Pratt's homer delivers Mets slice of NLCS

10th-inning blast sinks D'backs, 4-3, wraps up series in 4

October 10, 1999|By HARTFORD COURANT

NEW YORK -- Todd Pratt quit baseball in 1996 and went into the pizza business. Yesterday, Pratt was in for Mike Piazza, and because of him, the Mets are in the National League Championship Series.

The Mets' wild ride continues on, but not before one of the wildest shows ever staged at Shea Stadium.

The Mets needed 10 innings, and one of the most unlikely home runs in franchise history by Pratt, to put away the Arizona Diamondbacks, 4-3, win the National League Division Series in four games and advance to play their late-season nemesis, the Braves, in the NLCS starting Tuesday night in Atlanta.

"Bring 'em on! Bring 'em on!" said Mets manager Bobby Valentine during a jubilant champagne-drenched celebration in the Mets clubhouse.

Pratt, playing for the second day in a row for the injured Piazza, played the hero, driving Matt Mantei's 1-0 pitch just beyond the outstretched glove of Diamondbacks center fielder Steve Finley and over the wall at the 410-sign in center for a walk-off, series-clinching home run.

"When I hit it I thought it had a chance," Pratt said. "I got to be honest about that. I hit it good enough."

Pratt hesitated around first, as Finley appeared to pull the ball back over the fence, but Finley's glove was empty, and Pratt leapt around the bases into the waiting arms of his ecstatic teammates at home plate.

"As soon as I saw Steve running back and start to [jump], my heart stopped," Pratt said. "I've seen him so many times go over the wall and make the catch. Then he put his head down. I knew we won the game right then."

Pratt, the former Red Sox farmhand and backup to Darren Daulton with the Phillies in the early 1990s, left the game in frustration in 1996 and managed a Domino's franchise. He got back into baseball with the Mets in 1997, but nearly quit again last year.

"Last year I thought I was going to be the starting catcher with Todd [Hundley] hurt," Pratt said. I didn't make the team. It was the first time I cried after being talked to by the manager. At that point I was considering not showing up to [Triple-A] Norfolk."

But Pratt persevered, and when Piazza's thumb swelled up Thursday after a negative reaction to a cortisone shot, Pratt got his chance.

"I'm very happy that I gave my team a chance to go to the NLCS," Pratt said, "but you know, I'm just one guy in the mix."

Pratt's homer capped two games at Shea that saw role players such as Pratt, Benny Agbayani and Melvin Mora step into Piazza's vacated spot in the lineup and deliver clutch hits and defensive plays.

"Every guy on this team has put forth an extra effort, an extra sacrifice," Valentine said. "We deserve it."

For the two-time Gold Glove winning Finley, Pratt's shot was the one that got away, and with it went the Diamondbacks' historic second season.

"I felt I should have caught it," Finley said. "It hit the end of my glove. I've caught a lot of those before."

John Franco (1-0), pitching in his first postseason series, got three outs in the top of the 10th for the victory.

By the time Pratt circled the bases, the game had already seen a flirtation with a no-hitter by Al Leiter, a blown lead in the eighth by Armando Benitez, a potential insurance run cut down at home by Mora, a costly error by Arizona right fielder Tony Womack, a WWF match between Mets third base coach Cookie Rojas and left-field umpire Charlie Williams, Valentine coaching third and no Piazza at all.

"We've played in a lot of wild ones this year," said John Olerud, who hit the ball Womack dropped in the eighth. "That's kind of the way the season's gone for us. Fortunately, we've been able to win some of these last ones.

It was a game that matched the suspense and significance of another classic Mets postseason victory. Like Game 6 against the Astros in 1986, the Mets avoided a deciding-game matchup against a dominant pitcher -- Mike Scott then, Randy Johnson now -- with a thrilling extra-inning victory.

"Heck, we were looking over our shoulder at Randy Johnson," Valentine said.

Leiter didn't allow a hit until Greg Colbrunn homered with one out in the fifth, tying the game at 1-1. Leiter left the game leading 2-1 with two outs in the eighth, but two men on base.

Benitez came on and allowed a double to Jay Bell, scoring both runners and giving the Diamondbacks a 3-2 lead. Matt Williams then singled, but Mora threw Bell out at the plate.

The Mets tied the game in the bottom of the inning without a hit. Edgardo Alfonzo, who put the Mets ahead 1-0 in the fourth with his third homer of the series, led off with a walk. Olerud hit a fly to right that Womack appeared to lose momentarily in the sun. Womack recovered, only to have the ball clank off his glove for a two-base error.

"I hit it pretty good, but not great," Olerud said. "I thought it was going to be an out. I don't know what happened."

Roger Cedeno, hitting for Agbayani, then hit a sacrifice fly to score Alfonzo and tie the game, 3-3.

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