Mets make the most of less

Maine helps fill gap for depleted team

Mets 6 Dodgers 5

October 05, 2006|By David Lennon | David Lennon,Newsday

New York -- Leading up to Game 1 of the National League Division Series yesterday, the New York Mets constantly were reminded of what they did not have.

No Pedro Martinez. No Orlando Hernandez. And, because of those two missing pieces, maybe no chance against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

What everyone forgot, except for the Mets themselves, is that the argument made little sense. The National League East champions won 97 games during the regular season by being relentless and resourceful, and they used both strengths to topple the Dodgers, 6-5, at Shea Stadium and take a 1-0 lead in this best-of-five series.

The Mets displayed a great deal of emotion, too. After Carlos Delgado's RBI single broke a 4-4 tie in the seventh, the massive first baseman did a windmill fist pump on the base paths. When David Wright followed with a bloop to shallow right field, giving the Mets a crucial 6-4 lead, he slid headfirst into second for a double, popped up and began clapping furiously.

After a rough week, pockmarked by disappointment, the Mets used this Game 1 as an outlet for that pent-up frustration.

"It was unbelievable," said Wright, who had two doubles and three RBIs. "It was just absolutely nuts out there and it rubbed off on the players. To come through like that, the emotions sometimes get the best of you. You give some windmill fist pumps like Carlos did. I think we have an emotional team, so it was big."

With Hernandez likely out for the rest of the playoffs, the Mets got what they needed from his rookie replacement, former Oriole John Maine, who kept the game close before the bullpen could take over in the fifth inning.

Delgado tied a franchise record with four hits, including a mammoth home run off the camera tower in left-center field, in his career playoff debut and Billy Wagner barely survived the ninth inning for his first postseason save.

In between, the Mets rallied from an early 1-0 deficit, used five relievers and watched in amusement as the Dodgers ran themselves into a bizarre double play in which Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew were tagged out in succession at the plate.

For the 56,979 fans that squeezed into Shea, it was almost worth the six-year wait.

"We've had to overcome things all year long and this was no exception," Mets pitcher Aaron Heilman said. "We kind of go out there and treat this like business as usual."

In many ways, this was anything but. The Mets were stunned when Hernandez had to be scratched from his Game 1 start less than 24 hours before he was scheduled to take the mound, but Maine turned out to the be the right man for the job.

Pitching coach Rick Peterson told him of his assignment yesterday at 11:30 a.m., and a few hours later, Maine limited the Dodgers to six hits and only one run in 4 1/3 innings. It wasn't spectacular, but it was enough on short notice.

"I was nervous, but I actually wasn't as nervous as I thought I would be," Maine said. "I didn't want to let that get the better of me. I just tried to take control, and it went all right."

It helped that Delgado and Cliff Floyd crushed home runs off Dodgers starter Derek Lowe to put the Mets ahead 2-1 in the fourth inning.

Wagner allowed two doubles in the ninth, but struck out Nomar Garciaparra, getting him to swing wildly at a slider for the final out.

Despite all their recent losses, the Mets discovered they still had more than enough to win.

"You look at championship teams, like that one across town, and that's how everybody does it," Wagner said. "That's what we've been doing all year."

David Lennon writes for Newsday.

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