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Not so fast

Olerud's two-run single off Rocker forces Game 5

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Posted: Sunday October 17, 1999 04:50 PM

  Atlanta's John Rocker reacts as New York's Melvin Mora and Roger Cedeno celebrate after scoring in the eighth inning. AP

NEW YORK (AP) - John Rocker stood next to the mound, hands on his hips, watching helplessly as the ball rolled into center field and two runners sprinted across the plate for the New York Mets.

This time, he couldn't back up his boast.

John Olerud hit a two-out, two-run single off Rocker in the eighth inning and the Mets avoided a sweep in the NL Championship Series with a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Saturday night.

"I have to admit it was good to get some runs against him," Mike Piazza said, "especially the way he's pitched."

Piazza said nothing about the Mouth of the South, but it was obvious the Mets enjoyed this one. After the winning run came across, several players in the dugout flapped their fingers to mimic Rocker's constant chatter during the best-of-7 series.

The Braves still lead 3-1, with Game 5 set for Sunday afternoon at Shea Stadium. No team has ever rebounded from an 0-3 deficit, but the Mets aren't conceding yet.

"Someday, someone's going to do this," New York manager Bobby Valentine said.

Rocker has infuriated New York fans with his inflammatory comments and kept up the trash talking before the game, boasting that he would be immersed in champagne at the end of Game 4. When he sprinted in from the bullpen, one fan threw a baseball at him and another hurled a cup of beer.

Both missed the mark, but Olerud finally came through after going hitless in nine career at-bats against Rocker, with five strikeouts. The New York first baseman, who had struck out twice against Rocker in the series, sent a chopper up the middle on a 2-2 slider.

Rocker leaped for it but had no chance. Ozzie Guillen, who had just entered the game for Walt Weiss in a double-switch, got his glove on the ball but couldn't hold on, and it rolled into short center field while both runners scored.

"I made the pitch I wanted, low and away," Rocker said. "It was a three-hopper, a well-placed three-hopper. It was one of the cheaper hits off me the entire year, an infield hit. It wasn't like he hit a double off the wall."

But it was good enough to produce another dramatic finish for the Mets and put a dent in Atlanta's domination. The Braves had won 21 of 27 games against New York over the last two years.

"When I saw it going up the middle, I didn't know if it was going to get through or not," Olerud said. "But I was definitely rooting for it, I'll tell you that."

Atlanta still needs just one more victory to reach its fifth World Series of the decade, but the first since 1996.

"It's a frustrating loss," Weiss said. "I thought we had it. You always want to end it as soon as possible when you're in a series like this."

No matter what happens Sunday, Game 5 will have a hard time topping this one.

Olerud drove in all three New York runs, breaking a scoreless duel between Atlanta's John Smoltz and New York's Rick Reed with a solo homer in the sixth.

Reed took a one-hitter into the eighth, having faced the minimum of 21 hitters, when the Braves stunned the raucous crowd of 55,872 with back-to-back homers by Brian Jordan and Ryan Klesko.

Smoltz gave up a single to Roger Cedeno leading off the eighth, the third hit of the game for the New York player. After Rey Ordonez popped up an attempted sacrifice bunt, Mike Remlinger entered the game and struck out pinch-hitter Benny Agbayani.

Remlinger walked the next batter, Melvin Mora, and Rocker sprinted in from the bullpen for the fourth straight time in the series, having already saved two of Atlanta victories.

Barely paying attention to the runners, Rocker allowed them to pull off a double steal. That proved crucial when Olerud found a hole up the middle.

Guillen was shading Olerud toward left field, preventing him from reaching the chopper. Cox said he didn't think Weiss would have caught the ball, either.

"I know if I catch it he's going to be out because he's a slow runner," Guillen said. "But that's what this game is all about - a few inches you get a hit, a few inches you don't get a hit."

Guillen nearly added another twist in the ninth, hitting a long drive that cleared the wall in right but hooked just foul. Armando Benitez settled down to get the final three outs and a save, something Rocker couldn't do.

The Mets have made a habit of rallying from the dead in recent weeks. They were two games behind wild-card leader Cincinnati entering the final weekend of the regular season, only to sweep Pittsburgh -- winning the final game when Mora scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth -- while the Reds were losing two of three at Milwaukee.

New York defeated Cincinnati 5-0 in a wild-card playoff and upset 100-game winner Arizona in the division series on Todd Pratt's 10th-inning homer in Game 4.

Then, just when it appeared they had run out of miracles, the Mets came up with another one.

The late-inning heroics overshadowed the brilliant pitching of Reed and Smoltz.

Smoltz, the winningest postseason pitcher in baseball history (12-3), made only one major mistake, serving up a 1-1 fastball that Olerud drove far over the right-field wall with two outs in the sixth.

Reed cruised into the eighth, the only base-runner coming when Bret Boone singled through the pitcher's legs in the fourth. Boone was thrown out stealing.

But Jordan hit the first pitch of the eighth off the U.S. Postal Service sign in deep left-center field, a 408-foot drive that tied the game and brought a deadening silence to the Shea faithful.

Jordan, who hit only one homer in his final 139 at-bats of the regular season while troubled by a sore hand, has now hit three homers in the postseason.

While the Braves were still celebrating in the dugout, Klesko connected with a 1-0 pitch from Reed and sent a 400-foot drive over the right-field wall. This time, the Atlanta players poured out onto the field while Klesko circled the bases.

"If I could've crawled under mound, I would have," Reed said.

But the Mets had another comeback in them, perhaps inspired by Saturday's 30th anniversary of the Amazin' Mets clinching victory over Baltimore to win the 1969 World Series.

Notes: Turk Wendell, who got three outs in the eighth, picked up the win. Remlinger took the loss. ... Mets outfielder Rickey Henderson, taken out in the top of the eighth in a defensive move, left the clubhouse less than three minutes after the game ended, prompting an angry comment from Wendell: 'We're a scrappy bunch because we don't quit. Except for one person.' ... The Mets have played in a World Series in every decade of their existence prior to the 1990s, their previous appearances in 1969, 1973 and 1986. ... Rocker's 25th birthday is Sunday. ... The Game 5 pitchers: Atlanta's Greg Maddux vs. New York's Masato Yoshii. ... Jordan and Klesko hit the first back-to-back homer in the NLCS since Darryl Strawberry and Kevin McReynolds did it for the Mets in 1988. ... Three of the four games have been decided by one run, the other by two runs.

Related information
MLB Scoreboard: Recap: Atlanta at New York
Galarraga: Coach, friend and motivator
Mets co-owner Wilpon wants Valentine to return
Jones wants a World Series rematch with the Yankees
Perez leading all Atlanta hitter through three games
Donovan: It's no fun to be a Met these days
Braves-Mets Box Score
Atlanta's Brian Jordan knows the Braves let a great opportunity slip away. (95 K)
New York's John Olerud talks about his big single in the eighth and facing John Rocker. (65 K)
Olerud talks about finally having success against pitcher John Smoltz. (114 K)
Catcher Mike Piazza shares a few secrets about winning in the playoffs. (104 K)
Atlanta's Ryan Klesko gives credit to New York for getting a crucial win. (91 K)
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