrown out, and to everyone's surprise, Drew came in on his heels. Lo Duca turned around and tagged him out to complete an unusual 9-6-2-2 double play.
The Dodgers ran themselves out of a potential big inning and the Mets erased the one-run deficit with two solo home runs. First baseman Carlos Delgado and leftfielder Cliff Floyd put the Mets in front, a lead which they held until the top of the seventh inning. Reliever Guillermo Mota hit for himself with the bases loaded for the last out of he sixth inning and got into trouble the next inning after Valentin tried to cut off the lead runner on a ground ball into the hole between first and second. Everyone was safe and the Dodgers eventually tied the score at four.
The Mets reclaimed the lead with two runs in the bottom of the frame. Closer Billy Wagner made nearly 57,000 people sweat it out by surrendering a run in the ninth inning. But he struck out Nomar Garciaparra on a pitch in the dirt to send the Flushing Faithful home happy.
The Mets were able to weather the storm in Game One, even after having their third option start. A tough road lies ahead with the team having to name southpaw Oliver Perez as the starter in either the third or fourth game on the road. Losing two of your top arms right before the playoffs will be hard to overcome. But with the Mets' bats and deep bullpen, they can pull it off.