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Refusing to die

Ventura's heroics give Game 5 to Mets in 15 innings

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Posted: Monday October 18, 1999 05:25 PM

  Shawon Dunston (12) celebrates after scoring the tying run in bottom of the 15th. AP

NEW YORK (AP) -- There was confusion over the score, but one thing was certain after one of the wackiest - and greatest - games in playoff history: The New York Mets are still alive in the NL championship series.

Robin Ventura's grand slam-single drove home the winning run in the 15th inning and gave the Mets an improbable 4-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves in Game 5, capping baseball's longest postseason contest.

"If we come back and win this series, this will go down as one of the great games in history," Orel Hershiser said after the 5-hour, 46-minute epic. "One of the ones they show on the sports classic channel and cut out some of the dry parts, although there will be hardly any."

The 482-pitch game ended in confusion, with two runners crossing the plate while Ventura was mobbed by his teammates before he could get to second base. Workers pulled up the bases, the umpires left the field and no one knew the score: 4-3, 5-3 or 7-3.

"I never saw it go out. Did it?"Mets manager Bobby Valentine said as reporters told him of the confusion over the final score. "Then it's a grand slam. But he never touched the bases? I'll be doggone!"

About 10 minutes after the game ended, official scorer Red Foley announced that Ventura was credited with a run-scoring single and the final was 4-3. But the umpires insisted the score was 5-3, counting both runners who came home before the celebration. Finally, the NL ruled it 4-3, saying Foley and the Elias Sports Bureau were responsible for the final decision.

"The game ends in sudden death when the winning run scores," Elias spokesman Steve Hirdt said. "The only exception is on a home run, assuming the player rounds all the bases. He never rounded the bases."

It didn't matter. The Mets forced a Game 6 in Atlanta on Tuesday night.

"I'm just glad we're actually going back after getting down 3-0," Ventura said.

The Braves still lead the best-of-7 series 3-2, but this was another devastating blow after losing the previous night 3-2 on John Olerud's two-out, two-run single in the eighth inning.

Atlanta was three outs away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1996 after Keith Lockhart's two-out, run-scoring triple in the top of the 15th broke a 2-2 tie - the first run scored in the game since the third.

But the Mets, who had to win their final four games of the regular season just to make the playoffs, would not die.

After fouling off pitch after pitch, Shawon Dunston led off the home half of the 15th with a single to center against 22-year-old rookie Kevin McGlinchy, who then walked pinch-hitter Matt Franco.

Edgardo Alfonzo bunted the runners to second and third before McGlinchy walked Olerud intentionally to load the bases. Todd Pratt, who entered the game in the 14th after Mike Piazza suffered a strained right forearm, walked on five pitches to force in the tying run.

With the Shea Stadium crowd drowning out the sound of jets taking off from nearby LaGuardia airport, Ventura, who was 1-for-18 in the series, drove a 1-1 pitch over the right-field wall for an apparent grand slam.

"It's very discouraging," said McGlinchy, making his first appearance of the series. "It's one of those things you have to forget. Baseball is a crazy game, this was a crazy game."

Braves manager Bobby Cox, who has used three of his starters out of the bullpen during the postseason, chose not to call on Game 6 starter Kevin Millwood for the potential save. Cox was concerned about the muddy conditions on the mound as the game was played in a steady rain from the sixth inning on.

"(McGlinchy) is a big leaguer," Cox said. "He should be able to throw strikes and get them out. We thought he would."

Ventura didn't get a chance to circle the bases, but it didn't matter. One run was all the Mets needed to cap an incredible day and keep their season alive.

"I was just looking for something in the middle of the plate I could get in the air," Ventura said. "Everybody had all the tough at-bats before me, mine I was just trying to put the barrel on it. As long as I got to first base, I don't care. It was a great game to be involved in."

The Mets swept the Pirates on the final weekend to force a wild-card playoff with Cincinnati, winning that game 5-0 to earn New York's first postseason berth since 1988.

After putting themselves in an 0-3 hole against the Braves, they need another four-game streak to advance to the World Series.

New York is halfway there, though the series now shifts back to Atlanta. Game 7, which seemed improbable just a couple of days ago, would be Wednesday night if needed.

The Mets become only the second team in baseball history to win as many as two games after dropping the first three in a postseason series. The Braves did it last year before losing Game 6 to the Padres in the NLCS.

The most important game of the season ended with a pair of rookies on the mound: McGlinchy and 23-year-old Octavio Dotel for the Mets.

