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By Jeff Pearlman, Sports Illustrated

Posted: Saturday October 16, 1999 02:48 AM

NEW YORK -- The hooligans arrived early to the bull fight, armed with their swords and daggers, looking for the thickest, reddest blood available.

This segment of Mets fans, a rabid bunch, were out for revenge.

There was the skinny guy with the chin. He was marching from row to row, sign in hand: "Rocker: 1% Pitcher, 99% A-- Hole." There were two more right behind him with posters blaring, well, not-so-nice greetings to the Braves' Jones boys -- Chipper and Andruw -- and their manager, Bobby Cox.

There was spit and phlegm -- lots of it. Two hours before last night's game, as members of the Braves slowly slinked out from the visitors' dugout, there were jeers, as well.

"Chipper, yoooooouuuuuuuuuuu suuuuuuuuuuuuuccccccccckkkk"

"Beat your wife Bobby, beat your wife ..."

The best was saved for Atlanta closer John Rocker.

"$#@& You, Rocker!" howled one of the hooligans. And he was just part of the chorus.

This was the New York everyone was afraid of. This was the New York Rocker had mocked in the tabloids. This was the New York baseball needs. Shea Stadium was a horrible, disgusting, grotesque hole, 100 percent the opposite of gentle, kind Atlanta, where two days earlier Mets rightfielder Roger Cedeno robbed Atlanta's Bret Boone with a dazzling, full-body-slide catch ... and was cheered for his terrific play. At Shea, one imagines that cheering a Brave would get a fan a slug to the head, not a pat on the back.

Here's the real question, though. Do the players really care what that small segment of clearly disturbed fans chant, blurt or write on a torn and wrinkled sheet?

"I don't have anything against 98 percent of the Mets fans," Rocker said after contributing to Atlanta's 1-0 win on Friday night. "But the other 2 percent -- they get me."

But John, why?

"I heard every mother insult, every sister insult, every family insult a person could hear," he said. "F-you, F-your mother, F-your wife, F-your dog. Horrible stuff."

Rocker whined, then laughed.

During the first two games at Turner Field, things were as polite as could be. In New York, where bottles tend to fly and beers have been poured over enemy heads, things were anything-but-civil.

But for the Braves, the games ended with the same result.

While they couldn't silence the Mets' fans on Friday, the Braves silenced their bats. And left the ballpark one win away from going to the World Series.

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