The New York bullpen pitched 10 shutout innings before Atlanta broke through against Dotel in the 15th. Walt Weiss led off with a single, stole second while McGlinchy was striking out and came home when Lockhart hit a drive to deep right-center, falling just out of the reach of Dunston.

Atlanta set a postseason mark by leaving 19 runners on base, putting at least one runner on base from the third inning on. They were 3-for-18 with runners in scoring position.

The Mets used a postseason-record nine pitchers, including Game 2 starter Kenny Rogers. Rick Reed, who started the previous day, was warming up to pitch the 16th, but he wasn't needed.

The last four games in what is becoming a classic series have been decided by one run. Atlanta won the first game 4-2.

It was the longest LCS game by innings since the Mets needed 16 to beat Houston in the deciding game of the 1988 NL series. It was the longest postseason game by time ever, surpassing the 5-hour, 13-minute marathon between the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners in Game 2 of a 1995 division series.

Despite the rain, more than half of the sellout crowd of 55,723 stayed around to the end and were rewarded with a chance to do a "14th Inning Stretch."

"Our crowd was great tonight," Ventura said. "They're partly responsible for this."

The Braves, after falling behind 2-0 in the first with Game 1 winner Greg Maddux on the mound, put up 13 consecutive zeros on the scoreboard. Benny Agbayani walked and stole second in the 14th, making him the first Mets player to get that far since the sixth. But Rey Ordonez grounded out to second to end the inning.

Mets nemesis John Rocker made his fifth straight appearance, pitching 1 1-3 scoreless innings, striking out two and keeping up his war of words with the Shea Stadium faithful each time he walked back to the dugout.

The Braves gambled for a victory in the top of the 13th when Chipper Jones doubled into the right-field corner on a hit-and-run with Lockhart breaking from first.

It didn't pay off. Melvin Mora retrieved the ball in the right-field corner, threw to second baseman Alfonzo, who wheeled and made a perfect one-hop throw home to Piazza.

Lockhart, who was still at least 10 feet from home, tried to run over the Mets catcher but couldn't knock the ball away.

Piazza suffered a strained right forearm on the play, though he batted in the bottom of the 13th. After striking out to end the inning, he was replaced by Pratt.

Olerud, the hero of Game 4, came through again in the first inning against Maddux, driving a two-run homer over the right-field fence. Olerud also homered the previous night and drove in all three runs in New York's victory.

Masato Yoshii, making his second start of the series, struck out the first two hitters and breezed through the first three innings, allowing only one baserunner.

But he couldn't get an out in the fourth. Bret Boone and Chipper Jones led off with back-to-back doubles, cutting New York's lead to 2-1. Brian Jordan followed with a single to left, bringing home Jones with the tying run. After Yoshii walked Klesko, the Mets called on Orel Hershiser, who escaped the jam and went on to pitch 3 1-3 scoreless innings.

Maddux bounced back from Olerud's homer to pitch seven strong innings, allowing seven hits, striking out five and walking no one. He was bombed in his last New York appearance, giving up eight straight hits without getting an out in the fourth inning -- including a grand slam by Olerud.

Notes: Mora started in right field in place of Roger Cedeno, who was bothered by a sore back. ... Hershiser made only his second relief appearance since 1989, the first coming in the division series against Arizona. ... Rickey Henderson, who showered and left the clubhouse just minutes after Game 3, angering at least one teammate, started in left. ... The Mets returned to their normal lineup, batting Alfonzo second, Olerud third, Piazza fourth and Ventura fifth. ... Maddux, making his seventh appearance in the NLCS, has never won two games in a series. ... Rocker has pitched in 11 straight LCS games -- all six against San Diego in 1998 and all five this year.

Related information
On the Diamond: Olerud quietly carrying Mets
Henderson responds to Wendell's comments
Henderson causing friction in Mets clubhouse
MLB Scoreboard: Recap: Atlanta at New York
MLB Scoreboard: How They Scored: Atlanta at New York
MLB Scoreboard: Game Log: Atlanta at New York
Braves-Mets Box Score
Atlanta manager Bobby Cox breaks down what went wrong for the Braves. (96 K)
Cox says the wet conditions made it difficult for Kevin McGlinchy. (73 K)
New York manager Bobby Valentine praises his team for their composure and their ability to overtake the Braves. (153 K)
Valentine says survival is something his team is familiar with. (90 K)
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